Hey everyone! Hope you all had a great Christmas Day (or whatever holiday you celebrate - Festivus anyone?) As 2017 winds down and we gear up for 2018, I just wanted to take a moment to thank all of you who have been reading my blogs, listening to my podcast and following me this past year. I truly hope my articles, podcasts and so forth serve as a powerful tool in your arsenal for navigating your way through the music business.
The last few years have been an interesting and challenging time in the music industry, in some ways things seem bleak. As someone who works on the front lines of industry, in contact with and interviewing some of the brightest minds in the industry, it can be discouraging to hear so many anecdotes of how the music industry has changed for the worse over the last few years.
For reasons I'm sure you're all aware of, it's challenging being a professional musician in 2017/2018. People don't really buy music anymore, it's hard to make money from streaming music, revenue for performing live has remained stagnant for most musicians for several decades, licensing is super competitive and unpredictable and so on. I know, you know, we all know, it's not easy being a musician.
Yet, at the same time, the challenges in the music business present incredible opportunity and possibility for those with the right mindset and perspective. What are you taking about Aaron? What kind of opportunities are you talking about?
There's a great quote, that I remind myself of frequently, when times seem to get tough. The quote is by Billionaire investor Warren Buffet and it goes like this: "Be afraid when everyone is greedy, and be greedy when everyone is afraid". What does it mean? It means that when people are panicking and freaking out about how bad a situation seems, there are hidden opportunities for those with a good eye and the right perspective.
All businesses have cycles of up and down. It's really inherent in life itself if you think about it. We all have good seasons and bad seasons in our lives. We have times when things seem to sailing along very smoothly and then BAMM, something unexpected happens that throw us off center. These difficult periods can be blessings in disguise, forcing us to dig deeper, to access parts of ourselves we didn't even know we had and to rise like the Phoenix from the ashes, soaring to greater heights.
My girlfriend of two and a half years broke up with me about two weeks ago. I wasn't expecting it. I can't say it came out of nowhere, but it definitely caught me by surprise. The first few days I was in shock. Then came the pain and grief. It's only been two weeks, so I can't really say I'm over her, but already I can feel a strength emerging from within that I didn't even know I had. I feel, strangely, at peace about the situation. I didn't really want to lose my girlfriend, but in just two weeks I can see how this crisis is really a blessing in disguise, if I choose to look at it that way.
There are always positive things that come out of seemingly negative situations, if we're open to seeing them. Now that I'm single again, I have more time for myself, more time to focus on my business, I can date other girls again, I can travel, I can spend more time on my music, I can workout more. I can ultimately find someone I'm more aligned with who won't break up with me!
There are TONS of positives, even though I'm sad about losing someone who was very special in my life for a time, I can already see that this situation can be a positive, life transforming period, if I choose to look at it that way. If I remain open to the unexpected opportunities that arise.
I see what's happening in the music business in a similar perspective, although granted the scale and scope of the problems are larger. The challenges we face as musicians in the music business are real, but they present the same opportunity for growth and transformation. We could choose to throw in the towel and do something else, and that decision itself could be an avenue of growth, depending on the path you choose and your reasons for doing so. Or, we can choose to learn from the challenges we face, adapt to the changing industry and ultimately overcome the obstacles we face.
Look, I don't have all the answers. Obviously. I'm just one guy with a passion and love for music, doing my best to figure out and adapt to the industry like everyone else. I do my best to find those who are figuring out how to make it work in the music business and share their stories with you. From things like Youtube to streaming music on Spotify, to licensing music in tv and films, there are lots of potential revenue streams to tap into going into 2018 and I remain committed to sharing what I and others have learned about the new music business paradigm with you all.
But, I also know that it's not easy. I've had my shares of ups and downs with my own music over the last 20 or so years working as a musician. I've had great years filled with growth and exciting achievements. And I've also had years where I frankly just feel live giving up and doing something more conventional and "easy".
For better or worse. I'm still here. Still fighting the good fight. Still writing my songs and hustling to be heard in a noisy, crowded and seemingly over saturated market. Why am I still doing this? Why don't I just give up and call it a day? For the same reason that I'm not going to throw in the towel on intimate relationships. Because, I believe in what I'm doing in the same way I still believe in love and human connection. It's easy to get cynical when things don't work out in life. It's easy when a relationship doesn't work out to simply conclude it's not worth the headaches and stress that it takes to maintain a relationship.
But I know, that when I'm really connecting with another girl and in a loving relationship, it's worth the struggle. It's worth all the pain and heartache and loss that it took to get there. Even when it ends, it's worth it. I would never take back the great moments I've had with an ex-girlfriend just because it ended, even if I could. I'll never forget the moment my ex girlfriend, after a few cocktails, with tears welling in her eyes, told me I taught her how to love. Whoa. Deep. Beautiful. And worth the struggle and ultimately the relationship not working out.
I feel the same way about music. I know in my heart that anything great is worth fighting for. I know, it sounds cliche, but anything worth doing is most likely going to be difficult and challenging. The challenges and obstacles are what force us to grow. I know, without absolute certainty, that the difficulty of being a professional musician, has forced me to become a better musician. In the same way, the pain and difficulty of intimate relationships has molded me into a more well, rounded compassionate person.
I might never be a famous musician, and I might never find the great love of my life that lasts until death do us part, but I know that no matter what happens, I'll keep trying.
Happy New Year!
PS - I just finished a new song called "Down". This one is about how we have to be strong in the face of adversity and trials we face in life. (I wrote and recorded this about a week before my ex and I split, but it seems even more poignant now)
Four years ago, I started my podcast, Music, Money And Life as a means to promote my website, products and services. Since then, my podcast has grown into one of the more popular music business podcasts out there and it’s become the thing I enjoy the most about running my business and find the most rewarding.
Although I started my podcast with the idea of promoting my brand, products and services, I’ve discovered a lot of other unexpected positive side effects of hosting my own podcast. It’s been such a positive experience that I highly recommend other musicians look into starting their own podcasts as a way to spread the word about their music, services, and connect with other people in the business.
In this post, I’m going to break down why podcasting is such an amazing platform for moving forward in the music business. I’ve discovered essentially five main benefits of podcasting, that all musicians could benefit from.
Connecting With Other Industry Influencers – This is probably the single biggest upside of hosting your own music business or music industry related podcast. When you create a platform for others to promote themselves and get the word out about what they’re up to, they are much more likely to talk to you and connect with you than if you simply contact them, randomly, out of the blue, trying to get them to help you with your career.
Most people love to talk about themselves. I don’t say this in a cynical or jaded way, it’s just human nature. People want to express themselves and be heard, and podcasts are a great way to connect with a lot of people at one time. I’m amazed at some of the people I’ve been able to interview and connect with on my podcast, Music, Money And Life, and it’s getting easier and easier to attract high profile guests.
Next week, for example, I’m interviewing the drummer Kenny Aronoff, cited as one of the top 100 drummers of all time by Rolling Stone. Kenny has played with a who’s who list of musicians, including artists like John Cougar Mellencamp, Paul McCartney, Ringo Starr, The Rolling Stones, Lady Ga Ga, Bruno Mars, Sting, Bob Dylan, Bruce Springsteen, Bob Seger, Dave Grohl, Elton John, Johnny Cash, Willie Nelson, Jon Bon Jovi, Steven Tyler, The Smashing Pumpkins, Meatloaf, B.B. King, Rod Stewart and John Fogerty, to name a few. I can’t wait to pick Kenny’s brain about the music business next week, I can imagine he has a little bit of knowledge to share!
I don’t have any particular agenda in connecting with the musicians and people I bring on my podcast. Some of my guests I’ve forged ongoing relationships with and some I may never talk to again. But either way, I’m getting access to people and knowledge I probably wouldn’t have otherwise.
Social Proof / Credibility – Another benefit to podcasting is that by interviewing and connecting with other people in the industry you’ll boost your own perceived credibility in the industry. When you connect with other people that are higher up the ladder than you are in the industry, people will take you more seriously as a result.
When deciding whether or not to work with you, or do business with you, people decide in part on social cues to determine whether or not they want to move forward. When people see you associating and collaborating with known names in the industry, it boosts your own credibility by default.
Again, I’m not really trying to do this with my podcast, it wasn’t something that I set out to do when I launched my podcast. This is a natural byproduct of connecting with and working with other industry insiders. People, in general, will start to take you more seriously when they see that other established people in the industry take you seriously.
Self Education – Another great, great benefit of hosting your own podcast is that you’ll learn so much more about the business, so much more quickly than you would if you weren’t connecting with and speaking with industry insiders on a regular basis. Now that I’ve done almost 100 episodes of my podcast, I often joke that I feel like I’ve received a master’s degree in the music business.
The music business is a people business, but it’s also an information business. Knowledge is power, and when you’re able to connect with and speak with people more established than you are, you’ll learn a wealth of information in the process. I’ve had tons of insights and aha moments as a result of connecting with people on my podcasts. I’m educating my audience, but I’m also educating myself at the same time.
Self Promotion – This was really the reason and main motivation for starting my podcast; the ability to promote myself. Podcasts are a great way to get the word out about your products and services. Like with all self promotion, you need to be careful in how you do this. If you make it too much about you and your products, music, etc, you run the risk of turning people off. But if you don’t overdo it, podcasts are a great tool for self promotion.
The theme of my podcast is directly tied to what I do both as a musician, and as a business, so it’s not really a stretch to occasionally mention a new product or program, or to play some of my own music. All things I do from time to time. But I try not to overdo promoting myself and keep the focus on educating and entertaining my audience to the best of my ability.
Self Improvement – And finally, the last benefit that I’ve discovered from hosting my podcast is self improvement. What do I mean? How does hosting a podcast improve yourself? Well, as we all know, the music business is a people business. Your ability to connect with other people in the business, will at least in part determine your success. That’s not to say you can’t be a little eccentric and still succeed in music, we all know that’s not the case. But, you need to connect with people in an authentic way.
There’s an art to having a good conversation. I’m not claiming to be an expert at this, but like with anything, the more you do something, the better you’ll get. I feel like I’ve gotten a lot better at steering a conversation and conducting interviews as a result of hosting my podcast. That sort of self improvement and self development is extremely rewarding. The fact that I can connect with so many people I respect and admire in the business is pretty frigging cool. Will these connections somehow boost my own status in the music business? Maybe, it could. But honestly, the process itself is the reward.
“No man is an island”, as the expression coined by Poet John Dunne goes. This expression resonates with me more and more, the longer I live and the older I get.
When I first decided to go the route of working for myself, I fantasized about being able to work alone, free from the distractions and annoyances of other people. I imagined my days would be filled in peace, working when and how I chose, on projects that I chose, that inspired me.
In the beginning of my self-employment days, I did in fact spend a lot of time working this way. At first, it was incredibly refreshing and liberating. I could simply focus on the work I needed to accomplish, in peace, without a boss, or irritating co-workers to distract me. The first couple years that I worked for myself, I spent most of my time working this way.
Over time though, I started to miss the interaction and camaraderie I had with my coworkers previously, before I became self-employed. I decided to actively start building a team of people to work with, a tribe if you will.
It wasn’t just that I missed the social interaction, it was that I realized I was missing a critical component of life that would allow me to grow my business and move forward: synergy.
The term synergy comes from the Attic Greek word συνεργία synergia from synergos, συνεργός, meaning "working together". Synergy is the creation of a whole that is greater than the simple sum of its parts.
Any great business, relationship or band has elements of synergy at play. Apple wasn’t just Steve Jobs, Apple was and is a team of thousands of people working together, sharing ideas and collaborating. It’s the Synergy of all the people that work together that has truly made Apple a success. Jobs was a great spokesperson and he certainly played a critical role in Apple’s success, but Apple is much more than just the vision of Jobs.
The Beatles wasn’t just Paul or John, it was John, Paul, George and Ringo, writing and playing music together and creating something that together, they weren’t able to create on their own.
Guns N Roses isn’t just Axl Rose. Even though Axl never quit performing the music of GNR with a variety of different musicians, it wasn’t until most of the original members reunited recently that they became hugely successful again. It’s the synergy of the members involved that makes their music so special to so many.
Synergy works on different levels and is effective for several different reasons. The first one is very practical. Humans by nature, have a desire to reciprocate when someone does something to help them. I know, us humans have a lot of nasty and undesirable traits, but deep down most of us want to help those who help us. It’s in our nature, in the same way that many of us want vengeance when we are “wronged”. Reciprocity is like the flip side of vengeance. It’s the yin to vengeance’s yang. Think of reciprocity as positive payback.
In social psychology, reciprocity is a social norm of responding to a positive action with another positive action, rewarding kind actions. As a social construct, reciprocity means that in response to friendly actions, people are frequently much nicer and much more cooperative than predicted by the self-interest model; conversely, in response to hostile actions they are frequently much more nasty and even brutal. 
Reciprocity makes it possible to build continuing relationships and exchanges. Fukiyama  states that “If the institutions of democracy and capitalism are to work properly, they must coexist within certain premodern cultural habits that ensure their proper functioning” (p.11). He goes on to say “Law, contract, and economic rationality and prosperity…. must as well be leavened with reciprocity, moral obligation, duty toward community, and trust….
When you’re working with others, it sets up a natural cycle of reciprocity. I have several key people on my team at this point, and we all more or less help each other on a regular basis. Imagine a ball of giving being passed back and forth. I do something for someone on my team, and they feel inclined to do something for me, then I feel more inclined to do something for them and on and on.
This back and forth reciprocity plays out in different ways. Sometimes it’s as straightforward as I hire someone to work for me, they do a good job and I reciprocate by paying them. This might not seem like a great example, but it is actually. Money is simply a unit of value, and it’s a clear cut and straightforward way of reciprocating for someone’s time and effort.
Other times it plays out in more subtle ways. For example, I have a new intern for How To License Your Music.com. It’s technically an unpaid internship, but my intern is doing such a great job at the moment that I feel inclined to compensate him for his efforts in a variety of ways. I end up paying my intern back for his efforts by taking him out for lunch every day, giving him tons of advice and knowledge about ways he can promote his own music, teaching him everything I know about the music business, offering to connect him with different people and so on. The better I express my gratitude and appreciation for his efforts, the more inclined my intern is to keep working with me and I’ll most likely be bringing him on in a more formal, paid position in the near future.
With other people in my tribe, this sense of reciprocity plays out in different ways. I’ll give you another example. A couple months ago I was in LA co-hosting a retreat about music licensing. One of the guest speakers at the retreat was one of my former clients, Eddie Grey, who has gone on to become a very successful TV composer. I was so impressed by Eddie’s presentation at the retreat and by his willingness to share what he’s learned, that before I left LA, I suggested the idea of creating a course together for my website about composing music for television. I figured I could help Eddie get the word about what he’s doing to more people and help him make extra money at the same time. Eddie agreed, and we released our first course together recently called “How To Be A Full Time TV Composer”.
The course that I created with Eddie has been a huge success. We’ve sold a lot of courses and have received really great feedback from the people who have purchased it so far. Eddie was so pleased and excited by our initial results that he sent me this really kind email:
“Thank you again, I am really grateful. Yet again, you have contributed greatly to me.
This will all come back to you my friend....tenfold.
I hope you see this as a success in a long line of successful deals we will engage in.
I will continue to produce at a high level to ensure customer satisfaction and retention.”
This was such a nice email to receive, because now I feel even more inclined to continue working with Eddie and trying to figure out ways to help him with his endeavors. Reciprocity in action.
Expanding Pool Of Resources
Another great benefit to building a team and working with other people, is the benefit of having access to other people with other areas of expertise than your own. This is beneficial in a variety of ways. For one, if you have access to people with other skill sets than your own, you can accomplish a lot more than if you were trying to do everything yourself.
For example, I’m not a great producer. It’s not really one of my skillsets. So I tend to outsource production work to my producer, Gary Gray, which allows me to spend more time writing and marketing my songs. There are only so many hours in a day after all, and I don’t really have the time or desire to try to do everything myself.
When you bring other people, with unique skillsets, into your tribe, you are literally expanding your resources. None of us can do it all, and let’s face it, when it comes to something like the music business, there’s a lot to do. You need to be able to wear a lot of different hats if you’re going to do everything alone. You need to make music, produce it, market it and so on. It’s hard to do this in isolation. When you have a tribe, you’ll be able to share the workload with others and reduce your own stress.
Insights And Aha Moments
Another great benefit to working with others and building a tribe, is that you’ll increase the likelihood of having insights and “aha” moments during conversations you have with others. There’s something powerful about working and interacting with others who have different, unique perspectives, based on their unique backgrounds. I often get ideas and insights from others that I wouldn’t have arrived at on my own.
Just this morning in fact, I had a conversation with another co-worker who works at the same co-working space as I do that generated an idea for a way I could easily make 10 to 20k more per year, with minimal effort. These sorts of insights happen frequently when working with others, but I rarely seem to have them when working alone. Sure, I may occasionally get a great idea from a Youtube video or a blog post, but there’s something about real time, in person interactions that lead to these sorts of insights much more frequently.
And finally, when you’re part of a team or a tribe, you’ll have others to help boost your spirits when you’re down. This is really the essence I think, of the expression “no man is an island”. We need each other to function optimally. Sure, some people are more introverted than others and don’t need or desire as much social interaction, but we’re all essentially dependent on each other to function in modern society.
I consider myself a fairly introverted person. I love interacting with others, but I also enjoy spending time alone and doing things like writing songs, reading and so on. But, if I spend too much time alone I start to crave connection and interaction with others. There’s a reason prisons use solitary confinement as the most extreme form of punishment. It’s not a state most of us prefer to be in long term.
Embrace the role we play in each other’s lives. Whatever you’re doing in life and wherever you’re going, realize that building a team or tribe of people to work with and interact with, will most likely help you reach your goals more quickly. You’ll also be able to help others reach their goals. Successful human interaction is truly a win-win.
With the work of creating and releasing my latest course, How To Be A Full Time TV Composer, behind me, I thought I’d get back to exploring some topics that are a little broader and applicable to all of us, regardless of what kind of music we make or what are specific niche is.
According to the self-help guru and motivational rock star, Tony Robbins, two of the most fundamental needs we have as humans, is the need for both certainty and variety. We long for things like comfort, security and stability. But when things get too predictable, we tend to get bored and crave variety and excitement.
I can relate to these two, seemingly, contradictory needs a lot. I’ve felt this dynamic at work in all aspects of my life; relationships, work, music, business and more. At times, it seems like life is a tug of war between these two opposing ends of the need spectrum. We need and long for stability, but we also need and desire a certain amount of variety and newness to keep things interesting and fresh.
When my income from licensing my music and making money online combined was enough that I was able to quit my job as a guitar teacher, one of the first things I did with my new-found freedom was to start travelling abroad. Travelling helped me scratch the itch I felt for variety and excitement, at a time when my life was starting to feel very monotonous and uninspired.
My first extended trip was to Costa Rica. Then to Nicaragua. Then to Panama and Colombia. Then to Guatemala. Then to Mexico and Peru. Then to the Dominican Republic.
I became sort of addicted to the feeling of freedom and adventure that travelling gave me. There’s something about going to a new culture that you’ve never been to before, where you don’t really know anyone, that is extremely invigorating. There’s a heightened sense of self that comes to the surface when you put yourself in a new, unfamiliar environment. You’re forced to pay more attention to your surroundings and you feel more alive. Travelling to me is a bit like a drug, which is why so many people are drawn to it. It’s intoxicating.
But, like with drugs, the high you get from travelling eventually wears off. The novelty of being in a new place eventually fades to the point that you’re simply yourself, in a foreign environment. “Wherever you go there you are” as the saying goes. New place, new people, new sights and sounds, but ultimately, the same you, (albeit with new experiences).
Eventually I decided to settle down and get back to leading a more conventional life. I realized that as much as I love travelling and having new experiences, I was travelling so much that it was starting to feel at odds with other, larger goals I had. Things like running a business and writing and recording music are much easier to do if you’re established in one place. Even simple things like going to the gym on a regular basis and eating well can be challenging to maintain when you’re traveling from place to place.
It’s much easier to establish a day to day routine when you’re in one place. It’s also a lot less expensive. Travelling is a great experience, and I grew a lot during the period in my life where I traveled extensively, but like with all things, there’s a trade-off to traveling a lot.
So, for the last few years I’ve settled into a routine of working and recording music on a regular basis. My day to day life isn’t quite as stimulating as it was when I was travelling around Latin America and the Caribbean, but I’m much more productive and I’m able to chip away at my goals much more quickly and regularly. That doesn’t feel quite as exhilarating on a day to day basis as my life of a digital nomad did, but there’s a sense of long term satisfaction and pride that I have now that I didn’t have when I was more focused on having fun and living in the moment.
From time to time though, I long for the feeling that travelling used to give me. I long for the heightened sense of self that comes with discovering new places and new people. Because, even though I realized that traveling extensively isn’t really conducive to the kind of life I want to lead, it was a blast! I have so many fond memories from that period of my life and I have no regrets about spending my time the way I did.
I’ve realized though, that you don’t necessarily need to jump on a plane and fly half way around the world to get that feeling. You can, with the right mindset and attitude, capture that feeling today, right now, regardless of where you live. You can take the feeling and inspiration that experiences like travel brings, and apply it to your daily life, regardless of where you live.
I think the great thing about travelling, is that it forces you outside of your comfort zone. By leaving your comfort zone and exploring uncharted territory, there’s a sense of expansion and growth. That’s what’s exhilarating about travelling. You feel more alive, because in some weird way, you are. You’re forced to be more in the moment and aware of your immediate surroundings. Travelling takes you out of your head and forces you to pay attention to what’s happening right now.
It’s all too easy in life to get locked into boring, monotonous, day to day routines, where every day is more or less the same thing. You work at the same place, on the same projects, with the same people. I don’t care how much you love what you do, if you’re doing the exact same thing day after day, year after year, that’s going to get old. It starts to feel like the movie “Groundhog Day” where you’re trapped in the same day, every day. You long for something different and less monotonous.
But, do you really need to get on a plane and go to a foreign country to meet new people? Do you really need to go to another country to try new food from a different culture? Do you really need to travel to another country to try new things? Of course not. There is a world out there, waiting to be discovered, in your own backyard. People you’ve never talked to, places you ‘ve never gone, cafes you’ve never checked out and classes you’ve never taken. They’re all there, just waiting to be discovered.
Recently I started to feel like my life had become a bit too routine oriented again, and so I made a few simple changes that have alleviated that feeling. The first thing I did is that I rented a co-working space a few blocks from my apartment, so I’m forced to leave where I live every day and interact with new people. That move alone, has done wonders for my psyche. Working for yourself is great, but it can get pretty lonely and isolating if you’re not careful.
The other thing I’ve started to do is go to a new café by my place every morning before I start my day. Again, it’s such a small thing, but my mood has been lifted dramatically by simply going to a new place, interacting with new people and starting my day a little differently than before. Sometimes, small changes in our day to day routine can have a huge impact on the way we feel.
I like to think of this approach to life as having a “vacation mindset”. Instead of waiting for that one or two weeks a year where you go sit on a beach somewhere drinking Pina Coladas to escape your life, adopt a “vacation mindset” right now. Talk to new people. Go to new places. Seek out new experiences right where you are. Shake your life up! Pretend like you’re on vacation, even though you’re not. Take that same sense of seeking adventure and playfulness and apply it to your day to day life. Right now. Wherever you are.
Then, take that same mindset and apply it your music. Write different kinds of songs than you normally do. Take risks that force you to grow. Start interacting with new people in the music business you may have been overlooking. Start taking chances that are both exciting and a little scary at the same time. Straddle the line between stability and uncertainty more and more. That’s where the growth is!
When you live your life in a way that’s fulfilling and meaningful you’ll be having so much fun, you won’t want or need to take a vacation. And if you decide to take one anyway, you’ll find yourself, sitting on a beach somewhere in the Caribbean, with a mojito in your hand, staring off into the sunset, bored out of your mind and longing to get back to the exciting life you’ve created.
“Do what you love and the money will follow”. That’s a mantra I heard over and over growing up. The idea being that if you just, in the words of Joseph Campbell, “follow your bliss”, that will somehow magically lead to a life that unfolds magically and will result in a blissful life filled with money, accolades and everything your heart desires.
It’s a great idea. But, at least in my experience, it’s simply not true. I know tons of people “doing what they love” who are broke and one or two pay checks away from being on the street. In my own experience, I’ve followed this idea to a large extent, and although at this stage in my life I’m fairly comfortable, it took me a long time to get here and my success hasn’t been nearly as simple as just “doing what I love” and waiting for money to pour into my account. Don’t get me wrong, I love my life, but it’s not all easy. I’ve worked really hard to get where I am now, and I still have a long way to go.
Now, don’t get me wrong, life isn’t about just money. I’m sure as musicians we can all agree on that. But, money is important, and if you’ve ever been in a position where you start to run out of it, you realize quickly just how big of a role, for better or worse, money play in all our lives.
In my experience, learning how to make money, in both the music business and business in general, has required actually doing a lot of things I don’t love at all and learning how to have a good attitude about doing them anyway. Everything I do for money these days has started with some sort of initial passion, but in the end, every single road I’ve walked down that has actually worked, has involved a fair amount of doing things I really don’t feel like doing or particularly enjoy. It hasn’t been all bliss.
I’ll give you a few examples
Music Licensing – My desire to license music and make money started with a passion for writing songs. I still maintain my passion for making music and I love it as much as ever. However, the reality of making money licensing music involves a lot of things that aren’t necessarily fun or particularly enjoyable. Things like doing metadata, uploading music, aggressively emailing and calling people, networking and so on, aren’t really my idea of a great time. But, they have to be done in order to achieve my desired result of successfully licensing my music.
Running my website – The idea to create an internet business around my passion for music and music licensing was born out of a desire to work for myself, and focus on a subject that I love, writing songs and licensing music. I get a lot of satisfaction out of my work and it’s definitely a better way to make money than any of my previous “day jobs” I’ve held. But, again, running my business requires doing a ton of things that aren’t particularly fun. Things like editing podcasts, writing ad copy, doing accounting and so on, aren’t my favorite things to do, but they’re part of running my business and it’s work that has to be done.
Hosting Retreats – This has been a new venture for me, and with only two under my belt this year, I don’t have a ton of experience. But, again, although the overall process of hosting a live event was extremely rewarding, there was a ton of preparation leading up to the event that was fairly stressful and not really fun, per se. Things like creating websites, running marketing campaigns and so on were all a lot of work and not that exciting. Even the event itself was somewhat stressful and a lot of hard work. In the end, it was very rewarding, but it wasn’t all fun.
I could go on and on with examples like this, but I’m sure you get the point. I don’t think there’s a profession in existence that is all fun, all the time. Most successful people have to endure a certain amount of stress and pushing through resistance in terms of doing things they don’t feel like doing to achieve their goals.
So, where does this idea of “do what you love and the money will follow” come from? Well, it’s a nice idea and like many clichés, there is an element of truth to it. I think it’s an idea that can actually push you in the right direction, it’s just that it’s overly simplistic.
Let’s face it, most people probably aren’t cut out to work themselves, which is why most people don’t work for themselves. Only about 6% of the population is self-employed. The majority of people don’t have the “kahunas” to really follow their passion and make their dreams a reality.
The majority of people work for someone else and I don’t think this number is a coincidence. Working for yourself, in any capacity, is hard. Creating a career as an independent musician is hard. Starting a business that becomes a viable, profitable business is hard. There’s a reason most people choose to just get a job working for someone else. It’s a lot easier and in many ways, less stressful. It’s probably not as rewarding, for most people, but it’s definitely easier and less stressful, which is why the majority of people go this route.
But, since it is so hard for most people to get a business or project off the ground, it can be a huge advantage if you actually enjoy and believe in what you’re trying to do. If your passion is great enough, it can help you find the strength to keep going in the beginning, when times are tough and you feel like giving up. Doing what you love and are passionate about can be a huge advantage in terms of making money, if, and this is a huge if, there’s actually demand for what you’re selling or trying to do.
If there’s zero interest or demand in your music, widget, service, or whatever it is you’re trying to sell, no amount of passion is going to allow you to become successful. If, however, there’s some interest and you have a massive amount of passion, that could lead to making something that otherwise would have failed, or been mildly successful at best, becoming massively successful. Passion and love for what you’re doing, could be the tipping point that pushes you towards success, but there has to be interest in what you’re doing to begin with.
If you have no passion or interest in whatever it is you’re trying to do to make money, chances are you’ll probably just throw in the towel when the going gets tough. But if you really believe in what you’re doing, you’ll be much more motivated to stick with it and overcome the challenges that inevitably arise.
Do what you love and the money will follow? Yes, if what you love overlaps with something there is an actual demand for and you work really, really hard, overcoming the barrage of obstacles and setbacks that are sure to come your way.
So, go ahead, follow your bliss, just don’t expect life to always be blissful.
I’ve been posting a lot of content lately strictly related to licensing, so I thought I’d take a moment to write a blog post about a slightly broader topic that’s been on my mind lately. It’s not directly related to music licensing or the music business, per se, but it’s a mindset that’s applicable to anything you do in life, including, of course, making music and pursuing a career in music, if that’s your thing.
This is a concept that author and entrepreneur Seth Godin introduced me to, and it’s the idea that in business, and life in general, we have a tendency to take things personally when things don’t go our way. If our music or business venture fails, we feel like it’s somehow a reflection of our value. If the market rejects our ideas or music, we feel like they’re rejecting us, as people. We have a tendency to take our success or failure very personally.
Godin likens the process of starting a business or launching a new venture as being a bit like playing Monopoly. Only, instead of just playing with several people, it’s a game that we’re playing with several billion people. Every move anyone makes affects everyone else’s position on the board. But, like in the game of Monopoly, if you don’t land on Park Place, or you’re not the first one to buy up all the utilities, you shouldn’t really take it personally. After all, it’s just a game.
Of course, it’s easy to look at life and business this way when you’re sitting comfortably atop your multi-million dollar empire, as someone like Godin is. But, what about when you’re starting out, or when you’re still struggling to “make it” in your chosen profession?
Like the game of Monopoly, the game of life is a game you get to keep playing. If you lose at Monopoly today, you probably aren’t going to take it personally, throw the game away and refuse to every play again. Unless you’re like 4 years old. Maybe you got a few bad rolls of the dice and perhaps you made a few strategical errors. But, you still can play the game again tomorrow and you could still win again tomorrow.
The game of life is a lot like Monopoly. Just because you didn’t make the moves you wanted to make and haven’t arrived where you hoped you’d arrive, doesn’t mean the game is over. You get to play again, every single day you’re alive. Your past doesn’t define you and you can always make different moves today.
It’s not a perfect metaphor. After all, this is real life and our success or failure has real, tangible consequences. But, in a way, it’s a pretty accurate way of looking at the situation. Just look at the winners and losers in the music industry. It’s pretty clear that those who have “made it” commercially are not somehow inherently better people than those who haven’t. They might be better players, but even that isn’t necessarily true.
I think we can all agree that the Justin Biebers and Katy Perry’s of the world are just people who happen to have the right combination of looks, talent, hard work and timing. It’s a game and they got a lucky roll of the dice. That’s it. It doesn’t mean they’re better than you, or more talented than you, or even smarter than you. They just rolled the dice and landed on Park Place before you did.
Of course, like in all games, some people are more driven to win than others. Some players practice more and study the game better than others. Some players spend more time playing and get better than their opponents. Some players come to the realization that the game isn’t even worth playing and find a new game to play.
But the most important realization, regardless of whether you win or lose, continue to play or quit playing, is that, in the end, it’s just a game.
I just finished spending two weeks in the LA area for the licensing/production retreats I co-hosted with my producer, Gary Gray. It was an amazing two weeks. It was so great to meet so many people that I’ve worked with online and on Skype, in person.
In addition to meeting all the musicians who attended the retreats, I finally got to meet one of my “star students”, Eddie Grey. Eddie has taken several of my courses and has gone on to parlay the information I teach, as well as what Gary Gray teaches about music production, into a thriving career as a TV composer. I had a chance to go to Eddie’s home studio in Sherman Oaks and see what he does in action. It was really cool to see him working behind the scenes. He’s a super hard working guy who is crushing it right now with licensing and syncs. I’ll be bringing him back on my podcast soon to share what he’s up to.
In addition to the retreats I hosted, I also managed to record three new tracks with Gary, meet up with five different people in the industry who I previously connected with via my podcast and had a chance to meet several new music supervisors and publishers. It was a jam-packed two weeks of working, recording and networking.
I left LA with a renewed sense of focus both about the business aspects of what I do related to running my website, as well as a new sense of purpose and direction related to the music I make and license. I probably learned more about the music licensing business and music business in the last two weeks than I have in the previous two years. It was really that great of a trip.
As excited as I am about my trip and as excited as I am about the future, there were some slightly discouraging conclusions I came to about the music business as well during this trip. Some of these conclusions aren’t necessarily new, but were simply reaffirmed based on different things I was told and heard during my recent trip.
One of the great things about connecting with people in person is they tend to open up and give you a more unfiltered take on things. Although I was super inspired from most of the people I met and connected with, there were some people I met in the industry that were more than happy to share some of the darker sides of the music business with myself and Gary.
Most industries have a dark side and a certain element of corruption and politics if you dig deep enough, but the music industry, due I suppose to the nature and economics of the industry, has a particularly high degree of corruption, shady people and pitfalls to watch out for.
I won’t name names, but I spoke with a well connected and respected publisher who told Gary and I numerous horror stories about behind the scenes deals between supervisors, elements of payola in the licensing industry, stories of artists buying spotify streams and youtube views to artificially boost their popularity and on and on.
Of course, none of this is really that surprising to me, but it can be a bit depressing to hear about if it catches you off guard. Here we are, in this already incredibly difficult and competitive industry and then come to find out, it’s not even a fair or level playing field. WTF?! We pour our hearts, emotions and money into our music and yet there are people out there willing to take advantage of us if we’re not careful. Life can be so cruel.
But, then again, is it really surprising? I wasn’t born yesterday. I’ve been around the block a few times. I get that life isn’t always fair and that not everyone has our best interests in mind. This isn’t really news to me and I doubt it’s news to you either.
So, what do we do about it?
Well, here I go about to get all philosophical again….
There is a yin and yang to life. There is a bright side and a dark side. But, we get to choose where we shine our light and what we focus on. We get to choose where we direct our energy. We get to choose what direction we go in. We get to choose which doors we open and which doors we close. Don’t like what’s behind door #1? Turn around, close it and open another door.
It’s incredibly easy to be cynical about the music business right now. There are plenty of things to get down about. It’s incredibly competitive, it’s not fair, there are shady people, there are elements of corruption and on and on and on. If this is all you focused on, it would be very easy to quit making music out of frustration.
Sometimes I ask myself, why I am even working in the music business. That, by the way, is a really good question to ask yourself. When I see so many obstacles in front of me, I sometimes have to step back and remind myself why I’m doing this in the first place.
For me, the reason I make music is really, really simple. I. Love. Music. That’s it. That’s why I do this. I love it and I prefer to do things I love, as opposed to things I don’t love. It’s a simple life philosophy that makes decision making extraordinarily simple.
Of course, I don’t love everything about the music business and there are plenty of things about the music business not to love. But, back to the yin and yang idea, there are plenty of things I do love about the business. That’s where I choose to focus.
There were some depressing behind the scenes stories about the music business I heard over the past couple weeks. But there were even more inspiring and encouraging things I heard and experienced. I met and connected with so many writers, publishers and producers all excited about the industry. I connected with people more than willing and eager to share what they know and who wanted to help in any way they could.
For example, I emailed six recent guests on my podcast based in LA, before I came out, asking if we could meet up. Five of the six said yes. There was a schedule conflict with the other person.
I met great, talented people working in the industry willing to share their contacts and expertise and help in anyway they could. For example, I spent almost two hours with songwriter Jimmy Dunne (Whitney Houston, Kenny Rogers, Take 6) at his beach club cabana in Pacific Palasiedes. Throughout the conversation I could feel Jimmy trying to find ways he could help me. It was as if he was searching for information he could impart that would help me. I walked away with several great ideas based on the conversation we had and what he shared.
I stayed for free for two weeks at my producer Gary’s house. Gary drove me around LA from meeting to meeting and place to place. He never even asked for gas money!
I made friendships and connections I hope will last for years to come. I met an amazing singer and vocalist named Elza who gave me one of the best vocal lessons I’ve ever had, for free!
I could go on and on with stories like this.
The conclusion I came to and the point I’m trying to make is this: There are plenty of things about the music business to get down about if you want, but there are an equal amount (if not more) of great things about the music business and the people working in the music business to get excited and inspired about. Both are true, the good and bad things, but you get to decide which you focus on and where you shine your light.
I’m not sure about you, but I choose to shine my light on the bright side.
This past weekend my producer Gary and I finished the first of two weekend long retreats we’re hosting here in Tustin, CA. It was a long, but extremely rewarding weekend. We had a small group of just six people for this first one, but the small size of the group allowed us to spend a lot of one on one time with all of the participants and really dig in deep with everyone who attended the retreat.
During part of the retreat, the participants who attended collaborated on an original track they wrote on the spot and we ended up recording the song at the end of the first day of the retreat in Master Recording Studios, a multi-million dollar recording studio here in Tustin. We’re actually going to be shopping the track to a few different supervisors in the coming weeks and if we end up licensing it, everyone will get a cut!
My favorite part of the retreat though, was listening to music supervisor and current creative director for Songtrdr, Erin Dillion, do a real time music screening session, during which she screened three tracks from each of the participants. Erin informed us that for her job at Songtrdr she listens to, on average, 2,000 tracks a day! We were all a bit shocked by this number. I have heard of supervisors being sent up to 1,000 submissions a day, but wow, 2,000 tracks is intense!
Of course, Erin said, she doesn’t have to actually listen to all 2,000 tracks in their entirety, so she has become super efficient in determining very quickly whether or not she wants to keep listening to a track. She said the song has to grab her within the first 5 or 10 seconds, or she’s on to the next one. I know that might seem harsh, but that’s the reality of the industry. There’s a ton of music out there, it’s not all ready to be licensed, and so supervisors and executives like Erin have to cut to the chase very quickly simply due to time constraints.
During the listening sessions, it was great to see Erin’s reaction to everyone’s music. She really loved a few of the tracks, a few she was pretty neutral about, and a few others she was more critical of. One of the points she stressed is that she doesn’t really even know production lingo or how to articulate when things are off, production wise. She’s not a producer and if even if she was she wouldn’t have time to articulate to everyone why she doesn’t like their tracks or why she thinks they’re not right for licensing.
Erin’s job is more intuitive. She has a sort of sixth sense about music and what songs will work right for different projects. Her job is to find great music for the projects she’s working on, not to instruct people about how to write and record those songs. Not that she didn’t have great tips for everyone about what works and what doesn’t, but she made it clear that on a day to day basis she simply doesn’t have the time to get into why songs don’t’ work.
Here's an example of a song that Erin heard during the retreated and loved immediately and thought would work great for licensing. This one is called “Who Can Mend A Broken Heart” by Travis Nilan.
Here’s another one that visibly moved Erin, that she also loved and thought would work in the context of licensing. This one is an instrumental guitar track from Paul Armendariz called “Sparkle Hour”. Erin had an immediate, positive reaction to this one!
One of my biggest takeaways from the weekend is that in order to succeed in licensing you need to do your own research. You need to attend industry events, meet people, study the market and of course write great songs. When you’re on the outside looking in, it can be frustrating if you’re not getting the success you’re seeking. But when you learn how the business works, by listening to and meeting the people working within the music business, it all starts to make sense. When you realize the sheer amount of music industry insiders are listening to and screening on a daily basis, all the rejection and frustration musicians go through is seen in the proper context. A healthy dose of perspective goes a long way.
During the retreat, Erin shared with us a great tip about how to break through the noise and reach people like her in the business. This particular tidbit of information was a huge aha moment for me. What is it? Well, I can’t tell you…. exactly. That wouldn’t really be fair to the people who paid good money to come to our retreat and took the time and effort to be there. But what I can tell you, and this is really the gist of her message, is that you need to think outside the box. The majority of writers trying to break into the business are all doing more or less the same thing; sending more or less the same un-inspired emails, writing the same homogenized songs and trying to market them more or less the same way.
Erin said at the end of the retreat that now that we know her and have made a personal connection with her that now we can email her directly and she’ll check out our music. The more face to face networking you do, the more you’ll develop connections with peole that will be open and willing to listen to music you send them. More importantly, they’ll also tend to be willing to give you valuable feedback, that you most likely wouldn’t get if there wasn’t a personal connection.
My trips to LA and experience hosting this retreat this past weekend have reaffirmed what I’ve known all along, which is that networking and making personal connections is vital in this industry. There are a ton of musicians vying for a finite amount of licensing opportunities. But, there is a much smaller pool of musicians who are going above and beyond and putting in the real work, in terms of networking, cultivating relationships and so forth.
There are two ways to approach this business: you can be half in, or all in. Which approach best describes you?
The last few days have been a blur of answering emails, screening and pitching music to various projects, editing podcasts, making youtube videos and getting ready for the two upcoming retreats I’m co-hosting next month in California. This morning I was starting to feel a little burned out from all the work I’m doing so I decided to take a break and have a little impromptu songwriting session.
I write music on a regular basis, but from time to time I just stop whatever I’m doing and have a mid-morning or mid-day songwriting session. I have the luxury of doing that since I work for myself and without fail it leaves me feeling rejuvenated and recharged, ready to face the rest of the day with more clarity and purpose.
I like to think of songwriting as going to a place, that I can go to almost anytime I want, that’s removed from the world of capitalism, paying bills, work and all the stress that goes along with day to day life in 2017. For me, it feels a bit like accessing a meditative space where, when things are going well, I get totally absorbed in what I’m doing to the point that I completely forget about any “problems” or issues I’m dealing with, for a while at least. Sometimes it only lasts a few minutes. Other times it lasts a few hours. But the deeper I go, the better songs I’m able to extract, harness and channel.
One of the more refreshing take-aways I’ve gotten this year from hosting my podcast is the idea that at a certain point, you need to forget about all the rules and ideas you have for what you think makes a marketable song, and just write music from the heart. This has been the consensus of the vast majority of songwriters, publishers and supervisors I’ve interviewed. This isn’t to say that you can’t try to write something you think might be more marketable and have some success with it. If you throw enough crap against the wall, I’m sure a certain percentage of it will stick.
One of the things that concerns me about the current state of the music business, is that since it’s become harder to monetize music, musicians more than ever, seemed to be more concerned with figuring out how to make money from their music. I get it. We all have bills to pay and need to figure out how to get compensated for the work we do. My goal with my website, podcast and so on, is to help you figure out how to do that.
But… I think it’s important that, as artists, we strive to keep focused on the deeper reason we make art and music in the first place. There are easier ways to survive than making music. If the only way we can make money from music is to reduce it to a sort of commodity and product that we have to force into a narrowly defined, pre-conceived set of parameters that’s been defined by some executive at a corporation or a “suit” at a TV network, I fail to see how that’s much different than any other job in “corporate” America.
However, I don’t think it has to be this way. The light at the end of the tunnel, is that I think great songs still have a place and there’s a still a demand for inspiring and moving music. Even if it’s in the context of an ad campaign or a corporate backed TV show. I truly believe there’s a point where great music and corporate interests intersect. Your job as a songwriter and composer, is to write great music that you actually believe in, and then look for places where your music is needed.
If you reverse this, and simply try to write music you think will make money, then I fail to see how this is different than any other “job”. In fact, I think in many ways it’s actually worse, in the sense that you’re taking something that you’re presumably passionate about and forcing it into something you think the market will have a demand for, a much more difficult task than simply getting a "day job".
Something I heard the other day, and I’m drawing a blank on where I heard it, is that great art doesn’t follow culture, great art creates culture. Do you think Dylan or The Beatles would have worried about whether their songs worked in the context of a car commercial or a soap commercial? Do you think Hendrix gave a shit about whether his guitar solos were “in fashion”? Well, I can’t speak for these artists, but I’m pretty confident that in all cases there was something more “pure” happening than simply trying to make a few bucks from their little “ditties”.
Now, I get it. We live in different times. For better and worse. The music business has changed dramatically since the days of The Beatles, Hendrix, etc. Despite the tone of this article, I’m actually quite optimistic about the future of the music business. I think things are getting better and I think they will continue to improve. However, in the meantime, the challenge we face as artists is to stay true to our muse and not lose sight of what making music is really all about. Which, in my opinion, is about a lot more than simply trying to help advertisers sell cars or help tv shows sell advertising space.
When I’m deep in one of my songwriting sessions, the last thing I’m thinking about is trying to make money or figure out what tv show my music might fit into. I’m just writing music that I feel inspired to write and I’m writing about things I’m inspired to write about. Then, after I’ve written a song, then and only then, do I worry or think about where to try and sell it or license it.
To be honest, I’ve licensed music of mine that I think sucks and I’ve licensed music that I love and I’m super passionate about. I’m a lot more proud of the latter.
Originally I had planned on calling this blog post, "reconciling the conflict of art and commerce". But the more I dug into the topic and really thought about balancing these two, seemingly contradictory ends of the spectrum (art - commerce) of being a professional musician, the more I realized there was something more profound and meaningful, albeit slightly more subtle, to discuss.
I realized, upon closer investigation, that these two different aspects of being a musician aren't so much diametrically opposed as they are intricately connected. They're connected in the same way that night is connected to day, good to evil, up to down and so on. I like to think of art and commerce as being the yin and yang of the music business. For better or worse, they depend on each other. Without an audience, music doesn't have nearly as much impact and without getting paid, musicians have a hard time eating. Hence, the existence of the music business.
In The Beginning...
Let's start with what I'm assuming is the primary reason the vast majority of us were drawn to being a musician in the first place: making music. Whether your passion is performing live or sitting in your bedroom and getting into that blissed out zone where great songs emanate from, I think it's safe to say that the vast majority of professional musicians are drawn to the music business out of a deep love and passion for making music. Makes sense right? If you love doing something, a logical extension of that is to try and make a life out of it. It's not necessarily the easiest life plan to execute, but it's a hell of a lot more inspiring and motivating than trying to make a life out of something you have no interest in doing.
Most musicians probably start with pretty pure intentions and a sincere desire to create something unique and beautiful to contribute to the world. Sure, there's most likely a healthy dose of some level of desiring to acquire fame and fortune in the mix for a lot of musicians. But the vast majority of musicians I meet and interact with seem to have a true passion and love for making music. I think we all desire success on a certain level, but most musicians don't stay in the game very long if they don't truly love music and making music first and foremost.
However, as anyone who has been a musician for more than a minute can attest to, the music business, isn't always a bed of roses. Making a business out of music is a much, much different experience than just playing music for fun in your spare time. Turning your love of making music into a viable career path is a journey that can be so challenging and so treacherous that it can potentially undermine and destroy your love and passion for making music. I've seen musicians go from having an absolute, unabashed love and joy for making music to simply not wanting anything to do with it, in the span of just a few short years, as a result of the music industry's cutthroat and heartless nature.
And even if you are one of the few who do succeed at "making it" in the music business, well that's no guarantee that your life is going to be a happy, care free and joyous life anyway. One needs to look no further than the recent suicides of Chester Bennington and Chris Cornell, or the long line of musicians throughout history who have died tragically young due to substance abuse and mental health issues (Amy Winehouse, Janis Joplin, Elvis, Prince, Michael Jackson, Hendrix, etc) to see that it's pretty clear that "making it" in the music business doesn't automatically equate to a happy or "successful" life. Obviously correlation is not causation, and there are, I'm sure, many happy and well adjusted musicians, successful and otherwise. But from the outside looking in, it doesn't really seem like success in the music business, in and of itself, is a very dependable way to attain happiness.
The more I think about and break down the distinction between the art and commerce aspects of the music business, the more I realize that the music business is simply a microcosm of life. At the risk of getting a little too philosophical, life is both tragic and beautiful, simple and profound, sad and happy, up and down and [insert your own cliche pair of opposites here], regardless of what profession you choose. No life path is a guarantee for happiness. I've met absolutely miserable people who are obnoxiously wealthy and ultra successful by societal standards, and I've met entirely happy and content people living in third world countries who make less than ten dollars a day, and vice versa.
The music business just seems to magnify aspects of humanity that are prevalent in all our lives. At its worst, the music business is comprised of greedy, egotistical, maniacal and power hungry executives (and in some cases musicians) who will stop at nothing to increase their bottom line and further their power and dominance without regard to things like artistic merit, integrity and talent.
Conversely, there are tons of musicians out there who want nothing more than to simply make beautiful music, share it with the world, and hopefully earn enough to lead a comfortable, sustainable life at the same time. The music business isn't one or the other, it's both. Just like life, it's not really possible to reduce it to some sort of easily quantifiable box or category or thing.
Achieving Balance - The Zen Of Being A Musician
On an individual level, as musicians, the "zen" part of being a musician is about maintaining balance and having a healthy perspective. You need to have thick skin to deal with the inevitable ups and downs that come with the path of being a musician. The music business is hard for a variety of reasons, many of which I've addressed on this blog and in my newsletter ad nauseam over the years. Without going into the obvious reasons why the music business is so challenging, let's just say it isn't for the faint of heart.
What's allowed me to forge ahead after all these years and still deeply enjoy music and to a certain extent, the music business, is the realization that "making it", at least as traditionally defined, isn't really the goal to begin with. What you talking about Aaron?! You're sounding crazy! How could that not be "the" goal??
Think about it, it's pretty clear that making it in the music business doesn't automatically lead to a happier and more fulfilling life (see above). I mean, I'm sure there are plenty of examples where it has, but there are clearly an abundance of examples where it hasn't. So, I'm not overly concerned with stressing myself out about reaching some sort of arbitrary goal of "making it" in the music business that would seem to, at best, give me about a 50/50 chance of happiness and fulfillment, and could actually reduce my life expectancy by as much as 25 years.
But, then again, sitting around and wasting your days away doing nothing or doing things you don't care about isn't exactly a great recipe for a fulfilling life either. At least not for me. For me, the sweet spot is in the middle, where you're actively engaged in life and pursuing things that are important and meaningful to you (like music), but you're not so attached to the outcome that you hinge your happiness on achieving or not achieving certain goals. Even goals related to your music career.
It's sort of like when you want to be with someone, romantically, so much that you scare them away. If you cling to hard, you risk squeezing the life, and fun, out of the relationship. It's the same with music. If you take it too seriously, it's all too easy to turn your music career into something that's just another, run of the mill, stress provoking attempt to make money.
I think Gandhi summed up this idea well, when he said “Whatever you do will be insignificant, but it is very important that you do it.” When I think about this quote as it relates to being a musician, it really helps put things in perspective. It means, to me at least, that in the grand scheme of things it probably doesn't matter whether you or I or anyone else make it in the music business, but it's important that we try. It's important that we're engaged with and enjoying our lives and contributing to humanity to the best of our ability. But don't take any particular goal or endeavor so seriously that you squeeze the life and joy out of it.
I know, I know, it's a bit of a paradox. "You should pursue your goals but not care if you achieve them? Is that what you're telling me Aaron?" Well, not exactly. A better way of saying it is you should pursue your goals as passionately and joyfully as possible but don't let your emotional well being depend on any particular outcome. I know, it's deep, but I didn't call this post "Zen And The Art Of Being A Musician" for nothing!
Think of it this way...
True freedom is pursuing and doing that which we love, but being comfortable enough to let the chips fall where they may, because ultimately they're going to anyway, whether you like it or not.
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?
The blog of musician and thinker of deep thoughts, Aaron Davison.