These days it seems like everyone has an opinion on how to make it in the music biz. With all the nonsense that's floating around, rich with all the latest buzz phrases and old-school ideologies, it's tough to weed out the good stuff from all of the outdated and futile information lurking in the depths of the internet and spewing from the mouths of washed-up professors and industry ancients. Here are three pieces of music career advice that you should never follow.
1. "Just keep sending your demo, someone will notice you eventually!"
Wrong. No one will notice. Why? Because they're all tossed straight into the big rolling trash bin the second they're delivered. That old-school mentality of sending in your demo CDs or packaging them creatively so the receivers will be more likely to open them is just not the way things work anymore. Record label execs now have so many levels of people between them and the poor sap in the mail room that it's virtually impossible for anything to get beyond the front door. During my time working at Sony Music Entertainment, I'd see pounds and pounds of creative work being tossed straight into the garbage in bulk every single day. As an artist, it's both discouraging and disheartening to know that this is the harsh reality, but the truth is, this is the climate of the industry right now.
But don't lose all hope yet, because what I can tell you from being on the inside is that there are two good ways that you can still get your demo in front of the right people: one, get it in the hands of A&R reps, or two, get it to the Big Kahuna's right-hand person. To find the A&R guys (or girls), you can use any network connections you may have or just utilize the good ol' internet to get some answers. It could be as easy as a quick exploration through LinkedIn. Either send your stuff straight to them if you can, or go check out one of their artists' next shows; they'll be sure to be there. And the right-hand people I'm referring to are the ones that interact with the higher-ups on a regular basis: their lawyers, assistants, publicists, etc. If you can cultivate a relationship with one of those very influential people, you can bet your ass that if they like you, your demo will undoubtedly end up on a very important mahogany desk come Monday morning.
2. "Hard work pays off."
Wrong again. In the la la land of unicorns and butterflies, all of your hard work pays off, sure! But in reality, just because you're "working hard" by your definition doesn't ultimately guarantee you career or financial success. It just doesn't work that way. What does work, though, is making sure you work smarter, not harder. Do work that is directly related to your goal, and make sure you're making yourself accountable for making progress in the right direction. Seek the guidance from those who have also found success in your desired field, and make sure you're not just pounding the pavement the wrong way and ultimately staying stagnant. Continue learning and advancing your education, honing your craft, and building equity in your talent and experience. Working hard is just part of it; working the right way doing the right things toward the right goals is what will make all the difference.
3. "Just do what you love, and the money will follow."
And here's my favorite piece of bad advice. Just because you love doing something, that doesn't necessarily mean someone somewhere will see value in that enough to pay you for it – and that's just the harsh reality. The idea that doing what you love will miraculously bring you financial success one day is both naive and ridiculous. I hate to make it so black and white, but it's simple business knowledge, people: supply and demand. When there's a surplus supply of something, it drives price down.
Take, for example, the "by-night musicians" we've all come across. I call them that because they're often doctors by day, and musicians by night. This is the guy who always wished he'd been a rock star but ended up in a monotonous, regular, nine-to-five job, so he lives out those fantastic dreams of his by playing for free at the local watering hole every Saturday night. He, in turn, of course, is the reason that said bar owner refuses to pay the "real musicians" a decent salary, since he can get what he deems to be a similar service for free or next to nothing. More half-assed musicians willing to play for free equals less willingness for venue owners to pay for or see the monetary value in live music.
In contrast, when you offer a service that's less common, you're often able to command a higher price tag for that service. So the point is, if you want to make a career doing what you love, you need to figure out how to create perceived value in that and what will give you a competitive edge in the market so you can financially support that dream. As we've discussed, talent is unfortunately not enough in itself, and practicing endlessly in your bedroom just won't do it either. To sum up this point, I think Kate White says it best: "Think about where your interests and talents intersect with the greatest potential for financial success, and head toward those points of intersection."
Looking for advice you should follow? Check out these articles:
- 15 Simple Rules for Making It in the Music Industry
- How to Deal With Negative Feedback on Your Songs
- 5 Solutions for When Music is Burning You Out
- 10 Tips for Playing a Mind-Blowing Set (Other Than Playing Really F***ing Well)
- 10 Essential Qualities of Great Band Leadership
Christine Occhino is the founder and artistic director of The Pop Music Academy and has experience working at Columbia Records/Sony Music Entertainment, in addition to working as a performing artist for over a decade. She has a bachelor's degree in music business and management with a concentration in entrepreneurship and vocal performance from Berklee College of Music, where she was a vocal scholarship recipient and former editor-in-chief of The Berklee Groove.