My biggest misconception as a budding musician came from the fact that no one I was around talked about it like it was a business. No one talked about the money – in fact it was somehow taboo – and thus I overly romanticized what being a musical artist was. Don’t get me wrong, you can make meaningful music without making a profit, plenty of people do. And there is no right way to make music. But, the more and more I learn about this industry, the more and more I see how much it revolves around the money. That is probably why they call it an industry. Taylor Swift’s most recent “Reputation Tour” enlisted the help of 82 semi’s to haul all of the equipment needed to put that show on. I can’t even begin to imagine having 82 truck drivers on my payroll for a summer.
I know what you’re thinking – I’m thinking it too – “I don’t need to be as big as Taylor Swift.” But my point is this: if you want to make a living with music, you’re going to need to do a bunch of stuff that has nothing to do with making sounds. You’ll likely have to work incredibly long hours on things you would never begin to think were associated with being an artist. At the beginning I became so frustrated at these because I thought making music was about…well…making music! And it is. But the deeper I dive into scraping by a living with it, the more I realize organizing, answering emails, budgeting, social media, promotion, planning and customer service are all a part of it. You could say the same thing for any business. If you’re not willing to do those things, you better have enough money or charisma to get someone else to – because at the end of the day – they have to get done.
“If you want to make a living with music, you’re going to need to do a bunch of stuff that has nothing to do with making sounds.”
One of my favorite quotes is from the poorly titled book Zen & The Art of Motorcycle Maintenance. “You want to know how to paint a perfect painting? It’s easy. Make yourself perfect and then just paint naturally.” I don’t believe in perfect, but I do believe that if good music was a wall, the bricks would be all of the tools and life experiences that you have and music just fills in the cracks. I realize my job isn’t only about making sounds or killing a show, it’s so many jobs in one; every day is vastly different and I’m constantly shrinking my ego to learn from those around me. It’s about standing in front of the merch table like you work at Forever 21. It’s about knowing your way around an Excel document. It’s about meal prepping burritos for the summer of 2018 because you don’t have the time or money to eat out. Without a doubt, my number one job now is managing my stress and mental health.
If I somehow convinced my past self this is what life would be like, I’m not sure he would have agreed. But he was ignorant – maybe to my own benefit. If this all seems overwhelming, my advice would be to go look for help in your own local scene; or better yet, help someone else. Put yourself in a position to learn from those better than you. That might mean moving across the country, that might mean sending 500 emails. Be a little sponge.
The artist road is long and hard, and so is life. So be kind to yourself, manage your expectations appropriately and be grateful for the time you have to sit down and just make some sounds. Try your hardest to be the best person you can and then just make some music.