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The Unique Geek

The Unique Geek
December 16, 2011

Music For Music’s Sake

Once upon a time people formed bands and honed their skills. These skills were songwriting, playing an instrument, choreography (think Motown) and the use of vocal coaches. They even had to learn the skill of drawing an audience into their spell – to pull the audience out of themselves. The phenomenon of everyone having to be in a band started, in earnest, with The Beatles. Suddenly, electric guitars were everywhere, even Sears and Woolworth’s. Thanks to the laws of supply and demand, guitars, amps, keyboards and mics were readily found and more affordable. Every town saw the pawnshop or local piano tuner, evolve into music shops

Something else happened along the way. Along with the movements of self-help, eastern philosophy and the feel-good-now zeitgeist – this new wave of musicians felt they were destined for stardom. Somehow, just being proficient with an instrument, or an excellent singer meant you had to become a star. If four “lads from Liverpool” could do it, then why couldn’t everyone “make it?”

Come to find out, it wasn’t dumb luck

The notion that four guys got together in Liverpool, played a lot together in Mom’s garage and ended up on the Ed Sullivan show is a myth. What gets left out of this narrative is the fact that over 10,000 hours were logged by The Beatles playing together as a band before they came to America and blew our collective minds. That amounts to 250 weeks of full time work (based on a 40 hour work week). That is nearly 5 years, solid, of playing together as one unit. Now, most bands put in a good 15 hours a week, tops, playing together. These 10,000 hours is how much time they played together as a band, mind you. Those aren’t the hours of each musician practicing on their own. The golden 10,000 hour mark was discussed at length in the Malcom Gladwell’s bestseller called “Outliers.” It turns out most geniuses of a certain craft have this number in common. For instance, Bill Gates, logged more than this many hours programming computers before Microsoft became Microsoft.

So, okay, it isn’t easy being in a great band and hitting the big time. What is disheartening and incredible, however, is how most musicians, producers, artists (whatever your moniker) seem to think that they should hit the big time. If they haven’t yet there are several reasons why they have not.

Notion: No one has managed to discover his or her genius.

Retort: This may well be true, but this might be the fault of the artist in not bothering to really try and market him or herself or doing so with little to no business acumen.

Notion: They can’t be both artist and businessperson.

Retort: Then get someone who is or prepare for heartbreak and frustration.

Notion: The industry can’t support them thanks to iTunes and file sharing.

Retort: The industry can actually support far more artists than being exposed than ever before. It just might not have the massive signing bonuses you dreamt up.

Notion: Most listeners like crap music and not good and truly original stuff.

Retort: You got me there.

What is even more incredible, and nothing new, is this sense of entitlement many artists have. Again, each one of us is so darned “special” nowadays. I have met countless frustrated musicians. Every job they currently have is just what they are doing until the Universe finally breaks down and gives them reams of cash just for being brilliant. And this, ultimately, is the biggest dilemma and roadblock for most musicians and artists today.

Don’t be this guy

 

If you approach your craft with dollars signs in your eyes, you’re doomed. If you spend much of your time at your day job thinking about how one day, people will be paying you just for being a musician, prepare for a lifetime of frustration. No one owes you anything for being a musical prodigy. When you really stop and think about it, it’s pretty crazy to think, “I am so great at music that I should live in a mansion paid for by the world at large because my music is that great.” People should just pay you for the collection of musical notes you put together in succession, because why?

Truth be told, in order to actually do nothing but be a musician full time means you had better become business savvy. You will have to become a marketer, salesperson and ultimately, a hustler. When society marvels at the musical acts that have staying power they all have something in common beyond being really talented – they are all great businesspeople.

Regardless, this is nothing to be disheartened by. Once you realize the Universe doesn’t owe you anything, you can get back to focusing on what matters – making music for music’s sake and nothing more. A true musician, artist, writer (what have you) does their craft without end because they have to. It isn’t a choice, it isn’t a career move, it isn’t a business decision, creative people have to create or they get out of sorts. Artists get antsy and ornery if they aren’t creating. This is the purest pursuit of any art – simply doing. By doing and doing and doing you get really good at your craft. If you want to make a living at it, you’re going to have to bust your ass and get good at business, because selling anything is a business. But, if you feel that ultimately you SHOULD be paid for creating music – be prepared to end up mad at the rest of us.

If you have a job with a consistent paycheck and benefits, you are already ahead of more than 10% of the workforce in this country (unemployment numbers aren’t the only measure of the unemployed). If you create music because you love to do it, you are lucky. You are lucky to have an outlet for creative expression. You also don’t have to answer to: the PR rep, the manager, the road crew that needs to go on tour to have paychecks, your agent, your label or your fans that want the same album from you over and over. You get to create music. Be thankful for that.

Comments

  1. Tyler Linke says:

    Totally agree with this article. Too many people nowadays think because they have a keyboard and software they can be a producer and make the big bucks instantly and that’s all they think about. For me, I have a keyboard, hardware and software but I still make stuff for the fun of it. I do get antsy and ornery if I’m not creating. I would love to make the big bucks and produce but that’s not priority right now. The priority for me right now is learning everything possible there is to know about production, mixing and mastering by messing and creating my own stuff until I craft my sound.

  2. Brilliant article sir! Cheers to making music purely for the love of it.

  3. Joseph U says:

    I honestly agree with this article and the lesson learned here can be applied to any other career. You can;t automatically become a world renowned DJ, Dancer, or even a Doctor for that matter, with out puting time and effort into it. I am a 15 year old DJ that is inspired by music and with this I feel like I can grow into music and make money in what I love doing. Yet, I understand that I need to put timeless hours practicing. With that I would only consider dj as a hobby. My main goal is to become a doctor. People think that “oh becoming a doctor is easy. all you need to do is go to school than make alot of money” NO! you’re studying 8 hours a day and when you are done with school, your working for 4 years with 18 hour shifts with minimum wage. Back to music , haha. Having the expensive instruments to produce music will not make you big bucks. Having a passion for music and putting most of your hours into it will.

  4. Hans Daniels says:

    I gave up on making music for money. (keeping tears down) I tried in several rock bands & producing dance tracks. Neither made back my money I spent on the equipment.

    On the other hand. DJing has been a great outlet for me. I get to spin music I like AND GET PAID. It’s pretty rad. I’d consider myself very lucky. The coolest part is that I still produce music “for fun”. I don’t get paid for the tracks, but I throw them on from time to time and watch the crowds reaction. If they keep dancing.. this to me, is worth millions. But, it’s a different story for my wife – She’d rather have the cash.

    Overall, dude… great article. Let’s all keep making music. And don’t forget to collaborate with others!

  5. Mario R. says:

    When I think on this I prefer to do it as a real simple equation:

    If I want money = I must work (hard and everyday)
    If I want success = I must effort (hard and everyday)

    And may be the success of any of the past two equations will depend from a third party

    But if I want to be happy = I need to do everything I need to be happy and this is harder and difficult than get money or being successful… Being happy with what I do only depend on me!!!

  6. Bowmentum says:

    as soon as you make your passion into your job, you can always expect to lose a bit of your passion…that is why I always create for creation’s sake, and everything else (the fans, the money, the recognition, even increasing your skills) is a secondary benefit! it’s like a built-in artist retirement plan!

  7. Mike S says:

    Where would Justin Beiber be if he needed to put in 10,000 hours. Ha! Today’s pop artists become famous because of promoters and good looks. But music legends are ones that put the time in, pay the price, and ultimately come out on top in fans eyes.

    I know it’s not all cases, but it’s sad to think that being an artist these days means being business saavy and being pimped around by managers.

  8. Kai Street says:

    I totally agree with this. If all artists had this in mind, maybe they would spend more time honing their craft and marketing it, instead of producing one hit song and expecting to be rockstars.

    Even though I’m not a huge fan of Skrillex, for example, he’s staying on top because his sounds are so unique in his productions, he spends time on his craft, and he’s a businessman. I mean, he started his own label, which features some of the best EDM artists to date!

    All in all, though, this is a great article. It’s refreshing to hear that artists aren’t given everything and they have to work at it to get to where they want to be. Some people just don’t understand that concept!

  9. JD says:

    Today’s pop music is total garbage…trash…promotion programmed into our youths’ mind’s. Starting from when Puff Daddy and his sort would pay off station programmers to play his songs over and over and over. All our yout want to be gangster rappers! We need to get back to actual musicians…folks that wrote songs…that played instruments…from scratch…but that is a rarity nowadays.

    See how music is programmed into our youth in the past decades….look at any 20-30 year old in USA and most likely they relate to ghetto rap music…..look at any 20-30 year old in Europe and they most likely relate to Electronic music. Whomever has the most money to throw at the radio stations gets to influence our youth and the music they listen to.

    I don’t foresee anything coming along like the 60′s and 70′s….our current youth and society is content with just listening to the prepackaged pop and rap garbage of today….and our society reflects our music.

    1. Dreamr says:

      The same thing happened in your generation, you just didn’t notice it because it was your gen.

      The Beatles were very popular IN GERMANY! Nowhere else, then they met Brian Epstein who helped them craft their look, and musical sound. It wasn’t until he and his production company dumped tons (by standards those days) that the Beatles got traction in their own country. THEN the exploded.

      Long story short, it will always be money that buys advertising that buys eye time that gains ear time. It was the same in the 60s and today.

  10. Dreamr says:

    It’s like anything else, to become a master you have to put in 1000 hours or more.

    On a side note for JD. Try not to sound to old and cynical :D I grew up with Guns and Roses and later Nirvana. GnR didn’t start writing truly musical stuff till late in their career. Same with Nirvana. I still see the same trend in post-punk bands.

    How is GnR vs say Paula Abdul any different from today? Pop will always suck, but there is plenty of music out there. It just isn’t on pop radio. (The exception is the exceptional pop music I found when I lived in Amsterdam)