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?”
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.
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.