Behind the curtain

The World Loves CelebritiesStars are shown as if their lives were one big party. You’ve seen the limos, the mansions, and the glamor of celebrity, but most people have only seen them from a distance unless they happen to be one of “stars.” I don’t know how many times, as a consultant, that I have heard new artists say “My songs are really good… I could be on the radio and TV too!”

Remember the scene in The Wizard of Oz, where Dorothy and her friends are finally in the inner chamber of the Wizard? They’re in awe of the spectacular sights and sounds when Toto pulls back the curtain. The Wizard is nothing but an old, ordinary man who had been pulling strings and pushing buttons to create those sights and sounds. Well, that’s the entertainment business.  Pull back the curtain of illusion and take a close look at the business of music.

If you’re going to have any real shot at success, you have to see the entertainment industry for what it is – a multi-billion dollar-a-year business that uses songs as just one of the many ways to get money from millions of consumers. And yes, most of the people behind that curtain are actually old, ordinary looking men and women who have a job to do and some do it quite well.

The path to success as a musician isn’t paved with yellow bricks. Matter of fact, it ain’t paved at all. It’s a road built with down and dirty, gritty work based on real world realities.

The Entertainment Industry Sells Fantasy. The entertainment industry’s job is fantasy. Fantasy is what keeps the listeners listening and the viewers viewing.

Fantasy can be hazardous to your career. “Starry eyes” can prevent musicians from establishing their careers. Some musicians put together a band, start to play some gigs, make a demo or record a CD, get a website up, create a Facebook page and feel pretty good when a few devoted fans start telling them how great they are.

But what happens if they can’t get their music on any kind of radio, the clubs they want to perform in won’t book them, or their demo shopping fails to generate any interest from the labels? It’s a good course in learning how to handle rejection.

Their lack of success is always someone else’s fault.  They feel unappreciated. It was too much work sending out all those demos anyway, and the clubs don’t have a clue what they’re missing by not booking them. And those A&R Reps, what do they know? “I’m a great undiscovered artist.”

Forget the fantasies. Don’t listen to the voices that make excuses for not doing good.  It is old fashioned, in the trenches, hard work. It’s not about fantasies; it’s about music and your commitment to it. Grab that reality and just get down to the business of being a dedicated, practicing and performing musician. That’s where it starts, the rest is little harder to define.

The simple answer is being in the right spot at the right time. Exactly how that happens, on this side of heaven, no one knows. Sure, you can have the perfect manager, an amazing talent, great record company, etc, but that doesn’t guarantee success. I know that Bob Dylan’s comments are a little hard to follow, but his views about it all being spiritual in the end is not that far off.

Years ago, when I got into Christianity, it was challenging for me to understand the difference between predestination and free will. I asked a professor and pastor I had a huge respect for, Bob Cornwall, about this.  Expecting a long and complicated answer, he merely answered “we choose to be chosen.”  I have never forgot that and it has been the base of my entertainment career and the first thing I share with new artists.

The part of us that knows we have to work to get established is right. The error is thinking that after a certain point the work stops and the party begins. Actually, the work never stops. If you thought struggling to make it was rough, imagine the day-to-day reality of maintaining star status. Do you have any idea how much work it takes to tour non-stop for eighteen months? Try that fantasy on for size.

Do what you love because the best success, perhaps the most fantastic sensation of all, is satisfaction. Satisfaction always follows a grounded-in-reality dedication to developing your career. You are a musician, and real musicians never stop playing their music, no matter how frustrating that road may be.

I am crediting Christopher Knab, the Music Biz academy for parts of this post.

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