Let’s face it, no matter what genre you play, it’s hard to get a start out there. I’ve learned a lot in my 10+ years of gigging, recording, and performing experience. Here I’m going to lay out the most common mistakes I see so-called “amature” musicians make, when trying to aspire to greater things.
Many of the things required in music, just like in any other job, are basic. Forget music theory and singing techniques for a minute, I’d say about 80% of the failures I’ve encountered are simply because opportunities aren’t pursued. I’ve had really talented people book studio sessions with me, for example, but we can’t help their career if they don’t show.
90% of getting a job done is showing up. I should know. In my early days, I would just throw myself into situations I didn’t exactly know how to handle — from simple performances to film– and I learned how to do it by doing the work. Granted a couple of those jobs didn’t go exactly as planned, but the job was done and invariably I was asked to do it again by the same clients. As an artist you can’t be afraid to jump into different situations. Be willing to take risks and make mistakes– you can only learn more about what you want to do.
The Road to Fame
I hate to say this, but “fame” is something achieved more by chance than on purpose. It’s not what you know, it’s who you know. Famous musicians have entire agencies and personal staff at their disposal, not to mention backers, which is hard for the little guy to compete with, even if they reach regional notoriety. Not much has changed since the early days of radio and television; it’s all about buying ads and promoting your work. Obviously the industry giants have a lot more money to spend on advertisements than us small guys.
However, if you work with other acts — especially well known regional ones that fit your genre — you may be spotted by talent agents or asked to join a project by other musicians.
One also has to consider the life of a famous musician. How many times do you think Billy Joel has had to sing Piano Man by now? I’m sure it drives him crazy — it’d drive me crazy. Or even better, the Rolling Stones “Satisfaction”. Richards has been playing that lick for years now. I decided at an early age even if I was given the opportunity like that it wasn’t for me. I have too many musical genre interests than to devote to one single band, playing the same songs for 40+ years. Also you really have to educate yourself about the business before making any big moves, from copyright law to contract laws. This, of course, is why the big wigs of music have teams behind them.
There is no formula to becoming “famous”, there is, however, a potential formula: persistence and hard work. In my early 20’s I was happy getting a hundred dollars to play a bar for three hours. After putting in time to develop my own musical skills, promoting myself, and assembling the right team, I do gigs that can sometimes pay up to $400 a night per musician.
Nothing happens overnight. Like anything else time and dedication are required.
Getting Caught Up In Small Victories
When I was working on my hiphop album, I had pre-released some tracks on Reverbnation. Thanks to others on the project, we reached the #1 spot regionally a few times. Needless to say this was hardly a career changer. Most musicians in the days of the internet think that small internet victories will somehow help them. It may give you a wider audience, but it’s who’s in the audience that counts more. Most on the internet aren’t record executives.
Publishing your music is a good way to go. You don’t need to have a million people buy it the minute it comes out. As an artist you’ll receive royalties from the album your entire life. Publishing videos on YouTube is certainly a plus for promotional purposes, but as far as payout, not so much. Google does over revenue sharing and ad-enabling, but you need to have a lot of views to see a significant financial payout. Most websites are only interested in either selling you services (like ads, distribution, etc) or in getting advertising views using your media.
I’m not saying you shouldn’t promote your online media, however, you shouldn’t count on it as a source of significant income. Unless you have enough money to spend on advertising the media, and even then, it’s popularity is a crap shoot.
Networking with other musicians is key. As I went to school for music, it’s been easier for me than most. Places to start would be local open mics — I’ve even searched for talent to have in my studio at open mics. Once you know the popular acts in your area, try to open for them if their genre is applicable to yours. You may gain a small following from their following.
Don’t Be Afraid To Be A Sideman
I’ve seen many musicians obsessed with the lime light ruin opportunities for themselves by making all music they play about themselves. I’ve stopped hiring people for gigs because they’re too interested in getting paid $Butt for some original stuff when they could be getting at least $100 / hour at a wedding with me. The minute you start limiting yourself to certain material, or genres you’re automatically losing opportunities.
In the right situations, being a side man can have a lot of good perks. I performed with an artist at the Norwalk Oyster Festival in Norwalk, CT as a side man. The artist was backed by an investor and as a band we got paid for every rehearsal and performance. The artist, of course, got film footage, audio, and press to help promote them. It was definitely one of the sweetest gigs I ever got. In addition, I met some important people as well.
I hope these meditations will help you achieve your musical goals!