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Spilling the Tea on the Tejano Music Industry


In 2019, I put out a video that I felt was a rather good overview on my experiences in the Tejano music industry. At the time there were many things I left out of that video because I couldn't comfortably contextualize what I wanted to say or just overall didn't understand without some extensive research and just having different experiences in other professional settings.


So we embark now on some of those untouched topics, as well as discussing the current state of the Tejano Music Industry and being a female solo recording artist.

 

My music career didn't start till I graduated college in 2013, and there were many times I had been presented opportunities to start younger, but that was not a priority to me or to my parents. So my experiences don't include insight on what it is like to start my career as a child, and I DO NOT recommend it. Everyone is open to do what they want, but my advice comes from starting as a young adult, so watch the video(s) and leave a comment/send an email if you have other questions.



Every month I get questions about the Tejano music industry or just the music industry in general, and there is a running theme to those questions, which I've noticed I have not addressed, so here goes:


Is Tejano Fan Fair worth performing at?  If you are under the impression that 150+ bands over a few days will garner you National success as portrayed on the Selena: The Series on Netflix or were given advice that it is a MUST thing to do as a performer, then I'll happily give you a definitive answer: Yes and No

You may wonder how THAT is a clear answer. Well it isn't because simply put, both are true. The positives that I gained from going to Fan Fair is that it was a FREE arena to perform for a high volume of people. It allowed me to hone my performing skills. It puts you in a space with people who are hungry for your music and you can build a good foundation of following if worked right. Performing at Fan Fair is Free to the audience and so it brings a high volume of people from all over the world, as well as giving you multiple chances to network during the week at off-site events and mixers. If these are the things you need then Yes you should perform at Fan Fair and make sure to take stock in all the things you can do while there.


On the flip side, this is a FREE Showcase event and artists don't get paid to showcase at this exhibition event. You will have to apply and when accepted have to think of ways to manage all of the fees you'll incur such as: lodging, practice room, parking and band costs just to name a few of the costs. There are places to sell merch and over the years it has changed from being in an open area away from stages or next to portapotty's. This is the "pay your dues" part of the industry, and so it is best to understand that you will not get that evening slot. Those are saved for award winners from the year prior who are receiving their award or for legacy acts. This means that time slots are a roll of the dice and you get what you get and whether it's twenty people in the morning/afternoon or a thousand or more in the early afternoon/evening.


  So after a few years of the goal post changing on later time slots, it became clear to me I needed to make my own off-site event and I did. From all the networking I'd done I was able to open a space for artists that provided a bit more and in the end by not going I opened myself up to bigger opportunities. The choice to perform at Tejano Fan Fair is one that is based on where you want your career to go and if it is cost-effective. If it's yes then it's for you, if the answer is no then no worries there are other yearly events that bring in that volume of people in different parts of the U.S, which might be closer to where you live, that you can find which will do the job as well.

Can I start my career covering Selena or other artist's music? Yeah. You can. But the truth of the matter is that Selena is well, Selena.

Putting out covers is great, and allows for you as a vocalist to grow and understand what you can and can't do with your voice, but at the end of the day fans of Selena or any artist only want to hear it as close to that artist. My best advice is when learning covers figure out ways to to make them your own and pick some that aren't popularly used, use those songs as a primer for your songwriting and learn the structure and form of your favorite songs to finally start writing your own songs, or even getting songs from writers you like. Showcase your voice, your style and if that means covering a song, that's great, but just don't make use of it as a crutch for further creating.


Should I do Playback or Live Band for shows? The tale as old as time. DO BOTH because they are both valid and important. The tale as old as time. Do Both because they are both valid and important. Let me clarify right here that playback is not Karaoke. Anyone who claims that it isn't valid to do as a performer has never studied the big open space shows like Coachella, SXSW, and many others where playback is vital to making sure people can hear the music. Along with sound, there is advantages to playback in regards to accessibility: 

  -when the venue doesn't have a budget for your live band

-when you just want to get into a venue that best supports a quick plug in

-when you don't have access to your band for a certain date


These are some of the accessibility issues that are solved by using playback for a show. The disadvantage to playback is that the equipment might get weird and the music will stop. Technical issues are normal and if that happens, just roll with it as best as you can.


Now with a live band, it is great in a whole other way because there is a different energy and rhythm to it. It isn't cheap and good to know how much it is gonna cost to hire a band and stick to it as much as possible when promoters/booking agents ask. Keep in mind that Practice with the band is key when it comes to finding ways to improvise and gel together for a live performance. I say this because often, early in our careers we forget to include other costs of running your business like paying rehearsal fees if your band is work-for-hire. Again, it’s not cheap but incredibly worth it because a live band can create a uniqueness for your audience and yourself that you can’t achieve with just playback.

Should I get a Label Deal or be Independent?   I learned a lot about the business while on a Label Deal and being Independent. The label taught me so much about the back end of the industry when it comes to contracts, bookeeping, and many of the minute details that come with running a music career like a business. Being on a Label means you are beholden to a contract and the things stipulated on it. So make sure that you understand what you're signing and what is expected of you. Ask the questions and always ask for a second opinion. The Label many times also reserves the right to decide how you sound and look. These are things you should weigh out before signing anything and some big name artists have signed deals with the sacrifice rewarding them to make enough money to do their own thing. Just be aware that is not always the case. On the other hand, being Independent means everything is on you. The Marketing, the production and everything that goes along with your music business is on you to provide for yourself. I've personally enjoyed being Independent over being in a Label, but that is because of my own musical experimentation within Tejano/ TexMex Country. I learned to trust my ear and

actively grew as a producer during my time being Independent.

Sooo many award organizations, which is the important one?

I would advise that you join organizations that align with the type of community you want to foster and what will help you grow as an artist. Not just for an award.The ones that give back to their artistic community. The ones that fight for equity and respect their members. These are the organizations I would advise being a part of:

  • Recording Academy (Grammys)

  • Latin Grammys

  • Women in Music

  • Conjunto Heritage Taller

  • Texas Music Office

  • Texas Folklife

The organizations that give back to their artistic communities are the important ones and all of these and many others will be highlighted in a future post. They have low to no fees for admission and most of their collected fees go right back into the communities they serve.


 

Many of these questioned scenarios have dual answers with pros and cons, and while that may seem frustrating its because many times both happened to me. With time I've been able to discern the positives and negatives from those experiences, to now share them with you. I hope that providing you both sides, will give you more agency in your musical journey. We can all wish we knew the answers on how to "get big", but in the end none of us know and that is the spontaneity of the music industry. No one has the right answer and that's what makes it unique to you.











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