BEFORE READING: This article is directed at people who want to or do music (in one way, shape or form) full-time. If it’s a hobby, right on. Nothing against that. But a few ‘mentalities’ in this post may not apply to you. It’s harsh at times, but it sometimes just needs to be heard.
Now that that’s out of the way…
I live in a historic apartment complex in the heart of Uptown Charlotte. Occasionally we have hangouts out on the front stoop. On any given night of the week, you can find my neighbors doing neighborly things on our neighborly front stoop. I rarely hang out there as I’m either in the studio working, at krav, playing, or drinking coffee… somewhere else. But occasionally, I’ll break free and hang out with some of my very stereotypical pizza & beer consuming, questionable, but interesting neighbors.
Most of the people in my building are self-employed in some regard, travel a lot, and make me question whether they’re actually self-employed and travel a lot. The most they know about me is I write music, play drums, shop at trader joes, drive a blue car with the license plate ‘DRUMZ’, and I do Krav Maga. Other than that, not much. A few weeks ago, I hung out for a half hour or so.
As we started talking more in depth about music, their lives, and their “hustle,” it was fun to see what they had to say about music-related career woes. And let me tell you, I have never been so inspired by a bunch of drunks eating pizza.
So here you have it. In my own words, with some added chutzpah.
1. THEIR ART WASN’T MAGICAL AND THEY TYPICALLY WEREN’T “LUCKY.”
Every successful full-time Artist, Producer, & Entrepreneur that I’ve met works tremendously hard. ‘Luck’ is such a cop-out, and it’s actually insulting to the people you think ‘made it.’
For many of you who think some artists just “had their break over night,” it’s inaccurate. Being as straight forward as possible, this is an industry of dreamers (sadly) who are easily taken advantaged of, and this “luck” thing is an easy way to cloud over the shit-ton of hard work that actually goes into it.
Now, there is the “meet the right people” argument. In which people get hooked up. However, they still had something incredible to offer to “the right people.” That incredible thing, took a lot of time.
Nobody will hand you a career, in anything. Not even in the music industry… omg.
The luck-thing is a flavor of bullshit we must all learn to hate. Because there is SO much that goes into building a career from art.
People work hard.
FUN FACT: However Lil Wayne seems when the spotlight is on him, he went to school for Marketing & Psychology, was a genius at content marketing, and studied his ass off before leaving college in consideration of his conflicting tour schedule.
He was hyper focused on presenting himself and his brand purposefully.
One of my very close friends toured with him as a side-man and told me that off-stage, he’s incredibly smart, and very low-key. He also works relentlessly.
2. STOP OVER-ROMANTICIZING THIS. YOU’RE NOT THAT SPECIAL.
If you start thinking you really are, say good bye to moving forward.
Yes, it’s awesome you create art. And to many people who are not in the arts, it seems like magic.
Don’t believe them. Don’t get comfortable.
If you haven’t already, stop letting people convince you that you truly are special. You worked hard to be where you’re at. Right? Of course you did.
NEWSFLASH: There are plenty of hard workers in this industry.
I’ve seen a lot of really great artists become infatuated with themselves once they did 1 thing (somewhat) notable… how unfortunate that is. Because many of them didn’t do anything afterwords. They got cocky.
(I also know many people who have done great things, and are extremely humble. Always learning. Those are the people REALLY doing shit. They’re in it for the right reasons.)
Being confident is great, but being cocky will give you comfort. Why then focus on improving anywhere else?
Hear me out. Art is great. But in order to do it full-time (which means doing it the rest of your life to your fullest capabilities,) you can’t get cocky and comfortable.
You need to learn things that aren’t JUST music related. You need to promote yourself, and you need to treat yourself as a business, calm the fuck down, and hustle on the not-sexy things too.. ‘brand development’ (if you want to call it that) and awareness, networking (making real friends in music. not “connections” that will “hook you up”,) coming out with a lot of good material consistently, and of course, improving your craft.
If this was hard to swallow, I apologize, but since we’re at it, let me give you some more unappetizing words:
There seems to be this “business is the enemy” mentality to some artists I know. And it amazes me – since a majority, if not all of their musical heroes understand how to run themselves as such.
Many of the artists I know who were “anti-business” either have a day-job they despise (seemingly always with a shitty boss), or are not doing music at all anymore. Ones that adapted have moved forward in their music career.
Business is only as dirty as you make it. And if you’re a good person, with good intentions, work hard, think things over, watch your back, make real friends, don’t use people, and have something great to offer, you will be just fine.
Don’t be so scared of bid’nith, promoting yourself, and pushing yourself every single day. Everybody in every industry has to. We’re no different. You won’t come across as ‘weird’ if you’re really hustling. It’s actually really impressive and cool.
3. STUDY OTHER INDUSTRIES. NOTICE TRENDS.
Now that we have the “anti-business mentality doesn’t make sense” pill swallowed, here is something awesome. Study other industries. Here is one example:
COCO & THE DIRECTOR.
One of my neighbors Brad is in the Hotel Industry. AirBnB is definitely starting to affect them. I noticed a Marriott in Uptown Charlotte recently opened a coffee shop, restaurant, and bar aimed towards locals. It’s now REALLY popular. Marriott is gaining an income from both travelers and locals now. What an incredible way to adapt.
Just like AirBnB did to the Hotel Industry, the indie music industry or really, the ‘underground’ industry is starting to affect the Major labels a bit. You can be a full-time indie artist, you can get into publications, get onto advertisements, all without being signed. (Not to say it doesn’t require a tremendous amount of work. But many people do this.)
You could write for film for however many dollars and keep all of it. A Major label won’t even talk unless the deal is at least $25,000. You have less overhead, and in some cases, just as much to offer. To us indie artists: Most of the time, your weaknesses are often your strengths. And most of the time, the people at the top’s strengths are most of the time their weaknesses. So start analyzing.
Look at Macklemore. He did it, Hoodie Allen did it, and thousands of indie artists around the world that have normal lives of whichever they so choose. Partiers, travelers, settled down with familys, home-studio owners, commercial studio free-lancers, bar-gigging song-writers. They have all come up with creative ways to promote themselves, without ‘the big people.’
It’s whether or not you have something to truly offer, and then of course whether or not you are creative enough to monetize that offer. Major labels have begun or are in talks of adapting so they are still relevant. As you can now do everything a label would do for you… by hiring 3rd party. This is where studying other industries and noticing trends can be at your advantage.
Look at some trends going on in other industries you may know a little bit about, and see how they’re adapting. Is there something similar you can do in the music industry?
4. THIS INDUSTRY IS NOT THE PROBLEM. YOU MAY BE.
The point is this. You can complain about how the industry is ridiculous, unfair, scary, and there is no money in it. That’s fine. Quit. You may find that you come to this conclusion in the new industry you dive into.
FACT: There are plenty of people making a fortune, and moderate middle-class incomes in this industry. They are doing this full-time, and live awesome lives. They work hard and smart.
Yes, there is some shadiness occasionally, some untrustworthy people, you will maybe get screwed a few times, etc. But what industry is not like that? “Getting Fucked Over” is not only in the music industry. “Getting Fucked Over” is just a part of working with a lot of other humans.
So before you become uncertain, and uninspired to continue on this dream of being a full-time artist/producer/whatever, just think for a moment about what I’m about to say:
I recently read somewhere, “If there is success in your industry, the problem is not the industry. It’s you.” There is so much success in this industry. There are so many incredible, awesome people who work hard and are incredibly passionate about what they have done, what they do, and what they can do in the future for their career, and our beautiful world we are so fortunate enough to live in.
So, stop undermining “hard work & determination” with your “luck & … luck.” Of course, not everyone “makes it” as you have in your mind. But, that is no different than any other fact in life. No other industry gives everyone success. That’s just ridiculous. Just keep reminding yourself, you are incredibly capable of making your dreams come true, it is actually very possible.
… It was a life-changing 35 minutes out on the stoop.