Working in the music business is a wild ride. We are an industry that was completely transformed for the digital revolution – the age of the internet has gone so far as to impact the very mindset of our everyday consumers, music fans. Whether you are someone looking to make the leap into a career in the music industry, or want to be a support to someone already working in it, here are ten things no one really talks about that I believe need to be addressed openly.
While a vast number of creatives souls (including myself) work in the music industry in an effort to avoid the greyscale cubicle life at all costs, everyone needs to hustle on a consistent basis to pay the bills.
Just because you don’t need to do the stereotypical coffee/suit/transit commute every morning, does not mean your old alarm clock is now obsolete. Being your own boss means that there is no one glancing over your shoulder at your computer screen, opening the curtains when you sleep in past noon, making sure you have enough paid bookings to make rent this month, and deducting taxes automatically from your income.
Working as a freelancer is not a ticket for an endless vacation, it’s a test of discipline. Some people simply can’t do it, some use their friends as accountability partners, some thrive in this environment, and each are okay as long as you recognize potential issues before they become big problems.
2. Physical Health Is A Major Priority.
The music business is a tiring field to work in. Between the soaring highs, the epic lows, and the stress in between, the energy level of people is ready to blow at a moment’s notice. For the musicians and crew on the road, homesickness should not be dismissed. Neither should the importance of eating healthy foods whenever possible. Make a point of trying to make a healthy amount of sleep, regular physical activity, and relaxation time a part of your regular agenda.
3. Alcoholism, Substance Abuse And Mental Health Issues Are Everywhere.
Who would have thought that in a industry that runs on artistic genius, high pressure, comparisons and judgement (both from the media, and anonymous commenters), potential fame and fortune, and outcasts expressing big emotions, some of us need professional help? In all seriousness, though, if your coping strategies are no longer providing comfort, or are interfering with your ability to be the best you can be, please ask for help. We have come a long way with the respect and support we offer to those struggling
4. Everyone Filters Their Life For The Cameras.
That signed pop singer is still a barista by day, and sleeps in a shoebox apartment by night. That 23-year-old life coach jumped over the fence to film his Instagram Story with a private jet in the background (the video conveniently cuts off just before security guards arrest him for trespassing). Everyone wants to put their best face forward, even if it’s a distorted image.
Take this photo of me on the red carpet at the SOCAN Awards in 2017, for instance. Fun facts: I did not actually “walk the red carpet” with the real famous people. I snuck out from my seat during the award ceremony portion of the evening and had this taken on my iPhone by another currently not famous person who was out there with the same idea.
Oh, and I bought the dress on clearance, traveled to Toronto on a cramped bus, and the ticket was a prize I won at an event I snuck into… But if you scroll through your social media feed and saw this photo, you wouldn’t know all this and be left feeling less of yourself. It’s time to stop comparing your behind the scenes footage to someone else’s highlights reel.
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5. The Competition Is Cut-Throat.
It’s the classic concept of supply and demand: there are more people desperate for a career in the music business than there are good, available gigs. Those who control the gigs have the power, and can make any demands they want.
No matter where you turn and what roles you look at: from paying to open for the headlining act, to unpaid internships, sexual harassment, to the practice of hiring non-unionized scabs. The message being sent in these situations is clear: you are replaceable. The emerging professional knows that if they don’t believe in buy-on’s, try to negotiate to be paid for their labour, report the creepy boss, or refuse potentially unsafe work, there is a line of other young, aspiring people behind them waiting. Just know what in the new age of the music industry, there is always an alternative route to get to where you want to be.
6. Friends And Hobbies Outside Of Music Are A Must.
The music business is one where nothing is ever certain or steady. This means that it is essential to have some friends, hobbies, sources of joy and positive self-esteem outside of your work. I’m serious. If you don’t see yourself as bringing anything to this world without your singing voice, guitar skills, or business successes, what is your solid foundation going to be if you get lose your voice before a concert, break a wrist, or your last investment tanks? When times are rough, having something or someone else you can visit for a little while will help.An added bonus to having friends who aren’t part of the music scene: they bring new ideas into your world.
7. Some People Aren’t Cut Out For This (And That’s Okay).
Take a moment to think of the circle of musician friends you have around you. (If you are older, look back at the people you hung out with at age 20). Let’s be honest. Not everyone is going to be world famous. Not everyone is going to be famous in their specific sub-genre. Heck, not everyone is even going to be able to make a living off their musical talents. And that’s okay.I’m not advocate to give up on your dreams. Some people can never be anything but an artist. They will live into the tiniest of dingy apartments with their acoustic guitar for their whole life, because that’s what happiness is to them. Some will choose to provide a stable income for their family, and stick to gigging on the weekends. Some will go get a high paying job that allows them to convert their basement into a private studio. And some will become the friendly old men at the pub jamming to Bob Dylan tunes every Sunday afternoon over pints. If music makes you happy, fame and fortune (or lack thereof) won’t change that.
8. There Are No Overnight Successes.
The term overnight success is bandied about when a celebrity seems to become a household name out of nowhere. However, that’s rarely the case. For example, in the world of country music they say that “Nashville is a ten year town,” implying that the counter starts once a young aspiring songwriter arrives with a suitcase and their guitar. It takes time, laying in a strong foundation before passersby can see the beginnings of a skyscraper being built. If you want a long career, your slow and steady rise should be no different.
9. Kindness Wins.
It doesn’t matter how technically skilled you are, if you are pain to work with, eventually people will stop wanting to work with you. So if you’ve got some extra time this week, reach out to some friends. Attend local shows. Cheer on the other band. Become a star on your scene by introducing yourself to everyone, and following through on your promises.
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10. No One Knows What They’re Doing Anyway.
With the music business in a state of constant flux, no one can 100% tell you what their 10-year plan is. New technologies are being developed, start-ups launching, bands forming. So, go out there and experience it all!
You are a creative soul in a creative industry. No matter what the future holds, if you stay flexible and innovative, you’re going to love it.