What is Success?
The following is a guest post by R. Wayne Martin, founder and principal of mthree, a music industry service company launched in January 2019. Wayne is a 35-year veteran of the American music industry who got his start at CBS Records working as a marketing representative for their roster of artists at Columbia Records, Epic Records, and nearly a dozen other corporate partners and imprints. While there, he worked with big names in pop, rock, country and more as the label transitioned into Sony BMG. Wayne spent the next decade at small, independent record labels like Shanachie Entertainment and Knitting Factory. During this time, he also joined the staff of NYU where he taught popular courses related to the global marketing of artists, songs and recordings, eventually earning a ten-year service award from the university. Wayne went on to work for The Harry Fox Agency (HFA) and FlySongs Music Publishing, gaining experience in the world of licensing and publishing, eventually transitioning into starting his own boutique artist management company, Martin Artist Management, which was launched in 2014. In January 2019, he transformed his company into mthree.
In the article below, Wayne shares his thoughts on challenges artists are facing in the current music industry, definitions of “success” and some advice for artists looking to build sustainable careers.
I have many philosophies about working with artists that I blog about on my website once every month or so, and I find myself often speaking in public about the major challenges artists face when managing their own music careers. The topic I keep returning to again and again is the psychological side of striving for a sustainable career as a musical performer. How to define it, obtain it, grow it, keep it – that’s all a live conversation every day of my professional life.
I think psychological support is an underserved need for artist development and growth.(And if I ever committed to writing a book about the industry, it would revolve around preparing musicians for the psychological challenges they will face as they develop a sustainable career) As a manager, I fancy myself as a tour guide who can lay out the travel plan and prepare my clients for upcoming challenges in advance. So, the philosophies I blog about are inspired and abundant and always a reflection of my latest experiences from the office and from my travels to work with clients throughout the United States, Canada, and Western Europe.
Something I hear very often from artists is, “I don’t know where to start.” What a paralyzing feeling … right? I hear that from solo artists, from duos and bands, from developing artists and from legacy artists with tremendous name recognition. If an artist is truly consumed by their craft, they don’t get a charge from the business side of things and they certainly don’t feel empowered to address even the smallest list of goals without second guessing their decisions. “Are my decisions valid? Prudent? Well-timed? In a reasonable scenario?” They need a professional, and that’s not worthy of shame. The same can be said for executives at creative organizations that have been doing the same jobs with the same outcomes for many years.
They know that in order to change the company they have to change the path, the vision and the process, but they don’t necessarily know how to execute towards any direction but the one they are facing. That’s no fault of their own necessarily. Outside perspective is so valuable to not only artists but also everyone else regardless of role, regardless of industry: We are all prone to getting too close to what we know and yet also not close enough to what we don’t yet know. As the old advertising saying goes, The best way to ruin a campaign is in-house creative. That said, one could be surprised to learn that some of my clients are other managers. They, too, need a macro view of their work because they are deep in the weeds. Everyone benefits from outside perspectives and challenges to the status quo.
As an artist,you are presumably building your own business. And the truth is, developing artistic careers takes time … and while most artists can figure out a way to find time, developing artists also takes money and that can be much harder to come by. Most developing artists don’t have enough of it and many established artists are too skeptical to part with it. If you want demos, mixes, singles, marketing campaigns, social media numbers, videos, instruments, brand partnerships, and expertise, then you have to budget for that part of your career in much the same way an aspiring doctor budgets and borrows attend to medical school. You have to figure out a way to fund your dream and your dream team until the first year your career finally breaks even and shows potential for net profit. The financial commitment alone keeps many super-talented musicians away from careers they want, so they land in an orchestra pit or teach music to others as a more predictable way to create a livelihood from their craft. No judgement; those are great careers! But those are not what most aspiring musicians think of as “making it big” because there’s little fame there.
Another question artists often ask is when they should seek outside help from a manager, marketing consultant or other music industry professional. Assuming you have worked on your craft, assuming you have songs and demos and a history of some public performances under your belt, and assuming you have been well received to some degree, the time to seek help is … always. Always.
In St. Petersburg Russia there is a creative co-op where songwriters give songs to singers who record them in studios with guest musicians while video technicians and audio engineers and directors shoot footage so that editors can create a finished project that every single one of these aspiring professionals can use as a calling card. Wow. I’m amazed and inspired by this concept. Do they have fancy western managers and booking agencies? No. But they find help to execute their artistic vision and strengthen their prowess. The question really becomes, “What kind of help do I need and when?” Even that is something a seasoned pro inside the business can help an artist decide on a case-by-case basis. But look what St. Petersburg offers in terms of a supportive community and question how and why that should be happening elsewhere.
There are more talented musicians on this planet than I can begin to comprehend. But the percentage of that population that also has a deeply-rooted drive for results is quite small. Really, really small. One of the first questions I ask potential music clients for consultations or roster consideration is “What are you willing to sacrifice?” That question is nearly always met with immediate silence. Most of them have never even considered the idea, but someone with drive should be able to reconcile that answer fairly quickly. If a team of professionals is in place to support an amazingly talented and proficient musician who doesn’t truly exhibit that they will strive to be become better or more successful, will anyone involved win? Will they even get a paycheck eventually? When artists get asked questions about what they are willing to sacrifice for their music career, the writing typically appears on the wall pretty quickly … regardless of whether the answer to the question is ultimately “nothing” or “everything.”
I can also offer some advice for artists looking to start their career from the ground, up: There is no need for a business degree, but there are great conferences, social media groups, email newsletters, books, sites and classes where musicians can become informed about the business. Perspective is critical when you’re introducing yourself to someone who might help you further your career. There should be dozens of jumping off points for a quick but impressive conversational exchange in person. If you don’t have a perspective to offer or a question to ask, expecting a relationship to come from a quick encounter is setting yourself up for disappointment.
Something I’ve noticed is that artists have a tendency to become obsessed with definitions of success in the music business. While success varies from artist to artist depending on their goals and dreams, in my experience, there are some clear steps they can take to find their version of success.
The first thing to keep in focus is your craft. Be a better singer or songwriter or guitarist. Learn another instrument. Teach yourself Pro Tools. Co-write with strangers. Be a sideman. The temptation for the majority of artists is to become obsessed with social media attention or fun photo shoots or the excitement of taking a professional meeting in a new city, but those are all shiny objects that far too often aspiring musicians begin to believe is their career. In reality, that twisted logic is a dangerous rabbit hole that will kill a career. And it often does.
With the above in mind, how will you define your career, and how will you know you are a “success”… that you’ve really “made it” in the music industry? My answer to this is always simple: “Success” equals sustainability. Highs and lows aside, if a music career has become sustainable, that, to me, is the baseline for success.
To learn more about R. Wayne Martin and the work he does with artists, visit the mthree website – http://mthree.online/