Changing Directions Midstream

© 2010 Vinny Ribas

It is not uncommon for an artist to decide somewhere midstream that he or she has somehow wound up pursuing a career path that is not true to the artist’s nature. The result might mean changing musical genres, moving from performer to a different role in the business, focusing more on songwriting than performing, leaving a ‘band’ to pursue a solo career or any other sometimes unpopular transition.

Obviously, considering a major career move is a serious matter. It can make or break an artist. You might lose some or all of your hard-earned fans, or at least turn them off. You might put endorsement or sponsorship deals in jeopardy. In essence, you may have to rebuild parts, if not your entire career from scratch.

Before making such a big move, there are many component decisions that need to be made. Answering these up front might help you make the transition go more smoothly. For example, if you are considering jumping from one genre of music to another, here are some internal questions to answer:[private_pro]

  • Are you looking to ‘cross over’ or completely switch styles?
  • Will you represent multiple styles at one time or make a clean switch?
  • Is this a permanent or temporary transition?
  • Do you want to ‘experiment’ with another style, or are you convinced that playing the new style is where you belong?
  • Are you willing to jeopardize or even lose your current fan base?
  • Will both the fans and the industry professionals in the new genre seriously accept you?
  • Are you wanting to make the change for the right reasons? Is it coming from your heart, or are you just trying to reach a wider audience? Are you or your record label behind it?

Obviously it can be easier for established artists with nothing to prove to make major transitions. Michael McDonald has been accepted by Motown fans, Linda Ronstadt and Rod Stewart both released multiple big band CDs, and rocker, Robert Plant, paired with bluegrass superstar, Allison Krause, to create an award-winning Americana album. Still, there are dollar bins filled with failed attempts at artist reinventions! Just look at how Garth Brooks’ attempt to take on the persona of a rocker, Chris Gaines, backfired on him.

So how do you make a serious transition smoothly without creating havoc and completely alienating your fans? Here are some suggestions.

  • Once you’ve made the decisions posted above, announce your decisions slowly. Don’t hit your fans with sudden surprises unless you are purposely going for a ‘shock factor’.
  • Chances are you’ve earned a lot of your fans because you’ve opened up to them, communicated with them and made them an integral part of your career. Don’t change that. Instead, give honest reasons why you’re leaning in a new direction. If possible, show the evolution in some ‘transition’ songs. Always be sincere.
  • Insure your fans that the ‘real you’ hasn’t and will not change. You will still be the same person that they have come to know and love.
  • Start with live performances. Try out your new style(s) and get fan reaction.
  • Take your fans with you on the journey. Give them samples of the new style. Get them to embrace your ‘growth’ into the new genre.
  • Make sure your older recordings remain available for any fans who don’t come with you.
  • Never put down the fans or the genre that took you to where you are now. Appreciate them. Let them know you are not ashamed, angry or disappointed, just growing.
  • Send press releases and appear on talk shows. Give your fans a chance to hear your side of the story.
  • Perfect your new style. Anything less than absolute brilliance and authenticity will make you a popular joke on Twitter! Show that you belong in the new genre and that you’re not just a wannabe.
  • Expect naysayers. Fans, critics and even radio personalities might call you a traitor, say that you’ve ‘lost your way’, ‘went to the dark side’ or that you’re only in it for the money. Ignore them. You probably had people who didn’t like you even in the genre you were in before the changeover.
  • Be aware that you may receive critical acclaim, but not necessarily public acceptance, especially at first.
  • Do something special for your die-hard fans. Reward them for sticking with you.
  • Court fans of the new genre early on so you’re not starting from scratch when your CD is released.

If you know in your heart that you won’t be truly happy unless you make this move, go for it and stick with it. Give it an honest shot. You may find that your newfound authenticity not only earns you new fans, but also wins over your prior fans who proudly ‘knew you first’![/private_pro]

About The Author

Vinny Ribas

Vinny Ribas is the founder and CEO of Indie Connect, an artist management, consulting and training company. The company also hosts networking and educational events and has published an app that connects people to the Nashville Music Industry. During his 40+ year career, Vinny has been a full time musician, artist manager, booking agent, songwriter, studio owner, producer and the Entertainment Director for the NV State Fair. He has also coached over 1000 artists and songwriters. He is a sought after speaker and has authored over 400 music industry articles. Vinny is also the CEO of Top 4M Entertainment, an independent film and television production company.