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

jeremyneale

JEREMY NEALE (Velociraptor, solo artist)

www.jeremyneale.com

Can you give us a brief summary of how your career has progressed since the day you decided to start making music professionally?

I grew up in the suburbs, and music doesn’t really keep going much past high school unless you move to the city. A lot of my friends went straight into trades, and everyone really seemed like they knew what they wanted to do with their lives. That’s really tricky when you’re young – a lot of people are really good at pretending they know what they want to do and that can really throw you off.

I didn’t really decide to do it until I was maybe 24.

I was working a sales job, which was like, I could finally live my very basic dream of having enough money to do things [laughs]. That was nice for a while, then I realised after doing that for 2-ish years, I had to look for something else that I really wanted to do with my life. I decided that music would be it, cos I’d always wanted to do it but had never really thought about it as something that was feasible. It is an outrageous thing, especially if you don’t have typical pop star looks, you think, “How far can I actually go?”

So anyway – I left my job in sales and jumped on that government NEIS scheme (National Enterprise Incentive Scheme) so I could support myself for a bit and figure out what I was going to do. Progression from there was refining my songwriting, recording a lot, and trial and error because I didn’t know anything! I didn’t have any production skills, I was writing songs and hoping they’d turn out alright.

There was just a lot of trial and error – and that’s been the progression of my career since then too.

Five years in the making of me trying to do music full time has been a lot of figuring out how touring works, figuring out when to say yes and when to say no.

So, a longer path than it would’ve been had I had more knowledge!

What was your dream in pursuing music as a career – where did you ultimately envision yourself? How realistic do you think that dream was, looking back now?

The funny thing about that is that every time you write a song that you really like or you’re really proud of, you’re like, “This is it, this is gonna be huge, I can’t see how this isn’t gonna give me a career straight away!” [laughs]

Because from an outsider’s perspective, you’ll see a band get one song and it’s HUGE. And that’s the only song they’ll have available. Who’s that guy who just toured recently – is it Jarryd James? He’s huge! But on Spotify, he’s just got one song available. So when you write songs you believe are really good, you go, “Oh, yeah man! That’s my one song I need, I just need this, and it’s gonna be cool, I can just tour on that!” But then it’s like, “Oh, it wasn’t like that, it didn’t really happen.” But you’re the eternal optimist, every time, like, “This is it!”

So if you’re optimistic and you can see your songwriting getting better every time, it’s like, you still approach the release of a new single like that. Maybe a bit less naive.

I remember the second single I put out, a song called Darlin’, I was like, “This song is beautiful. I’ve done it.”

I hadn’t done it. I’d done something really nice that I was really proud of, but I hadn’t done something that was going to give me an instant career. But as part of the large picture, it’s given me a steady path to a career.

This is the theory I have: the longer it takes you to go up, the longer it will take you to come down. Lots of people have one hit and then fade away, then there’s people who spend time building something that has a solid foundation. So theoretically, it can’t get knocked down easily.

There are a lot of merits to the non-overnight success.

What do you feel was the lowest point in your career? When did you feel the closest to giving up?

There’s been a couple of low points.

One was when I was working to pay for the touring and recording and everything, I was just putting everything I was earning into music.

The hardest thing about that was, I’d left my full time employment so I was just doing casual work, earning minimum wage to fund music. I got really caught up whenever I’d make a mistake that was worth a few hundred dollars, cos I’d be like, “Oh my gosh, that’s a day and a half working a job that I totally hate and it destroys me.” And it would just beat me down, cos there was no space in my week either, I was recording after work, touring on weekends, just busy every moment.

And then the other lowest point was the antithesis of that, when I was like, “Well, I’ve gotta quit this job because there’s no time for me to do this right.” So I quit and started living on my credit card. Which did give me the free time to take opportunities and make good decisions instead of stress-based decisions, but the flipside of that is that around the middle of last year I had $30 000 sitting on my credit card. And that’s huge! That was the fiscal low point, it was like, “Oh cr*p, you better do something good Jeremy!” I just put a lot of things on that card. I pretty much credit carded the entire Velociraptor album and its associated tours, I had a bunch of solo recording going on in the background. Just pushing it forward but not actually having the cash to pull from. Credit cards can allow you to do a lot of things, but if the debt gets too high it’s a bit daunting. You can end up paying $500 a month interest, which is just crazy!

How did you cope with this? How did you move past that feeling?

I have down points in the now, but overall I have this eternal optimism, which is great.

My long term vision is always like, “Yeah, you got this, it’s gonna be cool.”

But in the moment, if something throws me I’ll be a bit down. It’s just resilience. Look at your future self, your future self’s doing great. Keep going so your past lines up with that person.

How long did it take you to get to the point where your income from music was sustaining you?

Probably up to the last four months or something. I’d say four or five years into the journey! I can still feel hard to tell if it’s really sustaining me now.

Has it been all uphill from that point, or are there still days where you feel a little down on the music industry?

I feel good about it as of the start of this year. Part of that is me changing my general approach to it too.

I was investing a lot of headspace in music – I always do, cos it’s a very hard hobby/career/item to separate from how you define yourself, so it does live with you all the time.

But I made a decision at the end of last year to prioritise lifestyle. I went, “Okay, music’s good, it’ll happen, I’ll write songs and get them out there, and do the main things that matter instead of getting stuck in the meticulous details of all the things you could do in music.”

So I’d prioritise exercise as part of every day, I was building the lifestyle I wanted, and then doing music around it, but being in a better headspace because my lifestyle was good.

Basing my day around positive things, instead of being stuck at a computer getting bogged down in emails or social marketing stuff I needed to do. It was building around lifestyle first, and then everything else didn’t seem to matter so much anyway, everything else was coming up really good! It’s that lifestyle first thing, that was the clincher. If your life is solidly good, and the music stuff doesn’t go exactly to plan, it doesn’t hit you as hard. It’s still like, “Well, I had a great day, I went and did yoga and watched Brooklyn Nine-Nine.”

If you could go back and give your younger self some advice about expectations, goal-setting and how to approach your career in general, what would you say?

The main thing I’d say is: “The path is longer than you think.” And to enjoy everything else along the way, and not get bogged down in whatever image you’ve got in your head.

Do you feel that you’re happy with where you are now in your career? Is there anything more you want to set out to achieve?

I think I’m in a really great place now, and everything I have coming up – what I’ve got to release, what I’ve been recording at the moment – is miles better than what I’ve done previously.

I feel like I’m in a great place, where I have a career in music, and everything else I’ve got coming up next is even better than what I’ve done before.

Musically, it’s the best place I’ve ever been and I’m really excited.

It’s that thing, they say the guy who gets all the 3’s in basketball is the guy believing he can get all the 3’s. So I think I’m in the 3 zone now, maybe.

In today’s climate, what do you think would be a realistic goal for new artists to achieve by the end of one year actively pursuing a career in music?

Have a collection of songs that they could form into an EP that they love, but also have a few objective perspectives of other people who also really believe in those songs.

So, people who maybe listen to music for a living, industry people, or some other artists who they really respect. Honest opinions are the crucial thing, though. Everyone can be really kind and want to help people, but sometimes by ‘helping people’, you’re not helping people.

But that said, if you’ve got a really unique idea, sometimes it doesn’t sit within everyone else’s picture of what’s great anyway.

So sometimes you’ve just gotta make the executive decision, and push through anyway.

But that would be it – by the end of a year, I’d wanna have an EP’s worth of songs that are great, and leading up to that, put out a couple of singles that are real bangers and you’ve done everything you can for those songs to focus people’s attention on them.

So, you’ve done the best film clip you can – you don’t have to spend money on it, you just have to know that everything is a transaction.

You’re providing entertainment and you’re competing with the entirety of the internet, which is the greatest place of all time with the coolest stuff happening 24 hours a day [laughs].

So whatever you do to push out your music, your music has to be really good and your film clips have to be really good, cos you’re asking for people’s attention.

You could tour if you wanted to tour for fun, but it’s probably best to build up something locally.

Getting involved in the scene is a great thing, too – finding people who are likeminded, who you can form strong bonds with and who you like as people, is another good goal for the end of the year. To have integrated yourself, or even formed a scene with a bunch of mates who are supportive. I guess that’s the basics, and everything else is superfluous industry stuff.

If you’ve got the music and you’ve got somewhere to play, everything else will build from there.

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