Weekly Five: Five tips for musicians, from Refinement Records

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Gaynor Brunson heads the audio production at Refinement Studios. Here he manages the audio console at Refinement Records' open house/open mic night of Feb. 19. (Photo by Natalie Stoker.)
Gaynor Brunson heads the audio production at Refinement Studios. Here he manages the audio console at Refinement Records’ open house/open mic night of Feb. 19. (Photo by Natalie Stoker.)

Breaking into the national or worldwide music sphere requires more than a knack for karaoke and a Facebook fan page. Music professionals from Refinement Records share tips on how to have what it takes.

Utah company Refinement Records aids aspiring musicians in different realms of their artistry: recording, videography, songwriting, performance, brand conceptualization, graphic design and photography. Given its broad expertise, Refinement Records shared the following five tips for music-makers looking to make a powerful impact in the industry.

1. Balance art and commerce

Music production and distribution isn’t just about selling a product; it’s about curating art, according to Adam Reader, founder of Refinement Records and Wasatch FM. Reader recommends finding a healthy balance between art and commerce.

“If you’re too artsy-fartsy, you’ll be the only one to appreciate and ever hear your music,” Reader said. “But if you’re too commercial, then there’s no art in it. There’s no honesty in it. So if you find that balance, you’ve got the best of both worlds.”

Reader said record labels sometimes cast their focus too heavily on commerce and selling the celebrity. As a result, he claims the music and art get short-changed.

“I think we live in a time where the celebrity is overshadowing the music,” Reader said. “But music itself is bigger than you or me. It has torn down the Berlin Wall. It’s stopped communism. It has changed the world. Music has that power.”

2. Listen, listen, listen

“Listen to the radio. Listen to the style of the songs, and think about how that style is created,” said Gaynor Brunson, Refinement Records head of audio production.

Brunson said artists need to pay special attention to the sonic characteristic of songs and let that inform the texture of the music they create.

When searching for music from which to draw stylistic influence, Reader recommended looking beyond contemporary hits.

“Drink from the stream, but also go to the source,” Reader said. “Instead of just listening to what’s on the radio now, ask, ‘Who inspired them?'”

3. Exude confidence

“Always wear a confidence mask,” said Jessie Funk, Refinement Records vocal and performing coach.

Funk suggested appearing as confident as possible, because when it comes to performing, perception is reality.

“Even if you’re uncomfortable or sick, or if you’re only performing for five people, never let them know that you’re nervous,” Funk said. “A huge sign of a professional is someone who can put their best foot forward even when they’re feeling nervous.”

It’s easy to default to embarrassment mode when a guitar string breaks, an untied shoelace introduces face to floor or when flawless vibrato gives way to an unexpected crack of voice. But Funk sees these mishaps as opportunities.

“I think those are your opportunities to really connect to an audience,” Funk said. “Because if you just laugh about it, then everyone in the audience will say in their minds, ‘Oh, she’s a human. I can relate to that.'”

4. Remember that melody sells

People often ask Tom Worth, Refinement Records head of songwriting, which comes first: lyrics or melody? Worth says melody.

“Melody almost always comes first. If you just write a lyric, the melody you add to that is constrained by the phrasing and the syllables of your lyric, whereas if you come up with a cool melody, it’s a lot easier to fit a lyric to that melody.”

Worth said he could think of countless songs with great melodies and horrible lyrics, but not vice versa.

“Melody is king,” Worth said. “I’m not saying you can settle with your lyrics, but melody is really what sells.”

5. Prove you’re a worthwhile investment

Artists wield more power in proving themselves to record labels today, according to Chris Crabb, frontman for We Are The Strike and Refinement Records’ head of artist brand and marketing. Where talent scouts used to seek out artists, artists now prove themselves as good investments to record labels, with the help of modern metrics.

Such metrics include audience engagement measures like YouTube views, Facebook likes and ticket sales. When musicians find success in these domains, they boost the résumé they bring to record labels.

Crabb said artists ideally want “to get to the point where you can say to a record label or owner of private equity, ‘Hey, I’m a good investment. I’m not a risk. You can trust that my brand will make money.'”

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