“Making It” in the Music Industry
The music industry is a weird place to call home. It just is. It’s completely misunderstood. The people who claim to “know it all” know very little, and those who are considered successful all arrived at their “successful” destinations via different paths. But, we need to back up here and actually define “successful in the music industry”, or the phrase that makes me cringe: “making it.”
As you read this, keep in mind that the purpose of this blog is only to get you to define your own personal definition of success, and not necessarily offer advice on how to get there. Other blogs in The Nashville Voice will go further into tangible musings on how to get to “success.” However, we need to know where we want to go first!
1) Financial Success
I’m going to immediately dive into a taboo topic; money. Artists want to say, “It’s not about the money, it’s about my art.” I agree. Though, in order to really give your art the time and effort it deserves, you need to make sure your basic needs are met. And guess what that takes? Money! Are you making a “comfortable living”? According to research (Forbes, 2012), somewhere between $50,000 and $75,000 has proved to be the salary to provide the greatest amount of happiness. Now, this of course differs depending on the cost of living in your city and the type of lifestyle you need/want to support. They’ve found the “happiness benchmark” in Tennessee to be $67,265. Research at Princeton has shown that after the 75K mark is reached, happiness levels plateau. Now, I definitely don’t need to cite a source for us to agree that a severe lack of money can make us miserable. Just ask anyone who’s ever had their electricity turned off because of their inability to pay their bill. So, what is your personal “happiness benchmark”? Does it take very few financial resources to keep your needs met and for you to be happy, or do you know you won’t be truly happy until you get the million dollar yacht you’ve been dreaming about?
2. Emotional Success
Money aside, is your day-to-day life emotionally fulfilling? If you’re in the music business, you probably have a very clear idea of what you want to be doing. Are you making your living in music? If you’ve dreamed of being a touring artist, and at this point are making your living teaching music lessons, it’s true that you’re able to say that you make your full time living in “music.” However, only you can guage if your living in “music” is what is fulfilling you on a personal level.
This next part is VERY IMPORTANT! There is no shame at all in “doing what it takes” now, to get you to where you need to be. I’m a touring singer/songwriter. For years, I played gigs in bars where I was less than appreciated. Oftentimes, I left those gigs emotionally unfulfilled. However, the pay was consistent, and these gigs allowed me to “cut my teeth” to get completely comfortable on stage and with my instruments. Not to mention it allowed me to save enough money to move to music city and put a down payment on a house. Fast forward a few years to last month. We played a sold out show in Germany, and somewhere during our second standing ovation, I looked out into the crowd and felt an overwhelming sense of gratitude. Not only for this audience who was a complete dream, but for every awful show we’d played getting up to this point. I truly enjoyed the moment. That was the first time in my life where I’ve truly felt as though I’d “made it” and found “success.” What would it take for you to feel this way?
3. The Famous Factor
If your definition of having “made it” or being “successful” is based on fame, well... I’ve got nothing for you. Sorry, I’m just being honest. Maybe go buy a lottery ticket? Try out for as many reality tv shows as you can? All joking aside, you do need to determine for yourself where and how “fame” fits into your personal definition of success. My own personal challenge with the “fame factor” has mainly come with other people projecting what THEY want for me onto me. For example, after concert’s we sign cd’s and merch for people who are there at our shows. I’ve heard, “Sign my cd so I can put it on ebay and sell it for a lot of money once you’re famous” on multiple occasions. These people mean well and are actually intending to compliment me. However, it stings because I want them to want me to sign their cd because they had a great time at the concert and find value in me signing their cd NOW, not in a future where I’m famous and they get to say “I knew her when.” Also, many music consumers are blissfully unaware that it is completely possible for you to make a great living and be “famous” to your own pocket of fans, even if it’s playing to crowds of 100 people a night. Let’s do the math here. If someone plays 150 shows a year on tour for an average of 100 people a night with an average $20 ticket price, that’s $300,000 gross in ticket sales. Sure, take away money for expenses, taxes, etc... but I’d say you’re doing pretty well for yourself! It’s hard explaining that to outsiders. Unfortunately, there seems to be a stigma where if you’re not “heard of” you must be really struggling; maybe even “starving artist” status. Let’s take doctors for another example. There are famous doctors you see on tv like Dr. Oz, and then there are doctors whose careers are over because their medical licenses have been revoked. Somewhere in-between, there’s a whole lot of very successful doctors few have ever heard of but who are all doing good work helping patients improve their lives. The same is true of the music community. There will always be the household name "famous" artists. There will also be starving artists as well as a thriving music middle class. There are many non-famous, yet successful, artists who keep their calendars, seats, and wallets full. Where does “fame” fit into your personal opinions about your own success? Ultimately, your opinion is the only one that matters.
“Making it”, in my opinion, isn’t really a destination at all; It’s a journey. Yes, a total cliche, but true. Your own definition of success may change and evolve over time. That’s ok. When I look at what we’ve achieved in our careers in the last 6 years, some days I really do feel as though I’ve “made it.” That’s not to say that I’d be content where I am for the rest of my life. I’ll always be evaluating and re-defining my own personal definition of success. However, it’s important to stop and enjoy the hard work and effort it’s taken you to get where you are today. Celebrate benchmarks and milestones in your career no matter how large or small. Take the time to be appreciative of where you are now in the process and enjoy your own journey to success.