Hi there. If you've been reading my previous entries, you may have noticed something. One, that in the words of one of my heroes, El Duderino, I am "not into the whole brevity thing." I'm working on that. But two, more importantly, with each entry I am trying to offer at least one unique pragmatic solution, strategy, or process that I employ, along with step by step instructions on how and why I do employ that strategy. I definitely don't claim to have all the answers, but I've figured out a few things that have worked well for me and I want to share them with you. Why, you may ask?
At a recent show, a musician friend of mine told me about her first experience attending a leadership conference that I presented at called "Songleader Boot Camp." She couldn't believe that successful musicians were sharing their personal strategies and resources with all of the attendees. Up until that point, she had been taught that the music industry was territorial and that you should guard your strategies and territory from everyone, especially other artists. If you've spent even 5 minutes trying to make music your career you probably know well the uncomfortable feeling of interacting with someone who operates this way. The music industry is NOT this way. Or rather, it isn't if we choose to make it so. And I'm saying this because whether you realize it or not, the music industry is being rebuilt right now. It's being rebuilt by musicians and bloggers and creative technologies and that means that, RIGHT NOW, we have an incredible opportunity to rebuild the industry and community as we want it to be. Together.
And that's exactly why right now is one of the most exciting times to be a musician. Imagine the music industry was a club you and I really wanted to play at. There was really only one way to get on into the club, but even trying to get in took a lot of money, especially because you were competing with entire companies that were footing the bill for other artists. Even if you were lucky enough to get into the club, the owners (major labels) would determine whether or not you'd be allowed to stay, let alone have your music be heard. Then, out of nowhere, one of the other artists standing in line went and just opened up their own club, and that one club you spent so much time and energy focused on suddenly went out of business. At first you're disoriented and sad, but then you look up and realize suddenly there's a whole city full of other great clubs where you can play, or empty lots waiting for you to stake your own claim, in building a whole brand new music scene in your city. You realize that not only can you play your music at your own club, but a bunch of other stores now want your music too, and you can even help build new tools to make it easier for other artists. Where there was once only one path, you now have multiple viable paths.
Ok, maybe this analogy is falling apart. Bottom line is this; big business (mostly major music labels) were the only ones who could afford to spend the enormous amounts of money it took to record, promote, and book a recording or touring artist. Even if you were "lucky" enough to get signed to a record label and record an album, that same label could put your finished record on a shelf and never release it, for any reason at all. At the same time you were still locked into a contract that you couldn't escape. Your project got canned before it ever got started.
Horrible allegory aside, my point is, the old gatekeepers don't exist anymore. Maybe they never did. Maybe the better way of thinking about it is that now, armed with all of this technology, individuals have access to all sorts of tools that were previously either cost-prohibitive or that replaced entire teams of people necessary to accomplish certain tasks. To some, this change is scary and bad. I'm not going to be selling tens of thousands of CDs anymore. But you can lament that unchanging fact, or you can pull up your britches and get to work. As soon as you do, you'll realize that it's a whole new exciting time to be a musician, one in which almost every day some new tool comes out that enables you to accomplish more than ever before. The barrier to becoming a career musician has all but been eliminated and the playing field has been significantly flattened. Between powerful computers and inexpensive audio software and the internet, we, the musicians, can take back the power. That's the revolution I'm talking about.
Hate touring? Well now you can make a career completely online on social media, YouTube, and endless other platforms. How about publishing your own radio program as a podcast? Or you can be a blogger. You can be an online music teacher and set up a subscription to your video lessons. If you can dream it, nowadays you can do it!
Now, if you're definition of success is a carbon copy of Taylor Swift's ENORMOUS career as a songwriter, recording artist, performer, and celebrity, that's the equivalent of trying to win the lottery. I'm not trying to sound cynical, but if that's your dream, and your only metric for success, just understand there's a lot of factors way beyond your control that will determine whether or not your career will explode and sustain the way TayTay's has. And quite frankly, if you want to enjoy that kind of success, and that amount of corporate power behind you, you will probably need to work your tail off gathering a following that would interest a label to invest in you in the first place. And if you've already gathered that following, what do you need a label for?
Chance the Rapper, who famously denied label support is an awesome example of someone who blew up and knew that a label wasn't going to do much for him at that point in his career. I think I'd love to have that amount of recognition, but the truth is I'm pretty happy where I'm at as well. I'm not trying to compete with anyone (except for myself). I'm just trying to be financially stable so I never have to go back to mechanical engineering as a career. So far, it's been 11 years, and going strong!
All those tools and strategies the big businesses use are cheap and accessible enough for you to have an amazing career. That isn't to say that you just purchase some new things and suddenly you're going to be an expert songwriter, recording artist, producer, tour manager, cover art designer, booking agent, etc...These things will take time to learn and hone, but over the last decade I've recorded 6 albums, toured over 100 dates each year, and I own my apartment in Manhattan. All from music. Not bad, right?
Last thing going back to being territorial. Your success does not in any way take away from my success, nor does mine take away from yours. If I figure out a way to get 10 million views on YouTube, you can be sure I'm going to share that with you here. If you figure out a way, I'd sure appreciate you sharing it with me, here or somewhere else. My stream numbers don't come at the expense of your stream numbers. I want to be part of a music community whose members excite, inspire, and positively challenge each other to dig deeper. As we rebuild this music landscape, let's revel in each other's successes, and always help lift each other up.
So if you're convinced about this revolution, you can go ahead and stop reading here. But in case you need more clarification, or need more convincing, or just feel like reading more, I'm going to lay out some of the tools and changes that have created this "Musician Revolution."
As per usual, thoughts, questions, and comments are welcome below and thanks for reading!
*Just to be clear, the following are just some of the ways in which life as a musician is much more efficient now than it was 5,10, or 15 years ago, but a lot of this stuff does take time and effort to master or to grow. Don't think you can buy a few new things or setup a few new accounts and suddenly be a career musician.
Let's start with the fact that almost every new computer comes pre-loaded with some pretty sophisticated recording software. You can do things with a few clicks on Garageband that used to take hours in a recording studio. Back then you'd need to have access to a recording studio with hundreds of thousands of dollars worth of equipment and tape, and spend upwards of those amounts in order to record just one album. Or you had to be talented enough AND lucky enough to somehow get signed to a record label. And even then, if and only if the record label lets you cut an album, and only if they release it, you still have to recoup all that money you spent recording before you earned a dime. They also tell you what, when, where, and how to record. Nowadays, who gets to make all those decisions? You do.
Oh, and speaking of recording, did your favorite session musician move halfway across the country? No problem. She can just record in her city and dropbox you her tracks. Need to find a player or producer? A quick Google search will show several services to help you find the person you need.
What about marketing? In the old days, you could tour or take out an ad in a paper, radio, magazine, or TV. Now you can reach magnitudes more with nearly endless options for free social media sites which allow you to not only reach, but also engage with fans and potential fans. You can make a nice looking website for $10 a month, Add another $2 per month if you want an email with your vanity domain on it (ie email@example.com). In the old days you'd need to go to a design firm or hire a professional designer. Now anyone can purchase top of the line design and photo editing software (or choose from several great free options such as GIMP) and design posters from your laptop while sitting on a Boltbus down to DC (as I am right now). Or use a great service like GetBandPosters.com. Or set your budget and hire a free-lancer on sites such as Upwork or Fiverr.
Let's talk distribution. Think you were gonna get your CDs on to the shelves at FYE? Not a chance! Maybe at Vintage Vinyl for those of you fellow hometown St. Louisans, but otherwise you were only selling CDs at your shows. Those were good days to be sure, but imagine going back in time and telling yourself that someday the entire world would be able to access your music in their pocket. Don't get me wrong, as a creator I wish I could sell CD's like I used to, and I wish that we creators were paid more fairly for all the streaming, but as a music fan and in terms of potential to get my music to a MUCH larger population, that's bananas!
How about planning a tour? How did you find venues before Google? Can you even imagine going back to the days of mapquest and printing out all of your directions for the entire tour before leaving home for your first gig? How much time and money did you lose when getting lost? What about finding gas stations, restaurants, or hotels along the way? I'll stay in the present, thank you very much.
Mailing list? Digital collection methods for the list (as described in my "Grow Your Mailing List" blog post, and virtually free emails directly to your fans, rather than printing and mailing physical newsletters by USPS. How much did 1000 copies, envelopes, and stamps cost in the 90s?
Need some financial support for your music? Whether it's a tour, a new album, or finding patrons, there's sites and a culture of support through sites like Kickstarter, IndieGogo, PledgeMusic, Patreon, Jewcer if you're a fellow Jewish creator, etc etc etc.
Want to purchase some used instruments or music gear? Search the whole country and world with eBay, Facebook marketplace, or Reverb. Or rent it from another musician with Sparkplug.
I think you get my point. If you need something for your career, you can probably get it, and more easily than ever in history. And if you don't know how to do it, you can probably find the answer online or watch a free video tutorial on YouTube. You are only limited by your time, energy, and sheer will.