The Cries Of The Never-Been
The "Industry Experts"
Since the arse fell out of the music industry and was replaced by an equally pretty and shitty rump, we soon found out that all the curves and curve balls had shifted and were now in completely different places than before. So if you're anything like me, you joined blogs, mailing lists and bought books full of advice from the new world "industry experts" who now held the keys to the gold and caught up. Neck deep in the pages, I got my head down and absorbed these career defining scriptures. I made notes, drew up timelines and made list upon list of next step plans whilst having the end result in mind - musical success.
However, it didn't take long to see that no-one had the answer. The instructions flooded in and time after time they contradicted each other. They all had similar strands, such as 'social media is important' but the means of getting the most from all this came in thick, fast and confused. Then I started to look at the pedigree of who was etching out these gospels to career security, and it turns out - anyone and everyone.
I'm not saying that any of the advice is wrong, but this is fresh territory for everyone so how can we tell? You also have to take into consideration the author's bias - has he had a successful career? Has he had a difficult one filled with rejection and disappointment? Is he a marketing guru? A social media guy? A man just trying to exploit dreamers out of their hard earned cash?!? It happens, but how can you tell?
This got me thinking...What advice would I give to the younger me, just now getting into the music game?
(At this point you may be wondering "who the fuck are you to be dishing out advice?" And do you know what? You might be right. I guess that all depends unto who I'm talking - I imagine my wife and kids would consider me a reliable source of information, and whilst some people may think I have a point in some respects, others would be convinced I'm talking bollocks... I guess in each case you'd be bang on).
So with that in mind, please take the following musings with as many pinches of salt as you see fit... It possibly ain't even worth the sliver of internet it's written on.
What I've Learned So Far
Make honest music. Don't adopt a style, sound or accent because its in vogue (see Iggy Azalea, Silibil & Brains and Kaleef) and be honest with others too - It's great to gain the respect of your peers through tales of success and glory, but if it's bullshit, be careful, the truth has a way of worming its way out.
Your Word Is Your Bond
Denzel once uttered these very words to his ill fated onscreen son right before he was to off himself so his heart could be recycled in place of his lads dodgy ticker - and how right he was. When dealing with people, all you got is your word. If you say your going to show up and perform at a gig, turn up! If you promise to help promote it, get off your arse and do it. The world is small, but the scene is far smaller. You don't want to get sidelined because you never come through on a promise.
The Industry Is Based On Relationships
There are two things that seem to get you noticed in this industry - money (of which I have fuck all) and friendships. The latter is my preferred form of currency - The promoter gives you a slot on a gig? Then go out and be the guy that helps him sell it out. That guitarist who would sound phenomenal on your new track? Record his band for free or let his singer lay down some vox at yours. As long as you're both eating no-one is gonna starve.
The Music Business Is A 'Business'
I have had a lot of trouble accepting this, but make no mistake, this business is retail - A supermarket stocks tins of beans of various kinds, and given that flavour is subjective and people have different tastes, some end up best sellers whilst others get shipped out and replaced with another brand. It's harsh when considering the beans are actually slices of your soul, but the truth is those with the biggest marketing campaign (most amount of money) tend to be the flavour of the month. Corale have trouble fucking with Heinz man.
No-one Cares About Your Music (more than you)
This is a bitter pill to swallow but nonetheless true, and I feel your pain, honestly - Your new song is a game changer, people are gonna love it. You've given this project everything you've got - You've bared your soul. People need to hear it because they haven't heard anything like this before.
But the truth is most people don't care about new music and don't get invested like we do. They are quite happy to just have whatever music accompany them at different times of the day - maybe on the dancefloor of Sweaty Jax on Saturday night whilst checking out the fluff, or at work via the local station that Jane likes to listen to on her DAB radio she got for Christmas. In my experience the ONLY other people who care about new music equally are the ones creating it, and they don't want to see you walking in the boots they envisioned wearing themselves.
Let Others Decide If You're Great
There is nothing worse than seeing or hearing someone declare they are the biggest thing since Tupac, Skrillex or Barry Manilow (the smooth mother fucker that he is!). Believe me, it just comes across as arrogant, cocky and a real dick move. I understand we've all seen Liam Gallagher declare himself bigger than every other person to grace a mic or Kanye generally being a cunt-yeah. But they all have a healthy buffer of fame, fans, success and hit records to support their claims. So No! Stop it!
Be humble - I understand you're confident in what you are bringing to the table, but fuck me man, show some humility! Surely its for others to decide if you are to be crowned a monarch in the pantheon of musical brilliance? It's gotta be hasn't it? BUT, if being genuinely humble is a bit of a stretch, you may be best sticking to the wall of arrogance. There is nothing as sickly as someone pretending to be humble and having the pretentiousness oozing out of them. You're now cocky and arrogant with a smidgen of smarm and smugness... Hmm... Smooth.
Don't Get Obsessed With The Numbers
It's very easy in this climate to fall into the trap of the numbers. Almost all of a musicians engagement is online, and almost all online platforms monitor that engagement through public numbers. This makes it very easy to start to judge the quality of an artist/song/video through a numerical lens instead of its creative merit. In my opinion the numbers reflect solely on one's ability to market themselves, and considering marketing is a money game it's more accurate to say one's ability to invest in themselves. So it's perfectly understandable why your views/likes/plays are much lower than Action Bronson or Rhianna, they have backing.
I've suffered from this in the past - Judging the success of a project on the amount of people to see, hear or like it! - "I'm not as good as Sigue Sigue Sputnik because I've only got 'x' amount of people on my mailing list" - "only 300 people have watched the last video compared to Si and Suzie's Polka Band who've had double that and they posted around the same time" - So what? What can I do, apart from start spamming the video and pissing everyone off? (see Social Media below). Not only am I focusing on something that isn't worth thinking about, I'm also undermining the people who have already signed up/watched/liked by declaring they aren't enough.
Scottish songstress Sandi Thom recently had a meltdown which she filmed and shared (great PR) of her expressing her frustration at not being added to Radio 2's playlist. She states that after writing a song which is perfect [for them] and yet been ignored again, they can now "shove it up their arse" because "now 22 million people won't get to hear my song!"
Well, there's that many types of wrong going on here you could do a case study. Not only does she come across as sulky, expectant and spoilt, she is publicly undermining her fans. She should appreciate the platform she already has and lead by example. She should've asked Toploader.
Social Media Manners
I'm definitely not an expert when it comes to social media, I'm from a different time. When we were younger we didn't have the means to publicly express parts of ourselves, we had a small circle of trusted friends with who we confided and that was it. I'm not ashamed to say I have attended workshops to learn the art to this foreign medium, and although I'm getting more proficient I still feel like a dick in a bucket of tits.
Rightly or wrongly my opinion is solely based on what I don't like on social media - I can't stand to be told to check out your music in EVERY post. I am more likely to openly listen to it if I feel you're being social and showing your personality as opposed to trying to sell to me. Just be mindful it's a two way street, I ain't a fan or customer, but I could be. Be visible but inviting. Why choose to follow you instead of the 1000's of others, if not for your personality and likeability? Also, it may just be me, but I've got a real bugbear with artists who regularly use spelling and grammar mistakes. I think it cheapens the image/product and makes them look less professional. Does that sound pompous? It does to me too, but I don't care, I just reely h8 it u c.
Stick To Your Guns
Don't try and please anyone except yourself. It's too hard to let others define your creative content, especially if this is at a cost to your integrity. Make music for you because there's a good chance that others similar to yourself will like it. To be fair, I completely understand why pop artists rebel - they are making music for a demographic they can't relate to and as the shine from fame and money begins to fade, what they are left with is the music they've created, and if you are not proud to stand with that... Well, is the pound worth the pride? I'm not sure.
I make music in a genre that has many features making up the whole of the face, yet I can't relate to them all. Despite looking a knob in a cap (like a British hillbilly having a midlife crisis) I can't relate to freestyling, rap battles, cyphers and mix tapes. None of that was part of my background. I came through a side door of electronic music and songwriting to get to where I am now so my priorities and intentions maybe differ from some.
I'm not saying any one discipline has greater worth than the other, but I am saying I will never take part in any elements I have no connection with. What? Just for the sake of fitting in? Money? Acceptance? Nah man, I'm quite happy banging away in my own little corner and if people vibe off the noise, they're more than welcome to join me.
Say Yes To Everything
I was given this advice off a friend a while back and to be honest it's served me well. I regularly say yes to things based around music that I do for free or volunteer (given that I have time and I find it interesting). If I'm honest it can be a blag at times when you haven't the motivation to go somewhere and put yourself out for no reward, but relationships are formed this way and one good deed has a way of finding a brotherly resolve somewhere down the line. The way I see it - Nothing will definitely come from nothing, but anything may come from something.
Don't Bank On The Cash
The music industry is a capitalist's dream. Those who spend more make more. Even though the industry is seeing a revolution at the fringe, the centre is still full of suits and expensive pens that work on the promise of good return, and that's usually in exchange for youth and beauty. So what about us lot looking in from the edge? How many bills can we pay through our royalty/performance/streaming/sales revenue? Well I ain't an economist and I can only talk from personal experience - I ain't banking off shore.
In all seriousness, I make hardly anything doing the music. I make bits on (some) performances through venue payment and PRS, I could make a small amount on physical sales but don't have the initial outlay for production costs, I earn like a penny a year in streaming costs and have made small bits of royalties from radio plays. This is my reality.
The only other way of earning money is to try and monetize your skill set in and around the artist stuff. Can you do guitar, piano or singing lessons? Can you do recording/filming for other artists at a cost? Can you do music workshops for others in the community? Maybe build websites for other artists? Having to wear the entrepreneurial hat doesn't come naturally to me, but I'm learning. All I know is, if I was solely singing for my supper, I'd be a skinny bastard.
Don't Let The Industry Fuck With Your Dreams
If I'm being honest, I'm a million miles off where I thought I would be at my age. (Foolishly it seems) I had visions of being financially secure (well at least enough for the bills) and maybe moderate success (not sure what that entails really). However in hindsight I think all that stemmed from people feeding me ideas whilst harbouring different agendas of their own. I'm not saying that's underhanded - a record label and management need to make money too, whether that's with me or without me. - The ticket to this ride costs money and if you ain't bringing it... Adios... It's just the details they give you about the journey ahead that are hard to shake once you've been kicked off the bus.
It took a while to come to terms with everything, but once I did I felt liberated. All the distractions of bright lights and big crowds seemed appealing at first, but when is the crowd large enough or the applause loud enough? Seriously? That's not why I started this and I don't want to push what I love through a letterbox of popularity. That hole changes shape regularly and you have to shave off bits of yourself to fit. Fuck that. No-one knows which way the tide will turn, but if you try to ride every wave there's a good chance you'll be found washed up.
The majority of people involved in making music would love to do this full time, myself included. It would be great if we didn't have the distraction of having to make money to pay the bills, but such is life... I'm gonna continue to make the music I make for the reasons I feel that are important and fuck all the what ifs! What will be will be. Don't forget someone somewhere thought it a good idea to plough money into Kaleef?!
Stay strong man, just do you