MING, aka Aaron Albano, has over two decades of experience in the music world as a producer, songwriter, remixer, DJ, multi-instrumentalist, and studio savant. In 2014, he received a Grammy nomination for his remix of the Crossfingers track “Falling Out” (featuring Danny Losito). Additionally, MING helms his own label imprint, Hood Famous Music, which has also got him thinking about artist development. We sat down with Albano to hear his top tips for ensuring that you focus on the right things to develop yourself as an artist — including the hardest advice you’ll hear. As he says: “Most of us can’t skip the hard steps. Sometimes it gets ugly.”
Don’t make art in a vacuum
“Aspiring musicians often record a whole album without ever testing the market with singles or EPs to see if anyone is interested in their music,” say MING. “They also believe that, just because the creative process is finished, fans will pour in and want to buy their record. This is unlikely to ever happen. Artists first need to build a fan base by finding and connecting with their audience. Release singles and EPs, do live shows, offer free downloads, do blog interviews, manage your social media strategically, and don’t forget to do tons of self-promotion.
“Be aware that making an album is a huge investment of your time and money. When an album is made without feedback, it’s created without knowing who will be interested in the music or how it is going to be marketed and sold. Most independent albums that haven’t been tested before are destined to fail commercially. When I start a project with a new artist, I have them create a playlist of other musicians’ music to help explain or define who they see as contemporaries, and how their music fits in with the other musicians’ work. This is the first step in defining what the music should sound like after we’re finished producing the songs. The point isn’t imitation — it’s to understand where your music fits in with popular music that has already been tested publicly. In the process of finding other similar music, you start to define possible paths to success; in the end, I ask if someone else creating that same playlist would add your music to the lineup.”
MING at the Grammys with Crossfingers
Get to the point: YOU
“Who are you?” asks the producer. “Make it easy for me to be able to tell someone else what makes you unique. Most people react strongly to visual stimuli, so show me your photos, your style, your live show performances, your logo, the look book you’ve created of the types of clothes you’ll be wearing at shows — show me what the rest of world needs to see and hear. Music can be ephemeral, and we are pitching to people with no attention span. Showing me a visual representation of you as an artist gives me the language and imagery to describe your music and make your vision as an artist concrete.
“For example, if you have lots of interesting photos of landscapes on your Instagram account, I can describe you as an ‘avid adventurer who captures amazing photos of the wild outdoors.’ Your photography could help build a connection with a fan who also has wanderlust. These social connections are how the conversation starts. ‘I like your photos and oh, you make great music.’ Check.”
Make sure you match up
“If you were to have a party tonight and you put 20 songs in a playlist and five of them were yours, ask yourself these kinds of questions: Do you need to mess with EQ or volume when your songs start playing? Does the party stop when your material comes on and then starts again when the next song, which isn’t yours, starts to play? If there are vocals, do the vocals sound clear? Can you understand the lyrics? Does the message get across? These types of questions will get you closer to the real-life reaction to your music. If the party fades when your song comes on, or if you have to jump up to adjust the volume when your big song starts playing, then there’s an issue with the music.
“If you do these kinds of tests and it all checks out, then you’re heading in the right direction. But if you find yourself making excuses for the music, then you need to ask yourself a whole series of other questions: Do I need to get it mastered? Is there a problem with the songwriting? Are my production skills good enough to represent the songs? Or did I maybe put my music in the wrong playlist? Holding the mirror up to your creations can be quite shocking. That raw reflection is not something an artist often does well. So get ready for the bruises and knockdowns, then get up and keep trying.”
“There’s so much art today,” says MING. “The market is completely flooded and everybody can be a digital artist one way or another. Recording an album is no longer only for someone with a big budget. This means that there’s a ton of competition, and you have to figure out what makes you stand out. It’s often something more then just your music. Is it your style? Your sound? Your activism? Your lyrics? Your photos? Or maybe it’s your videos? Maybe last year it was your clothes, but today there’s someone with better style. So what are you going to do this year?
“Today’s artists need to constantly evolve and rebrand themselves by watching the reaction of the public to their art. As good as your music might be, you need to keep me interested. If you don’t keep competing and honing your artistry, re-selling and re-branding yourself, then someone is going to take your space and you will become just another part of the white noise of today’s digital culture. The hardest part of being an artist is that no one cares about your art, until one day, they do. But just as quickly, if you don’t evolve, your fans can quickly forget what that magic was that drew them to you in the first place.”