PARENTING THE MUSIC: Navigating the Music World as a Wary Parent

It’s 2021, musical careers are starting younger and the industry is more accessible than ever. Now a kid can write, record, produce and share a song within a day; and they don’t even need an instrument. With platforms like Triple J’s Unearthed and Unearthed High, YouTube, and Soundcloud; the capacity for a musician to have themselves heard is greater than ever. But at the same time the whole process is the most overwhelming it has ever been.

So it’s unsurprising that all parents are wary of their young musical hopeful being promised a career, investing huge amounts of time, money and talent, only to come up empty-handed. Raising a musician can be a really tough gig. Parents want the very best for their children, of course they do! They want to see them succeed and will do anything (sometimes questionable, bridge-burning antics) to make that happen. The temptation to live out old personal dreams vicariously through their kids can be strong and damaging. But few parents have proper exposure to the music industry; car radio and reality television shows can only inform so much. So, what do you do if you find yourselves parenting a musician? How can you support (and protect) your young musicians as they journey into a career within the music industry? Well, you get first-hand advice of course.

We sat down with the parents of some of Australia’s best and brightest young musicians, and asked them to share their advice so that we can pass it on to you; the parents of our future music legends. Our kind contributors nurtured the musical beginnings of Jimmy Davis, Sahara Beck, Gretta Ray and Lili Kendall and for their contribution (to the article, and to some of the best young Aussie music out there) we thank them.

The first question and arguably the biggest, is how does a musical journey start?

Our parents answered unanimously and unequivocally; with passion. Lollo Beck, mother of Sahara says it best “If they’re passionate, you don’t have to push them. It’s obvious to you that this is what they love, because they’ll put all their time and energy into it regardless of what they expect to be getting out of it”.

But what you’ll quickly realise, is that it’s not a solo journey for your child. As a parent of a musician, you’ll likely be getting involved in their journey too, and this can be in a variety of roles. It can start with buying instruments or booking lessons, but eventually you’ll become a roadie, taxi driver and even sometimes a music manager!

But after a while you’ll start wondering, how do I know if my kid is any good?

In this case there is usually one of two opinions a parent will hold:
1. I think my child is the next Paul Kelly, (and they aren’t) OR
2. My child is Paul Kelly reincarnate, and I have no idea.

Of course, there are parents that fall in the middle of this spectrum, so let’s not make it too black and white. But how can you know if that persistent plucking is perfection or pretty average? To this question, all four proud parents had the same answer: it doesn’t matter. If your child is happiest with a guitar in hand or pounding away on a piano; even if your ears say otherwise, just be as supportive as you can.

BUT if you need a substantive indicator as to whether your child will make musical strides, look no further than their audience. They’ll love them, or they won’t; either way they won’t be shy about letting them know.

Further to that, you can’t forget the industry itself. if your child wants to be a part of that world, how other musicians and professionals react will play a huge part in how far a journey may go. If you find that other artists start wanting to play shows alongside your kids or if industry professionals (such as managers, booking agents, labels) start showing an interest; then you know for sure that you are onto a good thing.

A knowledge nugget from our parents: As much as you and your children want to succeed as an individual, the music industry is a collaborative one. Reach out! There are many organisations that can offer trustworthy, unbiased advice, including your state’s music industry body (check the Australian Music Industry Network website for details for your state org) and the APRA | AMCOS Writer Services team.

Your kids should consider fellow musicians and industry pros not as competitors but as a valuable network of knowledge, resources and even friends. Make sure they surround themselves with like-minded people and work together instead of against each other; they never know where it may lead.

So maybe your son or daughter has played a few shows, had many an adoring audience, and an “offer” or two. But the biggest concern and the prickliest of questions is this, how do I know when an industry offer is a good one? How can I be sure that my child will be treated well and compensated fairly?

Putting hours and hours of work, passion and commitment into your craft for no reward can be a worst-case scenario for a musician; and can often lead to bitterness and resentment towards the industry that they love. Contracts and offers will appear; the trick is to know which ones are ‘the real deal’ and which ones aren’t. Parental wisdom we were privy to said this; connect with people you trust, people with great reputations able to deliver what they promise.

But one of the most important pieces of parental knowledge here is: ALWAYS. GET IT. IN WRITING.

Make sure your ‘contract’ includes the deliverables. Make sure your contract outlines exactly what you are paying for and make sure that you try to factor in contingencies. Not contract-savvy? No worries, get a professional to look at it. Contact a music lawyer and ask for their advice, after all, it’s what they’re there for. Slow down, read and understand what’s on the paper and if necessary negotiate for a better or fairer deal (you can check out our course by music lawyers on understanding contracts and music law here).

Some tactical truth to help with this negotiation: if one person is willing to offer your child a contract, then there are probably a lot more people out there willing to do the same. The financial funnel of a musical career means that the musician is generally paid last; but the thing is, without the musician no one gets paid at all. You have the power to negotiate for you kid, so don’t be afraid to use it. While some of this sounds a little ominous, parents shouldn’t be discouraged, either in yourselves or on behalf of your kids.

One of the most consistently important pieces of advice that all music industry mentors will offer parents of talented kids is this: BE PATIENT. Don’t rush in to anything without considerable analysis and research. And remember – your child is still going to be just as talented – if not even more talented – in a year or two once they have improved their songwriting and performance craft, and grown up a little. There is no need to rush anything no matter how much interest there is.

The music industry can be tough but let us leave you with some final guiding words from each of our contributors; helping you to help your young hopefuls navigate the crazy world of a musical career:

The best way to start a career is to get out there. Play shows, busk, support other musicians, jump into competitions. Playing as much as possible is key to gaining experience and getting your name out there. The more practice they do, the better they’ll be.

    – Lollo Beck, mother to Sahara Beck.

Record something and put it online! With so many programs and tools at your fingertips, it’s almost too easy to get yourself out there these days.

    – Robyn Davis, mother to Jimmy Davis.

Don’t buy a career. Grow it organically, and try to earn some money before you spend it. 

    –  Kim Kendall – mother to Lilli Kendall.

Producers and others will try and shape you somehow to fit their own image. Keeping true to your own identity is very important, and you should support that as much as you can. Jimmy always wanted to commit to be as original and truthful to himself.

    – Robyn Davis.

Sometimes the offers seem unreasonable and they are presented in a way that you think it’s your only option but here’s the truth: You have the power to negotiate. Don’t feel pressured to rush into a deal either; you should be patient and weigh up all your options as much as you can!

    – Kim Kendall.

The internet and the potential for internet backlash can be off-putting. But truthfully, if you’re nice to others, they’ll be nice to you. Be nice, and stay nice.

    – Lollo Beck.

If you want to brush up on your industry learning, and figure out how to make a living from music, you can always check out our course offerings that cover all kinds of music know-how.

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