I recently listened to an interview with guitarist Steve Vai where he talked about the ups and downs of his career. From playing with Frank Zappa to artists like David Lee Roth and Whitesnake, to his massively successful solo career in the 80s and then surviving the 90s and early 2000s where virtuosic guitar playing wasn’t considered as trendy or “cool” as it once was, Steve Vai simply kept being Steve Vai through it all.
One of the things Steve said during the interview that really stuck with me is how, throughout all the ups and downs of his career and throughout the changing trends in the music industry, he just kept making the sort of music he was inspired to make. He didn’t try to become a grunge artist just because grunge was popular in the 90s and he didn’t try to become a pop star in the 2000s when pop music became trendier. Steve Vai just kept making Steve Vai music through it all.
And although most of us probably aren’t at the level Steve Vai is in the music business in terms of fame and success, I think his philosophy really applies to all musicians, regardless of what level you’re at. If you think about it, all you can really control as a musician is the music you make. That’s really it. You can’t make someone like it or stream it or license it. You can of course do things to increase the odds of these things happening in terms of promotion. But all you’re really in control of ultimately is your musical output. And if making music is all you can really control, doesn’t it make sense to make music you’re actually excited and passionate about?
I recently found out that one of my songs was “almost used” in a major Netflix production. A sync agency I recently signed with informed me that one of my tracks was being held for consideration for an upcoming Netflix movie but that it didn’t end up making it into the final edits. They asked me to send them more tracks and said they feel confident they will be able to place my tracks, but that it’s a matter of finding the “right opportunity at the right time”. Such is the nature of sync licensing.
I don’t normally brag about my music almost being used in a project, but it’s relevant to the point of today’s post, so hear me out… You see, at first, I was a little bummed out about the news of my song not being used, but the more I thought about it the more inspired I got. There are always several different ways of looking at any particular situation. I could get discouraged about the fact that my song got so close to being used but that ultimately it wasn’t picked and use this as further evidence that success in the music business is unattainable. Or I can choose to be motivated by the fact that my music was considered high quality enough to be considered by the film’s music supervisor in the first place and use that motivation to keep going and continue making even better music that will eventually find its way into even bigger productions.
The choice is always up to you in terms of how you respond to these types of situations. You can choose to get down about your perceived lack of success, or you can celebrate every victory and step forward no matter how small it might be. But either way you go, all you can really do if you want to move forward, is keep making more music. That’s it. That is your number one job as a musician. Make music. Of course, keep pitching your music and connecting with people in the business to increase the odds of your music connecting with the right project, but ultimately it’s about the music you make.
One of the things that’s strange about the business of sync licensing, is that often we have no idea as musicians pursuing sync licensing deals how close we are to attaining success. The only reason I found out about the Netflix production was that this particular Sync agency requested more music and so I asked them if there had been any specific interest in my tracks. They told me there were several close calls and gave me specific details about the Netflix project.
If you have your music placed with different libraries and agencies you could be getting really close to having the sort of breakthrough you’re hoping for, but not even know it! Of course, it’s helpful to find out details about projects and when you find out specific details it can be encouraging, even if your music isn’t ultimately used. But you can’t count on finding these details out. You have to stay motivated and keep making music regardless of what happens. I’m sure there have been many, many more “close calls” over the years that I never knew about.
Fortunately, I’ve never stopped making music and so I have new tracks that I feel are even stronger than the track that “almost” made it into the Netflix film. I’m so glad that I’ve kept going all these years, because I know that getting my tracks into even bigger, higher profile projects will happen eventually. But until that happens, I’m going to keep focusing on the only thing I can really control, which is simply making the best music possible.
Hear my track that was "almost" licensed to Netflix, The Road I Travel, here: