Oneonta is home to many talented musicians and bands. What does a band have to do to build an audience and get a record deal?
I asked that question recently in a conversation with Doug Yoel, president of Now Forward Music Inc., when he and his wife were visiting Oneonta from his New York City office.
Now Forward is primarily a record-label services company that markets, manages and distributes label-related products.
Although Yoel has a youthful appearance, he has already accomplished a great deal in the business.
He is a two-time Grammy-nominated record producer (Roy Haynes’ "Whereas" and "Fountain of Youth"), a label manager for Dreyfus Records (jazz/electronic), Thelonious Records (jazz/hip hop), Kindred Rhythm (folk rock/eclectic) and several other labels.
He handles worldwide marketing and licensing for his clients, as well as promotion and booking.
He has experience with major labels and indies, so I asked his opinion about helping a band to build a career.
"Suppose there’s a band in Oneonta that has achieved some popularity. They’ve made a CD to sell at concerts and they have their own website," I said. "They play in local bars and clubs but they want to reach a bigger audience and they may even be thinking about getting a deal with a record company.
"What are the next things they should do to build their career?"
Yoel said, "They need to have a good understanding about who they are. They should know who their audience is and how to reach a larger group of people who may like their music.
"The band should also make a business arrangement among members, especially in the area of song writing.
"If the group is collaborating on the music and there’s no agreement about song writing or other income splits, when the group gets successful there will be difficulties deciding who owns what and who should be paid for the music."
I said, "Yes, I’ve already discussed that in previous Daily Star articles."
Yoel said, "That’s good, because it seems simple but it’s really important.
"There might be a principal songwriter in the band. The songwriter will continue to make money over time but the band makes money only during the time when the band is active.
"You also see people who put their life into a project, spend a year or two or several and then it’s time for the record deal and the company fires the whole band _ only takes the songwriter. That’s why it’s especially important for members who are not the principal member to have a written agreement with the rest of the band."
"Tell me about marketing and promoting a band," I said. "Now that many people are on the Internet every day, can a band become popular without taking the time and spending the money to tour?"
Yoel said, "Social networking methods can be helpful to a band, but touring is still almost always a necessity."
"Social networking?" I asked.
Yoel smiled and explained. "This is when a band networks on services like MySpace, electronic message boards, blogs and the like to draw attention to their project. Many music fans read about new bands on these sites, and if they’re really impressed, they may share this information with others who like the same style of music. The advantage to this marketing method is that it’s very cost-effective, but the disadvantage is that it takes an immense amount of time. Even if you have excellent marketing through social networks on the Internet, you’ll almost always still need to tour."
"Why?" I asked.
"The groups that have the most success are the groups that are using all of the available tools," Yoel said. "It’s one level of experience to hear music on the Internet but often I find the people who are actively finding new music on the Internet are people who are doing it at a great volume. While they may connect with some music very strongly, others store new music in with thousands of other songs. It’s a different experience than the one-on-one experience that happens at a live concert. What sites like MySpace can do is help to promote your away gigs once they are happening.
"It’s very hard for a group in Oneonta to get written about in a Long Island newspaper by simply using the Internet or sending demos in the mail, because the Long Island newspaper would have to first cover its local talent and local events. In order to get media attention, you usually need a live presence in that marketplace. Getting media attention is very important for an artist going from being an unknown to a rock star," he continued.
"The general goal is to generate as much activity for the group in terms of listeners on the Internet and also activity in terms of press (very important in all stages of a band’s career) and get this to a point so you can interest other parties (managers, agents, and eventually a music company like a record company or a company helping to promote music)."
I asked, "How does a band decide what image is a good one, and how can an image be built?
Yoel said, "I drive musicians crazy trying to be sure their image will be professionally useful to them. Musicians have to be packaged in a way that can connect with an audience and be remembered. The image goes beyond the visual; it relates to the concept and music of an artist.
"So, the first thing a band should do is look at their act and listen to what they’re projecting with the sound and lyrics and then formulate the image of the project," he said. "The visual part is very important with video being a major component in music promotion, but you also need to pick venues, events, that fit your image. You want to show that your project is growing, so it would be bad to play a venue that’s so big that it appears that you’re playing to a nearly empty room.
"Styling is important for any public figure," he continued. "There is greater pressure on the women in the music industry because the hairstyles are more involved, the clothing has a wider variety and is viewed more critically.
"When you’re presenting an image for public consumption, every element of the photograph alters the viewer’s perception of who you are. I often get under-styled photos of female singers. It’s harsh the way things are judged, but when I send something to the gatekeepers of the business, they may say, `I like the music but I don’t think I can use this cover to sell the project. The styling or image is too dated or too understated so it won’t be competitive."
Yoel reiterated the importance of the balance of music and image.
"Musicians usually work hard on their music and their performing skills, but they also need to work on their image and their networking strategy. That’s why groups go to conferences and perform showcases. They go where the music business is to be discovered as new talent."
I said, "It sounds as though musicians might have a hard life before they become successful."
"Musicians always have tough choices," he said. "Are you cut out for the life of a music person? That life includes constant work and life on the road. Some can work from their homes but most musicians, even famous ones like Justin Timberlake, need to tour and appear in concert or on TV. The business is worldwide and the most successful careers are worldwide careers. Even a successful home-studio guy like Moby still moves around the world. That trade-off is the first of many trade-offs a music person might make to achieve success. Musicians need to work constantly at improving their performance, their music and their image."
I asked, "What is your next large project?"
Doug said, "We’re very excited about our next release, the `A Life in Time: The Roy Haynes Story.’ This is a large scale, multi-label licensing project illustrating the artist’s 60-plus year career as a sideman and band leader. The release date is Oct. 9 and we know there’s a great deal of interest in this project."
I asked, "How can Daily Star readers contact you?"
He said, "Please ask them to go to our website at
"Would you be willing to return to Oneonta to speak with our students and with anyone from your area who has questions about a music career?" I asked.
Yoel smiled and said, "I’d be happy to come back here and talk about the music business. That’s one of my favorite subjects."
Dr. Janet Nepkie is a member of the music industry faculty in the music department of the State University College at Oneonta.
Music Industry Tips
1) Make a business agreement among band members regarding assets and liabilities and especially about ownership of original songs.
2) Get your music in front of as many people as possible by touring, showcasing, getting airplay and Internet performance.
3) Your image must be right for the band and for the music.
4) Go to conferences and music industry centers such as New York City. To be discovered as new talent, go where the music business and community are located.
5) Remember, you can’t just be good. You have to be special.