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Three Reasons You Won’t Make it in The Music Business

Photo: Tim Parkinson

While the music industry has undergone some major evolutions in the last few decades, it’s still a daunting place for a young artist to break into. The creative sector doesn’t have the handy, quantifiable step-ladders of the corporate world, and there’s no set formula for success. It’s a wild west of free invention, bravery, and artistic expression – and that’s how we like it. While no-one can tell you exactly how to make it in the music business, it’s pretty clear that there are some things that will make your path to success harder – here are three for starters.

Entitlement
When it comes to navigating a competitive scene like the music industry, feeling entitled to success can be a fast-track to disappointment and burn-out. The entitled musician overrates their own achievements while simultaneously underrating those of others. Their healthy self-assurance turns septic, becoming an expectation of privilege so great that nothing is good enough.

Entitlement is the enemy of the work ethic. The fact is, success is attainable, but it’s by no means guaranteed: it’s the product of a humble, hard worker who keeps their head down, appreciates small successes and is grateful for the journey. Entitlement tells you that a shortcut exists, that the road of hard work can be subverted by demanding more of others, overhyping, or bluffing your way through. Granted, we all know of artists who are masters of talking a big game, but look under the hood, and chances are you’ll find that they also put the work in and are grateful for what they have.

In this great blog, Doc Coyle from Creative Live describes four types of entitled musicians: the Jaded Veteran, the Jaded Non-Veteran, The Delusional Optimist and the King of the Ant Hill. He concludes with this sage reality check:

Many members of successful bands have side jobs, small businesses, and other bands to truly make the ends meet.  This is the new norm, not the aberration. Sometimes having a somewhat successful band creates a new problem of trying to keep your band life while balancing other work you have to do to live. The few musicians who make a very good living from music alone are lucky despite how good they are and how hard they work. They know it, cherish it, and work twice as hard to keep their place.

The truth is, the world doesn’t owe you success. The good news is, it often rewards hard work, a realistic perspective and an attitude of humility and gratefulness.

A Lack of Holism
Holism generally means an understanding of a concept as made up of many interconnected parts. In the case of musicians, it’s an acceptance of the fact that being a modern artist is a multi-faceted vocation. It’s not enough to just write a hit song and wait for the world to notice – an artist is now a businessperson, a self-promoter and a social media personality.

To succeed as a musician today requires at least a rudimentary knowledge of most facets of the music business. Being an independent musician is a near full-time job, from booking cheap and cheerful tours, to balancing your books, printing merch, and navigating contracts. Even if you engage other people to help you with this stuff, you need to do so with your eyes wide open, having done your homework and realised your worth.

Not having a holistic grip on your career can lead to a severe lack of impetus – too many artists out there are making great songs only to throw them out into the ether to die a lonely, unsupported death. At its worst, not approaching your music holistically can lead to being taken advantage of by an industry cowboy with a shoddy contract.

If you’re a self-managed artist, joining the MMF is a great start – they offer free mentoring sessions from some of the greatest managers in the country.

Being a Lone Wolf
We get it – the creative process is a deeply personal one. We’re not here to drag you out of your bunker to play with the other kids, but you might do well to remember that the music industry is a small world, and a community worth knowing.

From the garage band to the artist commune, there’s power in collaboration. On a personal level, a second pair of ears can provide the last 10% your song needs, as well as encouragement or healthy critique. For the complicated inner world of a creative mind, community can be a salve – just knowing that you’re not alone in the way that you operate or think can be a massive weight off.

Feeling like you have to forge a path alone can be one of the most harmful self-beliefs you’ll ever have as a musician. Truth is, there’s a crowd of like-minded creatives asking the same questions as you, struggling with the same challenges as you, and they’re just as eager to find safety in numbers as you are.

Struggling with isolation? Here are a few thoughts on that.

If you’re a young artist looking for some help on your journey, we’d love to help – check out our Artist Development programme and apply here.

Luke Oram