#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)
#5c – Black and White Thinking (The Industry)
Perhaps the most stunning example of black and white thinking for musicians is the way they interact with or react to the industry. A large percentage of the musicians I encounter either despise the industry for reasons that don’t seem to be well articulated or are enamored with the industry and desperate for the attention, validation and information that these executives may or may not really have.
I know I am not stating anything that isn’t obvious but sometimes stating the obvious is helpful. Simply put- record label executives, music managers, music supervisors, booking agents and music publishers are really just people like any other group of people. There are those who are brilliant and others who are dim, those who are really good and caring and others who seem to be fashioned out of pure evil. Why mention this? I guess because it’s important to have some perspective on what elicits such strong feelings from the musician community. Mind you, I’m not saying anyone’s feelings are unjustified but I do believe they could often be tempered with a bit of perspective that might make things feel a bit less personal and unpleasant.
So why demonize the music industry? Yes- there are many people out there who prey on the entrepreneurial hope of musicians- so please be careful. The monetary losses aside it would just take one of these awful experiences to sour anyone on the music business and / or humankind in general. It’s a bit more subtle than that though. Everyone knows going in that there are long odds in “making it” in the classic sense of the term otherwise everyone would be a famous musician. That said when artist and executive partnerships don’t work out both sides like to play the blame game. Can executives poorly handle and in fact harm an artist’s career? Sure. Can music executives do everything right and still have an artist not connect to an audience in a meaningful way? Yes- Absolutely. So is it the fault of the industry if things don’t work out?
Even if there were no industry this is a game of long odds so what good would finding someone or something to blame really do for you? One thing is for sure if a partnership doesn’t work out and the artist gives up on music as a result (this is far more common that you would think) – that is not the industry’s fault.
As for executives who have gatekeeper jobs like music supervisors and A&R executives – well – these people are easy to resent. I know first hand- I’ve been both. These are weird jobs and it is a difficult balance to even inquire about someone’s music without feeling like you are leading them on. People who hold these roles often feel like being too personable isn’t in their best interest. It is overwhelming and uncomfortable to always question what people’s motives are when they are being friendly. Yes- these types of people can do significant things for your career and are worth pursuing relationships with provided you are spending much more time connecting with people who buy music and tickets. Keep in mind with gatekeepers that their decision isn’t personal. They select artists not always based on talent but on what would fit their needs at that moment in time. Also keep in mind that these people have to spend a huge amount of their time making sure they play politics with clients or senior executives to ensure that they keep their gigs so it’s not as comfortable as it may appear from the outside.
Why Be Enamored with the Music Industry? Well, in truth, I don’t think you should be enamored with the industry nor do I think that you should believe they have the holy grail of music and marketing promotional ideas for developing artists. I think many of the strengths in the industry are centered around maintaining or growing existing brands rather than developing new ones. This is no one’s fault really- one never knows if a new artist will convert fans when exposed to new audiences. This being the case I think many musicians put too much time and effort into looking for partners and industry help rather than in figuring out much of their development on their own.
I remember signing my first band at Lava / Atlantic when I was about twenty-four. I was thrilled because not only did I really believe in the group but I was beyond excited to have a first hand look at what really went in to marketing and promoting a band. I had all the knowledge that a total of two years being an A&R assistant and whatever I learned from self-managing a band I was in at college at my disposal. Through the process I learned the following (and not much else):
1) People and opportunities will flock to an artist that is perceived to be on the cusp of success and the same people and opportunities will vanish when people think a project isn’t going anywhere. (The phrase “Success has a thousand fathers” comes to mind)
2) An interesting press story (even ten years ago) is not “Artist releases Record” the best publicists will help pull a story out of the soul of an artist and make it interesting before even making a call to the press.
3) Marketing plans seem to compile existing information, cover very general objectives and often present more questions than answers.
4) Publishing splits between band members should be made while the money is theoretical. Real money on the table can make things very ugly.
5) The more I learned about radio promotion – the less I understood it and the more I resented it.
6) The vast majority of industry people I encountered at the time had never played a live show after high school let alone gigged regularly. As such, they weren’t much help with grass roots and developing artists.
When I say that was all I learned – I’m not exaggerating much. I met some interesting people along the way but as far as the information I found it was a major disappointment. I kept on thinking there was going to be some great reveal. There never was and I have yet to find one even twelve years later. It has been a series of little pieces of information that have been the most helpful to me over the years.
Many people in the industry are capable of guiding an established business. Very few are willing or able to build one from scratch. Long story short (Too Late?) The Industry like most things is never as good as it seems and never as bad as it seems. Industry relationships are worth pursuing but I’m of the opinion that such relationships are of much more value to the artist who has developed even a small following than those who have yet to build one.
That does it for this series – I will be back with some interviews very soon.
If you missed the last installment check that out here.
If you wanted to start at the beginning of the series you can do that here.