The Losing Game of Being a Musician
It's easy to get lost in this world.
Most of what we see is now contained within a small backlit, high-definition, touch-sensitive screen that fits into the palm of our hands, and we drink up the information it presents -correct or otherwise- and share what we deem worthy to all those whom we care about (or at least felt obligated to add to our friends lists). We may take a moment or two to acknowledge the real world surrounding us, but the endless ocean of information we hold in our hands selfishly grabs us by the eyelids and pulls as hard as it can until we turn our undivided attention back to its digital radiance.
This binging of information is what guides nearly every industry these days, and the profession I have chosen to pursue is absolutely no exception. The power of the music industry has shifted from the major record labels to the artist. That is great news, but doesn't come without it's challenges.
Today, an artist can earn a six or seven-figure income without ever leaving their house. The cost of video and sound recording equipment keeps dropping, and the quality keeps going up while becoming more and more user friendly.
Instead of booking an expensive tour and dealing with the excessively stressful details that come with it, an artist can just pull out their phone, and with the press of a button, do a live performance for all of their fans and potentially millions of others.
World-wide digital distribution on all major platforms is just a few clicks away to anyone with an album and $30-$60 to spend.
It's a beautiful and empowering thing, but all of that means absolutely nothing if nobody knows it's out there.
The challenges of being an independent artist used to be as simple as having to deal with every new person you meet rolling their eyes when you tell them you're a professional musician. Now, you have to worry about:
-learning how to design a website
-learning about proper tagging for all of your posts on social media
-defining your genre and researching your niche audience in order to more effectively market to them
-making sure you're posting enough new content to social media
-making sure you're not posting too much new content to social media
-finding a way to record your music
-develop a plan for the release of your music
-coming up with ideas for videos to hold people's interest
-figuring out an affordable way to make those videos high-quality so people will watch them
-learning video editing, color correcting, color grading
-learning about copyright laws
-learning about publishing
-and on, and on, and on...
It took me years to acknowledge that the industry is changing. I'm not great with the business side of things. Creating music is my life's passion, but in order for people to hear it, I have to adapt and work on these things. I've accepted this as my reality.
I absolutely reject the theory that one has to do what everyone else is doing to be successful. Yes, I'm aware that many people have seen some degree of success from going on American Idol or The Voice, and I'm aware of the fact that most of the bigger musicians on YouTube are doing wacky and interesting covers of other artists. But... what is their success based on, and how long does it last?
Sure, I could do a cover of the most popular songs of each particular week and probably get a large amount of views, but would those viewers stick around to listen to my original music? When you go out to a bar and see a cover band, and in the middle of their set they say "alright, you guys mind if we do one of our originals?", I would be willing to bet you think, "yeah, I could use a pee break." Same rule applies.
And yes, I'm well aware of the fact that people like Kelly Clarkson and Phillip Phillips have seen great financial success from American Idol, but once the memory of that season fades from the public's minds, so do their careers because people start to realize that there's really nothing that special about them when they're put on an even playing field with all of the other major acts out there. With the exception of Ms. Clarkson, I haven't really seen any of them last much more than a year. Not a very good track record for the beloved talent shows of television.
So with that in mind, what would I rather do? Would I like to make a lot of money from a big audience for a short period of time doing something that has absolutely nothing to do with why I became a musician in the first place? Or would I rather spend a lot more time developing a smaller audience that's going to love what I love doing and will stick around and continue to invest in me for as long as I'm doing it?
The time I've invested in becoming the best songwriter I can be is on it's own enough for me to not want to take the easy path of selling out. I've put thousands of hours into practicing guitar, written hundreds of songs, put countless days and nights into learning the art of recording so I can present my music the way I would like it to be heard, and invested a lot of my hard-earned money into the gear I need in order to achieve my goals. I've dedicated the last 15 years of my life to writing music as a way of expressing myself in the only way that's been effective for me, and I'll be damned if I throw that all to the side to make some money playing other people's music to make a quick buck on YouTube.
So, I'm assuming at this point, if you're one of the people who would make or have made either of those two well-intended yet horrible suggestions, you are likely thinking to yourself, "this guy is one arrogant asshole". Well, you are certainly entitled to think that way, but I can tell you that if I were arrogant, I would not be taking the steps I'm taking to build a career out of this. I would be leaving it to everyone else to make it happen for me.
I know there are many people out there who are far more talented than I'll ever be, and I'm okay with that. I'm just trying to be the best version of myself that I can be, so I can say I did that best that I could regardless of if I fail or succeed.
In closing, I have a lot of things in the works that will slowly be working their way into my regular routine. I've recently acquired some new video equipment that will allow me to create some new content that I can present in a way that fits what I've been wanting to do for a long time. That means a new vlog series is coming, new acoustic performances of my original music, and if I can pull it off, a full-length documentary that will hopefully give new listeners some perspective on who I am and what I'm all about, as well as a look into the making of my new album.
I'm grateful to all of you who share and comment on everything I find the courage to present to you, and I ask that you keep on sharing and commenting, because it helps me out more than you know. I want this album to succeed, and it can only do that with the help of wonderful people like you who believe in me and support me.