Let us be the first generation that does not suffer for its art.Talent and skill are only a hobby if you do not earn a living from it. If you love karaoke or playing Stairway to Heaven in the lounge with your mates, then this article is not for you. If you have a genuine ambition to forge a career in the music industry – read on.
by David Maclean – SAE Institute South Africa; Photos: SAE Institute Cape Town
Traditionally when we are more concerned with being cool and hip, the astute professionals around us are working on getting better at what they do. It is fair to say that fashion trends of today will be replaced with something else tomorrow. So you can be stylish but focus on what really matters: credibility, profile, skill, and income. If you believe it is not about the money then go back to bed and ignore the rest of this article. If you do not earn a sustainable living from something it is nothing but a hobby. Playing a set once a week as a DJ will not earn many of us a living. Have you noticed successful DJs, producers, audio engineers, and musicians are businessmen and businesswomen as well? If they are not, they may well employ extremely business savvy people to manage their affairs. Why? Because if they do not, they cannot earn a living from their art, and it is then simply a hobby. The world is too large and full of people for your talent to be easily discovered from your bedroom or studio.
Apple is one of the most successful brands in the history of the planet yet it spent $1 billion on advertising in the last financial year. If Apple is investing this amount of time and money in further development of its brand, don’t you think you should be making an investment in establishing yours? An investment in this context does not have to be money. It can be your time and energy, as you can only spend money if you have it. Many folk believe that a brand is a company. This is not so. A brand can be an individual too. Richard Branson is a brand, as much as his company, Virgin, is.
Talent and skill alone do not equate to a career, but years of dedication and commitment do. Always remember that a reputation, good or bad, is earned. A career will never be something we can get for free from a mate’s hard drive, YouTube, Twitter, Facebook or off the back of a truck. The world decides when it is ready to trust us. The more people that know about and trust us, the faster we earn a reputation as a professional who produces stellar work. Monikers like know-it-all, scruffy and unreliable are not attractive descriptions of people and do not earn money.
However can-do, polite, diligent and well groomed give a better impression, and embodying them is a very good place to start. When attending an interview, a meeting, a conference, or any pre-arranged business activity, make an effort. Being sloppy and cool have no place in these meetings. Being well-prepared, groomed and humble are how we gain trust and respect from others. Trust and respect is the first step in kick-starting our goal of earning a decent living from our art. Too often we see incredibly talented people around us who are unreliable. Credible professionals will not recommend someone, regardless of how talented they are, if they may not show up. We would rather recommend someone who will be on time, prepared and ready to go – even if they have gaps in their current skill-set.
For the second step always ensure you are employed, doing something to fuel your career. Before you headline Ibiza, become Chief Engineer at Abbey Road, or have Usher support you at Wembley, you may well need to tend the bar, wait tables, deliver pizzas, or wash cars first. Just do it! As long as you are working, you are earning an income, meeting people, and have a purpose – even if it is simply a stepping-stone to your ideal job or career.
My greatest opportunities have all come from the most unlikely places. Do not accept being a poor artist. Take control of your destiny by establishing a constant revenue stream. Too many talented artists sleep late and sit on their butts waiting for it to happen, and believe that starving for their art is a right of a passage. Stop it! Get off Facebook and your mobile and arrange meetings with people face-to-face.
Get off YouTube and attend a gig. This is called actual interaction, and despite the power of social media, actual interaction with others is still more effective than hanging out in digital nirvana. The power of social media is useful and important, but you need real relationships in the real world to give it any value.
Once the establishment of your brand, as an individual, is on track, then a website and Twitter account are most useful, because if people do not know you exist, what help will your online presence really be? Keep in mind that a Facebook ‘like’ is simply a social back-scratching affirmation. A ‘like’ seldom earns us a cent.
Let us be the first generation that collectively earns a decent living from diligently performing our art, charging for our time, and keeping our word. Let us stop believing that if we did not do well at maths in school, lack a qualification, but love composing, producing and engineering music, that we cannot also have the business skills to gain the world’s respect and earn good money.
The music industry has few rules and is all about self-expression. These are aspects that make this industry such an attractive proposition for many of us. However, we are still citizens of the world and the rules of business also relate to us.Let us collectively embark on a sustainable and gratifying journey, instead of showing off, pretending, and chasing airhead dreams and instant gratification that have no substance, and gain zero respect from others. You can do this, but you have to mean it.