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By Sahpreem King
The music industry is a tough dog-eat-dog
business fueled by talent, money, and marketability. It is
a business where fame is fleeting, financial sustainability
is slim, and the time spent earning your stripes on the road
is harsh. Therefore, it puzzles me how some artists would
limit their already slim chances for success by not having
a music business plan. I get it, they're creative types and
they shouldn't be expected to have a head for business-bullshit.
Flying by the seat of your pants, more often than not lands
you on your ass; so what do you think happens when no real
business strategy exists? You fail!
Fear of Facing the Harsh Reality of Failure
If as an artist, you never set goals for yourself
then you never have to concern yourself with reaching those
goals. Failure is a dream killer, especially for the faint
at heart, but avoiding things doesn't make them go away, it
only delays the event. While pursuing a music career, you
cannot avoid dealing with the 800-pound gorilla in the room--you
just can't! The 800-pound gorilla I'm referring to is the
business side of the music industry. Music is a business that
creative types desire being a part of, but they often are
not willing to invest in their own music business education,
so many end up disenfranchised, broke, and sullen.
Worse still, I have found that many of the
indie, DIY, and unsigned artists I consult are self-managed,
which is both good and bad for their music careers. Let me
explain. If you are an artist who has a minor track-record
in the music business and it just so happens you're in-between
record deals, then its okay to self-manage. On the contrary,
if you are a newbie who has never read a music industry book,
taken a course, or attended a music conference, you're wasting
your time trying to self-manage because you don't know the
process or what to expect.
In the age where you are a mouse click away
from infinite information, you'd think that artists desirous
of self-management would invest the time to take advantage
of the free music business resources available on the Internet,
but laziness is a hard disease to cure. Any artist (all levels)
who believes he or she is above learning is arrogant, and
arrogance destroys music careers. If you've never made a bookshelf,
how can you be certain that it will turn out correct? Even
with a blueprint, building a bookshelf is difficult and how
many people still manage to fuck up an IKEA project despite
all the pieces and instructions being in the box, numerous!
The bottom line, is even with an expert to
manage your music career, the journey is arduous. Therefore,
going it alone with an arrogant attitude is both dangerous
and counterintuitive. What's more, arrogant artists who self-manage
their music careers don't realize their career limitations
are due to their lack of experience, ability, and unwillingness
to plan. Before they go into the deep end of the pool without
a lifeguard on duty, they must consider that many artists
have come and gone in the music industry and therefore, have
a story to tell that may help them along their journeys. Artists
must also have an honest self-dialogue and ask themselves,
"am I open to learning and ready to receive new opportunity?"
Likewise, artists should also ask themselves,
"is music my vocation or is it my hobby?" Here's
the rub, if you are not making a living from your music, then
music is not your vocation, it's an avocation-a hobby! There
is nothing wrong with pursuing music in your spare time, but
when you wish for a professional music career, you can no
longer afford to leave success up to blind luck. Like many
artists who fumble their way through a self-managed music
career, you will eventually end up at a crossroads.
At The Self-Management Crossroads, One or
Two Things Are Going To Happen
One, you have gone as far as self-management
(limited knowledge, time, industry contacts, and money) can
take you and you need someone more experienced to take the
wheel. Two, you have created so much opportunity for yourself
that a bona fide professional manager is a necessity. In either
scenario, having a manager can help you move up the next rung
of the ladder, provided you have developed yourself enough
as an artist and you are ready for new opportunities. Giving
up power is hard, sometimes, the process is as simple as getting
out of your own way, but at other times it is difficult and
requires a careful and honest analysis of the circumstances
that have led you to the point in your music career where
you feel help is needed. You must make a career altering decision
and waiting to see what happens, is not a real strategy. You
can no longer afford to fly by the seat of your pants, you
will risk landing on your ass.
There it is, I've laid it out for you in black
and white. You can either heed my advice or continue to act
as your own advisor and for some, own worst enemy. I don't
write these articles to help myself (been there done that),
I write them to help artists like you, nonetheless, some artists
continue to act arrogantly.
Don't Believe Me, Here Is Proof
Recently, while at a music industry networking
event, I asked an artist about his music career and he immediately
took a defensive posture. I was taken aback by his standoffish
attitude, because the purpose of the event was for artists
to interface with music business professionals such as myself.
In my head, I was thinking wow, this guy must have already
earned multi-platinum awards or made millions from his craft-I
have, but for him, not so much. Later that evening, I got
a chance to corner him and speak at length. During our conversation,
I discovered that he had not accomplished either of the achievements
I mentioned earlier; therefore, I couldn't figure out for
the life of me why he had such a false sense of swagger.
After scratching the surface, I discovered
that he had recorded and self-released two album projects,
which were distributed through online digital music aggregators
and he had a few radio spins to boot. When I asked him if
he was affiliated with a performing rights organization such
as--ASCAP, BMI, or SESAC, he looked back at me in a state
of confusion. "Do I need to be", he said. Usually
when people are confused, I tell them to drink water, but
a refreshing glass of H2O was not going to make everything
okay for him.
With a bit more exploration, the artist divulged
to me that he hadn't joined any performing rights society
as a writer or publisher, nor was he familiar with SoundExchange-collects
digital performance royalties from online streaming, web performances,
gaming, etc. I couldn't believe that he didn't understand
such a basic thing and his ego was so big for guy who hasn't
done much. However, it was a joy to witness the fireworks
in his eyes when the light bulb in his head finally became
illuminated. Wow, I said, "you mean to tell me, you've
released two full-length albums and you weren't registered
with a PRO?" C'mon, bro!
After sitting with him for about 45 minutes
explaining to him what PRO's (Performing Rights Organizations)
do and why it was important to not only register his copyrighted
songs with the U.S. Library of Congress, but to also join
a PRO as a writer and publisher, realized that he never sat
down with an industry pro before.
Perhaps his false confidence stemmed from
an expectation of immediate success. It seems that generation
Y, has so aptly ingrained into their DNA an expectation of
always getting their way without having to do much heavy lifting.
You would think that this was an isolated incident, but sadly,
this seems to be the standard with today's generation of music
business up and comers. I believe this is the byproduct of
raising children with an "everybody's a winner"
mentality, but I'm not Dr. Phil and this isn't a talk show.
If The Previous Scenario Wasn't Enough Proof
Of Music Career Arrogance,
Try This Next Story On For Size
An artist who friended me on Facebook, asked
me to checkout her ReverbNation page and give her professional
critique of her music-and for free no less. Feeling charitable,
I listened to her music-not too impressive. She was certainly
talented as a vocalist and songwriter, but her songs, out-and-out
sucked. They weren't anything that my colleagues or me would
be remotely interested in. Rather than blatantly telling her
that her songs sucked, I sugar-coated it a bit and tried to
break it to her softly. When I told her that she needed to
find better production, I was immediately cursed out and my
creditability was questioned. That's what I get for doing
a freebie. As an artist, if you are not receptive to criticism,
you will never be receptive to opportunity. Indie artists
should be ready and willing for success, anything less than
that is bad for business.
Before you shoot yourself in the foot by pissing
off someone who can help your music career shatter the glass
ceiling, it would be wise to put your ego in check. Own up
to the fact that you really don't know everything. If you
knew everything about the music business, then you wouldn't
be seeking knowledge and help from others.
Still, today's artists need to realize that
the music business has gone strong for over 80 years, and
there is nothing, they can say or do that someone who came
before them hasn't already said or done. My philosophy; there
is nothing you are going to do in this business that someone
else hasn't already done or attempted and if they have done
it successfully, then they more than likely left a blueprint.
Why swim against the current of opportunity when you can swim
with the ebb and flow?
Here's the moral of the story, if you are
an artist, humility is the order of the day. Being hungry
and humble will open more doors than a chauffeur will. Learn
the music business, the rules, the players, and basic etiquette
and professionalism. Finally, before you work on mastering
your look, master your sound, live performance, and most of
all your business!
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