Everything You Need To Forget About The Music Industry

In my 25 years in the music industry, I’ve learned many interesting things. As I built this website, I came to a huge realization about the music industry. This continued when I began to receive emails from musicians who visited it. I could not understand why so many people would gloss over the work required to get great help. Why would people ignore all the work they need to do, the time needed to develop their sound and play shows? Why wouldn’t they accept the shows that build character, like “don’t forget to tip your waitresses and bartenders”, or the ones where you have to be the bartenders? Why would musicians believe that an executive will jump in to partner with them if what they have, at least on the paper, is a hobby?

Some people experience a moment of clarity when they realize something. I had a more profound experience.

On the Science Channel, I saw an astronomer talking about an asteroids hitting the Earth. He said: “More money has been spent on films about asteroids striking the earth than on money to prevent asteroids from impacting the earth.”

Since then, I have never looked back at media in the same light.

Media portrayals of thin models and celebrities have been well-documented, but most studies focus on whether they have an effect on our body image or confidence. The latter is particularly interesting, as almost all studies show that people compare themselves with media ideals, and have unrealistic expectations of what a normal person should look. People believe they should look like what they see on mass media.

As I pondered this idea, I asked myself, is there a similar message that the mass media sends about musicians, their success, and how does it affect us? I kept thinking that the media minimized the amount of work that most musicians put into their stories. It was time for me to do my own research.

VH1’s Behind The Music is the definitive chronicle for me of a musician’s life. Since it is a popular representation of how musicians become successful, I thought that it would be a good idea for me to see what kind of information was presented.

I bought several stop-watches to begin timing the different percentages of a show that are devoted to the story of an artist (removing commercials, etc.). I watched 12 episodes. The timing was easy to learn because Behind the Music follows a familiar pattern.

1) Family background.

It’s always the same format: “Mom tells us that her musician/superstar is different than other kids, or tells about how difficult it was to grow up in a ‘hood or how someone was abused in their family, and how this influenced them to become an artist.”

2) Professional Struggle.

This segment highlights the artists’ first experience in the industry, the “struggle”, how they survived on $50/week, and how their decision to work for so little upset both family members and friends. This phase includes making demos and interacting with other musicians and executives. Even getting signed was part of my struggle, even though momentum from the show indicated that success was just around the corner.

3) Success.

Behind The Music always has a moment where the album is released and the artist becomes famous for creating a work that changes the genre or an enormous commercial success. The documentary doesn’t look back from that point on. The term “big-break” is used frequently. There are issues like drug use, divorces and stress, but from this point, the artist is portrayed as a complete success.

Hearing partial truths would affect our perception and expectations of what is true? Simple answer: yes. Markus Appel’s and Tobias Richter’s study, “Persuasive effects of fictional narratives increase over the course of time”, even showed that people believed many of the ancillary facts presented in pure fiction.

When you watch the show Friends, you may not believe that Rachel is real. You know that Jennifer Aniston is playing a character on television, and her character’s name is Rachel. You might start to believe the peripheral information. You might think, for example, that a Manhattan waitress can afford to live in a two-bedroom flat near Central Park. If you’re constantly told of the overnight successes of musicians, but never informed of their work, then isn’t this a message as well?

What does reality look and feel like? I love the story of Sharon Jones, the Dap Kings and Gabe Roth, who founded the band Daptone Records.

Sharon Jones worked as a guard in a correctional institution until she was 40 years old. Gabe and I were in a band together at NYU for a couple of years. He agreed to be interviewed many years later on this website. The words “So, what does it feel like to be an overnight success?” started to flow out of my mouth. I stopped myself in mid-sentence and we all laughed. Gabe had not changed his approach to business in 15 years. He just became better at it and surrounded himself by better people. It was a real breakthrough for me to realize how long Gabe had been doing it. He worked on the same thing for 15 years with a single focus and was finally able to make a living doing what he enjoyed. Persistence and consistency won the day.

Why don’t we hear about stories like these? Because they’re not popular news stories. The headline “Man works for 15 years and gets great business” isn’t as interesting as “Justin Bieber uploads video on internet, becomes multi-millionaire.”

Angela Duckworth, a psychologist at the University of Pennsylvania, determined that “sticking to it” is “grit,” and that this “perseverance and passion for long-term goals” was more important than talent or intelligence as a predictor of exceptional achievement. Individuals with high grit can maintain their motivation and determination over a long period of time despite failure and adversity.

In my interview with Gabe, ” the Self Made Musician”, a man I consider to have real grit, he said something that has really stuck with me. “Instead looking inwards and local, and trying create something small they can build on and concentrating their craft, [musicians] shoot for stars. It’s a lot like playing the lottery. It’s a lot of fun and it’s great if you do win, but this is not a plan for launching a business. You wouldn’t say “Okay, so we want to launch a new business, and need $500,000. “The first thing we are going to do is purchase $4,000 of scratcher tickets.”

Specificity is the key to a good music business plan. It drives me crazy when people talk about “the next level.” It’s not that I’m against people wanting to advance in their career, but when I hear “next level,” it’s because I know 95% of the times the person who says it hasn’t defined what they really want or need. They sound like they are looking for a Nintendo cheat.

Vague goals are unlikely to be achieved. You need to be very specific when writing a business plan if you are a musician and want to reach your goals. You don’t need to be an expert on business plans or believe they are only used for fundraising or fancy graphs. A business plan is not as complicated as you think. It can begin with a simple visualisation of where you would like your music career to go in the next six month. Most people never do it. And 90% of those who read this article will not likely do it.

What do you want? And what do you need to achieve it? You can try this: Start by writing down your six-month- or one-year-long goal, and then work your way backwards until you reach the present. You will also need to set longer-term objectives, which need not be so detailed.

Do not do it because I tell you to. Do it because, according to several studies including one conducted by Palo Alto Software and verified by the University of Oregon Department of Economics in 2010, completing a business planning will double your chances of success.

If you’re devoted to music (and not looking at it just as a hobby), I have a few tips for you:

1. Create a solid foundation for your business.

Find out how to make money in the publishing industry. Register with ASCAP or BMI, SoundExchange and SoundExchange. Be sure to have your business entity registered and trademarked.

2. Prepare your marketing materials.

You will need a minimum of a four-song recording, one that does not require apologies, as well as a professionally written bio, a photo, and a live video (in front of an actual audience). You will also need vanity URLs for social networks, as well as a website.

3. Plan for the long term if you are a musician.

Long-term planning is essential. Why should the music industry be different? If you’re in it for the long haul, you need to invest in your business to ensure that you can play and record music at any time and deliver it to customers. It could be as simple as building a studio at home and purchasing a PA system. This could mean building a home studio and getting a P.A. You’ll need to plan several releases over many years, and you will have to be ready to perform a lot of gigs. You’ll need to learn how to do this cheaply and as easily as you can. Do not spend all of your money on a first release and expect it to bring you instant financial stability. Plan to play and record music regularly.

4. Diversify and build a community.

Music, money, and “the hook” (the musicians you choose to surround yourself with and who you want as collaborators) will determine which gigs you take. This is true even if it diverts you from your main work. Even Hendrix started as a sideman.

5. Consider B2C as well as B2B.

In the digital age, everyone talks about direct-to fan – a clear and unfiltered B2C strategy. While they’re building their communities, many young artists should pursue Business to Business relationships (B2B). You can break into a new market by convincing a band in another city with a mailing list of 50 people that you’re worth it.

The confusion and frustration that you might be experiencing about your music career are just a part of the process. Just so happens that it’s not a part of the process people talk about. Media is constantly telling you who, what, and where you need to be in your career. You will also encounter hundreds of naysayers who have tried and failed, but now want to discourage you from trying. You can either cut off the people who have this attitude or consume less celebrity-related media.

Remember that no musician is successful without failing and trying. Try again.

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