Dream Small, Act Big: How To Make It In The Music Industry

Musiciio - Artists Managing Expectations

Music is a tough industry to make a living in, and it’s not uncommon for those who are trying to make it to wonder if it’s time to pack it in.

Everyone around you is graduating uni, locking down stable jobs in their desired fields, and just generally getting it all figured out, while you’re still working that hospo/retail job to make ends meet while you pursue your dream.

So how do you stay motivated and focused when career fear hits? How do you cope with career fear – and are you even being realistic about your dreams in the first place?

Some of you may recall that back in July last year, various musicians caused a stir by voicing their brutally honest reflections in a mini-documentary called The Truth About Money In Music by Dan Graetz, about just how much money they really make.

The truth wasn’t pretty: Violent Soho’s James Tidswell recalled the time he came home from playing Lollapalooza only to have to move in with his sister and apply for a job at Maccas, Dom Haddad, guitarist and vocalist in Millions, asserted that the band “don’t see a dollar” from CD sales and, as Pete Kilroy from Hey Geronimo theorised, in order for each member in a band to receive a fairly stock standard salary for a ‘normal’ job, like $50 000 per annum, the band would have to turn over about $1 million each year due to the massive expenses involved.

It’s the harsh reality of the current consumer climate we’re in. Album sales are rapidly declining. According to ARIA’s end of year report, physical sales in 2014 experienced a staggering 18% decrease.

In 2013, streaming services made up 5.9% of the total market value in Australia, which almost doubled to 10% last year. Unfortunately, as many of us know all too well, Spotify and their ilk aren’t too lucrative for artists. The vinyl resurgence may seem like a boon for those in the music industry, with the sales value of vinyl growing 127% last year, but when you compare the numbers with CD units sold – vinyl moved less than 300 000 units, CDs over 12 million – suddenly it doesn’t sound so impressive.

As such, many musicians have come to rely on touring as their major source of income. But touring is expensive, time-consuming, stressful and exhausting. Lots of artists have other jobs, and families, that they can’t easily up and leave for extended periods of time. Even without either of those things, being on the road consistently just isn’t physically, emotionally, or financially sustainable.

And yet, every day, another young (or older) creative decides to bite the bullet and try their hand at a career in music.

But how lofty a dream is too lofty?

What should someone really expect from the trajectory of their career, and the balance of their bank account, over the course of their life?

How can someone possibly “make it” in the modern Australian music industry, and what does “making it” even really mean anymore?

To answer these questions and more, we spoke with professional musicians – some household names, others at a respectable and healthy mid-level-career mark: Pete Murray, KLP, Regurgitator‘s Ben Ely, Harmony James, Katie Noonan and solo artist/Velociraptor frontman/man of a million other things Jeremy Neale.

Summary Points (TL;DR?): (although, seriously, read all of it – every word of advice from these total legends is worth its weight in gold)

  • Have ambition but don’t let your head get too high up in the clouds
  • Surround yourself with trustworthy people you genuinely like
  • Develop coping strategies and personal mantras to help you truck on when the going gets really tough
  • Remember that you’re doing what you are because music is what you love, not because you think it’s going to make you rich and famous beyond your wildest dreams.
  • Work extremely hard every day
  • Make connections whenever you can
  • Focus on making the best music you’re capable of
  • Develop a thick skin and unwavering resolve to “make it” – there’s nothing stopping you but yourself.

The article continues on pages 2 – 7: 1 2 3 4 5 6 7

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