I’ve been getting a lot of questions about my plans for my first ever digital music compilation that I’ll be releasing this fall. Since most of the questions have been more or less the same, I thought the easiest thing to do would be to address them all in a blog post.
Why are you doing this compilation? What’s the point?
Well, the simplest answer is that I want to help promote some of the amazing music that is out there that isn’t being heard. As a part of my “job”, I have the great fortune of listening to a lot of indie music, and there is an enormous amount of really great music out there that isn’t really being heard. I want to do my part to help promote some of the great artists out there that deserve recognition but aren’t really getting it.
What styles of music are you looking for?
I envision this first release as being fairly eclectic, with a wide range of styles. I’m really open to anything as long as it’s great and well done. With that said, I’m leaning towards songs with a modern and fresh sound with vocals. However, if the right instrumental track or track comes my way, I’m open to including that as well. The main thing I’m looking for is great music, regardless of the genre.
Is there a deadline for submitting?
There’s not a specific deadline per se. I’m going to keep accepting submissions until I find a collection of tracks that I feel strongly about. With that said, my plan is to release the compilation in the Fall, so I’m hoping to wrap things up in a month or so.
Are you doing this to make money?
I hope this project makes money, but I’m not doing it primarily with that motivation. I’m well aware of the challenges of monetizing recorded music, so I’m going into this with eyes wide open. With that said, I want to be as transparent as possible at the outset of this project and let everyone know that any money that is potentially made will be split equally with everyone who contributes to the project. If there ends up being ten people involved (including me), the money will be split ten ways. It’s as simple as that.
I have some really unique ideas in terms of how to promote the project that I’ll be sharing with everyone a little further down the road. For now, just realize, this project is free to participate in and everyone involved will get an equal share of any money made.
Will I keep the rights to my music?
Yes, 100 percent. By participating in this release you won’t be giving up any of your rights to your music. You’ll still own your tracks and can continue to license them, sell them and give them away elsewhere as you see fit. This won’t be like a traditional record deal/record label where you give up the master/publishing to your music. Our deal will be completely non-exclusive and you can work with other people and companies concurrently if you choose to do so.
Where will the release be distributed?
Spotify, Itunes, Amazon, Youtube, etc. Wherever digital music is bought and sold.
When is the release date?
I don’t have an exact date. It depends on how long the process of screening, selecting and compiling music takes. I plan to release it, tentatively, sometime in early Fall 2017.
When will you notify the artists you’re interested in working with?
I’m going to start contacting artists that I’m interested in later this week. My plan is to Skype with everyone I'm interested in initially to go over details of the project and to make sure we're on the same page about my vision for the release. If we are, then I’ll send a short contract that outlines the details of our arrangement (see above).
What about your licensing courses? Will you still offer those?
I’ve been running How To License Your Music.com for nine years now and have put together an extensive collection of courses and products related to the music licensing niche. I’ll be continuing to offer my courses on my website and will continue to offer training programs with coaching, like the 90 and 180 Day Music Licensing Challenge, as my schedule permits.
If you’d like to submit your music for consideration, you can do that here.
Let me know if you have any more questions or comments, in the comments!
This summer I’m going to be launching a brand new project, unlike anything I've ever done before.
I’m looking for great songs that I’m going to release as a part of a compilation that will be distributed far and wide on platforms like Itunes, Spotify, Youtube, My podcast and much, much more.
If your music is selected, being included on this release will cost you nothing.
In fact, there’s a really good chance that this release will make money. That’s the goal. If that happens, and I'm confident it will, I’ll share it with everyone who’s involved equally.
I can’t share the exact details of the release yet, but if your music is accepted as a part of the release, I’ll give you all the details as well as a short and sweet, 100% non -exclusive contract.
What I can say, is that this is going to be a very innovative release and a unique project unlike anything you’ve ever heard of. If all goes as planned, we’ll all be getting major press and attention for this project. Seriously.
Apply below and if I think you’re a good fit, I’ll give you all the details. Please fill out as many of the fields below as possible, as they will all factor into your being accepted or not.
It’s good to have goals. As musicians, having goals gives us something to aim for in our lives and careers. The right goal can motivate us to grow and push us towards new heights as musicians that we would most likely fail to reach if we had no goals at all. Having goals give us a direction to orient ourselves towards. It gives us something to do and strive for every day when we get up.
Without goals, it’s all too easy to wander aimlessly, with no real direction or purpose at all as it relates to our music and life in general. One day maybe we dabble in jazz, the next day we try to write a fugue, the next day we go to the beach because we’re not feeling it and so on. Of course, having a freedom and playfulness to our lives can be liberating at times, but without any goals at all, we zig and zag a lot, often times not really getting anywhere.
The problem with goals though, is when we’re so attached to a specific outcome, that we neglect the process and journey of getting there. Or, we get discouraged when we don’t hit the milestones we set for ourselves and stop trying or even give up. This could because we’re not setting the right goals, or we’re simply not motivated enough to do what it takes to make our goals a reality.
Having really big goals gives us something to dream about and work towards. I think they’re mainly positive. Goals become a negative when we set such big goals for ourselves that we become discouraged and depressed if we don’t reach them. Or even worse, maybe we do reach them, but they fail to satisfy us the way we imagined they would. Or we find we’re not quite ready psychologically to deal with the sort of attention and pressure that success brings. (I’ve known people personally who have experienced both of these scenarios).
I made a video recently where I talk about setting goals as musicians, and how to set goals that serve to motivate and inspire us, and how to avoid setting goals that cause us to end up feeling more discouraged and disillusioned than we did before our goals.
Check it out here:
In my latest podcast, I speak with filmmaker and musician, Chip Miller. Miller has produced 195 MTV/VH-1/BET & CMT music videos, national commercials, award-winning documentaries, a Disney TV weekly kids series, PBS TV Pledge Specials, an HBO concert, and several indie feature films. Previous to DCAM/Winmill, Miller was an Art Director, a film Producer, Editor, Music Supervisor, Screenwriter, and Director, on dozens of movies, many television programs and made for tv movies.
In this podcast, Chip and I discuss:
-Chip's latest recording project, Old Sand Mill, featuring Brian Wilson, Paul Simon, The Punch Bros and more.
-How The Music Business Has Changed Over The Last Several Decades
-Chip's career making music videos for artists like The Cars, The Rolling Stones, Linkin Park and more.
-Balancing art and commerce as a modern day musician.
-How to get your music in films and what supervisors look for.
-And much more
Check out the podcast below:
I’ve been hosting my podcast, Music, Money And Life for over three years now. My podcast started as an irregular way of connecting with people in the music business and sharing what I learn with my readers, in an effort to expand the content I create. The first couple years of doing my podcast I had no regular schedule. I would sometimes do a couple podcasts a month. Sometimes I would get busy and skip a month or two. To be honest, it wasn’t something I took very seriously in the beginning. I looked at it as a fun way to promote my business and connect with people in the industry at the same time, but my approach to doing it was inconsistent.
Last year I had the realization that I should put more work into my podcast and step things up. The main reason I came to this conclusion is that I really enjoy doing it. It’s a lot of fun. It’s sort of like having my own little radio show. I’ve always wanted to have my own radio show. Actually, truth be told, I’ve never wanted to have my own radio show, but it’s pretty cool when I think about it! The fact that we live in a time where we all have the ability to connect with other people and share that information around the world for free is truly incredible.
In addition to simply enjoying my podcast, it’s an amazing and pretty painless way of connecting with people in the music industry. I get to connect and have an in depth conversation with at least one person working in the music business every week! How cool is that? Before my podcast I could barely get people in the music business on the phone, now I get to talk to them for up to an hour and pick their brains, asking them whatever questions I want.
The other day I talked to film maker and musician Chip Miller, who has toured and worked with Paul Simon, Brian Wilson and many more, in addition to having made over 190 music videos for bands like The Cars, Linkin Park and many more. Last week I interviewed one of the top music supervisors in Canada that syncs music to many of the most high profile ad campaigns in Canada. Yesterday I interviewed Portia Sabin, the owner of the label Kill Rock Stars (The Decemberists, Deerhoof, Elliot Smith). I’m getting a world class education in the music industry and I don’t even have to pay for it. All I do is ask people, politely, to come on my podcast, and a large percentage of the time they say yes.
Doing my podcast has been a real lesson in the importance of simply taking action and making things happen. In my experience, there are tons of people in the music business more than willing to contribute and help out by way of giving advice, answering questions and so on, if you simply take the initiative and ask them.
I came across a video recently of Steve Jobs where he discussed how one of the common traits that separates those who do, from those who just dream about doing, is simply taking action. He tells a great story about how when he was 12 he called up Bill Hewlett (Hewlett-Packard) and was offered a job simply for having the courage to just call him up and making the effort to get his help.
Watch the video:
The Power Of Reciprocity
Another takeaway from podcasting has been that more often than not people are willing to help you if you ask them and IF, and this is a big if, you have something to bring to the table. I think the main reason so many people are willing to come on my podcast and share their expertise is that they also get something in return; more exposure for their brands, a platform to share their knowledge and look smart, and so on. It’s really just human nature. People feel obliged to reciprocate those that help them.
In Robert Cialdini’s classic book, Influence: They Psychology Of Persuasion, Cialdini lists reciprocity as the first rule of persuasion. The idea of reciprocity says that people by nature feel obliged to provide either help or concessions to others if they’ve received favors from those others.
Think about how this applies to something like the music business or trying to get your music licensed. Most supervisors, publishers and so on are inundated with emails and phone calls from musicians that want something from them. Whether it’s a musician looking to land the next big placement, get a record deal, or somehow move his career forward, most musicians are looking to get something out of the people they’re contacting and reaching out to.
Think about this, and be really honest with yourself, when you reach out to people with your music, are you really concerned about them and their needs? Or do you just want someone, anyone, to help you make money with your music? Do you put the needs of those you’re contacting first? Or do you really just want someone to give you a break and help you out already?
You might be thinking, yeah, but I’m offering my music to people I’m contacting, so isn’t that an equal exchange? Well, it could be, but it really depends on your music and how you approach people in the business. Have you done the research to know whether or not the person you’re contacting needs the kind of music you make? Are you sure what you’re bringing to the table has real value? Are you sure the music you’re submitting is the kind of music the person you’re sending your music to wants or needs? Are you really trying to make a genuine connection that is mutually beneficial? Or are you just blindly throwing your music out there to see what will stick?
Try to make a real connection to those you’re trying to connect with. The thing that I love the most about doing my podcast is I’m able to make a genuine connection with my guests that go beyond just exchanging a few anonymous emails. I don’t keep in touch with everyone that I’ve had on my podcast, but I do with many and I’ve forged several meaningful and lasting connections as a direct result of getting to know them on my podcast first.
Doing a podcast isn’t for everybody and I don’t expect you to all go and start your own podcasts, websites and blogs, although you could if you feel drawn to doing that. But regardless of how you go about it, try to make real connections with people that are beyond just business and wanting to get something from someone. Try to get to know the person behind the job description that you’re reaching out to.
Portia Sabin, the owner of the record label Kill Rock Stars, was a recent guest on my podcast and one of the things she stressed is that she needs to feel a connection to the artists she works with, in addition to loving their music. She said that signing artists is based on a combination of loving and believing in their music and resonating with artists as people. It’s not a surprise, but she wants to work with people she connects with.
As we all know, the music business is all about connections. But it’s not just about who you know and who knows you. It’s about who you resonate with and who resonates with you. It’s about people.
In my latest podcast, I speak with the Toronto based music supervisor, David Hayman.
David is the founder of a music supervision agency called Supergroup.
David and Supergroup have placed music with the following brands/projects:
-And many more...
In our podcast, David and I discuss:
-How supervisors like David find music
-The types of artists and bands that supervisors prefer to work with
-How much you get paid for a variety of projects
-Why indie artists get more supervisor love than "big" artists
-How to get your music to supervisors like David
Check out this week's podcast with David here:
In my latest podcast, I speak with Mexico City based composer Milo Coello about his career writing music for tv and films. Milo is a Berklee graduate who spent several years in LA making connections in the industry, before eventually returning to his home city of Mexico City where he currently resides and writes music for tv and films full time.
Milo's music has been heard on NBC, Discovery, Food Channel, Discovery, Bravo, National Geographic, CBS, ABC, Fox, VH1, Lifetime, A&E, BBC, TBS, UFC, Universal and much more.
In this podcast, Milo and I discuss:
-How to break into the world of writing songs for tv/films
-The Pros and cons of being based in LA as a musician
-How to thrive in less competitive markets
-Playing Live VS working as a composer
-How competition can inspire us to work harder and achieve our goals
-and much more.
Listen to the podcast here:
In episode #65 of Music, Money & Life, I speak with London based composer, Claire Batchelor, about her career as a composer in the UK. Claire writes custom music for film and television and has been sustaining herself as a full time musician since 2009.
In my podcast with Claire, we discuss
One of my favorite things about being involved in music licensing, is that it gives me a very clear objective in terms of my music and songwriting.
In a general sense, I strive to just write the best songs I'm capable of writing, but having something like licensing as a goal, motivates me to push myself to write better and better songs, or at least to try.
I find that when I have clear, very definable goals, that's when I do my best work.
Like when I have a live show coming up; I practice more and I rehearse and I do everything I can to be as prepared as possible when my gig comes.
It's the same with licensing. Knowing that I have people in the industry that will listen to new songs whenever I finish them and will pitch them to and potentially place them in tv shows, films and ads, motivates me to write the best music I'm capable of writing. It gives me something very concrete to shoot for.
The truth is, there are only so many ways to monetize original music these days. You can play live, you can license music, you can sell your music (to the extent that still works) and you can write music for other artists. That's about it.
It should come as no surprise, that during periods in my life when I wasn't actively pursuing any particular goal related to music, that I didn't accomplish as much. I still wrote music during these periods, but I wasn't as prolific and I wasn't really pushing myself to grow in the same way that I am now. I didn't have a clear goal to latch on to, and so I wandered.
When you have goals and objectives related to your music, it makes your days much easier to navigate. When you know where you want to go, it's much easier to figure out what direction you need to move in.
Speaking of goals and music, here's my latest track, called "You And I".
I'm certain I would have never written this song if I didn't have the momentum with licensing and creating tracks with my producer, Gary Gray, that I have right now.
There are a lot of mediocre guitar players out there passing themselves off as “tasteful” and “restrained” by playing second rate, mediocre guitar solos with very few notes and very little flair. You could say there is an epidemic of mediocre musicians out there, making mediocre music.
When I was growing up it was considered “cool” to actually be able to play your instrument. Guitarists and guitar solos were in fashion and guitarists weren’t afraid to actually demonstrate that they could play their instrument well. We practiced a lot and we weren’t afraid to show it.
Somewhere along the way, in the nineties, all that changed. Seemingly overnight it seemed that guitar solos and playing fast and good became unfashionable. What once was cool, being proficient on your instrument, suddenly became uncool.
Bands like Nirvana and Soundgarden, who obviously had very little formal music training, became extremely popular. Suddenly, it wasn’t perceived as cool to actually play an instrument well. The new cool was being able to express yourself with very limited musical knowledge. Like, look at me, I’m so cool I don’t even need to practice.
Millions of aspiring musicians and guitarists were now aspiring to be like the new group of musicians they looked up to: mediocre musicians with no real chops to speak of.
Well I think it’s about time that someone stood up for the right to play guitar solos that actually demonstrate how good of a guitar player you are. I think it’s about time someone stood up for the right to play as many notes as fast as humanly possible, just because you can.
Playing a lot of notes very fast isn’t something to be ashamed of. Wanting to show people how hard you’ve practiced to become an accomplished guitar player isn’t anything to be embarrassed by.
I think it’s about time someone made playing guitar cool again.
That person is me.
In the following video, I demonstrate how to play the ultimate guitar solo and I break down what exactly the point of a guitar solo is, which obviously is to demonstrate how good of a guitar player you actually are.
Watch. Learn. And Enjoy.
I’ve known and met a LOT of musicians in the last 20 plus years of working in the music business. If you factor in all the musicians I knew from way back in my Berklee days, to the bands I played in and hung out with in my Chicago days, to the musicians I’ve met and interacted with via my website, I would estimate I’ve met at least 1,000 musicians over the years. That’s a lot of musicians! In fact, it’s a large enough sample size that I think can draw some fairly statistically sound conclusions about musicians and the likelihood of “making it” in the music business.
Of all the musicians I’ve met and interacted with over the years, I know of only one musician who I would describe as having “made it”, for a time. It was actually my former lead singer of a band I played in from 1999 to 2002, Joshua Scott Jones. He moved to Nashville after the band we were in together broke up, formed a country duo called “Steel Magnolia”, went on the CMT reality tv show called “Can You Duet?” with his singing partner in 2009, I believe, and won. First place.
As a result of their exposure on Can You Duet, for a time “Steel Magnolia” was riding high. They had two top 20 country singles. They toured arenas opening for artists like Reba McEntire, Brooks and Dunn and the like. They were nominated for several Country Music Awards. They appeared on Late Night with David Letterman. They were signed to Big Machine Records, the same label as Taylor Swift.
Their success continued for a couple years. Then problems ensued. My former singer, Josh, had drug and alcohol problems that forced him to leave a tour with Steel Magnolia to go into rehab. Problems developed between Josh and his singing partner, Meghan, who he was also dating and engaged to. They ended up breaking up. They were subsequently dropped from their label, Big Machine. They both went their separate ways and although they have both had limited success on their own, neither of them have been able to achieve the success they experienced together, individually.
I can think of one other musician, out of the 1,000 or so that I’ve met over the years that has had a relatively successful career as a songwriter. This particular person, the artist Bleu, that I crossed paths with a bit during my Berklee days, has written songs for a lot of well known artists like The Jonas Brothers, Selena Gomez, Hanson and the like. He tried to launch a successful solo career early on, and although immensely talented as a writer and performer, his career never fully took off. He’s opened up for artists like Jon Mayer and Train over the years, and was signed to a subsidiary of Colombia Records, but for reasons I don’t fully understand, it just never quite happened, at least in a major way.
The music business is a fickle business, achieving what most of us would consider “mainstream success” is something most of us will probably never achieve. I don’t say that to discourage you or get you down, it’s just a statistical fact. It’s pretty hard to argue with statistics and facts.
However, I’m also here to say that it doesn’t matter. In fact, I think this whole obsession with trying to “make it” and reach a certain level of notoriety and fame that we associate with success is actually what prevents many of us from ever actually achieving real, sustainable success.
Let me explain…
I think a lot of us, as musicians, have a sort of preconceived idea of what success in the music business looks like, or that we think should look like. Most of us started pursuing our dream of “making it” in the music business at a young age. I was 12 years old when I started playing guitar and daydreaming about becoming a rock star! We often start pursuing music from a fairly naïve, inexperienced place. When I was 12, for example, I loved the idea of being a rock star. Who doesn’t fantasize about things like becoming a rock star or a famous actor or celebrity? These sorts of goals seem to be part of our collective consciousness. Most of us have some version of this fantasy during our adolescent years.
As we grow up and move into adulthood, most people decide to “grow up” and pursue more traditional and stable ways of making a living. Some of us though, decide to go for it and chase our dreams. People like myself, and I’m assuming people like you if you’re reading this. A few more years go by and most of us don’t “make it”, because let’s face it, it turns out to be much harder than we thought it would be and as I’ve already pointed out, statistically it’s simply very unlikely. The odds were against us going into this.
However, maybe if you associate with enough musicians, you see one or two people that actually do, through a combination of talent and being in the right place at the right time, go on to “make it”. Then you think to yourself, it really is possible and so you decide to keep going for it. But, deep down, you feel discouraged that you haven’t gone farther, and you can’t help but to compare yourself to those who seem further down the road than you are.
All this comparing ourselves to other people and wishing we were somewhere else ends up slowing us down. Instead of loving the process of becoming better at our craft, we obsess about why we’re not “bigger” or “more successful” than we are. Instead of falling in love with the journey, we end up hating the fact that our journey is still unfolding. We long for our journey to end, or at least to lead us to a better place. We want to get to our destination already.
What started out as something we loved doing, making music, turns into something we end up despising, trying to “make it”. As we feel the abyss grow between where we are and where we think we should be, we grow resentful. The joy we used to feel when we picked up our guitar, or sit down at the piano, or sing, starts to fade. We start to associate something we were once passionate about with a feeling of failure and negativity.
This is the part of the journey, where most musicians just throw in the towel and resign themselves to the fact that they’ll never “make it”. It just wasn’t in the cards they think. They went for it, they tried, but it didn’t happen when or how they thought it should, so they decide to give up. I know this part of the journey, because I’ve been there.
But there’s another possible realization, one that I eventually reached, which is the realization that you can keep going. You can realize that although time does fly, life is actually pretty long and you still have time, so you get back to focusing on what you can actually control, the effort and dedication you put into your craft. You can realize that for 99.99% of us, there are really only two elements at play that really make a difference that we can actually control and influence; effort and talent.
Just like most businesses don’t unfold in the same way that Facebook or Google did, most artists won’t break onto the scene the same way Justin Beiber or Miley Cyrus did. And that’s ok. Most successful businesses are built on years of blood, sweat and tears. The same is true for most truly successful music careers. Most of us will never be an “overnight success”. Most of us will have to fight for whatever success we attain. To me, this is true success. Success that just luckily falls into your lap isn’t true success, it’s luck. I don’t know about you, but I’ve never been very lucky.
This blog post was inspired, in part, by Gary Vaynerchuck and the following video:
If you want an amazing dose of no holds barred, in your face motivation, be sure to check out Gary’s channel. Great stuff!
I often get asked to share more of my music with my readers.
I just finished my newest track, Our Love, a few days ago.
Although my producer Gary and I just completed this one,I actually wrote this song for my girlfriend a few months after we met.
Now, close to two years later, we're still together and I have this song to share with the world.
I feel like I did a pretty good job of capturing the sweetness and innocence of a new relationship in this one.
I also just signed this one to an amazing agency that I'm working with and should have some good news to share about this track soon!
I’ve been having a blast lately connecting with and interviewing so many different people working in different facets of the licensing business for my podcast, Music, Money And Life. It’s one thing to be able to give you my own anecdotal stories and experiences about licensing my own music. But it’s a whole other thing to be able to bring together and interview dozens of people working successfully in different facets of the licensing industry. I feel like I’m able to provide a much broader perspective by bringing so many different people into the conversation.
[By the way, speaking of my podcast, thanks to everyone who has been leaving me positive feedback. Thanks to you, I made it onto the charts as one of the highest rated podcasts in the music category yesterday! I really appreciate everyone who took the time to leave a review.]
By interviewing supervisors, publishers and songwriters all working full time in the business, I’ve been able to get a real “bird’s eye” view of how the business works. The big picture, if you will, of the music licensing industry. The life of a musician can be lonely at times, and one of my main goals with my podcast is to bring as many different people as possible working in the business on to share their stories, so that you can learn from a really wide range of people that work in the industry. So that you’ll get a better perspective on your own journey and hopefully feel a little less isolated and alone.
One of the best ways to learn, is to hear directly from people who are doing what it you want to do. I have some really great guests lined up for future episodes, so be sure to subscribe to my podcast if you haven’t already here:
In today’s post I thought I’d break down 7 key takeaways that I’ve gotten from the last few months of doing my podcast on a weekly basis and networking with a variety of people in the business. These are 7 points that pretty much everyone I’ve interviewed and spoken with has been in agreement on.
1) You can make a full time living, but it’s takes a lot of time and effort – One of the questions I’ve been asking everyone I interview is about the viability of turning music licensing into a career. Is it possible? Feasible? Is it practical to try to make music licensing a full time career? Everyone I’ve spoken with has said more or less the same thing. Yes it’s possible, but it’s going to take a lot of time and effort to get to that point.
Music licensing, most of the people I speak with say, should be approached more like a long term investment. Sort of like a 401k plan for musicians. It’s something that you need to build up over time. You need to approach music licensing like you would investing in the stock market. In other words, think long term and diversify. Write a lot of different songs. Place them in different libraries and with different publishers. Go direct to supervisors if you can. You might get lucky and land a huge placement right away. It could happen. But don’t necessarily count on that happening. Keep writing and pitching and over time the money you make will grow.
2) It’s better to write from the heart than to try and write what you think will work for licensing – Although it’s important to be aware of what works and why in the context of licensing, the overwhelming consensus has been that, at the end of the day, you should just write great songs that are inspired and from the heart. This advice that I’ve gotten, over and over, sort of took me by surprise, in a good way. I hate the idea of trying to force my music into some sort of pre-conceived, pre-determined, homogenized mold. The artist in me cringes at this thought. I went into this business to make art! If I wanted to just create cookie cutter widgets, void of substance and meaning I’d work in a factory or something. So the fact that the majority of people I’ve interviewed, from supervisors to publishers to songwriters, all agree that as songwriters we should, first and foremost, strive to write great, inspired music gives me hope.
Of course, you should still pay attention to things like lyrics and arrangement and make sure they’re not too far out of the realm of what works for licensing. You still need to consider the way in which your songs will be used, if and when they’re licensed. But don’t do this at the expense of the music you’re creating. Don’t forego writing a great song too simply try and make it fit the music licensing mold. Music supervisors are music fans. They’re drawn to the music business because, for the most part, they love music. Don’t forget this when you’re creating music you plan to pitch for licensing opportunities.
3) It takes a lot of pitching and submitting your music to land placements - The music business is competitive. There is a lot of music being pitched. I spoke with one prominent music supervisor who told me that she gets as many as 1,000 submissions a day! Many supervisors simply don’t have time to listen to everything that is being sent to them. Your job as a songwriter, is to rise above this noise and competition and get your music heard. Going through libraries and publishers is a good way to do this, as they can help you do the job of pitching and finding out about projects. They’ll take a cut of what you make of course, but it’s well worth it in my experience to have the extra help.
You can go directly to music supervisors as well and if you catch them at the right time, with the right track they might be open to it. In my experience, supervisors draw from a lot of different sources to meet their music needs and many are open to working directly with artists when it makes sense to do so.
Whatever route you go, if you want to do this at serious level, you need to devote considerable time to pitching your music and finding out about projects. Most writers that do this full time, devote at least two to three days to doing nothing but pitching. It really is where the true work comes in when it comes to landing placements. I wish there was an easier way, but the consensus is that to be successful at licensing, you need to keep pitching and networking on a regular basis.
4) You have to approach this like a job if you want to be successful – I think this piece of advice applies to any aspect of the music industry. You have to approach this like a job or business if you want this to be your job. Songwriters that make a full time living doing this, work full time hours! I think what Sam Beam, aka Iron And Wine, said about the music business sums it up, “if you treat music like a job, they’ll pay you like it’s a job”.
Apply this mindset to everything you do in terms of being a musician. Set up regular hours to write and record music. Have a set schedule you adhere to when you’re pitching music. Be consistent. There are a lot of musicians out there, but in terms of musicians that are really going for this in a serious way, it’s a much smaller pool.
5) You need to have thick skin for this business – This probably comes as no surprise, but the music business is really hard. It’s competitive. You will be rejected, most likely a lot. Don’t even pay attention to the rejection. Keep making music. Keep improving your music and keep pitching your music. If you’re passionate and motivated, eventually you’ll win other people over.
Of course, listen to the feedback you get, if you send your tracks to 20 people and they all say that your vocals are off key, take note and work on improving that. We all have things to improve. But, music isn’t an exact science. What one music supervisors hates, another might love. That’s why I don’t pay too much attention to criticism or rejection in general, unless it points to something specific that I hear over and over. There’s a difference between someone just not feeling a track and someone not liking it for specific reasons. If you know deep down you’re writing and recording great songs, keep pitching them until you find others that agree.
6) There are no guarantees when it comes to licensing, until a track is actually licensed - At the end of the day, there are no guarantees in this business until a song is actually licensed. You might find ten publishers who love your tracks and they all pitch them to no avail. It happens. Until a specific supervisor wants to use your track for a specific project and the song has been synced, it’s all speculation. Don’t let this discourage you, but also don’t forget this reality of the industry.
This is why the ongoing pitching of your material is so important if you want to approach this like a career. You never really know if something is going to happen, until it happens. Unless you are on staff for a network or hired by a production company to write music on a salaried basis, you’re always going to be looking for the next project and the next place to license your tracks. Of course, you’ll be building up residual income too, as some of your tracks will likely be used repeatedly and in different projects over time. But for most writers that are doing this on a freelance basis, in other words, most of us, the pitching never really stops.
7) You might decide this isn’t for you, and that’s ok - With all this talk about competition, rejection and how hard licensing is, you might come to the conclusion that this simply isn’t for you and that’s ok too. I feel like the only real reason to go into the music business in general is because you absolutely love making music more than anything else. If you don’t have that sort of intense passion for making music, than it really doesn’t make much sense as a career path. I believe success is possible for all of us, but if you don’t have an innate sense of passion for music, it’s doubtful that you’ll be able to push through the challenges.
Music, to me, is a calling. It’s almost a religious like calling. Any money and success I may happen to attain is really just a byproduct of my desire to get my music out into the world and have it heard. That’s really what drives me more than anything. At the end of the day, I don’t really care if my music is played in the background of a soap opera or a reality tv show. It’s nice when it happens, but more than anything I just love playing music and you know, I have to like eat and pay bills.
In my recent podcast with Emmy Award winning songwriter Michele Vice-Maslin, who has had over 5,000 placements in tv shows, films and ads, Michele stated that she works 15 to 16 hours a day, six days a week and takes Sundays off. I don’t know if Michele works this schedule every week, or if she was simply giving me an idea of how often she sometimes works to achieve the level of success she’s achieved. Michele is incredibly accomplished as a songwriter and in the world of licensing and I’m not surprised to hear how much work goes into her career.
If you haven’t already, be sure to check out the podcast I did with Michele, it’s one of my best yet.
Our conversation really got me thinking though about just how much work being a successful musician in 2017 requires. Michele also said in our interview that on average, she lands one placement for every thousand pitches she makes. In the last 25 years she’s had over 5,000 placements. That’s a lot of time spent pitching music!
Michele said in our interview that being a musician is so hard that she’s known a lot of musicians over the years that have quit and gone on to other careers that are less competitive and offer more stability. I’ve known plenty of aspiring musicians over the years as well that have changed career paths and pursued more conventional ways of making a living. Being a musician isn’t for everybody and if the pain of trying to make a music career happen outweighs the joy of being a musician for a sustained period of time, there’s no shame in making a decision to do something else in order to lead a more balanced, stable life.
But, how do you know when the pain you’re experiencing is simply a temporary setback that can be overcome, compared to knowing when you’re simply on the wrong track and no amount of goal setting or hard work will get you to where you want to be?
Is there such a thing as a goal that is simply too hard to attain because the insane level of work and effort required to achieve it simply isn’t worth it? Obviously we can’t all do anything we want to do. For example, I’m pretty sure at my age and with my lack of athletic prowess, I could never become a professional football player. As much as motivational speakers like to tell us we can all do anything we set our minds to and that if we can dream it we can do it, this simply isn’t true. Some goals are simply out of reach.
Knowing this, how can we distinguish between when we’re giving something up because we’re just too lazy or lack ambition, compared to quitting something because, despite our best effort, it’s simply not happening and we feel miserable as a result? In other words, how do we know when to quit something vs. when to continue the path we’re on and keep going for it?
There’s actually a great book about this exact subject that I read recently called “The Dip” by Seth Godin. It’s a short, simple book that breaks down when we should quit something that simply isn’t working for us versus when we should plow through the pain and setbacks we will inevitably confront on our journey to success.
One of the key points of the book is that contrary to popular opinion, quitting the right things at the right time is actually one of the keys to achieving success. To put it another way, if you stay on the wrong path long enough, you can actually prevent yourself from achieving success, since you’re spending time and energy doing something that you’re probably never going to be successful doing. In other words, there is an opportunity cost to our decisions. Whenever we choose one path, by default we’re giving up all the other paths we could have taken. We need to choose wisely.
The title of the book, “The Dip”, refers to a phenomenon that anyone who embarks on any sort of meaningful and worthwhile endeavor will experience at some point. Whether you’re starting a band, starting a company, launching a website, embarking on a solo career or fill in the blank and insert worthwhile objective here, you will experience “the dip”. The dip is when things get hard. The dip is when the fun and excitement of doing something inevitably wears off, but you still haven’t quite mastered what you’re pursuing and achieved the success you’re after. The dip is when some people make the correct decision to quit and it’s when others bail prematurely and probably could have had success had they endured this period a little longer. The trick is knowing what to do when this period sets in. Should you stay or should you go?
Knowing whether or not to quit really depends on whether or not you have what it takes to make it through this “dip” period. If you’re trying to do something meaningful and worthwhile, it’s going to inevitably get hard at some point. This period is the barrier to entry that prevents others from achieving the success you’re after. As Godin states in The Dip, “It’s human nature to quit when it hurts. But it’s that reflex that creates scarcity.” Of course scarcity creates value. The more scarce something is, the more valuable it’s perceived to be. If what you wanted to accomplish was easy, everyone would do it. If everyone could do it, it wouldn’t be that big of a deal.
So how do you know when to quit something you’ve started compared to knowing when to continue and push through the painful period of struggle that inevitably comes? Godin sums it up this way, “The decision to quit or not is a simple evaluation: Is the pain of the Dip worth the benefit of the light at the end of the tunnel?”
Should You Quit Music?
Seth Godin’s book, The Dip, provides some great things to think about and contemplate as it relates to pursuing worthwhile goals, like a career in music. However, real life isn’t always as clear cut as authors like Godin like to make it out to be. We don’t always know what lies on the other side of our efforts. How do we really know if we push through the painful difficult periods that success will actually be waiting for us on the other side? How long should we wait until we move on to something different? How can we tell when we’re on the right track?
These aren’t easy questions to answer and there aren’t always clear cut ways to determine what the right choice is, but one of the ways we can get a sense of whether we’re on the right path is to look at others who have come before us. How long did it take them? What did their trajectory to success look like? This isn’t a perfect barometer of course, but as Tony Robbins has stated, “success leaves clues”.
This is one of the main reasons I do my podcast and interview different people in the music business on a weekly basis. I want to know their stories. I want to know what it really takes to succeed. Everyone I interview has a different story. No two paths are exactly like. That’s one of the exciting, albeit challenging, things about the music business. There is no formula. What works for me might not work for you, and vice versa. However, if you speak to enough people in the industry that are succeeding on any sort of significant level, you start to see some commonalities. There are places where most success stories overlap.
One of the common themes that ties all the success stories together of people I’ve interviewed over the last few years is that they both really, really love making music and they’re willing to work extremely hard to achieve their goals. Like crazy hard. Succeeding doesn’t mean that every moment of every day is filled with ecstasy and bliss. I doubt this is ever the case for even the most “successful” musicians. But what it does mean, is that the moments of elation and joy you do experience, at some point, make the pain and frustration of the dip worthwhile. In other words, you’re willing to pay the price that success inevitably costs because it’s worth it. If the price isn’t worth it, then why pay it?
An Alternative To Quitting: Pivoting
In the past I’ve considered quitting music when I was in a fairly severe dip, when things didn’t seem to be working out at all. This period was in my early thirties, after a decade or so spent playing in bands that didn’t go very far, or at least didn’t go as far as I would have liked. I felt burnt out and frustrated and for a time I considered quitting music altogether.
Instead of quitting though, I modified my course. I decided to continue playing and pursuing music, but at the same time I incorporated some “safety nets” into my plan. I developed a few different revenue streams all connected to playing and writing music, and simply continued my path as a songwriter and performing musician. This modification in my approach to music, freed me up to pursue music in a way that isn’t quite so intense and anxiety inducing. It lowered the price I had to pay, if you will.
These days I make a good portion of my income directly from music. I perform regularly. I have fairly stable licensing income. I also make money from my various websites and courses. Together, these different income streams provide a level of security that allows me to continue to make music from a place of peace and calm.
Have I “made it”? I guess that depends on how you define making it. In a way I feel like I have, in the sense that I support myself doing things that, for the most part, I enjoy doing. But I still have much larger goals that I’m chasing, so in that sense, I still have a long way to go. And, I’m ok with that. Part of the fun is the journey, and as long as I’m able to provide for myself and meet my needs, I’m happy to keep fighting the good fight.
I’ll never quit music, because I’ve set my life up in a way where I’m not forced to make an all or nothing decision. But I also have enough of a vested interest in my continued success as it relates to my own music career and music business career, that I’m highly motivated to keep going and keep pushing things. This balance works out great for me. I know that no matter what, I’ll figure out a way to continue to provide for myself and my loved ones, but I also know that I can’t get too complacent and give up on my dreams and goals. To a large extent, my business and income depend on continuing to push myself and others, to find continued success.
What about you? How do you balance pursuing and/or growing your career in music and maintain your sanity and happiness? Are you experiencing a dip now or in the past? And if it was in the past, how did you overcome it? How are you able to push through your hardest moments? Where do you draw inspiration from when things get tough?
I’ve been completely self-employed for the last eight years, working as an entrepreneur and musician. Before that I was a guitar instructor and performing musician for the previous seven years and worked as an independent contractor, so was more or less self-employed during this period as well. I’ve basically been self-employed, in one way or another, for the last 15 years.
I’ve been working for myself for so long that it’s hard to imagine working for anyone else. Although I love the freedom and flexibility being self-employed brings, working for yourself isn’t always a bed of roses. There are some definite disadvantages to going the self-employed route. It’s not for everyone. Of course, there’s a big upside as well and in today’s post I’m going to explore both sides of the self-employed coin.
Here’s a list of downsides to working for yourself along with their corresponding upsides. The yin and the yang if you will, of being self-employed.
Downside #1 - Uncertainty
Let’s start with probably the biggest downside to being self-employed; uncertainty. When you work for yourself, the income you make will fluctuate. This is especially true in the first couple years of starting a business. I have really great months where I crush it and do very well and I also have months where things don’t go as well, sales dip and I have to scramble to figure out how to stay above water. Of course, this gets easier the longer you’re in business. Or at least it should if things are moving in the right direction.
I’m much better at dealing with the ups and downs now than I used to be. My business is also a lot more stable and predictable than it used to be. I rarely have horrible months anymore, but I definitely have months where things don’t go as well as others.
I have a fairly good idea of how much to expect in revenue from month to month. But, the uncertainty is something that you never completely get used to. Even after all these years, I sometimes find myself plagued by doubts like, what if the market changes drastically and people stop buying my products. Or what if I say something stupid in one of my podcasts and people don’t perceive me as the expert I claim to be. Or what if I spend months creating a new program and no one buys it.
What if, what if, what if… I’m human and sometimes doubts creep in.
The Upside To Uncertainty – Growth
Here’s the thing though, most of the horrible what ifs never happen. Sure, there are stressful moments and sure sometimes things don’t go as well as I’d like. More than a few times I’ve entertained thoughts about returning to the workforce and getting a “real Job”. But I’ve never had to, because things have never gotten that bad. My worst case scenario fears have never come true. I always have managed to find my way through the slow periods and my business has grown every single year, except one, since I started it in 2008.
Through all the ups and downs I’ve grown more resilient. I’ve learned way more skills than I would have had I continued the employee route. I’ve learned, in no particular order, how to make websites, create information products, interview people, host and run a podcast, make youtube videos, market myself online, do affiliate marketing, do accounting, write blogs, successfully network with music industry professionals, find and hire employees, host webinars and the list goes on. I’ve become way more versatile buy working for myself than I would have become continuing the route of working for someone else. .
I’ve also learned to simply have faith in myself and life. There’s a lot that’s outside of your direct control when you work for yourself. I can’t control who decides to buy my products and who doesn’t. I can’t control the overall direction of the economy. That feels scary sometimes. But over the years I’ve learned that if I simply focus on doing my job to the best of my ability, everything else will work out. It reminds me of the serenity prayer: “Lord grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change. To change the things I can and the wisdom to know the difference”. I focus on what I can change and have faith that the rest will work itself out. So far it has.
In short, I’ve grown, both as a musician and entrepreneur, as a direct result of running my own business and working for myself.
Downside # 2 – It’s A Lot Of Work
Another downside to starting and running your own business is that if you plan for it to be successful, it’s most likely going to require an enormous amount of work. There’s a joke about being self-employed that goes like this, “The great thing about being self-employed is that you get to choose the 16 hours a day you work”. Although I rarely work 16 hours a day, I work a lot and have put in my share of 12 hour days over the last eight years. When I look back and think about the amount of time and effort I’ve put into running my business over the last eight years my head spins just thinking about it.
To be honest, the first couple years of running my own business I didn’t work that hard. I was just looking to make enough income to get by and loved the idea of having more free time and working when I felt like it. This sort of worked for a while, but pretty quickly I realized that if I really wanted to reach my goals and have a truly successful business and life, it was going to require a lot more effort than I had been putting in. So, I stepped up and started working harder and harder. Each year I started to do a little better. The last couple years I’ve worked harder than ever and have had record years as a result.
The Upside To Working Hard – Success!
The upside to working hard is pretty obvious, which is that you reap the fruits of your labor. Thanks to all the hard work I’ve put in over the years I have a business that sustains me comfortably. I’ve also learned the value of having a strong work ethic, which helps me in every area of my life. I apply the same sort of work ethic to things like songwriting and performing and have reaped similar rewards.
If there’s one thing I’ve learned about hard work it’s that it works. I feel like as a society, we’ve sort of lost the work ethic and discipline we used to have. We live in a sort of instant gratification society where we all expect to get things very quickly. There’s nothing sexy or glamorous about working hard. It sort of sucks to be honest. But, at least for me, being broke all the time sucks even worse. It also gets easier. I’m actually pretty excited about getting up and working most days, because I know I’m building something real and sustainable. I overlook the aspects of working that I don’t like and focus on the fact that I’m building something very real and tangible.
Eight years, which is how long I’ve been running my own business, is a long time, but to get really good at anything takes considerable time. There’s something known as the “ten thousand hour rule” which is the idea that it takes, on average, about ten thousand hours of effort to truly master something. Malcolm Gladwell studied this in his book, Outliers. He found that when you examine the lives of most really successful people, it took them on average, about ten thousand hours of concentrated effort in their respective fields, which on average takes about ten years.
For most of us, substantial success, is going to require considerable time and effort, aka, hard work.
Downside #3 – Work Life Balance, What’s That?
One of the other downsides of working for yourself is that it can be really hard to strike a healthy balance between working and other aspects of your life, like relationships and finding time to just be and enjoy life. This isn’t to say that you can’t have the same issue as employee, you obviously can, and I know plenty of people who work for other people that still work too much and neglect other areas of their life. But I think it’s even more of a concern when you work for yourself. It can be much harder to find a healthy balance.
It’s ironic, because most people that are self-employed are probably drawn to the idea of working for themselves because they imagine having a greater degree of freedom and flexibility over their lives. Working for yourself does, potentially at least, offer much more flexibility in terms of when and where you work. But, if you’re not careful, it’s much too easy to slip into a pattern of working too much, to the point where other areas of your life suffer the consequences.
From time to time I catch myself simply working too much, neglecting friends and family. I don’t do it intentionally. But sometimes I’m so determined to get a project done or move certain aspects of my business forward that I find myself putting in way more hours than I would have as an employee. Of course, I reap the benefits of the work that I do, so I’m not spending my time in vain. But I find that getting this issue right is an ongoing balancing act.
The Upside To The Work/Life Balance Issue – Finding Balance
The upside to the issue of work/life balance is that if you set your business up correctly, you can achieve an amazing work/life balance and create a really cool lifestyle. I’ve gotten better at striking this balance over time. The thing is you have to do this very deliberately. You have to be very organized and create systems and processes that will allow your business to run smoothly.
Whenever I catchy myself feeling burned out from working, I take a close look at how I’m spending my time and look for ways I can do things more efficiently and effectively. This has been a gradual process of testing and trying a lot of different things over the years, but it’s reached a point where I feel like I have a really healthy balance. I schedule in plenty of time during my week to do other things like play and write music, relax, spend time with friends and so on.
I work much more effectively when I’m in a good mood and not overly stressed. It’s a bit like working out, if you work out too much you can actually over work your muscles and causes damage and injury. Work is a lot like that. We need to put in considerable effort to accomplish anything worthwhile, but there’s a point where it’s simply too much and not sustainable.
The bottom line is that working for yourself, isn’t for everyone, but if you have the right temperament it can lead to an amazing lifestyle with a greater degree of freedom and flexibility compared to being an employee. Being a musician in 2017 involves a degree of self-employment. Even if you have a day job and pursue music on the side, you’ll need entrepreneurial skills to navigate your way through the music business. The more you can develop a self-employed, entrepreneurial mindset the more you’ll be able to recognize and seize opportunities as a musician.
Some people just don’t have the stomach for working for themselves and I totally get that. The truth is, had I known just how hard it was going to be when I started my business back in 2008, I probably wouldn’t have done it. I would have most likely continued the path of least resistance, working in a job I didn’t really like that much, but that was relatively easy and stable. I’m so glad I didn’t know how much work was required though, because at this point, I can’t imagine doing anything else.
I often get asked to share more of my music with readers of my site and blog.
I just got my newest song, "Venus And The Moon At Night" back from my producer, Gary Gray.
I haven't pitched it anywhere or sent it to anyone yet. My assistant and I will start getting it out to the major blogs, promoting it on Facebook, Youtube and so on next week. Of course I'll also be pitching it to licensing opportunities via several different sync agencies I work with.
I'm sharing this with you before I share it with anyone else. I wanted you to hear it first.
I'm really excited about this track. So are my producer and vocal partner.
Check it out below and let us know what you think.
Follow me on Soundcloud here:
A few years ago I spent the winter in the Caribbean playing music in the resort town of Cabarete, in the Dominican Republic. The winter that I arrived there was an influx of new musicians to the area. A lot of them were willing to play music for less money than a group of musicians who had been there for years. In some cases, they were willing to play for much less, as much 75% less, than those who had been on the island for years.
The local musicians were understandably upset. They were being undercut in price by a younger, newer group of musicians, and it was affecting their business. In some cases they were forced to lower their prices and a few musicians either lost their jobs or saw their slots cut back to make room for the newer/cheaper crop of musicians.
One day I was out for lunch with another singer/songwriter, also named Aaron, who was playing gigs on the island and one of the older musicians who had been playing in Cabarete for close to ten years approached the other Aaron and said, in a fairly aggressive way, "Dude, you have to raise your prices. You're killing the market for not only me, but yourself too! You're setting a bad precedent for all of the other musicians playing on the island."
At the time, I thought this guy was over reacting a bit. But, he had a valid point. In any industry, prices are set based not only on supply and demand, but also what suppliers are willing and able to sell their product for. If a large percentage of musicians lower their prices, play for free, play for exposure and so on, it has an undeniable effect on all of us and it makes it harder for more established musicians to demand higher prices.
In my last podcast, with Jason Moss from Super Sonic Noise, one of the things he stressed was treating your music with respect and not just giving it away for little or nothing. He made the great analogy that you should make a choice of either "treating music like your bitch and pimping it out for a few bucks here and there. Or, treating your music like your wife, respecting it, nurturing it and demanding that people give it the respect (and money) it's worth.
We all have to pay our bills and meet our immediate needs. I understand the temptation to sign bad deals and chase a few bucks here and there. But, be careful about not selling yourself too short. Don't sign deals you're not comfortable with. The market is already flooded with cheap, mediocre music. Strive to be better than that. It hurts all of us when musicians settle for so little.
In my upcoming course, The Ultimate Music Licensing Guide, I break down all the different types of publishing, library and licensing deals out there. I also talk about one type of deal you should avoid at all costs and in my opinion you should never do.
Watch the video below to see what I'm talking about.
What are your thoughts on musicians giving away their music, charging too little money and so on? How can we as musicians work together to raise the value of music? Please share your thoughts below:
Today I have a really short post. I’m slammed this week. Between working on my new course, scheduling and making calls for my latest 180 Day Music Licensing Challenge, interviewing people for my podcast, editing my podcasts, rehearsing for shows, making youtube videos, pitching artists and working on my own recording project, I barely have time to come up for air.
But there’s a topic that’s been on my mind and I want to give you something to think about…
Something I’ve been hearing a lot of lately, in one form or another, is that the music business is over saturated. I’ve heard this same idea expressed to me by a few different musicians I’ve worked with this week alone. It got me thinking... Shit, is there simply too much music out there? It sure seems like that sometimes. Could it be that the reason so many musicians don’t go further is because there’s just too many of us reaching for the same goals?
It’s kind of a depressing thought. The idea that there’s just too much music and that even though we’re all writing amazing, earth shattering, ground breaking music, some of it will inevitably get lost in the shuffle.
But. Is it true? We can all agree that the market is flooded with a lot of music. There's definitely a lot of music being made. But what I want you to consider is how much of it is really good. How much of it is great? How much of it is amazing?
There’s no shortage of music. That’s for sure. But really. Let’s be honest. Most of it isn’t AMAZING. Most of it isn’t even great. Some of it is, but it’s a small percentage. A lot of the music that’s out there is pretty mediocre and average. Most of it probably falls in this category in my opinion.
What’s my point? The point is that although there's a lot of music, there’s no surplus of great music. Great art, whether it’s music, film, visual art or poetry (ok maybe not poetry), but great art will find an audience. It might take a few years, but if it’s truly great, people will take notice.
Yes, we have new challenges in this era, compared to previous eras, but was it ever really easy? Before perhaps there was less competition but it was hard and more expensive to record and distribute music. Now it’s easier than ever to record and distribute music, but perhaps harder than ever to monetize. It’s always been hard! There has always been challenges.
In a weird way, the challenge and struggle is half the fun. It forces you to pursue it for the right reasons. How much do you really love music? Are you really in this for pure reasons? Pursue music for a few years and you’ll figure it out.
As we enter 2017, I’m incredidbly optimistic and excited about this year. I'm more excited about my own music and music in general than I have been in a really long time. I plan to push things further this year, both with my own music and the work I’m doing with my website and podcast. I’m creating a lot of new content this year and I’m excited to bring it to you.
One of the new things I’m doing this year is adding a new segment to my podcast where I’ll be featuring other great artists and promoting their music. If you’d like to be considered to be featured on my podcast, send me a link to your music below.
I’m looking for great, innovative, original music filled with passion and soul. I know it’s out there.
It’s that time of the year again. It’s the end of one year and almost the beginning of another. I’m not really into writing New Year’s resolutions per se. But I do find that this time of the year is a natural time to reflect on the year that’s gone by and plan for the next. I don’t really make goals or resolutions per se, more like a list of things I’m going to make happen. Goals strike me as something we're going to try and do, as opposed to something we're going to definitely do. It's a subtle, but important distinction.
So, in that spirit, I thought I’d share with you my plan for next year as it relates to my website, my podcast, my blog, my music and all the content I'll be creating for you.
Here’s my plan for 2017…
2016 has been my best year ever, by a pretty wide margin, both in terms of my business and my music career. So in 2017, I’m doubling down on pretty much everything I’ve been doing in 2016. In 2017 look for a lot more content from me in the form of podcasts, Youtube videos, blog posts and of course, much more original music. As Bill Gates said back in 1996, “content is king” and in 2017 I’m going to be creating a lot of content.
I’m going to essentially keep doing what I’ve been doing, but just a lot more of it and at a higher quality. I’ll also be releasing and distributing content on a regular set schedule, so you’ll know what content to expect and when. I realize some of you prefer certain types of content over others, so I’m going to be releasing podcasts, videos and blog posts, all on a regular basis.
Music, Money And Life Podcast
I’m going to be doing weekly episodes of my podcast in 2017. I’m adding a new segment where I’ll be featuring some of the many great artists that I work with and come in contact with. I’ll be continuing to interview some of the best minds in the world of sync licensing and music publishing in the form of writers, composers, publishers, supervisors and more. I’ll also be doing episodes where it’s just me, exploring and sharing my thoughts on the music business and what it’s like being an indie musician and entrepreneur.
Look for new episodes each Monday starting in January.
My podcast: http://musicmoneyandlife.podbean.com/
On Itunes: https://itunes.apple.com/us/podcast/music-money-and-life/id637851748?mt=2
I’ll also be writing a weekly blog post on my website, Aaron Davison.net My blog has been steadily attracting more readers, getting more comments and feedback and my plan is to write a weekly blog post in 2017, exploring a variety of topics related to the music business and life as an indie musician.
My blog has been a great outlet to express my thoughts and ideas about the music business and really, just life in general. It gives me a chance to open up a bit and express a more authentic side of myself than simply writing about the technical aspects of the music business. I tend to reflect on broader subjects like relationships, travel, psychology and more, but almost always relate it in one way or another to the music business and the life of an indie musician. So be sure to stay tuned to my blog if you’ve enjoyed my writing over the years!
Look for new posts, like this one, each Thursday in 2017.
Here’s a link to my blog: http://www.aarondavison.net/blog
I’m also going to be releasing weekly videos on my music licensing Youtube Channel - https://www.youtube.com/user/urbrock
One of the keys to growing a following on platforms like Youtube is releasing content on a regular basis, so I’ll be doing that on a weekly basis in 2017.
I have two releases at least planned for 2017. One is a guitar oriented production music CD that I’m doing in collaboration with my producer/partner, Gary Gray. The other is a new full length CD of original vocal music that Gary is also producing. I added eight new tv shows to my resume in 2016 and signed with six different publishers and sync agencies! So I’ll be continuing to make as much of my own music as my schedule allows.
Check out the EP I just released, Shooting Stars, now available on Itunes, Spotify, Amazon and wherever music is downloaded, streamed and sold here:
If you want to keep up with what I’m doing music wise, licensing wise and so on, be sure to subscribe to my newsletter related to strictly my own music at: http://www.aarondavison.net/
New Course & Book: The Ultimate Music Licensing Guide
I’ll be releasing a brand new, in depth five hour audio/video course and companion book on Amazon in late January or early February called “The Ultimate Music Licensing Guide”. This project is a culmination of the last eight years that I’ve spent building How To License Your Music dot com and working with so many great writers, publishers and supervisors over this time.
I’ve spent the last several months creating this program and I’m more excited than I’ve ever been about a course that I’ve released. This course will be the most comprehensive and definitive course, that I’m aware of, on topic of music licensing. Period.
The entire program is included at no charge to everyone who signs up for the upcoming “180 Day Music Licensing Challenge”, starting on January 2nd!
There’s still time to register for The 180 Day Music Licensing Challenge here:
To everyone who has been following me over the last few years, a sincere and heartfelt thank you. I have a small, but devoted following of around 10,000 subscribers that have allowed me to continue to pursue my passion of making music and producing educational and hopefully entertaining content and media related to the music business for over eight years now.
My plan going forward is to turn this into a true empire. Really. My goal is to become a known brand (even better known) in this space, as both a musician, podcaster and educator, and continue to work with, promote and support the many talented independent artists around the world. Music and art cannot die and whatever I can do to help artists flourish and continue to follow their passions, as I follow mine, is what I will continue to do.
To an amazing 2017 and beyond. It’s going to be a busy one, but I know it will be fruitful. Cheers & Happy New Year!
PS – What about you? How was your 2016? What are your plans for 2017? Let me know in the comments! And let me know what type of content you prefer most from me and what you’d like to see more, or less of, in 2017. Blogs? Videos? Podcasts? More music? Your feedback is greatly appreciated!
I have to admit, sometimes I get a little bored with writing technical articles about the nuances of how to make money by writing songs for the medium of film and television. Talking about things like contracts, the ins and outs of music publishing, music marketing and so on, aren’t necessarily the most exciting topics to discuss.
Don’t worry, I’m not going to stop doing that. My goal is to continue to help all of you figure out how to navigate your way through this crazy business of music, to the best of my ability.
I’m more than happy to share things that I’ve learned on my journey with anyone who can benefit from what I’ve learned. In fact, I consider it almost a sort of moral obligation. I feel like it’s my civic responsibility, if you will, to give back.
But… sometimes, I have to remind myself why I’m doing all of this in the first place. Sometimes it’s good to get back to what really motivates and drives us.
For me, it’s really all about the music. It’s ultimately about my love for writing, performing and listening to music. That’s why I feel so compelled to help other musicians, because I know you have this same passion for music. We have the same sickness!
Making money is an important part of life. Without sufficient resources, it’s hard to focus on what we truly love… music.
With that said though, sometimes I get burned out on all this focusing on money and networking and marketing. The constant feeling of having to call this person or upload your song here or get back to this person here and so on. The constant pressure to earn more money and move forward in life. It can all get a little overwhelming sometimes.
I know, I know. The work must be done! We must keep fighting the good fight. We only live once after all, and this is our chance to make a difference in the world. To leave our mark. A sort of metaphorical carving of the words “we were here” on the tree of life. We must continue on, marching forward towards the realization of our dreams. I truly believe it’s the only way to live life; inspired and purposeful.
But, every once in a while, when I’m feeling tired and frankly, from time to time, a little weary, about all the work that must be done, I stop and I take a break. Sometimes for a few hours. Sometimes for a day or two. And I pick up my guitar and I just write music. I focus on why I’m doing all of this in the first place. I get back to my own personal center.
And, when I do this, music comes out. I remember why I was so drawn to music from the time I was twelve years old. I remember why I get up every day and get back to work, even when a lot of times I don’t really feel like it and would rather just binge on Netflix or go for a walk.
I remember the feeling that drew me to making music in the beginning, when I was just a young boy. I remember the sense of magic and wonder that I felt when I first heard a song that I loved. I remember the sense of awe of going to see my favorite bands perform live and the sense of energy and excitement that filled the air as the crowd roared in approval.
I remember laying in my bed for hours when I was 13, on a Sunday afternoon, listening to the radio and discovering new songs for the first time. I recall the sense of elation the first time I learned a pentatonic scale on the guitar and could play something that sort of resembled a blues guitar solo.
It’s times like this, when it all makes sense again. The whole struggle to succeed in the music business starts to seem like a sort of trivial game, when compared to the simple and pure love I have for music in the first place.
In moments like these, when I’m really in touch with what motivates me, I feel like I write the best music. Music that’s from the heart. Music that’s not really trying to accomplish anything other than simply being the most simple, pure expression of myself that I’m capable of. Isn’t that what music is really all about?
Here’s a new song that I wrote recently during one of these creative breaks called "Where We Were".
This one features background vocals and harmonies from my good friend MJ, a life long friend since High School and as always, production was provided courtesy of Mr. Gary Gray.
I hope you enjoy it as much as I enjoyed creating it and as always, I wish you continued success and happiness on your own musical journey, wherever it may take you.
John Lennon wisely observed that “life is what happens when you’re busy making other plans”. I’ve always loved this line and how astute this observation is. You can set all the goals you want for the future, but that won’t change the fact that your life has to be lived moment to moment and day to day. Having goals is great and can help give your life a sense of direction, but life unfolds in the here and now.
Many of us seem so overly focused on accomplishing certain goals that we completely neglect the process of becoming who or what it is we’re trying to become. We romanticize the idea we have of what it means to be successful in the music business to the point that the process and journey of becoming successful feels like a burden. In other words, we want success, we just don’t want to work for it.
The great thing about goals
Goals that have meaning to us, give our life a sense of purpose and direction. Setting goals can be a powerful motivator to start taking action and taking the steps we need to take to move forward. More than just a specific outcome, goals are a powerful vehicle through which we can grow and improve ourselves.
For example, without my adolescent goal of becoming a rock star, I never would have learned to play the guitar, learned the craft of songwriting, learned the art of performing, learned how to market myself and book gigs and so on. I needed a goal in order to embark on a path of learning and growth. Without goals, it’s all too easy to just sort of wander through life aimlessly, never really moving forward.
The Problem With Goals
Even though having goals and a sense of purpose can be motivating and is certainly more healthy than destructive, sometimes having goals can backfire. If we’re not careful, the very goals we set for ourselves, can become expectations of a future not yet here that enslave us. I must be a successful musician, we think to ourselves, and I won’t rest or be satisfied until I am. I am going to “make it” come hell or high water, we think, as we fail to enjoy our day to day lives. We become so fixated on our goals and what we’re trying to accomplish that we neglect the process of becoming who it is we’re trying to become. We end up feeling miserable when we fail to achieve success quickly enough to satisfy our egos
In other words, we desire the end result of “making it” so badly that we look at the process of making it as a burden. We rush through the things we need to do to try to expedite our path to success. We look at practicing our instruments as a pain in the ass. We look at recording our music as work that we have to do. We look at marketing ourselves as a completely uncreative task that we shouldn’t have to waste our precious creative time with. We fail to see the art of business and as a result we fail at the business of art.
It reminds me of single people who are so fixated on trying to find a partner that they end up coming across as needy and repel the very people they’re trying to attract. Like the old zen proverb says. “the hungry don’t get fed”. When you fail to embrace the journey towards whatever you’re trying to accomplish in life, you miss out on the true point of life.
Love The Process
The last couple years or so I’ve really adopted an attitude and philosophy of simply loving the process of whatever it is I’m trying to achieve. I’ve reached a point where, although I still have lots of goals, I don’t feel burdened or weighed down by them. My goals are simply an arrow pointing me in the direction of my desires. They give me a direction to walk in. I love the process because I know it’s the work I need to do to get there. I also realize the process and end result are intricately connected. I can’t reach my destination without walking the path. The path is a part of the goal!
What Happens When You Achieve Success
If you think about it, achieving any goal in the music business is simply going to require that you do more of what allowed you to achieve success in the first place. For example, if your goal is to license your music in a major tv show, if and when you reach this goal, you’re most likely going to keep going, which will require you keep doing the things that led to your success in the first place.
Sure, certain things will become easier the more successful you become. But it’s not like you’re going to reach some sort of magical place where you have “arrived” and you can just kick back and do nothing. You’ll have to keep doing the work that brought you success to achieve more success.
Again, using the analogy of single people looking for a relationship. When you enter into a relationship, if you want it to work, you have to keep working on yourself and the relationship. Most relationships don’t just run on auto pilot. You have to keep doing the things that attracted your partner to you in the first place and you have to work on growing together as a couple. In the same way, if you do achieve success in the music business, you’re going to have to keep doing the things that led to your success in order to maintain your success.
Think of it this way, if you don’t love the process of being a musician then why are you trying to become a professional musician? If you don’t love the work, why are you pursuing it? If it’s money you’re after, there are certainly easier ways to make money. If it’s fame you’re after, there are probably more sensible ways of trying to become famous.
The good news is, when you love what you do, it doesn’t feel like work. When you love the process and the day to day reality of what you do, reaching your goals becomes inevitable.
Point yourself in the direction of your goals, walk in that direction and enjoy the journey!
Speaking of enjoying the journey and having fun, I’ve been practicing improvising on the guitar a lot lately and working on my chops!
Before I was a songwriter, I was simply a guitar player.
Check out this clip I made recently for my Facebook page.
Retreat - The noun retreat means a place you can go to be alone, to get away from it all. A spot under a shady tree might be your favorite retreat from the sun, or your bedroom in the basement may serve as a retreat from your siblings.
From time to time I take trips, normally by myself, for two or three days, to focus on nothing but songwriting. I normally take three to four of these trips a year. Of course this isn’t the only time I’m writing songs. I’m constantly writing and working on new songs throughout the year. But I find monotony and routine to be the enemy of creativity. I find that by removing myself from my day to day environment and distractions and going somewhere new for a few days, that it pushes me out of my comfort zone and helps me reach a mental space more conducive to creativity and songwriting.
Sometimes this is as simple as going to a small town away from the city and booking a cheap hotel room in a more inspiring environment. Other times, I go somewhere further and even more awe inspiring. I’ve taken songwriting trips to places as far away as the Bahamas, The Cayman Islands, Mexico and The Dominican Republic.
Of course, budget is a consideration when planning these trips. But since I more than qualify as a professional musician in terms of what I earn as a musician, I can legitimately deduct the cost of these trips from my tax return, which makes them more affordable. I also tend to stay in very affordable places when I travel, like hostels, or by using sites like Airbnb or couchsurfing to find economical or even free places to stay. You'd be surprised just how affordable travel can be if you're resourceful and flexible.
These trips have yielded positive, but mixed results. Some of the trips have been more creative and more fruitful than others, but all of them have led to new songs and new musical ideas that I doubt I would have arrived at had I stayed in my normal, familiar environment.
It’s hard to force creativity and inspiration. In my experience you can’t will yourself to write a great song anymore than you can will yourself to feel hungry. Just getting on a plane or driving in your car and travelling to a different environment isn’t going to automatically produce amazing songs any more than sitting down and trying to force yourself to eat a meal when you've just eaten is going to make you hungry.
However, putting yourself in a new environment, free from the distractions and routine of your normal, day to day life, allows you to look at the world a little differently, free from the rote nature of a life lived habitually. For me, this seems to be the time I feel the most alive and inspired and it tends to lead to periods of increased creativity. This isn’t to say you can’t replicate this feeling, or at least get close to it, when you’re at home, in a familiar environment. It’s just a little harder to do in my experience. Traveling to new places forces you out of your routine and alters your perspective on life, which lends itself to making new creative connections and insights.
Several times I’ve even taken extended trips of a month or longer to places where I’ve lived and worked from while focusing on songwriting. These trips are of course a little harder to plan and it requires dealing with a lot more logistics, but these trips have been particularly inspiring and rewarding, in ways beyond just writing new songs.
One of the challenges with taking two or three day songwriting retreats, is that there is a sense of pressure in trying to write something quickly, which sometimes backfires. Inspiration tends to happen on its own schedule and its own time. It can be encouraged and nurtured, but it can’t really be forced. When you have more time to devote to the process of songwriting, it's easier to allow inspiration to unfold on its own time frame, while you do everything you can to encourage it, including daily periods of songwriting and lyric writing.
In 2014 I decided to experiment by taking an extended trip of several months to the Caribbean to write and play music in the tiny beach town of Cabarete, on the north coast of the Dominican Republic. Cabarete is small, with a population of roughly 37,000. Although not as known as Punta Cana, on the opposite side of the island, it has a steady stream of tourists and a thousand or so expats, primarily from the US and Canada, who call Cabarete home, year round.
Cabarete, Dominican Republic
Cabarete has what’s known as one of the top five beaches in the world for kite boarding. There’s a great beach to surf a few miles north. There’s one street, about a mile long that runs through the center of town, with the beach on one side and a few dozen restaurants, bars and pool halls that line the other. Other than hanging out at the beach, surfing, swimming and drinking mojitos, there’s not much to do in Cabarete, which is what made it the perfect place to spend several months playing and writing music. It’s hard to not be productive when there’s so few distractions.
I had taken a shorter trip to Cabarete the year before and met Brian, the owner of a bar and restaurant called "Lazy Dog" that hosts musicians six days a week. Upon my return to Cabarete, when Brian learned I would be staying for several months, he offered me a job playing music three days a week, Monday, Wednesday and Friday. I jumped at the offer. My main goal in spending time in Cabarete, was to focus on music and running my internet business from a more inspiring and picturesque environment. So the chance to gig three times a week, for cash money, playing both originals and covers was exactly what I was looking for.
I wrote a lot of songs during my time in Cabarete. On one day off, I woke up, particularly inspired and wrote three songs in about two hours. The song below, Naked And Alone, was one of them. The story behind the song is that I had developed a bit of a crush on one of the servers that worked in one of the bars I performed at, who we’ll call Carolina, which is what I call her in the song but isn’t actually her real name.
I ended up playing this song at almost every gig I played during my trip after I wrote it and it became a song that I would get frequent requests for. By the time I left Cabarete, people were singing along with this song when I played it at shows. For better or worse, nothing ever transpired between "Carolina" and I, but it doesn't matter because I have this song and will have it forever.
The melancholic sense of longing that permeates this track might seem like a weird juxtaposition to the sun-drenched Caribbean beach town where I wrote it, but music is funny like that. It's not just our location that dictates the mood of songs we write. It's the music we listen to, the experiences we have and a host of other things that end up informing the music we write.
I don’t try to write Latin or Caribbean influenced songs just because I happen to be in the Caribbean. My goal with travelling isn’t necessarily to be inspired by the local music, although I sometimes am. More often than not though, I simply find that when I’m feeling inspired and living life to the fullest, I’m more likely to be inspired to write music that I feel strongly connected to. For me, travel has been a great way to facilitate this sense of inspiration.
Here it is, Naked And Alone, a song inspired by my time living on the beach in Cabarete and a Caribbean server named "Carolina" and our unrequited love. I recorded this song last year in LA at my producer Gary Gray's home studio. I sang the vocals and played all the guitars.
I often get asked for advice on how to select a music producer to work with when recording music with the goal of licensing it, and in general what to look for in a producer. Over the years I’ve worked with a half dozen or so different music producers and I’ve had varying degrees of success with each of them.
The first producer I worked with who produced tracks I ended up successfully licensing was in 2002, in Chicago. This particular producer, who was referred to me through a mutual friend, was really talented, but he was also bat shit crazy and very difficult to work with. He also ended up being fairly expensive. He charged 40 dollars an hour at the time out his home, which isn’t too bad in the grand scheme of things, but he spent a lot of time on each track I recorded and it ended up adding up very fast. When I told him about my licensing success for the songs he produced, he informed me he was doubling his hourly rate, if I chose to continue working with him. I politely declined.
After that I found another producer through an ad I placed on Craigslist. This particular producer, Mike, had a home studio in his house where we worked on a number of tracks together. I explained my licensing success with Mike and told him the story about my previous producer and the falling out we had. Mike ended up graciously agreeing to produce my tracks for free in exchange for a percentage of any money I made. This arrangement worked great for a few years. Mike and I worked on a number of tracks together and accumulated several dozen placements over the next few years. Mike relocated from Chicago in 2007 and we gradually lost touch with each other. This was before tools like Facebook and Skype made it so easy to stay in touch.
Over the next few years I produced music either on my own or in one of several home studios that I used at the time. Although I still signed and licensed a good amount of music over the next few years, my success ratio diminished significantly compared to the previous five years. I struggled to maintain the same quantity and quality of output that I had previously and I also became extremely busy with other things as I launched my website, How To License Your Music.com, and grew the website to something that could comfortably sustain me. This took several years of very concentrated effort to realize and as my focus shifted more and more to helping other artists launch their own licensing careers, my own music was put somewhat on the backburner for a few years.
I don’t remember the exact year I connected with my current producer, Gary Gray. I believe it was in 2012. Gary initially took one of my courses and we hit it off in terms of our outlook about the business and our work ethic. We initially began collaborating by creating a course together about music production as it relates to music licensing. Then, motivated by the interest in our first course, we created another course about music mastering. A couple years ago I had Gary work on a few tracks I had already started but wasn't happy with, and over the last year or so Gary has become my full time producer.
Gary already had an impressive list of credits in both the licensing industry and beyond when we connected. He’s worked with and is friends with some of the greats like Quincy Jones and Barry Gordy. He’s had music placed in a wide range of projects including feature films, television and commercials and he's done live sound for some of the biggest acts around. [See his credits here]
Check out this recent video Gary made to learn more about what he’s been up to this year:
Working with Gary was a no-brainer. I sensed a growing interest in the topic of music production when we came together and knew I needed to bring someone on my team whose knowledge of music production surpasses my own. We’ve collaborated a lot since then and have scored a numbers of deals together since, including having a track placed in movie theaters around the USA as a part of licensing deal with AMC Theaters, getting music picked up by an Emmy award winning show on A&E and signing music with a half dozen or so different libraries and publishers this year. I also recently signed with an amazing agency that focuses on ads and commercials, an area I’ve been focusing more on this year. I’m confident this deal wouldn’t have happened had it not been for Gary’s help and his amazing production skills.
[Check out one of our latest tracks below]
When it comes to selecting a producer, here’s what I look for:
1) Someone who has licensing credits – If you want to license your music, then pick a producer who has a proven track record of producing tracks that have been licensed. Makes sense right? Production is really important when it comes to licensing your tracks and if you’re working with an outside producer you want to make sure they have the chops to produce your music for tv and films.
2) Someone who actually produces, not just mixes and masters – Producing music in a way that will work for licensing entails much more than just mixing and mastering a song so it sounds “good”. A real producer will also help you craft your songs in a way that make your tracks sound “current” and “modern”. A good producer will help you bring your songs and arrangements to life, as opposed to just hitting record and then mixing and mastering your tracks. I’ve worked with both types of producers and believe me, there’s a huge difference. A producer actually produces as opposed to just engineering. I give Gary full artistic control of my tracks in terms of production and what he thinks works best. We sometimes have differences, and of course he’ll make changes if I insist and sometimes I do have him make changes. But for the most part, I trust his judgement and nine out of ten times the results are better when I let him take the production reins.
3) Someone who is easy to work with – Like I said at the beginning of this post, my first producer was amazing as a producer and had a great sensibility for what worked production wise. But he was so crazy and unpredictable as a person that it made working with him a pain in the ass. It wasn’t fun and in the end he turned out to be an even bigger asshole than I initially thought. You’ll most likely be spending a lot of time interacting with the producer you pick, so make sure that you pick someone you resonate with, personality wise. It will make a big difference when it comes to the final product.
4) Someone who is flexible – It’s also important to work with someone who is flexible. Gary has been super cool about compensating him for his work and he’s always been reasonable about money. I won’t go into the terms of our arrangement, since that’s between the two of us, but it’s more than fair and works for both of us. This is in stark contrast to my first producer who tried to double his rate when he learned of my initial success. I’m interested in developing long term relationships with people and I always look for people who are going to be easy to work with and fair. Gary and I are currently finishing a new, ten track CD of all new songs that I’ve written this year that Gary has arranged and produced. I’m ecstatic about how the new tracks are sounding and the feedback we’ve been getting is amazing.
Here’s a new song we just finished a few days ago called “Shooting Stars”. Let Gary and I know what you think in the comments!
For more information about Gary Gray and to get in touch, visit http://learnaudioengineering.net/
See all of our courses here: http://www.howtolicenseyourmusic.com/online-store.php
Today, a fun topic….
A new study by the University of Westminster that included a survey of more than 2,200 musicians concluded that musicians are three times more likely than the general population to experience depression and severe anxiety. 71% of respondents indicated they had experienced panic attacks or severe anxiety and 65% indicated they had experienced episodes of depression. This study really hit home with me and in today’s post I’m going to explore why there’s such a strong correlation between being a musician and suffering from depression and anxiety.
“There are days, hours, weeks, aye, and months, in which everything looks black, when I am tormented by the thought that I am forsaken, that no one cares for me. …I assert that life is beautiful in spite of everything!” - Tchaikovsky
Throughout time, countless musicians and artists have suffered from depression and mental illness. Artists and writers as diverse as Van Gogh, Tchaikovsky, Beethoven, Charles Dickens, Tennessee Williams, Leo Tolstoy, Virginia Woolf, Janis Joplin, Woody Allen, William Blake, Leonard Cohen, Nick Drake, Kurt Cobain, Elliot Smith, Daniel Johnston, Gustav Mahler, Beyonce, Robin Williams, David Foster Wallace, TS Elliot, William Faulkner, Henry James, John Keats, Georgia O Keefe, Sylvia Plath, Michelangelo, Edgar Allen Poe, Jackson Pollack, Kurt Vonnegut and Ernest Hemingway, to name just a few, have all suffered from forms of depression and mental illness. I’m sure there are many more I’m leaving out. But as you can see, it’s a long list.
My Own Experience
I’ve never talked about this publicly and I rarely even talk about this issue with family or friends, but I’ve experienced two different episodes in my life where I’ve experienced severe anxiety for prolonged periods of times. One of these episodes happened right after I went to college when I was 19 and I experienced a similar, although much shorter lived period about three years ago. I’ve had a few full blown panic attacks at times, and other times have experienced anxiety severe enough to momentarily disrupt my life and set me back a bit. Apart from these isolated experiences, I would consider myself a more or less normal person, who has led a full and active life.
I’ve never taken medication for my anxiety and apart from a handful of therapy sessions when I was in college, I’ve dealt with this issue more or less on my own. Practices like meditation, exercise and even songwriting, have helped me get through these darkest periods of my life and I feel like ultimately I’ve bounced back stronger every time. By dealing with these episodes and coming out the other side, I feel like I’ve become a stronger, more resilient person. In a strange way, I would say I’m even grateful for these challenges, although I would never wish severe anxiety on anyone.
The Correlation Between The Arts And Depression/Anxiety
Nancy Andreasen, the author of “The Creative Brain” argues that artists tend to have an openness to new experiences, a greater tolerance for ambiguity, and an approach to life that enables us to perceive things in a fresh and novel way. Less creative people tend to “quickly respond to situations based on what they have been told by people in positions of authority”, while artists live in a more fluid and nebulous world. In other words, we live in a more stressful world. “Such traits can lead to feelings of depression or social alienation,” writes Andreasen.
Although according to Andreasan artists experience higher rates of mood disorders than the general population, the extremes of highs and lows tend to be brief, balanced by long periods of normal affect, or euthymia. During these periods of normalcy, artists frequently reflect upon and draw from memories and experiences of their darker times to create their best art. This rings true in my experience. Like I said, I’ve experienced just two periods of what I could consider severe anxiety, followed by years of normal, functional life. In other words, most of the time I’m pretty normal. Really, I am.
Another study that I found suggests that artists are more likely to suffer from depression because they simply think more than other people and are more prone to periods of rumination. Self-reflection and rumination can lead to creative insights and increased creativity, but it’s also correlated with an increased risk for depression. Perhaps this is why the goal of meditation, something I have found to be very beneficial, is to detach from thinking momentarily. It’s harder to become depressed by our thoughts if we’re not actively engaging with them.
Here’s my own, completely subjective and unscientific take on why there is such a strong correlation between working in the arts and suffering from things like depression and anxiety. It’s hard to say whether or not if I chose a different life path I wouldn’t have experienced the episodes of anxiety that I had. Do I experience anxiety because I’m a musician? Or am I a musician because I have a sensitive temperament that lends itself to working in a creative field like music? It’s difficult to objectively analyze myself. All I have is my own experience to go by. After all, I’ve never been anyone else. But there are clearly things about being a musician that make life more challenging and difficult than a more conventional life path.
I think artists and musicians are more vulnerable to depression and anxiety due to both their innate personalities and psychological makeup, as well as the inherent difficulty of making a career in the arts. It’s a perfect double whammy for depression and anxiety if you think about it. Take an extra sensitive person and then throw them into an ultra-competitive field that is inevitably filled with periods of rejection, setbacks and disappointment. It’s a perfect storm for depression and anxiety.
Trying to make a living as a musician is fucking hard. It’s really hard. It’s hard on so many levels and in so many ways, that I think you probably have to actually be a musician to really get it. If you’ve followed my work at all over the years, then you know that I like to focus on the positive. I’m a “glass half full” kind of guy. At least I like to think I am. But guess what. I’m also human and when I struggle I feel pain and discontentment like anyone else. Being a musician can be so discouraging at times that in my experience, it can be a real challenge to maintain a healthy perspective and outlook. If you’re not careful, it’s easy to spiral down into a path of negativity.
[Check out the recent video I made where I talk about my own struggle to stay positive as a musician]
However, I think the feelings of depression and anxiety musicians feel is more than just the result of struggling in a difficult, competitive industry. After all, even highly “successful” musicians and artists seem to be more prone to struggling with mental health and substance abuse issues than the rest of us.
Being a musician often feels like a sort of double edged sword, you get to experience periods of sheer bliss and inspiration and then you get knocked backed down to earth again as you try to navigate your way through the maze of madness that is the modern day music business. For me, it sometimes feels like a sense of existential angst of being able to taste and touch divinity for brief moments and then being forced to deal with greedy music executives, rejection, a failing music industry and so on. As I reach for the stars, I often get knocked back down to earth where I’m forced to deal with the slow, monotonous grind of being an indie musician.
I like to think of music as the place where my divinity and humanity meet. That might sound like hyperbole, but it’s really how I experience it. When I’m writing a new song or listening to great music, it’s like being given a glimpse of god, or something greater than myself. If you’re a musician, you know exactly what I’m talking about. But to try and make a career out of music, is a bit like confronting the devil. Dealing with rejection, greed, the public’s watered down taste in music, corruption in the music industry and everything that goes along with being a professional musician, can be soul crushing. It’s the yin and the yang of being a musician. You get to taste divinity, but you have to go through hell to try and integrate the passion you have for music into your life in a practical and sustainable way.
Now an outsider might just look at the plight of musicians and think, why don’t we just get a “real job”? If being a musician is so hard and we’re struggling so much, why not just admit defeat and do something else? It’s a reasonable question. But if you’re truly compelled to make music the way that I and many others are, you know it’s not that simple. Being a musician is a calling. It’s like being called to be a minister or a nun. For many musicians there is a sense that this is something we were destined to do, which makes it extremely hard to just walk away from.
What To Do? How I Deal With The Dichotomy
Through meditation and contemplation, I’ve been able to reach a healthy perspective about my life and music. Making great music and achieving success are important to me, but I don’t hinge my happiness or sense of well-being on them. In a strange way, I don’t really care if I “make it” any more. After all, there’s no guarantee that if I did, quote un-quote make it, I would be any happier than I am right now. All we really have is this moment. I focus on being happy day by day, instead of worrying about what may or may not happen in the future.
This sense of detachment gives me relief. But don’t get me wrong, I haven’t given up. I’m still trying as hard as ever and I’ve made more progress this year than I have in many years and yes, that feels good. But I’m not too worried about what happens, ultimately, one way or the other. It seems like a contradiction, but it’s not. By not making the outcome so extremely important and heavy, I’m free to pursue music in a way that is still enjoyable and uplifting. I want to be successful, but I’m not going to pursue success at the expense of my own well-being and happiness.
Half Glass Full Optimism
Much of how we view ourselves and our respective situations is simply a choice. One of the reasons I’ve adopted a glass half full outlook over the years is that it simply serves me better. There are clearly things that are fu:&ed up about the music industry that we can’t change. But there is also a lot to be optimistic about. It’s never been easier to record, promote and distribute music in history. Although there are clearly challenges in the new music business paradigm, there is also much to be optimistic about and we get to choose which things we focus on.
I want to make great music and it would be cool if I was acknowledged for it on a wider scale, but if that doesn’t happen, I’m still going to enjoy the hell out of my life and make the most out of every day I have. That’s a choice I’ve made and it’s a choice we are all free to make. After all, this moment, right now, is all we really have.
Don’t let your future success or lack of it determine how you feel today.
Please share your own experiences and thoughts on this topic below.
The blog of musician and thinker of deep thoughts, Aaron Davison.