Written by Peter Spellman, Berklee College of Music
First, let’s dispel of some myths. Musicians sometimes fall victim to the notion they are doing something so precious and valuable that they can’t understand why the world isn’t shoving money in their pockets and adulation on their heads. “Why am I not famous yet?”– a question rarely asked out loud but certainly poking around inside many musicians – especially those aspiring to the heights of pop fame and worldly success.
Is it me, or is there a bit of an entitlement mentality here – that the world owes you a living, or something?
Well, surprise, your “work” is no more valuable than the auto mechanic’s and the zookeeper’s. Let that sink in.
Reality check: The “culture industries” we play in perpetuate the myth by allowing the marginalization of “art” on the one hand, and the divinization of the same on the other. “Art,” according to this view, is created by the very few and must be protected behind marble and glass in buildings resembling temples of old. The message is clear: Look, but don’t touch. At the same time, “art” is elbowed out of reach of the common man, and the training of the same must happen in credentialed institutions of “higher learning,” else you may not wear the badge of “Artist”.
This might seem odd coming from someone employed by the world’s top contemporary music college, but I base it on observation of hundreds of music careerists over many years. While most musicians I know take a humble stance in relation to their work, the myth persists and can affect musicians’ inner lives to a great degree, sometimes without them even knowing it.
Let’s face it. The upward climb can seem to last forever. In reality, it is never-ending — unless you are planning on hitting some pre-determined plateau and squatting there.
Don’t fall into the trap of feeling that the race is not going well just because you’re not at the finish line yet. The race has something to celebrate all along its track. What becomes tiresome to the aspiring musician is not achieving some significant milestones. We’ll address that later.
Perhaps it’s helpful to remember all those ten year “overnight” successes. Indie rockers Death Cab for Cutie released their first record in 1998 and didn’t get their wider recognition until their first Grammy nomination in 2008. It took almost ten years of total immersion into his craft as a songwriter and vocalist for John Stephens to make the transition to Grammy-winning John Legend.
And, lest we forget, when the Beatles landed in NYC in 1964 for their first U.S. appearance, they had already been together since 1957 and had clocked an estimated 1,200 gigs, many consisting of eight hour sets at Hamburg and Liverpool clubs!
Here’s the reality: A full-time performing (or, songwriting, or recording, or what have you) career may not be in the cards for you. The unrelenting laws of supply and demand are real, and are being felt more today than ever before. This doesn’t mean you shouldn’t try for it. Of course you should, and many will achieve it. But musicians need to give themselves permission to be weekend warriors with non-music day jobs too.
That’s OK, ok?
Being a full-time “artist” is a fine goal, but try seeing that goal in light of Meister Eckhart’s words: “An artist is not a special kind of person. Rather, every person is a special kind of artist.” A business meeting is a jazz jam; a DIY rock band is a management team. Don’t let industrial age divisions of labor blind you to the possibilities for creative engagement everywhere and anywhere. You can create in myriad ways with myriad means in myriad venues.
“Be a Picasso of production, a Rembrandt of the receiving department, a Michelangelo of management, or a Gauguin of gofering,” writes career expert Lee Silber. “Life is art, and even the bad times are part of the experience that will contribute to your creativity in the future.”
It’s all mind set, IMHO.
Adapted from, Musician 2.0, 3.0, 4.0…Developing Music Careers in Uncertain Times. Get the whole enchilada here
About Peter Spellman
Peter Spellman found his way into music as a guitarist in various New York bands and then switched to drums after seeing the Police perform in the late 1970s. Since then he’s performed and recorded with reggae outfit, The Mighty Charge, world music ensemble Friend Planet, and now with the Underwater Airport crew. He’s scored films for the National Science Foundation, composed video games for Massachusetts General Hospital, and coaches music entrepreneurs at Berklee College of Music. He is author of “The Self Promoting Musician” and “Indie Business Power: A Step by Step Guide for 21st Century Music Entrepreneurs”. Find him at mcareerjuice.com