Unpopular Music Biz Truth – Balls (proverbial ones)

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Here is a short list of things that it takes balls to do:
1. Working insanely hard and dedicating your life to an instrument (10,000 hours +) even though few musicians make a sustainable or comfortable living.

2. Making appearances in front of large (sometimes really large) audiences of people. All eyes and ears on you…better dance good monkey!

3. Functioning and making gains in a hate filled environment. Regular people look up to celebrity musicians, but down on all other musicians. That is enough to discourage thin skinned people. That is why there are no thin skinned successful musicians (they don’t exist).

4. Self Promotion. Canadian musicians in particular have a real hard time with self promotion. They don’t want to appear rude or aggressive or pushy. But real musicians who have that fire burning deep in their soles have no time for that brand of politeness. It takes balls to self promote unapologetically.

5. Leaving the comfort zone behind and diving head first into strange untested waters. This is the nature of the beast. Once a musicians profile increases all kinds of interesting (sometimes bizarre) opportunities present themselves. Many of these opportunities are things musicians never imagined they would be asked to do. There is a lot of fear in the unknown, but musicians with balls swallow that fear like it was apple juice.

6. Surviving negative PR. Musicians are public personalities. They are constantly putting themselves out there to be judged and criticized (that alone takes balls that could do some damage at the bowling alley). But they can’t always have a great day or show (although truly great musicians make it seem like they do). So when the inevitable happens and some whinny music journalist (read failed musician) gives them a bad review, weaker souls would be destroyed. A real musician takes the negative review and turns it into a positive experience (even a learning experience).

7. Lack of support. Mentioned in a previous post that most musicians don’t get very much support from the people who should be giving them the most, family and friends. It takes balls and some real persistence and determination to continue doing something when your own people don’t believe in you. The large balled musician has enough belief in themselves to do just fine in the music biz.

8. Settling for less. This one needs a little qualification. Less money, less status symbols (like luxury cars and country club memberships). Yes its true musicians can’t typically afford luxury items, however an important point has to be made right now….MUSICIANS DEFINE SUCCESS IN DIFFERENT TERMS THAN REGULAR PEOPLE. A musician feels success when they conquer a piece of music, or even just a lick, that they couldn’t play before. Or when another musician they admire takes notice of what they are doing and compliments them. Or when a fan writes them a letter telling them how important one of the musicians songs are to them. Or when they get to open up for another musician they admire. Or when people download and/or stream/view their songs and videos. This could go on and on. There are so many milestones and benchmarks of success in a musicians career that have nothing to do with financial reward. Its the musicians who value the non-financial career milestones with the biggest balls. While all of the other scarred little regular people are running around squirreling away as much money as possible, the musician doesn’t have those regular people fears so they spend their time running after things that matter (things they will remember and be remembered for).

Musicians are special. One reason they are is because their proverbial balls (meaning this extends to female musician just as much as the male ones) are huge. I admire this :)

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Unpopular Music Biz Truth – Media Training

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The first time I was interviewed on television I was super nervous. I had no idea how to prepare or what to expect. Then a friend suggested I do a media training session with someone they new who trained high profile corporate types to give interviews. So I did. At the time I’m not even sure I knew that media training was a thing, but it sounded like a good idea so I did it.

The first part of the session the media trainer talked about what to expect behind the scenes, and how to answer questions by segueing into whatever topic you want to talk about regardless if it has anything to do with the question being asked. Ever notice people interviewed on TV rarely answer the questions they are asked. The media trainer explained to me that this is so because even though many interviews appear casual and conversational, they are never ever, ever…NEVER a conversation. The person being interviewed is there for a purpose, having a nice polite conversation with the pretty interview lady is NOT one of them.

The second half of the session is what really blew my mind. The trainer wanted me to describe my business (Euphonic Sound Recording Studio), my clients (artists), and the services offered to artists. I gave him some specific answers and tried to paint a picture of a day on Euphonic Sound planet. He was unhappy with my answers. He kept probing and pushing me to go deeper. What was he looking for? After much back and forth and teeth pulling the media trainers face all of a sudden lit up. He said I know how you need to describe your business in one compelling sentence. He said, “You make dreams come true.”

He’s right I do make dreams come true. Artists write songs then they come to me because they need a producer, engineer, musical director, arranger or session musician. Sometimes they need me to to wear all of those hats at once. At the end of our project an audio recording of their songs has been produced. More than just a documentary recording mind you, we add layers and textures and lots of musical parts. When we mix and master more layers, textures, dynamics and dimensions are created. We are left with something that the artist could only previously dream about. The artists dream has been realized. Through my guidance, creativity and music production knowledge I actually help people make their dreams come true. Powerful.

I never thought what I did was so awesome and important to the people I work with. One media training session got me prepared for what to expect on a chaotic TV set, but it also kind of showed me what my purpose in life was. Heavy. Unexpected. I have been recommending media training to artists ever since. The process they put you through to prepare you for a media appearance may shed some light on why you do the things you do. Let me ask you a couple questions. Do you know what you are really doing with your life? Do you know why?

Media training begins with this. It begins with knowing yourself, really knowing yourself, and what it is you are doing with your time. Our shallow answer to these questions may sound like “I write songs, record, play shows, etc.” when more accurately our answers should be more like, “I probe the deepest depths of the human psyche, make observations on the human condition, present my findings through music and poetry, and connect with other humans so that they too can understand they are not alone under all the layers of confusion and pain. Through this I serve humanity by making life more bearable for others.”

The fast media byte answer to the long form version above my sound something like, “I ease the pain of others.” Doesn’t that sound more compelling and more important than “writing songs, recording, playing shows” ?

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Unpopular Music Biz Truth – Family & Friends

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The surest way to secure a one way ticket to Black Sheep town is tell your family you are going to be a musician. They will think its cute when you are a little kid going to your piano lessons, but once you grow up you had better wise up and pick a real career. Your friends will have a similar reaction. Some may be supportive, but it mostly won’t be genuine. Secretly, they will resent you for being broke all the time and not sharing in the misery of their 9 to 5 grind for the man.

They will never understand or relate to you and your choices. They will never understand how hard it is to write and produce a great song, or how hard it is to get up on a stage in a packed room, or how hard it is to build a fan base, or how hard its is to function thanklessly day after day in an environment filled with people who don’t just misunderstand you…they fucking hate you.

No one will understand, offer encouragement or offer support (emotionally and financially). They won’t even show interest and if you try to talk about your music career they will instantly become visibly uncomfortable and try to change the subject. Clearly when you are not around they talk about you and how “lazy” you are and how “you need to grow up” and “get a real job.”

One thing to keep in mind though, this is the experience of most musicians. Even the ones who become rich and famous from their hit songs. The music biz is for special people. People with talent and nerve and thick skin and enormous balls. Regular people don’t have those things (or not very much of it), so they fail to recognize it in you. Because you are such a badass you will be fine anyway. This post is to let you know you are not alone. Your family and friends love you, they just don’t understand you.

Last thought, if you are lucky enough to have a truly supportive family and base of friends don’t take this for granted. You have something 99% of all musicians don’t have.

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Unpopular Music Biz Truth – Readiness

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Something I notice often about the highest achieving musicians and artists I come across is their constant state of performance readiness. More than just their readiness to jump up on stage when called, I am talking about cats who get phone calls and an hour later they are on their way to the airport to join a world tour. Or bands that have it together collectively to co-ordinate filling in as the opener of a touring act on short (or no) notice.

When an act is poised to strike at a moments notice it shows two things. First, that the musicians have their act and craft together and they are confident in their material and abilities. And second, that the musicians are fully committed to being musicians. That they are willing and able to leave everything to follow a musical opportunity.

I’ve had lots of musicians tell me that their past bands had big opportunities they had to pass on because one or more band member had job or school commitments.

That combination of having ones act together and being in a constant state of performance readiness, along with heaps of persistence and determination, describes the best most called upon musicians I know.

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Unpopular Music Biz Truth – Attitude

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There is no place like Facebook to see the same situation distilled through different attitudes. Like yesterday the citizens of Toronto were hit with yet another snow storm. Scanning down the FB news feed I could see that some people where “thrilled and blessed that the beautiful white snow has been delivered again from the heavens,” and others were less enthusiastic. Much less enthusiastic.

Why the discrepancy though? The situation is the same for everyone (even the strange ones who live north of Bloor). It appears that some people just prefer to be positive (even upbeat) about things. They seem to have the ability to be positive and upbeat about almost everything. Others are dancing on a thin line between being cynical and being an asshole.

A few posts back I wrote about the need for others to help you. As an indie artist/musician living in Canada you need an enormous amount of help and support from a healthy pool of talented qualified helpers and supporters. In that post I mentioned it was important to hire professionals and pay them what they are worth. But its more than just hiring and forking out the cash. You need to also inspire people to help you.

If you are a complaining, miserable, cynical, always tired, always down, always with negative comments and excuses about the music biz type of person then you are doing the opposite of inspiring people. You are annoying them.

You absolutely should hire the best people to help with your music and development. But it goes deeper than that. When they show up to the gig, at the very least be in a good mood and give off positive vibes. Its your project, why would you be the one to bring down moral?

This post may seem obvious to some. But you would be surprised at how many people I come across who seem absolutely tortured by their music business or aspirations. You have to remember the little kid in you and what you were feeling the first time you thought “I’m going to be a recording artist and performer and bring my music to the world.”

I can guarantee that little kid wasn’t thinking “It will be so great to be a miserable, washed up old musician, who inspires no one but other cynical old washed up musicians.”

Closing thought. A few years ago I caught a couple minutes of a yoga instruction video by a yoga master named Rodney Ye. During the warm up stretches Rodney gave a little pep talk to his audience. He said that during yoga practise one must be “Light and Humorous.” I would like to borrow Rodney’s thoughts and echo them here by saying, “during your music career one must be light and humorous.”

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