What do you say to someone who wants a career in music? It’s not easy. Just yesterday, I was chatting to a smart young guy who is about to embark on a music degree. He’s certainly got talent and bucket-loads of optimism to go with it. I really do wish him all the best.
But, it’s getting harder and harder to be optimistic about the prospects for young musicians. Choosing an artistic path has never been easy. And, music has never been a meritocracy. Not only is the music business often unfair, it’s downright cruel.
This Present Reality
There’s been a lot of buzz here in Singapore about some comments highly respected Jazz musician Jeremy Monteiro made on his Facebook page. Monteiro was reflecting on the economics of live music, the challenges facing venue owners and the prospects for younger musicians. At one point he says,
“My advice to young ones wanting to make a living doing music? Think very, very carefully. Actually, really, really consider doing something else.
It’s harder than it ever was and its getting even harder. I never would imagine giving this advice until about 5-8 years ago.”
A lot of young musicians are looking for reassurances, that if they invest years in a music degree it will pay off, or if they work hard, they will “make it.” Sadly, for every positive in our current reality (global music markets, direct to fan sales, social media marketing) there are also drawbacks (smaller recording budgets, fewer well paid live gigs and fewer new venues).
Some Recurring Themes
Looking back over my articles here, there are themes I’ve tried to address on a few occasions. I certainly believe if you are going to try your hand at music, you need to really go for it, with everything you’ve got, be profoundly original and unique and also have a clear sense of the values you hope will guide you in your career.
Some Advice, For What It’s Worth
In terms of further advice, I find myself starting to talk more and more about these themes.
1. Music is Ultimately About People – If there’s one thing I wish I knew when I was 18 it’s this – your success in the music game will, ultimately be less about your talent than it will be about your ability to get along with, work alongside and inspire people.
2. Talent Is Just A Doorway Talent matters. But, once you get to a certain level, everyone in the room is talented. Then what do you do? And, sometimes we try to talk about talent as a mask to cover other, deeper psychological issues. I wrote about this at length in a piece called Fake It Until…
3. The Business Side Matters – Some musicians, especially in the indie scene, like to be flippant about the money side of things. I guess what every makes you look cool works, I suppose. Personally, I think it’s foolish not to talk about commerce if you are really committed to making music, or any kind of art, as a lifelong practice. Whether you hold a day job, teach on the side, live on a commune, or run a music company, you need a plan that will help you sustain yourself through a life of music making.
I don’t like to dwell on regrets. I’ve made too many mistakes and indulging regret has little value beyond learning your lessons and getting on with it.
I do think I spent too much time studying and not enough time making. I do wonder if I’ve been too patient with people who were dysfunctional, abusive, who took more than they gave. And, I certainly feel like I’ve often waited too long to move on opportunities.
Like I said, it’s not easy.