Surviving in The Music Industry – What It Takes and How Not To Screw Up

Matt Bacon June 15, 2015 Comments Off on Surviving in The Music Industry – What It Takes and How Not To Screw Up
Surviving in The Music Industry – What It Takes and How Not To Screw Up
Surviving in The Music Industry - What It Takes and How Not To Screw Up

This article functions as the culmination of a couple of other pieces I’ve written on how to make it in the music industry and get some degree of success (And maybe even money) It also stems from a recent conversation I had with my old friend Scooby, who, I will admit is partially my friend just because his name is Scooby. There’s a couple of key points I’ve wanted to boil this whole thing down to, and it goes beyond just the fact that you’re not entitled to anything when you work in this messed up world of ours. There may be some clichés here but bear with me, I have a feeling that by the end we might be able to help each other obtain a deeper level of understanding of the music industry.

In the past half decade or so of being extremely active in the music industry I feel like I’ve noticed a few key factors when it comes to what defines a scene. One thing that particularly struck me was how with every local music scene (And as I later found out, also on more international levels) there are ‘scene bosses’. These are the people who hold the keys to the kingdom as it were, who book the hip bands coming to town and who know everyone whose anyone. This article isn’t about how to become one of these people, but there are definitely lessons to be learned from them. A lot of what I’m writing about here was more or less directly gleaned from these ‘scene bosses’. If you want to know more I highly recommend you talk to some of them, odds are they’ll be pretty cool!

Surviving in The Music Industry - What It Takes and How Not To Screw Up

The fact of the matter is that hard work is the key here, and far beyond anything that you might acknowledge as hard work. What people don’t get about people who make their living in the music industry is the borderline insanity that it takes to effectively make it. For example, I wrote upwards of eight hundred articles before I even made a cent. Meanwhile I know people who have booked dozens, if not hundreds of shows without making any real money, and yet they do it anyway in the hope that there will be a light at the end of the tunnel. It’s hard to hack it, and you definitely will see yourself pulling long nights and having to be an extremely regular force in your scene before any of this starts to pay off.

Here’s the good part though – it usually does pay off. As hard as you might work, in the end if you can prove yourself to be in the top 0.5% of people in your scene then you just might be able to make it. I’m serious about that number too. Incredibly few people you see at shows manage to make their living off music, regardless of what they might tell you. To clarify: by “Making a living off music” I mean being able to pay the bills with exclusively music oriented work, be that playing music, writing about it, promoting it, or whatever else you might be able to do within the industry. Musicians are a flakey lot and I’ve heard a lot of other weird definitions, listen, just because you’re unemployed and have a band doesn’t mean you’re a full time musician, suck it up.

I’ll admit it, right about now I’m desperately grasping at straws and not trying to come off as an asshole. I mean, obviously very few people make a living off the industry and a lot of people are trying, but what I’m trying to emphasize here is how hard you need to try. This is one of the most work intensive industries in the world because if you’re trying to make it on any sort of independent level you’re probably going to have to wear a lot of hats, because of that this definitely isn’t for everybody and you have to be aware of that. When I explain all that I do to people they look at me like I’m a crazy person, but guess what, for it’s worth it and it’s better than growing up and getting a real job. I personally know a lot of people who made it or got close to making it and then turned back because they realized that this life wasn’t for them. If that ends up being you – don’t worry – it’ll work out eventually, even if you do have a bunch of gnarly tattoos on your hands and face.

Surviving in The Music Industry - What It Takes and How Not To Screw Up

I’m realizing that perhaps what I was trying to elucidate previously, is that beyond hard work you need to have dedication, consistency and longevity. The thing is, most flames burn out so fast in the industry that oftentimes even if you can say you’ve maintained a blog regularly for a few years you have a solid leg up on many of your peers. It gives you at least some background and helps you to further articulate your understanding of music. The other example that comes to mind (And another example that I used previously) is booking shows. If you book enough shows sooner or later you’re going to book someone who does national tours and they’ll start referencing their friends over to you. That can lead to you starting to bring in money. By proving yourself to be reliable people start to trust you, after all: he who can be trusted with little can be trusted with much!

There’s one of the thing that I truly do love about the music industry though. It’s a world of self made men and women who desperately want to be there, often because they’re like me – they can’t do anything else. You may be passionate, but to truly have what it takes you need to have the kind of entrepreneurial spirit that made people like Rockefeller rise up. The dude quit school at 16 just so he could start making money. That’s the kind of can do and fuck it all attitude you need to have to grow. Nobody really cares if you have a degree – especially not in independent music. What they care about is what you’ve done, what kind of success you’ve had, and what you’ve been able to do with that.

This brings me to another key point that I wanted to make with this article and another thing I’ve had long frustrated debates on. If you don’t do anything and aren’t a self starter – no one is going to give you a fucking job. For example I have friends who have degrees in English or Communications who I regularly send albums to review for my blog and who list on their resumes that they are contributors to my site, and yet they rarely ever post. Of the dozens of people who have asked to write for me only one has made any sort of real, consistent set of contributions to the site, and now he is fulfilling many of his wildest dreams.

Surviving in The Music Industry - What It Takes and How Not To Screw Up

Beyond that I know other people whose only claim to fame or hope of success is that they have a lot of high profile friends. Well, if you’re not doing anything with that why should you expect them to give you a job? Sure, you may know the head of Season Of Mist, but that guy knows a million people and you probably have nothing to offer him. What makes you think that when you open a venue he is going to route his bands tours to play in your venue? You can take nothing for granted in this industry other than the SOLID work you’ve done and have documented.

I think that’s ultimately what this piece is meant to drive towards – the sheer significance of how your own personal accomplishments can enhance and grow your place in the music industry. This applies to any industry too from what I understand. The thing is – A lot of people just kind of expect things to be handed to them. If you take away that paradigm and instead decide to have discipline and work as hard as you can for your success then you know that will automatically have a leg up. Self-discipline is one of the most important things you can have when trying to make it in a world where even tiny mistakes can set back your career months or even years.

And I know, I know, you got into rock and roll so that you could escape responsibility and this sounds pretty fucking lame to you and punk rock and all that. But guess what – by having self discipline I’ve been able to become a full time punk. You can do it too, hell, thousands of people across the world do it, you just need to be unafraid to prove your dedication time and time again by performing often thankless tasks that will very often cost you a lot of money. The fact of the matter is you can do a lot more damage to the system and spread a lot more good music around if you’re willing to take care of yourself and use your own determination to guide your career rather than being a self centered ass who only cares about ‘true rock and roll’ (Whatever that means) and wants to drink himself into a stupor every night. What I’m saying is – my way involves less partying – but it can definitely be more rewarding, musically, financially and spiritually.

Surviving in The Music Industry - What It Takes and How Not To Screw Up

And I get it – it is a rather hippy-dippy hullaballoo I’ve got going on here. “Hard work and honor pay off blah blah blah” And I get it – it isn’t going to be easy, but no one in true power ever said that it would be. It’s only really the people who never understood the industry in the first place who thought that people were just making millions left and right. Instead there is a whole cottage industry of individuals who are just figuring shit you and finding their way through various niches nooks and crannies, allowing themselves to uncover moments of cosmic joy and sublime terror. You find yourself wandering the cosmic path and trying to figure out what it’s all about but what you have to realize that in a market as specific as independent music (Not even going down to subgenres) everyone has found a unique path to take.

That’s perhaps the final piece of the puzzle, or at least the final one that I’m going to talk about in this particular rambling and off kilter article. Part of making a living in the music industry comes from figuring out what particular balance you are going to have for your career. Are you going to be more of a musician and a booker or are you going to go a straight promotion route? Are you going to run a label and a venue on the side or are you going to work for a major whilst putting out punk rock seven inches with your crusty friends? The possibilities are endless, and they often require you to do far more than the ideas I just listed. Instead you’re going to find yourself looking at what your particular strengths are and trying to decide where you’ve gone right and where you’ve fucked up. As you start to get to know yourself better then you’ll better be able to shape your career and figure out what exactly it is that you want to do.

Surviving in The Music Industry - What It Takes and How Not To Screw Up

That’s part of the beauty of the music industry too. It allows for endless opportunities for self discovery and finding where you specifically fit in in this fucked up world. You need to have compassion for everyone and maintain integrity as well as respect. You need to be aware of your own limitations but also your strengths, and you need to be able to have concrete evidence for your dedication to the music. This sound is brave and this is the only way to go forward for kids like us. Some were born to run, others were born to rock, and when you’re a legitimate fuck up like I am, there is no other choice and you gotta push for it.

Everyone will be against you, everyone will tell you it’s not possible and your parents will be disappointed for sure, but you can do it, I know you can. Every minute of it is hard, but if you do it right every minute is also bliss. The music industry is an unforgiving milieu and having the will to carry on even as all other lights seem to go out… well… it takes guts kid. Anyone who can instill within themselves a work ethic has the capacity to do it, you just have to work hard and, dare I say… lay off the pot? How about we start with not cutting corners… we can talk about pot later. The point is – work as hard as you can – give your soul to it and try to stay sane. It’s a journey where you learn a lot, and regardless of anything it will probably end up being worth it.

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Surviving in The Music Industry - What It Takes and How Not To Screw Up

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