Right around the beginning of the year, when everyone seems to be making new resolutions and goals, I tend to get a lot of people asking for advice on how to get a career in the music industry. What do you have to do in order to quit the day job, and just do something music related for a living?
Notice that I didn’t say “write music for a living”, because in all honesty, I think the days of being able to make a living solely off creating and selling your own music are all but gone. Sure, there will still be a few people who do it, but for a while now the majority of professional artists releasing material have been making their money from touring and playing live, versus selling actual records (CDs, downloads, whatever). And unfortunately, record labels have caught on to this as well, and most now require a cut of touring revenue, further eating into artists’ pockets. If you want to make a living making music, make sure you can play live too, simplest advice I can give there.
Still, that leaves a lot of other careers in the music industry, far too many to really mention here in fact. Rather than trying to go into specifics for landing a gig in each of those (since those specifics will likely be outdated in a couple years anyway), I thought I’d focus on some more general concepts that I’ve learned about over the years in my struggle to achieve “the dream”.
– It’s about hard work. When I first thought about actually making a living from music somehow, I was pretty young and happened to run across an interview with BT in some magazine. They asked him the same question, “How do you get to a point where you’re making a living from music?” His answer, “You have to be prepared to work harder than everyone else.” It sounds simple, but it’s true. You may dream of just sitting in your studio writing the occasional tune that the world goes crazy over and will pay you dearly for. That will not happen (fun daydream though, no?). Even the most gifted musician has to deal with the fact that they run a business, and all the work that involves. Even paying others to handle this for you involves a lot of work, especially to get to that point.
So lesson 1 is to he honest with yourself with what this involves. You often see the easy side of the business, the DJ partying in the club, the band riding to gigs in limos, the singer doing her next album in some exotic location. That does happen, but not before those artists put in massive amount of work to get to that point (and ultimately paid for all those perks and fun times out of their own pocket anwyay). Not only is it a lot of work to get to that point, but also to maintain it. It’s sooo worth it, but at the same time you gotta be ready to really bust your ass all the time, plain and simple. No one is just going to drop an awesome job in your lap because you think you’re “THAT” good.
– You need to get lucky. This isn’t some attempt to use FATE as the ultimate decider of who gets to be famous and who doesn’t. Ask any successful artist how they got where they are, and I bet most will be able to look back to some point in the past when they got a lucky break. But you can’t just stop trying, kick back your feet, and wait for these moments to find you. The better and more skilled you can are, the more likely you’re going to be in a position to be there when your chance comes.
And not only do you need a lucky break, you need to be ready when it comes. I know that there’s a few times in my life where I was presented with a good chance at meeting this dream of music for a living, and just wasn’t ready for it. Sucks, but you live and learn. Which brings me to….
– You’ll be in over your head. When you do finally get a chance to prove your skills to someone in a position to advance your career, you’re almost always going to feel like you’re in over your head, like you’re not prepared enough. You’re doing something new, and probably something you’re a little under-qualified for still. Roll with it. Don’t pass up the chance, just dive in and do your best, really give it your all. Better to try and not do it, than to not even try at all.
The good thing about the internet these days, is that it’s usually pretty easy to find someone more experienced than you in your field, so help is often not more than an email away. Don’t be afraid to ask for help, but don’t expect them to do your job either. Keep your questions short and simple, and work fast. In fact, having contacts like these before you need them is a good idea, saves you time when you need help NOW. (and don’t email me, I’m busy, see point 1!)
The other thing you’ll notice about your first big gig is that you often have less time to get it done than you expected too. Be efficient, stay focused, this is your priority. Most of all, just have confidence in yourself, that all the training and practice you’ve put in so far (again, see point 1).
– To be a professional, act like a professional. I know I’ll get flack from some people for this, but I see it all the time. If you want people to take you seriously, and to put their money in your pockets, you need to be the type of person they can trust and feel comfortable around. You can’t be a hot head, you can’t act childish, you don’t go online and act like an idiot, you never know who’s reading what you write. You might feel like being online is a great place to express who you really are, where you can say whatever you want, and you’re right, it is. But you have to look at it from the perspective of a potential client, or a booking agent, or an A&R person, etc. They’re doing music for a living too, and like you want things to go as smoothly and simply as possible. Why would they want to work with someone who acts like a fool, or always causes trouble for other people and is argumentative.
There’s certainly famous engineers and artists known for being complete pricks, but they’re the exception, not the rule. You’re free to try that route, but you’re really limiting who you’ll eventually work with. I can’t count the number of awesome situations I’ve been in because people thought I was a pretty chill, but informed guy (their words, not mine). From being on the beta teams of some of the best gear ever made, to really awesome DJ and live gigs. Be cool with people, and they’ll be cool to you. Simple.
– Don’t give up. It takes time, and there will be a lot of highs and lows along the way. When you get your first big break, you’ll feel on top of the world. Then the reality sinks in that there’s now yet another hill to climb, another goal to achieve and maintain. Keep at it, stay confident, have some faith that you can do it. Keeping the proper attitude really reflects in how other people see you, the image you project of yourself. Again, no one wants to work with the downtrodden artist who complains and whines all the time. Stay positive!
If you have any comments you want to add, or other tips, please leave them in the blog versus posting them on any forums I linked the blog on. One of the main reasons I created a blog when there’s already so many out there, is that I wanted a place where my friends from ALL the forums I frequent could gather to discuss music topics.
This way, everyone gets the chance to see any witty replies you might have too 😉
Peace and beats,