Just recently I have had requests to input into a few emerging artists as to how they can progress in their music careers.
When I noted that a lot of it is hard work, and explain what that may mean, a few haven’t been happy – that I ‘killed their dreams’, thought it would be done for them, made it sounded so hard, etc ……….a shame. But, in the long term, would they have been happier if I painted a rosy picture, a view through rosé coloured glasses, that ended up proving incorrect and ended with them failing, leaving the industry, blaming me, etc. I doubt it! (And I wouldn’t be comfortable or true to myself anyway).
Anyway, the increasing level of inquiries and responses has prompted me to share a more detailed explanation and general commentary on ‘being in the business’ (or if you like ‘what does it take to be in music full time’). It’s long but covers a fair bit of ground.
I am not talking about the person who has music as something in their lives, but it is a sideline, a hobby They have a full time job and are happy to just play with friends, at parties, whenever a gig comes up or just at home for themselves…. Not that there is anything wrong with this at all. In fact, if you like your full time work (and the money it brings in) and just want to enjoy music, this can be a very nice way to ‘do music’ …no pressure, just fun, etc.
However, if you want a ‘career in music’, build your music side of life to be full time or at least the focus, ……then this rambling general article of a range of thoughts, ideas and observations may be helpful in framing your perceptions, planning and progress.
As well, while looking at the ‘full time involved’ person, I am also not saying you need to do it all now. In fact if you are starting out, wanting to transition to a full time music career, then some of what follows may help you work out stepping stones, skills you need to acquire (or hire), stuff you need to get in place along the way – or all at once – and may help you progress to that goal over time.
So first, let me answer the obvious question to put a base to the rest of the argument.
…….. Do I think it is it possible to still be full time, make a nice sustainable living in the music business?
Obviously and absolutely YES! As I, and many others, are. ……….BUT ……..
I have said it often and so I will start by saying again…… With the presumption there is some actual talent for what you are doing (and even if not in some cases).. in my humble opinion, the number one reason most people don’t establish sustainable careers in the music industry is?….. They don’t treat their music ‘business’ as a business!
They don’t give the appropriate time, learning or effort to the ‘have to’ stuff that lets the ‘fun’ stuff happen regularly.
- it’s not going to be ‘easy’ – if it was really easy everyone would be having success, and not everyone does
- most working sustainable musicians, etc are doing more than one thing (whether that is teaching, production, session work, co-writing, support in few bands, in a music store etc). There are very few who do well enough to ‘just perform’ or similarly one activity only (yes there are exception areas but even those are multi-tasks)
- someone has to be doing the organising, marketing, getting gigs, admin, finding an paying musicians, etc etc etc – it has to be done…..and if not you, then you are going to have to pay someone else to do it for you.
It seems to me that a lot of artists are looking for the someone (hopefully the right person) or people who will magically get them gigs, promote them and elevate their careers to the next level. There is nothing wrong with searching out people to help you advance your career and the right agent or manager or publisher could do wonders for your career. But, at the end of the day, no one cares about your music and your career more than you do….. if you are not prepared to put in the hours and effort yourself, why should they (unless you pay them accordingly of course)?
And if you are unknown, dont have any ‘proof source’ that you can do the job, put in the effort, be reliable when it counts….. ‘produce the goods when it matters’ – why would they take the chance (again unless getting paid regardless and sure the payments will happen) – that wouldn’t make good business sense from their side now would it?
The music business has changed drastically over the last couple decades. Artist development is a thing of the past. (In general especially the big labels) people want to see you are working, you put in the effor, you have a following, getting gigs etc before they will invest in you. …. So, the further you can advance your career on your own, the more likely that you’ll attract the attention of the people who can ultimately help you get your career to the next level.
I think the proper mindset to have as a musician in 2013 is: you’re going to do everything you possibly can on your own and if the right person comes along to help you move things forward, great, but if not, you keep going regardless.
If you learn to think this way you’ll go much further and you’ll also feel much more empowered. Be your own manager until you attract someone else to do this for you. Your own booking agent, or publisher until you attract the right booking agent or publisher. Organise the right studio, engineer, producer (hint, hint) for our CD project and so on.
Okay, still with me? Let’s go a little bit further.
There is a basic business premise in establishing any business, that if you can think of all the ‘what if’s” and can cover those/live with them – then you move forward from an informed sustainable base. If you can manage the expectations and understand “worse case scenarios” then you are ready for the valley experiences and can get through them to the next mountain top comes along.
So let’s look at a few “have you thought about” areas to be sure you have …………….
Are you a gigging musician or want to be? Do you have a family? Young children?
If you were/are single and childless it can be different – you can go for the dream, live on nothing when needed, travel as need, sleep where you can, etc – If you and your partner met while you were in the business and its been part of your relationship since, then it probably works, but if this is a new direction/venture (as with any) it takes adjustment.
If in a family situation you have other mouths to feed, to clothe, to support etc (or co-support) and someone has to cover these costs as well as rent/mortgage and other living costs. If not you, then your partner has to cover them while you ‘play’ and there is probably only so long that will be comfortable (and hopefully they dont have employment issues) ……….. but what about the non monetary considerations?
Are you prepared to compromise the time you spend with your partner and children? Or do you wait until the children are old enough to be independent? And your partner is happy to see less of you?
All of those I know in the business have, without exception, found it tough as family have come along and have made compromises to the time they have with family and children……….or to their careers for a period. Partly this is because
- To maximise income from gigging etc you need to be working long hours on Thursday, Friday and Saturday nights – as well as probably Sunday arvo and maybe mid week as well
- You need to be available when the gigs are on – whether back up singer or own band
- Then there is time in rehearsal as well
- There is the issue with gigs cancelled should a child be ill (and what that does to reputation) Also if full time you have to factor in that if you dont work, no income flows – obvious I know – but again if you become sick/voice issues, child has an “issue” that needs you – etc etc –
- There is the need to have enough ‘savings’ or build funds – for when you cant do it anymore, need to stop for a while, have a holiday (even if just for the kids etc), no gigs on but expenses continue etc etc
- And, there is an understanding of the possible things you will ‘miss’/not be there for – – eg school concerts because the gig was too well paid to reject, etc etc as well as weekend nights when parties are on etc and your own social occasions you will miss (as you are part of other people’s social times, etc)
There is no right or wrong here – its understanding possible issues and effects on the path you want to follow, considering alternatives and coming up with something that suits you. However, part of that is the need to be sure of family relationships, understanding what you are sacrificing to do what you need to do (and making sure your partner and child do to).
Can you be comfortable with the transient, non regular lifestyle and possibly income flow?
Gigs come when they come, opportunities arise when they do, clients for the studio ‘appear’ when they have a need (and the time of when they want to record may have to be at their convenience not yours), money may not always be available when its best for the project to start, etc.
A lot of what you want to do is/will dependent on the decisions of others. You can help minimise the ebbs and flows (and the choice of accepting/rejecting work) by being ‘out there’, marketing, networking, etc enough to keep the inquiries flowing – but it is still based on their need and timing.
Happy with that? Does your expenses, budget, ‘fat factor’ allow you the security to be comfortable at times when things arent flowing?
In my experience, this inconsistent nature of the business is another major reason why people dont ‘last’. And usually hasn’t been factored in to their decison making.
What about entering the music industry through a transition phase?….. ie secure some base income but give you the freedom to move your dream closer to reality…..by either:
- Having a ‘dead head’ job that doesnt require any thinking/after work mind distratction etc – something you just go to, can do easily, that pays the basic bills so you don’t have to have that stress and then do the music stuff part time – (well probably full time equivalent again once get busy as you still have to do a lot of the booking/prep/rehearsal as well as gigs) … but the dead head job is so easy it allows you to keep you mind focussed on the music, even during work (and maybe making calls etc during breaks)
- Get something with some interest to it (and probably bit more money), part time (preferably Mon-Wed/Thurs) – so can stop, shut it off and become ‘full time musician’ Thursday-Saturday
This is actually a great way to move forward, progress in stages, get your ducks in a row, and even test that you have what it takes to be full time.
Of course it does mean that you have to
- Be able to shut off from one when at the other
- Not be available for either when doing the other (and accept the consequences)
- Be ready to leave the ‘big income’, established job
- Realise that this will delay being ‘full time’ and stretch out the dream a bit (but knowing that if you go from the transition to full time you do so in an informed basis having ‘tested it out’)
- Realise the image of what you are doing, availability etc will effect what people will rely on when considering you as an artist, potential booking etc
Anyway just an idea
Now remember I did say it was possible, enjoyable and can be done – we are covering the “what ifs” ………. Still going?
“I want my own band” – is going to take a while, as is a huge responsibility and costing.
Your band means your responsibility. Your requirement to organise, get the gigs, organise the contracts, collect and distribute the money. Your need to market, promote……. etc, etc.
For example, you need to pay band members regardless of income (if not enough $$, you can be out of pocket real quick). There are more emerging artists touring today than ever before with just 1-2 musicians (who are also backing singers) and the rest on backing tracks because they can’t afford to run a full band – or …. as in a lot of rock bands – the whole band is part of the ownership and deal and all taking a risk – sharing responsibility but also ownership and decisions (so you need to be happy relinquishing control). Until you get enough bookings to justify the full line up, other options will get you out there.
So again maybe a transition phase?
If you are a singer and find a compatible guitarist or keyboard player who works well with you and with whom you can rehearse together easily – would allow you to access the ‘duet small spaces’ earlier. EG hitting restaurants that have music, small bars/lounges etc – and hopefully being good enough to get a regular gig (initially monthly as part of a roster of acts and then more frequent as get a following) …. a very good base/regular cash flow way to start???
A few final points (some of which are repeats from other posts)
- Any venue will book you easily if you can get enough bums on seats
- The management, promoter, etc will come and people will approach you to help (and take a share of your money) when there is enough ‘hype’ about you.
- Finally. for the gigging musician there is the learning, time and ……… networking
Again there is learning and it takes time. Besides facebook (and networking there for your business not just social) etc – you need to take time to network – you need to be
- Googling and searching for stuff (venues, people, contact details etc etc)
- Going to venues and seeing bands, coffee with XX
- Meeting people at music shops, studios, getting to know locals, teachers etc etc
- Doing open mike nights etc etc to get known in advance of booking approach
- Being up to speed with industry information, gossip and local happenings – so connected to online info, newsletters and magazines that give you the info – and then be reading/scanning and acting on something that might be beneficial
- Going to restaurants and cafes with live music to see what they do, how they do it, meet management and the acts
- Etc etc etc
Usually the best way to do this is to plan and allocate specific time.
Online – dedicate an hour or two a night (at least initially) to do your searching/connecting/friending etc.
Physically – work out a couple of time in a day and a couple of times a week (eg 2 lunchtimes, 1-2 coffee times, 1 day straight after work) and a couple of nights a month – and dedicate them to this activity … and thats when organise to visit, be there, arrange meetings etc ………. and again that way have it programmed so you know other elements of your life can be organised
So in summary.
- Work out the ‘costs’ to you, family, financial issues etc etc of going down this road
- Then work out what will work and when it will work (the ‘look’ of it – number of nights/days/when etc)
- Start on the networking/industry contacting/meeting activity
- Learn develop and grow (you can never stop learning, upskilling, practicing, developing your knowledge (abou what you do and your business)
- Just start doing it – dont wait till you are totally prepared – you never will be as the business itself keeps changing you need to be in it to flow with the changes.
You will only really know what the whole thing will feel like and look like once you are out there doing it. Try a few things, probably only one or two to start (as in the actual music activity) as there will be conflicts. So try something and continue if it works, try something else if it doesnt.
- Have fun where you can and look forward to the fun when you can’t.
Well, there ya go ……….It is a bit ‘all over the place’ and rambling I know but, there is so much to cover …….so its a start and hopefully a point or two will be useful to you.
More to come in the future.