Unpopular Music Biz Truth – Luck

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Unpopular Opinion

In my opinion luck plays a much smaller role in a musician or artists success than people will have you think. When an artist has their act together and is on the grind every day, they are constantly present on the scene. Sometimes they are headlining a show, other times opening, other times they get called up to sit in during a song or set. They are present on the scene and they are constantly networking with others also present. The grind goes with the artist on and off stage, in every meeting they attend, with every phone call they make and email they send. The successful artist has a grind that is unstoppable like a malignant tumour…it grows and spreads.

Its a steady regimen of focused grind through which the artist plants seeds. With every business card they collect or hand out, with every hand they shake, every conversation they have before and after their set, every social media status report, every email newsletter or blog post, every video and/or photo they post they are in essence planting a vast garden that, if cultivated with care, will grow up and surround the artist in a forest of strategic music biz opportunity. But when the artist finally gets a bit of a break and one or two of his seeds grows into something bigger than expected, people will say it was luck. Just pure dumb luck. As if the artists had been walking around with his head up his ass the whole time and a perfectly suited opportunity materializes out of thin air and attaches itself to the artist like a parasite.

Some opportunities may be viewed as lucky, but all the work and effort that goes into creating the conditions for luck and opportunities to happen is rarely recognized.

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Unpopular Music Biz Truth – Brand is not a bad word

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Unpopular Music Biz Truth – Brand is not a bad word

In fact its a word you should use often when describing and thinking about your music business. And just in case you are one of those types…business is not a bad word either. If you are a solo act or band who makes recordings, plays shows and generally looks for music biz opportunities so you can grow a fan base and gain traction as a performer recording artist, than you are running a business. If you are running a business that is any good your brand will be well defined.

A few years ago my mind was blown by this video of indie hero Derek Sivers talking about how bands usually describe themselves, and how they should describe themselves. The key takeaway for me was when someone shows a grain of interest in your band/act and they ask you “what kind of music do you do?” your answer needs to have three components: 1)It must be colourful and creative 2) It must plant more seeds of interest in the mind of the asker. 3) It needs to compare your music to other artists that people know, that you sound a little, or a lot, like.

Derek puts it best though so check this video,

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Unpopular Music Biz Truth – The Military and Music

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Unpopular Opinion

Over the weekend Myself and my Origin Audio Electronics partner in crime, Freddy Gabrsek, went to the shop of mad electronics scientist, Ken Stapleton, for a little help on a power supply issue for one of our custom built microphone preamps. For those who don’t know, my studio Euphonic Sound, has mostly custom built recording gear (hi-fi analog preamps, microphones, and compressors), Freddy and I started Origin Audio Electronics (boutique pro audio and research and development shop) about 15 years ago and we’ve been developing all kinds of high end recording devices ever since. Whenever we run into technical issue we call Ken.

Ken showed us some tube based guitar gain pedals he is currently making (three tubes per pedal…freaking deadly sound). Anyway the particular tubes Ken selected for his new pedal design are old Russian stock probably from World War 2. These particular tubes are not glass they are steel. They are steel because they were designed to withstand a nuclear blast. Ken was blowing our minds by saying things like, “in the event of a nuclear explosion all electronics would go down accept for the tube based electronics. A professional touring guitarist is not likely going to be subject to a nuclear blast, however pedals do get thrown around and dropped quite a bit (problematic if the tubes are glass).

Anyway this got me to thinking about all of the “military grade” components Freddy and I have purchased over the years to use in our Origin Audio products. And all of the other audio and instrument manufactures who also used military surplus. I never quite put it together like this but now I see there is a direct connection between the technological advancements coming from the military industrial complex and popular music production over the last 40 years. Musicians and music culture has benefitted from these advancements in enormous ways. Music would have evolved and sounded much different if it hadn’t been for military R&D fuelled by war mongering humans. Isn’t it kind of ironic when you think of all the bands that have put out anti-war songs that were produced by technology that was developed for military use. Does this mean that as musicians we have blood on our hands? Heavy question. If there was ever an unpopular music biz truth, I think this one takes the cake.

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Unpopular Music Biz Truth – What Musicians Can Learn From Rob Ford

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Unpopular Opinion

Don’t underestimate the power of new media. Pay attention to it, especially how it changes the behaviour of people. Rob Ford is not much into new technology and therefore constantly underestimated things like the ubiquity of smart phones with audio/video recording devices. He also seemed to misunderstand that smart phone audio/video recording of him increased greatly after he became a public figure. Even more so after he became a well known public figure shrouded in constant scandal and controversy.

I don’t want to go down a Marshall McLuhan rabbit hole here, but, the famous Toronto media theorist taught that media/technology is not just gadgets, networks, and services. To think these things are merely that is a very shallow and incomplete understanding. Media/technology changes both people and society (in both good and bad ways). Understanding media is understanding the environment you live in. Success, in any terms, seems more realistic when you understand the dynamics, cultural shifts, the level of technological determination, and the insidious and pervasive ways in which media mediates our lives.

I’ve seen musicians miss opportunities (leave money on the table), because they mis-understand the dynamics of new media and how people discover music, interact with artists, behave at shows, become brand advocates for certain artists, and ultimately become paying customers.

There are a lot of courses that teach “Music Industry Arts” and “Music Business Management.” I’ve had interns from these programs, looked at their text books and curriculum’s and I do think they are really great overviews of the music business, and they do try to include as much up-to-date material relating to new media and the music biz as possible. But, there is still an astonishing lack of emphasis and completeness on the type of understanding that I believe to be just as important, if not more, than lessons on mechanical royalties, record label contracts, copyright law (all things that are important, but there emphasis can lead you to believe that the curriculum’s are not exactly optimized for the music biz of 2014).

I’m going to go out on a limb and say that if you had to choose between studying media ecology (study of the modern technological environment you live in) and a course in Music Business Arts or Management…well if it were me I would choose Media Ecology. Music Business Arts/Managment can be picked up along the way. Its narrow in scope. Its focus is on the laws, logistics and best practices of the music industry. Much of that you can learn form books blogs and mentors. However a deep understanding of the environment you live in, the type of understanding that allows you to avoid doing dumb things (like repeatedly getting filmed smoking crack), may be more important for success.

Deep environmental and cultural understanding will inform your business decisions. It will help you formulate your strategy. And the intelligent use of new media tools will help you streamline and systematize your efforts.

Last thought, the thing about media ecology is you learn about what the true effects of media are (from which comes new cultural trends and behaviours). If you look at these things carefully you can sometimes predict what might happen next. The real effects of media (the ones scholarly media ecologists prove and discover through controlled experiments) is rarely what people think they are. This to me is fascinating. The real effects of media are not what we assume they are, and trust me we assume incorrect things about our environment all day long every day.

This misunderstanding and under-estimation of the power and the changes to our environment caused my new technology may be the biggest problem with human civilization today. It’s definitely Rob Ford’s biggest problem…well beside the crack smoking thing.

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Unpopular Music Biz Truth – Balls (proverbial ones)

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Unpopular Opinion

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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