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"How To Land A Record Deal: Plus, An Exclusive Interview With Jimmy Bruno"

Jordan Warford here, Editorial Manager for Guitar Tips.

Picture this: You're backstage preparing for the biggest show of your life. Your guitar tech passes you your favorite custom guitar and wishes you the best of luck. You meet up with the rest of your band mates and get into a huddle and share your excitement together.

Then, your manager comes over and yells, "Show time." You all walk to the back of the stage and try to remember where all of the pyrotechnics placed the explosives so you don't end up standing on one. You start to run towards the stage and the thousands upon thousands of fans that await you.

If that's your dream, it all starts with one thing that musicians like to call a record deal. Getting your band or yourself known isn't particularly easy sometimes but it does start with getting your music out there. The music business is one of the hardest yet most rewarding careers you could choose to go into.

There are many steps and procedures to go through and we're here to tell you about it. We can't cover everything but we can give you the big picture. To illustrate the life of a professional musician, we had an exclusive interview with one of the best: Jimmy Bruno. He's known as the Yngwie Malmsteen of the Jazz world (Guitar World Magazine) and has extensive experience with recording. With that in mind, let's see what else is in this week's newsletter.

In this edition:

Learn how to ride the rollercoaster life of a musician without having to use a doggy bag. We'll show you the general outline of record companies and how to get in contact with the right people.

We are totally excited to have an exclusive interview with Jimmy Bruno that will bring you new insight into the world of a professional musician. Jimmy Bruno has recorded many albums and is known as one of the best jazz musicians around. A week before I contacted him I just finished reading a Guitar One Magazine where he was the featured instructor, pretty cool stuff! Hear his insightful thoughts on recording as well as the jazz world.

If you've wanted to dig deeper into the theory behind the music, we have a great site for you to check out.

We also have a great feedback booth this week where you can see what your fellow subscribers are thinking.

Lets get right to it!

Living Life On The Edge

Do you have what it takes?

Looking back to our childhoods, we have all dreamt of becoming a world famous guitarist and selling millions of records at some point in our lives. However, when we were old enough to understand that it wasn't as simple as we originally thought, many of us gave up.

It's true, record companies aren't particularly nice and they do tend to hurt people's feelings. It's a dog eat dog world out there and sometimes it's not what you know rather who you know. Don't lose all hope yet, there are plenty of little tricks that will help you out and get you where you need to be.

It takes time, perseverance, and a lot of talent to get into the music business as a career but it's been done time and time again. Having the right attitude can be half the battle sometimes, so we're going to set you straight before we begin... Hold on tight!

  • If making money is your objective, then you need to reevaluate your motives before you decide to pursue a record contract because it might be a little while before you see any of the green stuff (more to come on that later.)
  • Are you made of the right stuff? Not every musician is suited for this industry. There are plenty of other options such as home recording or renting studio time. You may want to run your own show and contracts with larger labels restrict what you can and can't do. The truth is you can be extremely successful on your own but you're going to have to work a lot harder.
  • Don't think you're the best in the world and that they can't live without you. The truth is, these labels literally see thousands of bands and people like yourself every year. Coming across as confident and well put together will be the selling point to the executives who take a look at you. Arrogance will be a one-way ticket to playing local battle of the bands for the rest of your life.
  • Talent is a key point that you will want to focus on and I can't emphasize it enough. Take the time to perfect your songs and make them flawless. Whether you're a soloist or in a band, you need to know what you are doing. Just because you don't sound that great now doesn't mean you won't in a few years time but it does mean that you shouldn't be knocking on the door of EMI records asking them for a deal. You don't want to make a fool of yourself this early in the game because at some point when you're truly are ready for the public eye, they'll look at your previous history and write you off.

Where to get started:

When you put together a band, or start playing an instrument for that matter, you don't practice in your garage or living room for two years and then go to a record label, get signed and head out on tour in five months. What you need to do is practice in your garage or living room for two years, while getting a reputation in your community.

The smaller stuff is where you lay your foundation and it can determine your future success. Once you have your act down, head out into your local community. Play wherever you can get access to. Local charity fundraisers, battle of the bands, clubs, bars, dances, and coffee houses are all great places to start.

If you live in a bigger city where there are tonnes of bands around every corner, collaborate with them and see if some of the more experienced bands would be interested in letting you open up a show for them.

If you live in a more rural setting, take the initiative and see if you can get permission to set up in a public place like a parking lot or local park where you will be noticed. Play your set a couple of times through and enjoy yourself. Then start to look for organizations that need musical entertainment and offer to do it for free. This builds a strong relationship between you, that organization and the owners of the venue in which you will be playing.

After you do a couple of freebies and get noticed, it's time to look at getting some financial reward. Don't get too excited, you're not living the life of the rich and famous yet. You're going to need this money to invest in the process.

Packaging you or your band:

When you really start to get a strong local fan base, they're going to want to hear your music more and more. This would be a good time to rent a recording studio and record a demo CD. A demo CD has roughly 3 songs on it and is used for promotional purposes. It's a great tool to feed your hungry fans with your music as well as show record executives what you're all about.

Costs will vary depending on the company. If you're into recording, you could probably do a pretty decent job if you have the proper equipment and the right mics but unfortunately most of us don't. Budget roughly $600-1000 to do the job right and get something that you'll be extremely happy with. The budget should also allow for approximately 30-50 CDs to be duplicated.

I have found a great service offered through MusiciansFriend that I feel you can't pass up for the price! Check out this amazing deal here.

The cost of the CDs lowers if you buy in bulk. What tends to be expensive is the packaging and you may want to do this yourself by buying inexpensive slips or jewel cases. Remember, you will be selling some of these, which will cover part of the cost.

The next step for your band will be getting a manager. Your purpose is to entertain and worry about building a repertoire, not having to book gigs. A good manager will take over the task of finding you great places to play, looking into getting a hold of the right record labels, as well as building your reputation.

As with everything else in the music business, managers cost money too. Their commission will vary from person to person. The more successful bands they have under their belt, the more they tend to charge. In these cases, you're going to want to go with the manager who has the best track record and the most successful bands. Reputation and character is everything when it comes to your manager's track resume.

Getting a manager can be tricky. In many cases, they will come to you. If they don't, you can always ask musical institutions in your area or consult the phone books for agencies that will hook you up with the right person.

Many bands decide to go out on their own without a manager because money is too tight... which is understandable. Some of them have done quite well and made it big. However, you need to be cautious because record labels are more likely to respond and at least take a look at you if they see that someone is managing your band. Basically, it can be seen as a sign of professionalism.

Press Kit: Hopefully by this point, you have received some cool press attention from your local paper or news station. You'll want to document this because you're going to want to add that to your press kit. This is what you will finally end up sending to record labels (more on that later.)

Press not only proves what you have been up to but also shows that you can get attention on your own, without fancy marketing. This is vital for a record company who really doesn't want to spend more money than necessary convincing people to check out your music.

While we're on the topic of press kits, now would be a good time to tell you what you should include in this package. This is essentially your chance to shine. Here's a list of the best things to include:

  • Your demo CD with approximately 3 songs. Do not send a tape! Some reps will listen to tapes but some choose not to. You do not want to take that chance.
  • A photo of your band. Take the time to get something decent done. The best bang for your buck is tapping into your local community college and ask for a student photographer. You set the price for a certain number of photos. You will normally get near professional results at a quarter of the price. Basically, it beats the heck out of Wal*Mart or your Mom's camera. A black and white 8x10 will be sufficient for your package.
  • A one page resume that lists the places you've played, what you are capable of and some cool details of your band (perhaps you have a python that travels with you or you're all related.) This page needs to be extremely well laid out. Make it concise and an easy read. You want to sell yourselves and make the band sound interesting, don't bore them! This is your resume at it's finest.
  • You will want your lyrics attached as well. If you have original material, this would be the perfect way to show them what you can do.
  • Press clippings from newspaper. If you have a great news story you taped from a T.V. station, you can send that along as well. It would be best if you could get it onto DVD as the reps would be more inclined to take a look at something that isn't bulky.
  • All of the pertinent contact information of the person sending this and your manager's business card.

...Now that you have your package all ready to go, who on earth do you send it to? That brings us to our next section.


Putting It All Together

A&R Reps:

Now comes the time where you contact a record label. You will want to research which labels you send your press kit to. If you're a hardcore rock band, you won't want to be going to a label that is primarily known for producing pop acts. The people in charge of finding the talent and getting them the record deal are called A&R reps.

A&R is an acronym for " Artist and Repertoire." They will review your package and see if there's potential. These reps work hard for their money and end up receiving thousands of packages each year. What that means is that it doesn't take much for your package to get rejected so be picky.

The general consensus amongst A&R reps is that you won't go to them, they'll go to you. I still advise that you send the kit along. Even feel free to call their office and follow up a few months later if you haven't heard anything by that point in time. If there's new developments in your career, let them know. If your playing a gig that's close to their location, then send them passes to get in and see you play.

The key is to hit labels that are interested in your type of music and try to send off a kit to a number of different labels.

To find out who's the local A&R rep in your area, you will want to tap into a registry. Click here to see one of the best. There is a fee but it's worth it, trust me. I have had a look at what they offer and it is one of the best. It gives detailed contact information that is up to date and is exactly what the hopeful rock star needs.

You may be lucky enough to have a manager who knows the right people. If that's the case your best bet is to try that person because there is already a relationship between the rep and your manager so it will increase your chances of getting them to take a serious look.

The Deal:

Hopefully after all of this hard work you are offered a contract. This is where an art turns into a science. I highly advise that you hire an entertainment attorney to accompany your band to your meetings with the record executives. The contracts are quite lengthy and complex but the bottom line is that you don't want to get ripped off. If the deal isn't right for you, then don't take it.

You may be thinking "But Jordan, this is my only chance!" Never fear, this is the point where you go to the competition. Money can be a complicated thing in the record business so you want to make sure that you get your fair share. If you write original material you also run the risk of losing the rights to that song as well. Like mentioned before, it truly does differ from company to company but the bottom line is to protect yourself.

An Interview With Jimmy Bruno

Picture Courtesy of

I remember how I loved to listen to anyone who played blues or jazz when I was a kid... especially on sax. Then my tastes started to gravitate towards jazz guitar and the entire culture behind it. Naturally, when I really started to dig into jazz one name continued to pop up in my studies: Jimmy Bruno.

Jimmy Bruno has seen and experienced so many incredible things yet he remains a humble musician who still believes there are many doors that he has left to open. He has been recognized by Guitar World as one of the best in his field and it would be hard for anyone to disagree. He has recorded a mind boggling number of albums over his career and has worked with some of the world's best musicians.

His explosive riffs and eruption of theretical knowledge give him a sound that is unsurpassed in the jazz world. When all of that highly tuned and refined talent is coupled with the amazing tone produced from his custom Sadowsky archtop, named after him, he is unstoppable.

When I started to research his career, I was amazed to see how he finds a balance in his life. When he's not touring, in the recording studio, teaching from his home or teaching improvisation at Philadelphia's University of the Arts, you can find him at home with his family.

It doesn't matter what genre of music you play, there is a lesson to be learned from Jimmy Bruno. For me, that lesson was one of knowing what your fretboard has to offer you and taking advantage of the space provided.

We hope you enjoy this interview and take something away from it that inspires you to practice harder and fulfill a thirst for musical knowledge.

The Interview

GT: I read in numerous places that when growing up, your family had quite a musical impact on you. What was life like living in that environment and how does this affect your music today?

JB: "Well, I mean I was lucky because there was always jazz music in my house. That's what I thought all music was like. I think it made me a better player for sure."

So it gave you more opportunities?

"Ooh yeah. I had plenty of opportunities."

GT: What other musical influences, if any, have you had over recent years?

JB: "Well the usual guitar players that were typical of growing up. Johnny Smith was a big influence and Hank Garland really influenced me as well. Then it moved to Saxophone players and piano players since I was 16."

GT: Do you listen to other musical genres or do you prefer to stick to jazz?

JB: "Well you know, I do music like almost 24 hours a day. So I listen to a lot of music. If it's work related, then I'm always listing to mostly my stuff really or sometimes another guitar player. If I think of music for enjoyment, it's classical music . I like that, I like the oldies, I like Willy Nelson a lot and Bonny Rates. Somebody that I just discovered was Susan Tideshi. I mean she's not new but she is new to me. Other styles of music."

GT: How do you feel about the different directions jazz is taking in today's society? They're so many different styles of jazz from improv to classical. What's your opinion on them? Do you like them or prefer the jazz standards?

JB: "Well I think there's some really good new directions going on. I don't think all of them are real good. I think a lot of it has to do with commercialism and making money. It's pretty obvious when jazz musicians try to do that. I don't think that that's a good trend. However, I know people need to eat and stuff like that and make a living.

The good side is that they're exposing more people to jazz and the downside is that it's not giving them quality. I don't cast any judgments on that. I choose not to do that but anybody who is doing that and making a good living has my respect and admiration because a lot them are good musicians and good players and they choose to this and that's fine."

GT: You have extensive experience as a recording artist. What challenges do you personally face while in the recording studio?

JB: "The recording studio is really a difficult environment. Even a live recording is too because it's always in the back of your mind that this is permanent and you kind of have to make that go away. It's really hard to resist the temptation to go back and fix everything because with today's technology, you can. With me, I find that if I do that it kind of makes me sound a little sterile. I've always enjoyed the recordings from the 60's where they're not perfect. You can hear somebody breathing or making sounds and not every line that they play is perfect… I'm kind of partial to that.

I do appreciate the people that record the other way and really polish it up. I mean, some of that is really pretty good so long as you don't do it too much and take away from the music. What is too much and what is too little? I don't really know. That's a big one and the other one is sound. You always want to try and get it to sound the way it sounds to you in your own head. Which is really difficult because you have a producer, there's an engineer; there's the microphone, the amplifier that you choose and the board that it's going through. They shape the final sounds so you're never going to get what's in your head, it's just impossible but you can get real close.

It's funny because sometimes I'll talk to another player and I'll mention "Wow, you really have a good guitar sound on that CD, I really like it" to which the player will respond "Ahh, I hated it!" The one that I hated the most was my guitar sound on the CD burning. I love the music; I think it's some of the best playing I've done. In those days my playing over the top kind of but it was only the second CD but I hated the sound of the guitar and I get lots of compliments on how good the guitar sounds. It's one of those things I don't understand.

On the other hand I like the sound on The Live at Birdland records, both of them and midnight blue, the solo guitar came out pretty close. The other thing in the Studio is that there's no audience. That's a big one because I thoroughly believe that art needs an audience for it to be art. There has to be somebody on the other end of this. Then when someone listens to the CD you have an audience."

GT: So you don't know what direction it's going in or if you feel that it's not the right sound you're looking for.

JB: "You definitely get something from an audience that is lacking in the studio."

GT: Where can you discover the most about your instrument? Is it self-taught or amongst other people?

JB: "A little bit of both I think. Playing with a lot of good musicians and developing your ear. Getting away from the academia is also important."

GT: Your speed and technical prowess is unsurpassed in the world of jazz. How did you bring yourself to this level of playing without getting stuck on a plateau?

JB: "Well when I was a kid, like I said my Father was a guitar player, so he was always playing out of violin books and there was always a lot of violinists at my house from the Philly orchestra and classical musicians. So I didn't really start out playing jazz. I was like 10 or 8 years old and from that point until the time I was 16 I was studying a lot of these books and listening to what these players were saying.

I thought that everybody had technique. A violinist that has no technique can't work. Classical musicians have phenomenal technique and so I just thought that was what I had to do to become a musician. It had nothing to do with Jazz."

GT: Do you get nervous before playing in front of large audiences?

JB: "No, it's a bit of an adrenaline rush but not nervous. I mean it's exciting to do that!"

GT:Many of our subscribers' dream of having a professional career as a musician, what advice would you like to pass on to them?

JB: "Never give up! Become as good a musician as you possibly can and find your own voice. Don't copy anyone and be sincere in your music. Don't talk yourself into wealth and thinking, "This way, I'll make more money" because you have to be sincere and really believe in the music that you're playing. Otherwise, I think audiences can tell and you certainly can tell -- so you have to be true to yourself. Otherwise you won't be happy."

GT: When did you make the decision that jazz was what you were going to do with your life?

JB: "I think when I was 16 I did and then I got tired of starving. After 22 I moved to Vegas and became a commercial sideman musician, then I went LA and did that for a while. Then when I was 35 I wasn't playing much jazz and I was pretty unhappy and yet at the same time making a decent living. So I decided to quit music because as far as I was concerned that was about as far as I could go being a "Professional Musician." I kind of quit for a while and decided that if I I'm going to play it would be jazz. When I started before it was to play jazz and give that a shot and I was lucky enough that it worked out!"

GT:Do you play any other guitars such as strats or acoustics?

JB: "Sure, oh yeah! I did when I was a sideman and I played everything. I played other guitars, banjos, mandolins… The whole thing. "

GT: What does your practice routine look like?

JB: "Well I don't have a daily practice routine any more. I'm playing and working all the time so if I get the chance to practice I usually will try to write something. When I was learning I would practice scales, arpeggios, interval studies, board studies, learning tunes, transposing tunes into a different piece or trying to learn tunes off of a CD or in those days a record rather than the real book. I think that's a bad crutch and it's misused.

What happens is that we have a lot of young musicians who don't ever develop an ear fro learning a song by themselves. They just do it by the real book and they never heard the lyrics or the recordings. The upside is that if you can play already and if you already have an ear it's not bad to look something up now and then but I always refer to the record."

GT: Looking through your site and previous written articles, it's evident that you are a talented and patient teacher. So was teaching and putting lessons up on your site something you fell into or something that you chose to do?

JB: "I always like to teach because you get a lot of questions about music and what you think about when you're playing. I remember when I had those same questions too and it was really frustrating not to get a really good answer. You meet some older musicians and they say "Well, you just hear it." That's great but what if you can't just hear it? They say "Practice your scales" and that's great too because you need to practice scales to be able to play your instrument. I don't think you need to put a specific scale over a specific chord.

Somehow it's gotten to that point and all of that is helpful and true information but it's only helpful after the fact. It's a great tool and a good education chance to analyze something but I don't think it's the best way to go about creating music. That has to come from someplace else. It can't be intellectual."

GT: I've noticed that you like to teach improv. How do you bring out the tips and tricks when teaching a student something that can't really be taught?

JB: " First you need to make sure that they can play the guitar to some degree. They don't have to be a virtuoso but it can't be "Put your finger here." The first thing I do is limit someone's area on the guitar where they can play. One spot and they have to stay there and learn the sounds in that one spot with specific fingers.

Then, I'll get them to play different lines and different melodies without any chord changes and then I can correct, well not correct the melody but sometimes improve it and give them different examples of how they can make their lines better. At the same time start changing those sounds with the spot on the fingerboard and then add the harmony. The progression not the isolated chord as I don't think that tells you very much."

Well that raps up our interview with Jimmy Bruno. From all of the staff here at Guitar Tips, I would like to personally thank Mr. Bruno for taking the time out of his hectic schedule to answer some of my questions. We wish you the best and look forward to seeing what you come up with next. Keep on being you!



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