* #1 – Waiting
* #2 – Unreasonable Expectations
* #3 – Poor Planning
* #4 – Comparing Apples To Oranges
*#5a – Black and White Thinking (Day Job)
*#5b – Black and White Thinking (Career Trajectory)
It’s a very odd thing to talk to your average musician about their career goals. As I have mentioned before I often hear things like “getting to the next level” or wanting to “make it”. Part of the problem is that statements like these aren’t specific enough to be of much use to those who utter them. I’m not here to tell anyone that the music business isn’t difficult or isn’t filled with frustration – it is absolutely frustrating and the pace at which it moves (especially when you are starting out) makes glaciers look like Ferraris. Many musicians need to get a grip on what the majority of career trajectories look like and stop comparing themselves to so-called overnight successes. The harsh reality is that yes- some seemingly talentless people get rich and famous doing music and as much as that can mess with your sense of justice – there is absolutely nothing you can do about it.
I should mention that I don’t blame anyone for their perception of what the music business really is and what making a living making music looks like. Pop Culture and Hollywood have done a number on us all by presenting us a constantly whispered message that anyone can be a celebrity for seemingly no reason at all. The VH1 behind the music series (which I loved and still do love) was a classic representation of what is broadcast about a musician’s career. It had an hour slot and usually was about 43 minutes long. It usually looked like this:
Minutes 1-4 – Where the musician grew up, who their parents were and how they always wanted to be a singer / guitarist / rockstar / rapper
Minute 5-7: – Quotes from Mom, family and friends about how this person was very driven
Minutes 7-10: some footage from a talent show, the chance meeting of a collaborator or label executive – perhaps some brief mention of the artist gigging in obscurity for an unmentioned period of time and at least once getting close to calling it quits.
Minutes 10 onwards – Minor problems in the studio and then rocket ship ride to superstardom including the obligatory dark period (usually someone close to the subject dying or a drug habit) followed by the redemption of them still being on top – and everything being okay.
The point is it is not an interesting Hollywood story that it took a ton of hard work and someone built their fan base one fan at a time over years and years. It is not an interesting Hollywood story that people slowly but surely got better at the craft and kept moving forward. The hard work, the struggle, the doubt, the waiting for better… this is a great deal of the process but it is presented as little more than a footnote in the folklore of being a successful musician.
What I mean to say is that it is easy to think in absolutes when this is the cultural message we receive every day. Try to avoid this. If you don’t avoid this it becomes far too easy to be that older crabby musician or ex musician who has a chip on his or her shoulder about how the business (and everything else) sucks.
Try to remember you are slowly building a business and that as long as you are slowly aligning your work life with your passion for music you are on the right track. Your career isn’t nowhere if you aren’t drawing 500 people a night nor is it nowhere if you aren’t 100% self-sustainable yet. Startup businesses take time and very often the ones that survive are the ones that are flexible enough to adapt to whatever is put into their path. Your career in music might not look like the one you envision. God knows when I was a nineteen and getting my first tattoo I thought I was going to be in a touring band for the rest of my life.
The biggest lesson I think I ever learned about the business or probably even life in general (and it hit me like a ton of bricks) was when I interviewed an old band mate of mine who had gone on to be very successful. He said quite simply “I haven’t done anything different in 15 years”. It was when I realized that I had never worked towards anything with consistent daily effort for more than 2-3 years without losing my focus and that I lost my right to bitch.
Click here for the next and last of the series.
If you missed the last installment check that out here.