EW Online brings you tips on fame, fortune, and failure from musicians who've been there

By Liane Bonin
August 18, 1999 at 04:00 AM EDT
Bill Davila/Retna

So, you want to be a rock and roll star, but your last gig was in your garage? Take heart and turn on your computer. Until Sep. 18, the Ultimate Band List is hosting a contest for aspiring musicians. Contestants can submit two songs, which will be posted on the Net and judged by such artists as Chris Cornell, former Jane’s Addiction and Red Hot Chili Peppers guitarist Dave Navarro, and Cypress Hill’s B-Real. The finalist will play at the First Annual ARTISTdirect Music Awards Show in October. ”There’s a lot of great music that hasn’t found its way into the usual pipeline of lawyers and business managers,” says UBL.com president Steve Rennie. ”So this is a way for musicians to get in front of a lot of people directly.”

The contest could be a lucky break for one aspiring artist or band, but what happens once they’ve won? After all, anyone who’s sat through an episode or two of ”Behind the Music” knows the music industry is fraught with pitfalls. EW Online asked B-Real and Navarro to fill us in on their do’s and don’ts for aspiring musicians.

LEARN THE BUSINESS ”Sometimes it’s a cutthroat business,” says B-Real, ”and the people who are artsy fartsy about it and say they can’t be bothered with learning the business side get f–ked in the end. No matter how good you are you can fall prey to the big machines of the record companies.” So after you cut a demo tape, ”find a lawyer,” says Navarro, 32. ”And make sure he really believes in you, or you’ll be paying by the hour for some half-hearted phone calls.” And relying on your lawyer isn’t enough. ”Learn about your points and percentages on the album, and learn about marketing schemes,” adds B-Real.

THE LONG AND WINDING ROAD Both Navarro and B-Real caution that landing a record deal isn’t the lotto jackpot it seems to be. ”There’s this myth that once you sign you’ve got it made, that you go buy lots of cars and girls like you. And it just isn’t true,” says Navarro. ”Once you get a record deal, that’s the beginning of hard work. Most bands find the money they earn touring goes back into paying off their advance.” He stresses the importance of staying focused on your goals instead of bitching about living out of a van for six months at a time. ”Drive and determination is half of it. It’s about baby steps.”

FORGET THE GIMMICKS Riding the latest trend may work for the likes of Cher and Madonna, but leave the shtick to seasoned professionals. ”Gimmicks play out real fast, but being yourself never plays out,” says B-Real. And play hardball if a label tries to squeeze you in to another act’s shadow. The brass may actually respect you for it. ”If you let record companies mold you into what they think you should be, your career won’t last no matter how good your music is. You better have your whole f—ing package together as far as your image and how you want to be seen before you even talk to a record company. And you may find out they think, Hey, these guys or girls have got good heads on their shoulders and be impressed. It’s less work for them, anyway.”

HOLD ON TO YOUR EGO Navarro warns that believing the hype can cause bands to focus more on maintaining their fame than striving to make great music. ”With Jane’s Addiction, we never thought we would amount to anything because we didn’t fit the climate of what was going on in music at the time,” he says. ”And because fame was never an objective, we truly did what we wanted to do.”

YOU WILL SCREW UP No matter how well you plan, no matter how much research you do, you will make mistakes. Deal with it. ”You can’t let it overpower you,” says Navarro. ”I’m really good at working myself into a panic, so if I start thinking about the past and what could have been different I get nothing done in the present.”

BE NICE TO YOUR FANS B-Real says that one of his best lessons in fan appreciation was meeting Public Enemy rapper Chuck D while he was still a struggling musician: ”He gave me the respect to talk to me whereas most guys would be like, ‘Leave me alone, I’m talking to this girl.’ Years later Chuck told me, ‘Look, this is the key. Five minutes of your time with a fan is a lifetime for them, because they’re never going to forget it. They’ll always be loyal to you and appreciate that you were gracious.” Say, could someone pass along that little nugget of advice to Limp Bizkit?