I am an Egyptian singer, songwriter, multi-instrumentalist and music producer from the town of Alexandria. A Mediterranean coastal city of inspiration and ambition.
My music journey is full of leaps of faith, as it should be, but looking at this recent one, in Los Angeles, I realize that this is the biggest transition that I encountered as an artist. I have been documenting my experience ever since I came to the states, part of it for my coming book, and big part of it is a reaction to the depth of the adventure.
It is quite hard to convey the magnitude of the experience in this article, so I would like to share this journey through some concepts. Concepts that I didn’t find online when I was planning to take my music to this scene but lived through and helped shape the music of the band and my process.
I am thinking of fellow Egyptian musicians who would be reading this, wondering what it can be like to hit a big music scene like Los Angeles. I am thinking of aspiring musicians flocking in from Europe, Asia and even musicians who take an aim at it from America.
I don’t think there is any way of describing to any musician how big a scene is in LA – or other big scenes like NY for example - until they see it. This was the first thing that I realized more crystal clear maybe than tons of online information about the city.
I started my rock band in Egypt in the late 90’s within a very loyal and passionate yet a small rock scene. With the diversity of nationalities and cultural backgrounds in that scene I came to know the power of rock music as an art form. The super tune, the hit vocal line, the raw message and the technique mastery.
When we started playing abroad we felt the same vibration of music scenes getting bigger and evolving on the business side. The scale of the music business in LA however is almost tenfold the perceived business size I had in mind and I think this is the case for almost all aspiring musicians who made this transition.
In the first couple of weeks I realized that approach and strategy is extremely important within an industry hub of this scale. Almost as important as the passion that brought you to the place. It took me some time to absorb this and do things differently.
I always saw lack of an industry infrastructure as a disruption to artists. And in bigger art hubs, artists have both the chance of no disruption and the challenge to stand out and make a mark. So given there is no disruption and field is open, what would you build out of a big scene like this? This is a corner stone question. This is where your approach and your steps need to be much more focused.
When I am on stage one of my favorite moments is the snapshot view of listening faces, reflecting on the music, I almost take a trance thinking about their stories, dreams and ambitions. The stage is the utmost collective experience to know people. One thing to be sure of is that people are the same, everywhere. Receptive to an honest connection.
This is almost the main question people ask me, how are the people like? What is the culture? Well, definitely it is a big transition from the culture in Egypt in many aspects yet in art it is really not that different.
Something to really pay attention to, is that this is a place for dreamers. Big dreamers. It is not the ultimately merriest place in the world, an unbelievable weather yes, but to be honest I have seen happier communities. The amazing side of LA, is about the mass of ambitious artists, capable talents and breakthrough ideas which is so beautiful and unparalleled. This is the basic difference, artistically I find here.
The artistic culture shares the same fabric I saw in all art scenes.
I remember in Egypt how the rock community – and my family- were exultant for the SCORPIONS gig at the pyramids. I remember long discussions with many musicians about their music and their world class act. My discussions and critique had almost the same intensity and depth in the gulf and Europe with fellow artists. These very sincere art discussions you take with you to Los Angeles and it magically opens doors to like minded communities.
When I landed in Miami for my first shows in the states, a very supportive art community urged me more to move to either Austin or LA. The LA music community is urging the band more to tour, share stages and so on.
So the key to your welcoming community and inspiring culture in Los Angeles is like any other place. It is getting to know people, but firmly in a genuine way, not in a ‘purpose based friendship’ way as a fleet of music blogs might tell you.
At some point after we started playing abroad our original music, I opened my production studio in Cairo and started reaching out to many music scenes and markets around the world. At that time, the only way for global exposure was a strong online presence and making a ‘pitch’ perfect in impact and context. I always felt it is not enough despite having some successes. ‘Pitch’ can never pass on the human factor behind the art, the music, or the business side of both.
That’s why when you come to a big music hub, I am not a big believer in ‘Pitch’.
I truly believe that ‘Pitch’ is a normal step for a normal intended outcome. The connection of an artist and a visionary industry professional is more influential when interest is based on a situation.
Most of my strong connections that helped me move forward here happened due to situations that got me to know the person. Accidental or fun situations, even awkward situations sometimes are a super-fast way to open up doors and draw attention. These you don’t have control over, but the scene is so big you are always meeting influential people.
Speaking of which, especially for the naturally kind Egyptians fellow musicians, please be aware you can be talking to a known figure in music at any moment in LA. Don’t offer guitar lessons or ask ‘Hey what do you do for a living?’ very casually, as I did ask Jermaine Jackson one time. Not a very good way to start a conversation.
It is true there is maybe more frustrated musicians in Los Angeles than it should be. A place where you can knockout 200 gigs a year can never be frustrating for me as an artist, but hey every artist has his/her muse.
I guess the main reason of frustration is not the achievement, but the lack of understanding, what a music hub is.
Los Angeles, NYC, Austin, Nashville, London, are music hubs of the world, this happened, is happening and I assume will remain the case hopefully for a long time.
What happens only once I believe is the artist. Artists are a very rare phenomena in the span of their lifetime and the span of human history. And they shape, with their success or failure, music hubs and the music industry. I think it is very important for artists to realize that they are the source. Artists are the source and everything else follows.
It is, as I said a big transition, in scale, in culture and generally in pushing through this music.More than anything at some point you need to just take your favorite guitar and cross the ocean for your music.
Dream bigger than the universe. Make it happen.
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