I recently connected with a girl who was a fairly well-known pop artist in the UK, for a minute, about 10 years ago or so. She had a top 30 hit in the UK in the early 2010s and was on the verge of becoming pretty well known. I’m not going to reveal her identity because I’m just getting to know her and I’m not sure if she’d be comfortable with me telling her story publicly. But for the sake of this story, I’m going to refer to her as Mary, although that isn’t her real name.
Mary and I met on, of all places, a dating app. Bumble to be precise. Our first “date” turned into basically a four-hour long conversation about music and the music business, with a few other topics sprinkled in. Mary reached out to me because she saw that I was a musician and since she is also a musician and vocalist, she thought it would be interesting to meet.
Mary was signed to a major label in the UK somewhere around 2013 or so. I don’t remember the exact year. As a result of her record deal, she had a pretty big hit in the UK that shot all the way up to the top 30 on the UK pop charts. She toured and opened for some very well-known acts around this time and was on her way to becoming a bona fide star. Long story short, for details I won’t go into, she ended up getting dropped from her label and her career came to a halt.
Fast forward a couple years later and she got signed to yet another major label. This deal didn’t go as far, and her subsequent album was never released. I’m sure you’ve all heard stories about how common it used to be to get signed to a major label back in the day, but never actually have an album come out. This was one of those types of stories. She got signed, but due to executive turnover at the label and changing trends in the music business, her album that was going to be released as a part of this new record deal simply never came out.
The one thing that struck me about Mary is how unfazed she seemed by all of this. She told me she was never sure if she actually even wanted to be a “star” in the first place. She said the process of pursuing her dreams was more exciting to her than actually realizing them and that the further she got in the music business and the closer to real success she got, the more she realized it wasn’t something she was really even that interested in. She said she liked the idea of being successful in the music business more than actually being successful in the music industry.
Mary went on to form a successful businesses and achieve success in another, completely unrelated industry. Then, about a year ago, due to her connections in the music industry she was approached to sing background vocals on a major artist’s new release. Again, I don’t want to say who exactly, since this would make it all too easy to look up who this person is, but let’s just say it’s a band that everyone reading this will be familiar with. A hugely successful band that has been around since the 80s and is still going strong.
Mary ended up singing background vocals on multiple tracks on their latest album and was even asked to go on tour with them. She declined, because she told me, she didn’t like the clothing she was asked to wear and that she didn’t really want to go on the road. She again just seemed very nonchalant about the whole thing. She said it was a cool experience to get to sing on their record but didn’t really want to commit to a major, extensive worldwide tour and would rather be based in one place. So she politely declined and that was that.
Why am I telling you all of this? What’s the point?
Well, for me it was a really interesting conversation, because as someone who writes at length about how to become more successful in the music industry, albeit in a different facet of the music business, and as someone who, in my own way, has been pursuing success in the music industry for multiple decades, it’s oddly refreshing to talk to people who have actually tasted success in the music business, real success, and come back to report it’s not all it’s cracked up to be.
Granted, this is just one person’s experience, but I’ve talked to other people, who have reached similar levels of success, who have a similar perspective. Several years ago I interviewed Sublime’s former saxophone player, who toured with “Sublime With Rome” for over a year, but ultimately decided it wasn’t a good fit for his lifestyle and returned to his medical practice and family life.
The interesting thing about Mary is that she’s still writing and pursuing music. She hasn’t given up on music per se, she’s just not particularly interested in becoming famous or becoming a “star”. She was really interested in learning about music licensing and publishing, and we even talked about the possibility of getting a band together. Whether or not that will happen, it’s too soon to say and to be honest our styles are quite different, but who knows, I like to think meetings like this happen for a reason.
But the main takeaway I had from our conversation is an idea that I’ve alluded to in a variety of different ways over the years, which is to simply write and record and perform music, whatever your thing is, for the sheer love of it. Let your love for music be your driving force and just see where it takes you. Maybe you’ll become a huge star and you’ll love the lifestyle. Maybe you’ll get close to major success, like Mary, and find out it’s not for you. Maybe you’ll pursue success in the music industry for years and it never happens for you, but you’ll have an amazing journey filled with great memories and experiences.
Who knows how our individual paths will unfold. The music business is filled with unexpected twists and turns. But no matter what happens, whether success and fame come or not, the one thing you’ll always have, the one thing no one can take from you, is your music and your love of making music.