The landscape for musicians has changed, there’s no doubt about it. It’s just crazy—on the one hand, the accessibility to the possibilities of a great sound (and not your Daddy’s demo-tape kinda sound) are within reach for just about, well, anyone…but on the other hand, however, the music industry as we have known it has been turned on its head, shaken, beaten and all but left for dead. What amazes me is that in the middle of all of this, we still hear whining—probably more whining than in the past.
Why? Well, this is where I give my observation (ok, opinion…) of what I see. The fact that one is talented does not inherently demand that a living be provided based on that merit alone. In fact, there is a concept that goes right over the heads of many, and I daresay possibly most, musicians who look at a full-time music career as a God-given right based on the virtue of that talent. The fact is that it takes more than talent in the craft, but also skill in the art of running a business. We can’t ignore the “business” part of the music business.
I grew up in a family of business owners and entrepreneurs, and one of the key lessons I have learned is that most businesses fail within the first 2 years, if they’re lucky to have lasted that long. This is not because they didn’t have a great product or service, but because the business of selling that product or service was not executed, or even planned in a manner which is required for that business to remain viable. The music business is no different, and in fact, in my humble opinion, demands a greater degree of diligence in order to succeed.
Another lesson I have learned, and lived by, is to surround myself with those who are smarter and better than I am in the roles and performing the tasks that are required for success. This can particularly challenging for many musicians due to the sheer amount of ego that tends to accompany the talent behind the enterprise. You see, what I am driving at is that your band—your act—provides products and services; without a sound business structure and plan, chances are likely that it won’t provide gainful employment.
Having talent and skill in music alone is not enough—there’s more to it all than just music. Technical skill is required for recording and the delivery of live performances; money management skills are necessary for managing the budgets; marketing and advertising skills are necessary for getting your products and services sold and to market; sales skill is required for getting gigs; management skills are absolutely critical in order to ensure that there is coordination, cooperation, etc…among all of those involved.
So, unless the talented musician has been endowed with the same level of talent (and skill) in those areas as well, there will be gaps through which opportunity and necessary activities will inevitably fall. So, for all of the musicians out there expecting to be paid a living wage for their music, and not getting it, it’s time to quit whining and start approaching their goals and activities as a business. This is not selling out, it’s survival.
The fact is that I don’t think there is anyone on the face of this earth that doesn’t want to make a living doing something that they love to do. I love what I do, and it provides a means to support my family, my obsession, passion and habit known as music, and an opportunity to learn necessary skills that I can apply to the execution of my business of music, which brings me to my final point: for all of you who think that not making a living off of your music means that you’re not successful or that you are wasting your talent, or that you don’t have a music career: your wrong! There are a couple of individuals that were mentors of mine who imparted to me the key lesson underlying all of this, both of who are incredibly successful in the national music scene. Neither of them are full time musicians, per se, yet they took their passion for music with them and elevated it to a place where they would never have gotten to by writing and performing music alone. They are incredibly successful professionals who taught me this: find a career that will provide good (if not great) income in order to support my musical ambitions.
I have done that, and I don’t consider myself any less of a musician for doing so. Consider how many pilots there are—most of whom are incredibly passionate about flying, however they have no reasonable ambition to make a career out of it. Why is music any different? We don’t need to make a living from music in order for it to have an impact on the world around us. In fact, chasing after a full time music gig can leave many spending more time trying to survive than playing music.
These are just thoughts that have been on my mind recently and felt a need to share. There are all kinds of resources and examples of people doing extraordinarily cool things to further their music and build community around this passion. Remember, we all have music careers, regardless of whether we make a living from them or not.