There is no doubt that there is a lot of hype on the internet about how to break into the music business, but every now and then you find someone from the inside who has some good insights. The common thread that I would have to agree with is that these folks point out is it takes hard work, dedication, patience and a little bit of luck (that destiny thing again).
It’s tough enough without shooting yourself in the foot by engaging in surefire self destructions. Here are a few examples at the top of the list. I give much credit to G.W. Childs IV, Sound Designer, Musician and author.
1. Chasing the Small Picture
There’s more than one way to crack an egg (or whatever the saying is), and there are certainly many different ways of building a music career. If you’re serious about building a long lasting, sustainable music career, the slow and steady approach usually wins the race. Every small step you take for your career is a building block; every new fan is a doorway to the next fan. Every good show is an opportunity to a bigger show next time. Every regional review is a step towards national press coverage. You get the picture.
The danger comes in when you don’t see the bigger side of that picture. That means you can’t get so wrapped up in assuming one thing is going to be your “big break” that you don’t know what comes next. In the music industry, most opportunities aren’t so much about the specific thing you’re getting right now – they are about what you can use that opportunity to get to in the future. So, it isn’t so much about landing the feature in your local paper – that is important and worth pursuing with all your might – but it is more about what you’re going to do with that feature once it is in print. How are you going to use it to drum up more fans, more sales, more press, more radio plays?
If you don’t have that next stage of the plan, and then the next, and then the next, then suddenly you’ll find yourself with a cool feature in the local paper from two years ago and not much else. The work is never done, so always have steps two, three and four waiting in the wings.
2. Being a Jerk
Not everyone in the music industry is nice. Some people are really pretentious jerks. Sometimes the pretentious jerks are people who have accomplished enough in the industry that they get to walk around being jerky unchallenged, because they’ve got the track record and the access to things people need enough to put up with their crap. It might be a little pathetic, but it comes with the territory a little bit. What is a surefire way to get shown the music industry door is to adopt that attitude before you even have any of that experience under your belt. You should believe in the music you’re making and be confident about what you’re doing which is something different entirely than being rude, overly demanding, condescending, obnoxious and all those other unpleasant things. It doesn’t matter that you’re lord/lady of the hipsters in your town or how awesome your friends all say you are or that you roll with a crew of 52 or anything else. That “rock and roll” attitude doesn’t make you seem exciting. This is the music industry – you can and will be replaced – that’s the blunt truth of the matter. So be someone people actually want to work with.
3. Slacking Off
Aiming for or making a living in music is not like playing music for a hobby. Namely, it is a job like any other, and when you don’t treat it like one, you’ll lose it. Yes, you love music and in the grand scheme of things, you know that getting to work with it day in and day out is a gift. That doesn’t mean that they’re won’t be times you don’t want to go out with your friends, sleep or watch TV when you should be practicing or doing something else music-career related. Rock and roll fantasy may dictate that you never have to do anything you don’t want to do, but the reality is that not meeting your music related responsibilities is a one-way ticket back to day-job land.
4. Playing to Your Weak Points
Whether you’re going DIY or hope to land some kind of deal some day, the key to music industry success is knowing what you’re good at doing, what you’re willing and able to do, and when to find some help to fill in the gaps. Even if you are completely dedicated to the idea of working sans label and such, there will come a time when it really isn’t practical for you alone to make the music, record the music, promote the music, book the shows, promote the shows and so on and so forth. If, for instance, you really hate updating your website, and you know you’ll just keep putting it off and putting it off until your website hasn’t been updated for nine months, then by all means, get some help. Help doesn’t have to be expensive. Depending at where you are in your career, help can simply be a trusted friend who either wants to get some music experience of their own under their belt or will work for little of nothing. Better to admit what you need help with and get it than to let jobs remain undone (or poorly done).
5. Being Controlled by the Excesses
Although the music industry is the one long, extended party you might see depicted in movies, as a musician or someone working in the industry, you will have more than ample opportunity to dabble in life’s little excesses. For some people, the availability of alcohol and drugs can become all consuming, and it may even seem like fun at first. The end game is that you become unpredictable, unreliable, unprofessional and just downright difficult to deal with. Your band-mates may decide you’re not worth risking their own reputations over, people may decide that you’re not worth booking if you’re going to show up late or not at all, your fans may decide that paying money to see you play an incoherent set is not worth it – and that is all before you even consider the risks to your own health and your personal relationships. Here’s the fact: You will absolutely always be able to find someone to tell you that your overindulgence is ok and to help you convince yourself that something about your behavior is what makes you interesting as musician/inspires your creativity. These people are so easy to find, but make a point of surrounding yourself with people who really care about you enough to tell you the truth. If you don’t think your music career can survive you not partying around the clock, then you aren’t cut out for this.
6. Forgetting the People You Love
This can be the beginning of the end for a lot of young artists. Our families, and humble beginnings are our roots and encompass the people in our lives that ground us, and remind us of our identities outside of the flashy clothes, bright LEDs, and vocoders.
7. Second Guess Yourself
Oftentimes, it is when you are cut off from what grounds you that you start to second guess yourself. This is so dangerous for any musician, as it is intuition and preference that ultimately mold the performance. This is where the ego really seems to turn on one and begins to slowly erode the newness of a burgeoning career. It’s such an easy fix, though. Go skateboarding, hang out with the people who know you best, and have fun, outside of the industry. Then come back hard and strong. The band Switchfoot is a good example of this, they spend a lot of time surfing and just hanging out with family and friends when not on the road. When artist starts to second guess himself, an artist will inevitably begin to trust less. After all, if one suddenly can’t complete a song over indecision on which filter plug-in to use, or which vocal take to use on the second verse, how does one can trust the world outside as well? Artists who cannot complete work can sometimes feel a lot of frustration with themselves, which oftentimes leads to feelings of guilt and inadequacy. This slowly edges into other areas of life, as it’s a main source of the artist’s beauty, now eroded. The songbird can no longer sing. This is where the ego becomes the trusted confidant, guiding you towards anger and despair.
Jealousy land, the crap house of the universe. Where no one can trust anyone and where all artists go to die, and sometimes, depending on their type of music, may come back to get a little angst and hate for the sound.
Jealousy is sad conclusion to losing trust in yourself. Because one has to be able to trust oneself, in order to trust others. I won’t go into the doldrums of what jealousy does, because we all know that. But what’s usually less apparent is how to get out of the awful place, once someone gets there. Best bet for musicians, in my opinion, In a competitive and saturated industry like music, it often gets hard to distinguish exactly what is needed to thrive. Income is not always stable and can be difficult to find, especially when starting out. I have worked with main line artists, who are not interested about hearing of another artist’s success, they have a tendency to think the world is focused entirely on them. There is no one else in the game but them.
A lot of times, people think musicians just sit around all day playing music. In actuality, the most successful professionals are jacks-of-all-trades, learning the ropes in terms of marketing, promoting, and finding their own gigs. In a way, they are much like entrepreneurs: they create their own product and have to create their own way of getting it out there to people. Professional musicians take on many roles, especially when starting out, searching for those paid gigs and trying to brand themselves in a vast market. It is important that they enjoy educating themselves on all the aspects of making music, to ensure success if the opportunity arises.
I have had the good fortune of working with many great artists, my ramblings are much more than theory:
The past was great, but really looking forward to the future and the new artists that are now breaking or reinventing themselves.