TOP TEN THINGS ABOUT HOW TO BECOME A ROCK STAR — when speaking in an elementary school on Career Day

Posted on November 22, 2010 by Sara Hickman. | Comments Off on TOP TEN THINGS ABOUT HOW TO BECOME A ROCK STAR — when speaking in an elementary school on Career Day


1. Stay in school. All the way. School gives you the ability to think, reason, write, gain creative skills, be around other like minded artists (musicians, theatre, poets, dancers, etc), and go through to college. Get a degree in what you love. Most of all, gain the confidence that school/mentors/teachers/fellow classmates can share with you because the #1 one thing you need in the music industry is confidence.

2. Be creative/dress creative/take creative writing lessons/write music/take lessons and learn an instrument or take vocal lessons, if you want to be a singer. Take every class geared towards your future that you can: choir, drama, debate, history of music, etc. Learn what you like, don’t like, and be yourself. School helps you discover who you are and gets you ready for the real world.

3. Get in bands early on/play music for parties, weddings, hospitals, bar mitzvahs, whatever you can while you are in elementary school. Next time your parents have a dinner party, ask them to hire your band (or you, if you can perform solo) to play for a while. Think of the world as your stage — where you can perform on it!? My first band, I was 10 years old — 4 girls, we all played guitar. But I was already playing for adult events, and had my first paying gig when I was 14 for the Houston Oilers, a football team way back when, and I was paid $450 to walk around and sing songs that were hits on the radio, and I even threw in a few I had written… My mom waited out in the car, and when I was done, I thought I had the BEST JOB IN THE WORLD! Doing what I loved, getting paid, and, of course, my mom for a chauffeur! :)

4. Listen to all kinds of music — funk, classical, opera, country, jazz, reggae, pop, R & B, a capella, folk, orchestral, polka, new age, Celtic, cajunto, slack-key Hawaiian guitar — try them all out because you can learn something from EVERY style. What are the musicians singing about? What instruments are they playing? What takes the lead? How does the song break down? Try to write a song in that style. Listen to what emotions the producer was trying to create when she/he put the song together. What was important for the songwriter to say? How does the music support that?

5. Learn about different aspects of the music business — maybe you don’t want to be a rock star, but want to be in the entertainment business, somehow. Well, there are jobs in: Entertainment Law, Publicity, Promotions (radio/media), Engineering (live or studio), Producing, Film/TV song placement, Performing, Speaking, Recording Studios (owner/manager/designer — someone has to be a specialist in how to create a room where music is recorded, and that’s a specialized field!), Video Production, Publishing, Radio (DJ, Program director, Music Director), Enterainment Journalism (print media/online/tv/radio), Music Critic (print/online/tv/radio), Music Therapist, Booking Agent, Manager, Business Manager, Entertainment Tax Accountant/Tax Lawyer, Personal Assistant, Intern (you work for free, but you gain a lot of experience and networking insights — say, at the Recording Academy or the Texas Music Office or in a studio), Copyright office (at the Library of Congress), Web design and runnng online e-blasts for musicians, Graphic design (for packaging), Distribution, Duplication (making copies of cds to sell), Label owner (signing bands and putting them out on your label), Singing/Writing for Commercials, Creative Consultant (professional networker), Composer… These are just some of the areas associated with the music industry. There are a lot more. Some of them make TONS of money, some of them make very little. But, if you love what you do, the money will come. That’s just how it works.

It’s important to understand what all these different jobs do because you will, at some point, be dealing with these different areas, and you need to understand who does what and why so you can be prepared.

6. Practice, practice, write, practice, record everything you write, keep it all for when you are older, or when you are looking for ideas, or just so you can use it to teach your band, or play for your class, or share with your family (or your very own kids, someday!)

7. Make connections. Send thank you notes. Follow up. Be on time for meetings. Network like crazy. Keep a huge database of people who are in the business who can help you, who you like to work with. Keep a wish list of people you’d like to meet. Read about them. If they are people who have already passed away, study them, anyway (like Jimi Hendrix or Eva Cassidy or Ma Rainey). If they are people still living, and you’d like to meet them, write them a letter. You never know. Most people won’t accept unsolicited material, but you can’t know if you don’t try. When I was a kid, I sent Carly Simon a cassette of my songs and a big letter on how she was one of my heroes. 3 months letter, it came back, unopened, stamped with, “UNSOLICITED MATERIAL UNACCEPTED”. However, then I started writing George Burns, and he DID write back, and then 14 years later, I actually got to MEET HIM. Believe in yourself. Never, never, never give up. Ask for help when you don’t understand something — whether your music teacher, your parents, friends, older musicians you know. Questions are like doors — you can’t know what’s on the other side unless you open them!

8. Understand entertainment law. Don’t sign any contract unless you understand it and you’ve reviewed it with your lawyer. Have your OWN lawyer and make it someone who you respect and who LIKES WHAT YOU ARE DOING and believes in you. I have had the same lawyer for 16 years, and I really, really trust him.

Your music can be owned in perpetuity (which means FOREVER) by other people (labels, publishers, even managers). You might be given an “Advance.” An “advance” is money given to you for anything: buying your Master (if you’ve already created a cd of songs) to money for your publishing (a company
taking your songs to put in their catalogue to allegedly “place” them in tv/film or with other artists to record), to money to help create a cd you haven’t made yet (and then there is more money to pay for creation of the cd, the engineer, other musicians, duplication, artwork, promotions, etc). THE MONEY A LABEL OR PUBLISHER OFFERS YOU CAN BE EXCITING! BUT PAY ATTENTION! UNDERSTAND WHY YOU ARE GETTING THE MONEY, WHAT YOU MAY LOSE, AND CREATIVE WAYS OF GETTING MONEY and STILL OWNING YOUR MATERIAL (like licensing that cd you already made so you still own the master).

There are sync and master licenses, where people license (“borrow”) your songs for film/tv/commercials. If YOU own your master of the songs, YOU will get the money. If someone ELSE owns the master of your songs, THEY get the money until you RECOUP (repay) them on any advance they have given you, including money they put into making the cd, touring costs, and, sometimes, promotions costs. And, even then, once you have repaid any money given to you in advance, you will still have a split, depending on the artist…it can be 75/25% (you get 75%) or as nutty as 50/50 split. I’ve heard of even WORSE.

Copyright all of your songs through the Library of Congress. Most likely, no one will ever steal your song, but better to be safe than sorry :)

9. As you can, get a lot of press/buzz/perform and, eventually, you will tour on the records you make. In the meantime, you can make youtube videos/have a website and eblast your friends and families about your music, where you are playing locally.

10. Share what you create with others because you are the only one who can do what you do. You’ll be making music because of the sheer fact it is something you LOVE to do. Remember: believe in yourself, even if no one else does. And, no matter what, have fun! For all the ins and outs of this amazing, crazy business, there are a ton of good people who WILL cheer you on, who WILL want to help you, who DO believe in you.


1. I make cds and sell the music in several ways: in physical form (cds) or as downloads. I prefer people to buy my music from me live or on my website, as well as download my music from my website because I receive more money than when people buy my music from iTunes or via Amazon.

2. I license my music for use in film, tv, on other recordings (compilaton cds or another artist covers one of my songs) and commercials. For example, my music has been used on American Idol, on a Martha Stewart children’s cd compilation, on David Letterman (Paul’s band played one of my songs!), in films,
and I’ve written and sung on commercials like Popeye’s, WalMart, Southwest Airlines, Coca-Cola, Fannie Mae, Daisy Sour Cream, etc.

3. I perform live at house concerts, theatres, clubs, festivals, private events….

4. I do speaking engagements, where I talk on whatever subject the group hiring me would like, usually something pertain to my knowledge — from talking about creativity to how to balance motherhood/career to women of the bible to songwriting. It’s very fun and I write my talk just for that group. I also get hired to teach classes, like at Kerrville Folk Festival in Texas or Swannanoa Gathering in N.C.

5. I produce other artists, but I don’t do this often because there isn’t a lot of music in Austin for producers unless they have their own studio and also know how to engineer, as well. I only know how to produce.

6. I help as an art director with my husband and three other friends in our design group, Stingray, where we make cd packaging/graphics.

I hope all this information helps you know a little bit more about the vast complexities of the music industry!


« Previous Post

Comments are closed.

Upcoming Shows

Songbird Live!
Cleburne, TX
November 12, 7:30pm
» More info

The Backstage at El Mercado
Austin, Texas
December 3, 8pm
» More info

Open Door Coffeehouse
Arlington, TX
January 14, 7:00pm
» More info

McGonigel’s Mucky Duck
Houston, TX
February 11, 7:00pm
» More info