There are three reasons that I am not a successful musician. For twenty years I have created music but three key choices have absolutely destroyed any chance of making it my profession.
After working for an indie record label, interviewing successful artists for magazines, making films with touring bands, and being a fledgling, sometimes, half-ass musician myself, I have learned what does actually need to be done in order to have a shot at making a living as an artist these days. I’ve hired consultants. I’ve drilled down into statistics and data. I have pondered music as a career path several times over the years but it was already too late.
So without further ado, here are the top three mistakes that sealed my fate as a writer (someone who is not a successful musician).
- I went to college.
Out of the 10 top-grossing musical artists of all time – exactly zero have a college degree. Okay, a couple guys in Pink Floyd did part of a semester before dropping out, but otherwise no successful artist went to college.
As a young person, you are presented with two different, and mutually exclusive paths: Music or College. You can’t do both because of student loan debt. You need to be able to withstand years of making very little money. That’s not possible when you’re paying off loans.
Plus, all the time spent studying, you’re not writing songs. You’re not touring. You’re not “being a musician.” Nobody in the music business is going to take a chance on investing in an artist or band that can’t make them money. Managers, labels, and the like need to have you out there working in order for them to take a cut and make their living. That’s how it works. If you’re in college, you’re spending money, not making it.
If you choose college, you’ve chosen college. Music is your hobby and it probably always will be.
- I do not live in NYC, LA, or Nashville and I have no plans to move there.
Most deals are done in music towns. Labels are based in these towns and the people who work in the industry have spouses and kids and a life in these towns.
Everyone goes to SXSW, and there are a few decent labels in Chicago and other markets, but to conduct business (and be seen initially) it’s easier if you’re around. It also shows that you’re serious and labels like serious. They like sure things. They like easy. They go to the same clubs every week. They like to see you again and again, and hear your name many, many times.
- I’m not going to videotape myself singing hundreds of cover songs and put them on YouTube.
If you’re not going to do #2 right away (because you’re a child), you can potentially do #3. You’ll show up on something called Next Big Sound and industry people will begin to take note.
This is only the case if you have hundreds of thousands of page views. For some reason people really like to listen to random people sing cover songs. I don’t understand this phenomenon, but it’s real – and it’s how a lot of artists get discovered these days. Think of it as Internet Karaoke.
Be aware that everyone is doing this and they are hardcore. People post every single day. Themselves. Singing a cover song.
At a time when most people are trying to get out of the music business, I still know a lot of people trying to get in. If you haven’t made the same mistakes that I have, you probably have a shot.
Hear what music from an unsuccessful artist sounds like (it doesn’t sound like money, but I think it’s cool). Download my band Delavan’s newest track, “Love Shine.”
Disclaimer: Some real and actual musicians and industry folk contributed to the making of “Love Shine,” but I wasn’t one of them. And it’s my blog.