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How to be a Pop Star in 12 'not so easy' lessons !
by Billy Tweedie

Do you dream of being the next big thing ? Could you be next year's WESTLIFE,
Madonna or N*SYNC? Do you fancy being on 'Top of the Pops' and hanging
out with the  stars at the Grammys/Brits Awards ? Well, every pop star has to start
somewhere, whether it's  Britney, Blur or Boyzone.

But how do you get your act together and catch the eye of the movers and
shakers in the music biz ?

Here's a few tips on setting out on the road to super stardom. But
beware the road to pop success is littered with casualties. Not every
starry-eyed teenager goes on to hit the top of the charts or even to get
to the lower reaches of the top 40 ! For every Robbie Williams, there's
a hundred Bobby Smiths or Jenny Joneses who never quite made it beyond
singing a few karaoke tunes in his or her bedroom !

The pop business can be exciting, glamorous and great fun, but it can
also be pure hard work, blood, sweat and tears. Get real, don't go in
with false expectations and take the occasional reality check. And don't
forget to look out for the sharks along the way. Not every manager or
label has your best interests at heart. There's plenty of unscrupulous
music biz types out there who are out to earn a fast buck. Check out the
credentials of whoever you are working with, and don't sign on the
dotted line unless you're 100% happy with the small print.

Good luck - you'll certainly need it ! Once you've got off the starting
blocks, the hard work really starts. So read on at your own risk !! Your
future career starts here......get, two, three, go !

First Steps

So you want to be a pop star ? But have you got what it takes to hit it
big in one of the toughest industries in the world ? Your mom thinks you
sound like Mel C and your gran says that your rendition of Celine Dion's
'Titanic' hit brings tears to her eyes. But it isn't as simple as that !
Becoming a pop star is going to take much more than singing in the bath
or dancing in the garden with your best mates, joining in with your
favorite chart hit. You'll need to be determined and ambitious, and to
have a talent for entertaining. If you think you've got the talent and
the enthusiasm, why not take things a little further.

You'll also need to think about what you want out of your pop career.
What sort of music do you want to make ? Do you want to write your own
songs ? Are you hoping to play other people's songs [cover versions of
big hits] ?

There are several paths you could follow:

     the pop route 

writing your own songs is useful but not essential. If you don't do your
own songwriting, you'll need a team of writers behind you OR you'll need
to team up with someone who writes. Another option is to answer ads in
the press.

     the indie / rock route

writing your own songs is important. You'll need to recruit other band
members [try school / college or notice boards in music shops] and
rehearse your own material. Please remember that this route is becoming
increasingly difficult because most major record labels are signing up
very few new indie bands.

     the dance route 

if you fancy yourself as Fatboy Slim you could try your hand at dance
music. The great thing about this is that you can make music in your own
bedroom, using samples and the latest in hi-tec wizardry ! Or perhaps
mixing, scratching and DJing is your thing ?

So how do you make the leap from singing in your front room to
performing in front of an audience ? Here's a few ideas...

School's Out

One of the easiest ways to get involved in music is through school. Most
schools have a choir, band or after school clubs where you can fine-tune
your musical skills. Ask your music teacher how they can help you.
There's likely to be links between your school music department and
drama and dance. If you fancy being B*witched, you'll need to be able to
dance yourself dizzy as well as belting out a good tune ! Enroll for any
dance classes if they do modern dance. And drama can be a good way of
building your confidence in front of an audience, even if you're just
third witch in 'Macbeth' or you take
on a small supporting role in the school production of 'Godspell'.

You may find that your music department is putting on a musical or event
- put your name down and get stuck in ! Even the Spice Girls used to
perform in school shows...and look where they are now !

Stage Struck

Another idea is to enroll in a stage school locally. Check out addresses
in the Yellow Pages. It's another good way of building your confidence
and performing skills.

Pop on Campus - College as an option.
If you're in your final years at school, you might be thinking about
going on to college.There's lots of excellent music and performing arts
courses around the States and even in England esp, London.

Some courses focus on music and vocal skills whilst others concentrate
on music technology or the business side of the music industry.
Newcastle College in England boasts one of the largest music departments
in England! It offers everything from BTecs to Degrees in popular music.
Universities also offer degree courses in music and performing arts.

College may not be everyone's idea of fun. For those interested in this
route, it does have some advantages.
 The 'up's are:
   - you'll get instrumental and vocal lessons
   - you'll get a chance to try out a studio
   - you may get free use of a studio [useful for making a demo tape]
   - you'll meet loads of like-minded students
Bear in mind:
   - your studies will probably touch on music theory, history and
   - you may have to complete written assignments and projects;
   - you may have to study musical styles you're not keen on, but this
     can be useful if you're going to become a really good musician.

Music Tuition

If school isn't keen on helping you with your music and you don't fancy
going to College, you could try private tuition. Musicians and singers
are often surprised how quickly their talents can develop with private
lessons. Tutors are listed in the Yellow Pages and can help recommend
teachers who can give vocal, guitar, keyboards or drum tuition.
Libraries also often have lists of tutors. Private lessons can cost
between $15 and $35.....Some tutors will allow a session with a friend
which could reduce the costs by half. Choose your tutor carefully. It's
no use going to an opera tutor if you want to sing pop !

A good tutor will tailor lessons to your individual needs. Make sure
your tutor knows what you want out of the lessons and that he or she
knows your musical tastes.

Your Bedroom

One of the biggest musical revolutions of the last 3 decades has been
music made in the bedroom. Dance music can be made quite easily in your
own room, thanks to new technology. Armed with a computer and a few
gadgets, you can make tunes to your heart's content in the comfort of
your own bedroom ! You'll need to save up to buy some fancy kit if you
have designs on being the next Fatboy Slim or Venga Boys !

'Cover Me' - Cover versions

If you perform Madonna's 'Ray of Light' or Whitney Houston's 'I Will
Always Love You', you're singing a 'cover' version of a hit song. This
can be a good way of developing your skills but it can be a dead end in
the long run, unless you fancy your chances as a club singer. Club
singers play 'standards' [or hit songs] from the last few decades of
pop, but their careers tend to be restricted to playing live gigs in
social clubs, cruise ships and hotels. There is good money to be made by
top club singers but they're unlikely to find themselves on Pop shows or
in music magazines. They mainly play live rather than recording their
songs, and they tend to appeal to an older audience. Bands that do
succeed with cover versions like Steps, and Boyzone are usually put
together by management companies. These are usually termed
'manufactured' bands. Occasionally artists like Madonna [e.g. listen to
her version of Don Maclean's 'American Pie'] or George Michael may do a
cover song, but these established themselves, have generally gained a
reputation as song writers in their own right first. They may perform a
cover version for novelty value, as a homage to a classic artist, or to
breathe new life into an old song.

Record companies tend to want to hear original songs on a demo. One A &
R person was recently quoted as saying: "Why do I want to hear another
version of a current pop hit, more than usually sung badly ?" It may be
easier than writing your own material but it can damage a record
company's perception of you as an artist. So many people send in
karaoke-style demos of  'I Will Always Love You'. I already know what
Whitney sounds like and you'll have to be pretty good to even be
compared to her, Judy Garland, Kylie, Sianna Lyons (as featured on this
site) and the other divas.

Top Tips

Remember, don't rush things. Take it step by step. Becoming a pop star,
takes more than a few weeks work !

Ambition is important, but be realistic. Overnight success is rare in
the music business. Have a goal and work towards it, bit by bit. But
remember, even Barbra Streisand took a long time to fine tune her vocal
skills before she hit the big time. Don't push yourself until you're
ready. Develop your vocal or instrumental skills, your songwriting and
your image. Even your dance routine may need careful choreographing if
you fancy yourself as a pop act. Get your act together before you look
for a manager or launch yourself on a unsuspecting world ! Get your
friends and family to listen to your music. Ask them for their honest

Always be self critical. Look at how you can improve your songs and
performance all the time. If you've got a camcorder at home, video
yourself and look at how you can make your act or set even better.
Compare what you see to how 'superstars' look.....

If you're keen to develop your instrumental skills, music magazines and
DJ mags can sometimes provide useful tips. There's also some very good
'teach yourself' audio books which you'll find in your local bookshop.
Start reading music mags. It's good to know what's happening in the
music biz even if you just skim through 'Q', 'Rolling Stone', 'Smash
Hits' or 'Popstar' magazine. As your music develops, it's worth reading
music biz magazines like 'BillBoard', 'Music Week' [the music industry's
magazine], the Stage (in UK) [good for checking out auditions
nationally] and free magazines in music/record shops and good for info
on equipment. Some offer good advice and information on the latest
technological equipment - ideal for DJ's and dance music wannabes.

Think about your image - hair, clothes, style and presentation are all
important !

Don't send out demo tapes to record companies too soon. Don't go
anywhere near a label until you're absolutely ready. It's a common
mistake to start contacting record labels too early. It can often take
several years to get to the right point to be sending out material. It's
also best to send out tapes via a well respected manager. Record labels
have A & R [Artist and Repertoire] reps who check out new talent. They
are looking for the next big thing & they want talent that's well
developed. They're likely to sling your tape in the garbage if you send
them a cassette made in your bedroom on a dodgy karaoke machine or if it
features off-key, out of tune vocals, badly played guitars and drums, or
a weak sounding version of a popular chart hit by Madonna, Westlife or
Mel C !

Never send a tape to a record company or music industry person unless
you have phoned them first and they say it's OK to send a tape!!!!! Even
then ,you may not get a reply.And MOST go in the garbage! I have
witnessed this happening! :(

Develop industry links. It's good to have a friendly journalists on your
side to give you decent write-ups and reviews.


So you've got the songs, you've impressed your mates, and you may have
even played a few gigs. You're itching to get into the studio and make
your first proper demo tape. It's a scary prospect ! Scarier than Scary
Spice in fact ! What's the best time to go into a studio ? Before you
even think about a trip to a studio, make sure that you're 100% happy
with your songs. It's tempting to go into the studio far too early,
before you're ready. Better to wait and get the songs, and your vocal
and instrumental skills 'spot-on'. Where should you go ? There are
studios across the globe and they vary in what they can offer you. How
much will they charge ?  Making a studio demo can be an expensive
business ! You'll have to start saving up your pocket money or pay from
your weekend job OR get your parents to help. Studios can and do charge
anything from $10 - $300 a day. You'll probably need at least a couple
of days to lay down 2 or 3 songs [less if you're doing 'cover versions'
to backing tapes]. An alternative to the big, flash professional studio
is to build up your own basic home based studio. A very cheap option for
pop performers singing cover versions of songs is to buy a basic karaoke
machine / backing tapes, and sing-along to them. It's a useful starting
point but it's not very helpful if you have serious ambitions to make a
'knock-out' demo.

What will you need to know about the technical side of the studio ?
The studio engineer should be able to work with you to make the most of
your songs and your sound. Get them to listen to a rough tape of your
songs before you go into the studio so they can hear your style and your
material. Talk about what you want to get out of your trip to the
studio. Make sure that the studio has the right equipment for your
music. You write your own lyrics but what if you don't have any music ?
So, you and your mates sing, dance and write your own lyrics but where
do you get the music to complete the perfect pop song ? Local recording
studios may be able to supply music and musicians [they'll know good
'session' players]. But beware - this could be expensive.....Another
option is to find a programmer who you can pay to come up with some
music for your outfit. Before you agree to work with them, ask to hear a
selection of their music. Why not hook up with your local college ? A
student could make a project out of making music for you. There would be
minimal cost to you and you may even be able to get free recording time
in the studio. Some studios also make use of their less busy times
['downtime'] by offering projects. Singers and bands can get the use of
studio facilities at little or no cost, IF the studio can see the
potential of a commercial success. You need to be very wary about
signing contracts because, if you hit the big time, this studio may want
some kind of financial 'pay off'.

Demo Tapes

Put your best track first. Catch the listeners attention within the
first 20 seconds. Make them want to listen to more.
Use only 2 to 3 songs on a demo.
Keep songs fairly short and punchy.
Make sure that the sound quality is OK and not too fuzzy or quiet /
loud. Always put your name and phone number on the tape. Don't send out
lyric sheets.

First Gigs

Don't gig before you're ready. Better to practice until you're confident
you can perform in front of an audience.Try for small gigs at school,
college or in your local church or community hall. Use your first gigs
to try out various songs, sets and running orders. Perfect your
performance and decide on a set that you're comfortable with. Make sure
that you're well rehearsed. Make every gig a special event. Create a
buzz. Think about sound, lighting, presentation and the order of the
songs in your set. Look and sound professional even if there's only ten
people watching, Always do your best - you never know who might be in
the audience !  Play a couple of try-out gigs before launching
yourselves at a bigger venue. Turn up early and be well prepared. Get
your family or an adult to help with transport and equipment. Make sure
the stage set up is safe and the electrics have been checked by an

Get the audience involved. Talk to them, 'work them', get them excited !
If you're a pop act, you might use choreographed dance routines. If
you're an indie or rock band, build up the excitement. Save the best
till last and go out with a bang ! Keep your set short and sweet. Don't
bore the audience by playing too long. Make them want more. A 20-30
minute show is ideal. Be prepared for a few failures. Not everyone gets
it right everytime. Learn from things that go wrong. Once you've started
playing gigs, don't forget to tell your friends and fans. Posters,
leaflets and fliers are good ways of publicising your gigs, and these
can be produced cheaply and run off on a photocopier. Don't do too many
gigs in one area.

Keeping it Live - Next Gigs

Once you've built up a good crowd at your gigs, think about playing in
larger venues. Build things up over time. Start thinking about doing
gigs outside your immediate town or city. Build up useful contacts in
other areas. If you're at school, think about putting a schools tour
together. You'll need to get your music teacher or head to speak with
other schools. Once you've built up a following, think about starting a
fan club, fanzine or mailing list. You can start your own mailing list
by collecting the names and addresses of fans who come to your gigs.
Then you can send them information about future gigs, merchandise and
band gossip. But remember keeping a mailing list going costs money [in
stamps and envelopes / notepaper]. Producing a fanzine can be a cheap
and easy way of publicising your band. If you have access to a
photocopier and word processor, it couldn't be easier.

Band Biogs

If you are planning on getting gigs, you may be asked for a band
biography. A band biog is a one page description of who you are, what
sort of music you make and any highpoints in your musical career so far.
Your artist / band biog should be typed and not hand written. Make it
look attractive to the reader. Keep the biog short and simple - no more
than one page. Include any good quotes from reviews in the press if you
have these. Try to give the reader an idea of what sort of music you
make. Biogs are also useful for sending to journalists and record labels
if you are mailing out tapes. Hot Shots ! Include photos with your biog
if you have good ones. Photographs should be simple and eye catching. No
dodgy snaps ! Make yourself look striking and interesting. Simple but
striking is best. Always put your name and phone number on the back of a

Hitting the Headlines !

Exposure is crucial in the music biz. Just think how many column inches
The Spice Girls have generated in everything from the Local cheapo rag
Gazette to Rolling Stones. And look at how much radio airplay and TV
exposure bands like The Corrs, Robbie Williams and Madonna attract. The
press include: print press - newspapers, magazines, fanzines [local and
national] radio [local and national] TV [regional, national and
satellite / cable] .......

The press can be very helpful in raising your profile. Your first port
of call should be the local press. They are keen on local stories and
may also have a pop or rock columnist. Here's a few tips on how to work
with the media: Don't speak to the press until you're ready for wider
exposure. Fine tune your musicianship, songwriting and live gigs before
speaking to journalists. Get to know local journalists. Find out which
journalists are interested in your style of music....

Build up a buzz in the local press but wait 'til you've got something
interesting to say about your act or band. If you've won a national or
local music competition, this could be a good way of getting your
picture in the local paper or being invited onto local radio or TV.

Don't approach national press until you've got a top notch demo, a
national angle to your story, or you've attracted national interest.

Spice Up your Life - Auditions

Some pop acts seem to jump from obscurity into the pop limelight before
you can say 'the Spice Girls' ! How does this happen ? Auditions are
usually held by bands or managers looking for a new band member[s].
Sometimes a whole pop act can be recruited this way. Take the Spice
Girls who auditioned individually to become part of one of the World's
biggest pop groups by responding to an advert in The Stage newspaper.
Adverts for auditions often appear in national papers. Local bands
sometimes recruit in the classifieds of local papers but these are
largely bands over 18.

 At the audition, you will usually be asked to prepare two songs -
usually a slow one and an up tempo song. If you're a pop artist, you'll
probably be given the option of singing to backing tapes OR reading from
sheet music. Always rehearse properly for an audition. For indie and
rock bands, you may be asked to play something you have written or
choose to play a cover of a well known song that demonstrates your
musical ability.

The Management

Confused about where to take your pop career ? Fed up with chasing
around after gigs and answering phone calls about your band ? Exhausted
with an endless stream of tasks to sort out - publicity photos, demo
tapes and lists of music biz contacts ?
A manager could be your knight in shining armour...or perhaps not ? A
good manager can be useful in guiding your pop career and taking you to
the top. It's often the manager who becomes the driving force behind a
successful pop act. Pop's history is littered with examples of pushy
managers who've taken their acts to the top - from Brian Epstein [The
Beatles] to Tom Watkins [the brains behind Bros, East 17 and the Pet
Shop Boys] both have been early influences to me and are featured on
this site too!

It's hard to look at yourself and be self critical. Managers can be very
good at taking a more critical look at an act and telling an artist /
band what is needed to turn it into a winner. Having a manager is no
guarantee of success but it can help. Managers can sometimes come up
with a winning plan to break a new artist into the big time. Simon
Fuller, former manager of the Spice Girls, claims 'timing' and a
'publicity' gimmick [like 'Girl Power'] can 'break' an act into the
charts. Watch out for managers who are sharks, who promise you the world
and then rip you off. Get any management contract checked out by an
entertainment lawyer or the Musicians Union.

When should you get a manager involved ? It's best to wait until you
have some decent songs, a half decent live show and some idea of where
to take your music. A manager can help you to make contacts with the
music biz - record labels, promoters in larger venues, agents etc......
Managers come in all shapes and sizes. Some bands start out by
using their mom, dad or aunt which has its pros and cons. Parents can be
useful in sorting out paperwork and running around chasing gigs, but few
moms and dads have the sort of contacts needed to launch your career
into the stratosphere. It may be helpful to get their help when you're
starting out but remember it's unlikely that they'll know the ins and
outs of the music biz unless they've worked in it themselves.

Image !

Develop a strong image for your act - whether it's clothes / hair, a
dance routine, your stage act or your personalities within the band, the
pop biz is one of THE most image conscious industries in the world.
Think what would appeal to your fans. If you're a heavy metal band, it's
no use looking like a boy band ! Pop acts are designed to appeal to a
teen or pre teen [under 14] audience so think what would appeal to that
age group.

Many pop acts are packaged and marketed by record companies and managers
so that they have a broad appeal. Just look at Westlife or Boyzone. You
can copy this yourself if you think about what image you would like to
go for. The Spice Girls are the best example of mixing different types -
Baby [the cute one], Posh [the glam one], Scarey [the wild one] and so
on. The same goes for boy bands. The traditional recipe for success has
been a mixture of the cute / gentle one [Mark Owen in Take That], the
handsome one [Kian in Westlife], the quiet one [Howard Orange from Take
That fits the bill here] and the rebel / tough one [Robbie Williams in
Take That or Brian from East 17].

Recently there's been a trend to 'mix and match' boy and girl types - a
quick look at Steps will put you in the picture here. Many of these
bands are packaged up by labels and managers. Look at current trends or
why not try to be one step ahead of the game by coming up with something
different and fresh.

What's Next ?

A lot of wannabe pop artists never get beyond dreaming about being the
next Robbie or Madonna. If you want to be a pop star, there's likely to
be plenty of hurdles along the way so don't be afraid of failure. On the
other hand, if you don't put yourself in the picture, you won't get
anywhere. Only 0.1% of acts get signed to a record deal and end up on
Pop shows but that shouldn't stop you trying if you think you're good
enough......Who knows, you could end up sharing the stage with Westlife,
Robbie Williams and Madonna at the Grammys and the Brits !

This article was written by Billy Tweedie

So.......Step 1:
Get a band together and rehearse. Practice makes perfect. Decide on
which songs to play by other artists. Better still, write some of your own........

Step 2 : 
Make your first demo tape. Record it at home or in a
reasonably priced recording studio........

Step 3: 
Get feedback on your demo. 
Ask your friends and music biz types locally what they think of
your demo. Change things around if you have too...... 

Step 4 : 
Play your first gigs - possibly at school or college. 
Look out for chances to play at a local community centre, young 
people's event or a local festival.......

Step 5: 
Get more serious. Fine tune your music and stage
presentation. Play more gigs. Write more songs, pick out the best and
work them up till they're totally brilliant!.... 

Step 6:
Make your first serious demo tape at a local studio or arts center. 
Get some decent photos taken and write a funky and eye catching 
one page band biog.......

Step 7: Make friends and influence people. Speak to local
papers and music / style mags, and persuade them to run a feature,
interview or review...... 

Step 8: Start gigging around the region.
Create a buzz. Start your own mailing list, fan club or fanzine.....
Step 9: Enlist the help of a manager. Get someone in the know who you
can trust. Create more interest in your act or band.....

Step 10:
Once you've created a bit of a stir, start contacting record labels.
Invite them to gigs, either locally or in your nearest major city, not
some little hick town!..... 

Step 11: 
Build a buzz. Put out your own
single or CD, or get a record company to buy studio work in a top studio
with a producer. Play high profile showcases to big wigs in the music
industry OR fine tune your stage show.....

Step 12:
further down the line.......If you're very lucky, sign a deal with a top
record label!

The rest will be [hopefully] history !


Have you thought about other careers in the pop industry ? Here's a few


Fancy yourself as a demon on the decks ? If so, spinning discs,
mixing and scratching could be your next career move.

Music journalism

Fancy writing reviews, interviewing bands, and going to gigs ? If
you see yourself as a music journalist, you could find yourself on a 
local paper or writing for a music mag, like Rolling Stone.

- colleges offer journalism courses which provide a good
grounding for wannabe writers. Some offer radio journalism degree courses.

- Thinking about becoming a radio DJ or presenter ? Hospital radio or
a community or  college station can be a good place to start.

- Why not start your own fanzine ?

A & R scout

Scouting new talent for record company. This involves going to lots
of gigs and checking out new bands. A good ear for music is essential. 
Most scouts are based in  large cities or labels employ regional scouts.


Fancy booking and promoting bands at a local pub, community center or
music venue ?  You'll need a head for business and marketing skills.

Band manager

This involves managing the business affairs of a band and speaking to
the right people  into the music industry.

Band managers need to know how the music industry ticks.

Studio engineer or producer

Got a good ear for a range of different styles of music ? Working in
a recording studio, laying down tracks and getting the best sound mix for 
an artist or band could be your next step if you have a technical head.

Marketing in the music industry

Fancy marketing and promoting an artist or their products ? If you
have top communication skills, this could be a good career move.

Press officer for a record company

This involves getting press coverage in newspapers, on radio and TV
for a pop act or band.


Got big muscles and bulging biceps ? Fetching and carrying a band's
equipment when
they're playing live ? You could make an excellent roadie !

Guitar technician

This is someone who looks after the guitars whilst a band or act is
on tour. You'll find yourself tuning, restringing and maintaining them.

Tour manager

This involves looking after a band on a national or international
tour. You'll find yourself keeping the tour on the road, getting the band 
out of bed in the morning, meeting tour  deadlines, organising travel and hotels, 
and playing 'nurse maid' to band members ! Not  for the faint hearted !

Become a SUCCESS!!

written by Billy Tweedie 2001