Welcome to Part 2 of a miniseries that focuses on the reasons for and against making music a full-time career. Maybe you’ve been doing all of the things I suggested in Part 1 (June 2018), but you’re still not seeing the results you want. If that’s the case, then it might be time to reassess your location. You ultimately have to go where the industry you want to work in exists. Almost every city has some music business in it, but not every place has enough work to yield high-level success, whether that’s financially or artistically.
Where Do You Live and How Good Are You?
Think about the market you’re trying to reach. Does it exist where you live? Major cities like New York, Los Angeles, and London have larger pools of opportunities for gigs. But if you’re living in a town with a smaller population, then you’re going to have a much more difficult time finding steady work.
The second—and much more difficult—issue to address is that maybe you aren’t as good as you think you are. You have to be honest about your artistry. Is it effective? A sure sign that you’re headed in the right direction is that your fan base is growing organically. Sometimes the issue isn’t that you’re not that good, but rather that you’ve created a skill set that’s not versatile or practical. Do a lot of people need your services? Are you the most proficient player in town at playing in 17/16? If you’re more of the latter, then you have two choices: You could form the best band around that plays in 17/16 and other tricky time signatures. Or you could work on some skills that more people can utilize. The most successful players in history did one or both of those things to very high levels.
“Success is stumbling from failure to failure with no loss of enthusiasm.” —Winston S. Churchill (former prime minister of the United Kingdom)
The Money Situation
Now let’s touch on the financial/business component. There comes a time in every artist’s life when he or she realizes that it takes a certain level of income to maintain a comfortable adult existence. That being said, I know several amazing middle-aged players who still live like impoverished college students. These players are more than likely guilty of one or two things. First, they’re not progressing as an artist; they’ve stayed at the same level for twenty-five years. Second, they’re probably still relying on the business plan they implemented at the beginning of their career.
No business can really thrive without a healthy revamp now and then, and it’s important to stay current. I was part of a speaking event at PASIC 2017. In my speech, I talked about how technology forces us to constantly reassess our business plan. Even Apple, one of the most successful companies in the world, doesn’t have the same strategy that it had fifteen years ago.
You can’t use one model for a long time and then complain when it’s no longer working. Take a look at the status of the music industry, and then evaluate what you’ve done to keep up and compete in the marketplace. Maybe you need to step up your home recording capabilities, knowledge of electronics, social networking presence, or all of the above. Start now!
There will be times when life’s demands begin to outweigh what our work can supply. Being a professional musician can often feel like an uphill battle. You have to decide what makes you feel comfortable and how you want to live. Learn to weather the storms and also be open to re-inventing yourself. It’s a constant journey, but it’s important to find a balance between artistry and commerce.
A Final Thought
The only time I feared my career wasn’t working was when I wasn’t playing very well. Either I had failed during a gig, or a dissatisfied musical director chewed me out after a lackluster performance. Those were highly discouraging experiences, but as my dear wife always reminds me, things like that are really just opportunities to fix the issues, get better, and push forward.
Most people aren’t driven to achieve excellence, but I want to encourage everyone to drive forward. If you never stop growing by building and adapting your business plan, and playing music to your highest possible level, then you won’t need a safety net to fall into. Like the great design coach Tim Gunn often says on the hit show Project Runway: “Make it work!”