I was talking to a client a few weeks ago, who was trying to figure out how to make more money from his music via licensing his tracks in tv, films, etc. This particular client informed me that he had made about $2,000.00 from ten of his tracks over the last five years or so. The problem though, was that these particular tracks were signed exclusively to a publisher and for many years he couldn’t get the rights to these tracks back.
He hired an attorney and spent several years fighting to get out of the contract he had signed. Eventually, after what I can only imagine was quite a bit of money, time and frustration, the publisher representing these tracks agreed to give him the ability to sign these tracks to other companies and license them elsewhere. In the end, he was able to make a little extra money with these ten tracks, but he still wasn’t thrilled with his results.
This particular client came to me, mainly looking for advice on how to improve his success in music licensing and figure out how to make more money with his music.
One of the things I love about working with clients like this, is that I often have epiphanies and realizations as a result of listening to someone else express their challenges and frustrations. I’m sometimes able to express ideas in new ways, that lead to greater clarity for both myself and my clients. I often have “aha” moments that help both myself and my clients better understand this crazy business of ours.
With this particular client, I had a realization that I guess you could say was a twist on something I’ve known for quite some time but had never quite been able to articulate as succinctly as I did with this particular client, during this particular coaching session.
What was the realization?
Well, to put it very simply, your musical output will determine your income. In other words, the more tracks you create, the more money you’ll make. Pretty obvious right? It should be, but I think a lot of us have blind spots and get stuck on our musical journey, getting bogged down in worrying about things like getting out of bad deals we’ve signed, worrying about our rights and how to best monetize our individual tracks.
And these are all valid concerns. We should think about these things, at least to a point. We should be careful about signing bad deals and not getting locked into deals we can’t get out of. I’m sure we’ve all probably signed a few contracts along the way that we wish we hadn’t. I know I have. If you’ve been in the licensing game long enough, you’re going to learn along the way, and sometimes we have to learn the hard way, by making mistakes, or by making what seem like mistakes in retrospect.
With this particular client I was talking to though, he had spent a lot of money and time trying to undo a deal he had signed. He got sort of stuck on trying to undo this deal he had signed an in his mind, right a wrong. These tracks were his and he wanted them back. In my estimation though, his energy and effort would have been much better spent had he focused it elsewhere, on more productive things, like writing and creating new music for example and developing new contacts in the business and generating new revenue streams with his music. It's better to look forward, than look behind.
I broke it down for this particular client, like this:
If you’re able to make $2,000.00 from ten tracks, (which isn’t a bad return in the grand scheme of things) what if you had a catalog of 100 tracks? Assuming the same rate of return, you’d make about $20,000.00.
Now extrapolate that even further. What if you had 500 tracks earning the same amount of money? This would net you $100,000. What if you had 1,000 tracks that brought in the same amount of money per tracks? This would earn you about $200,000.00 and so on.
I think you can see where I’m going with this. To a large extent, our income in the music business, and in particular for things like music licensing and music streaming, will be determined by how many tracks we have in our catalog.
Now of course, there are a lot of other variables. The size of your catalog isn’t the only determining factor in licensing. There are other things, like the tracks themselves, how “license-able” and accessible they are, the connections you make and so on. There are a lot of different factors that will contribute to your success.
But, the size of your catalog and how many tracks you have available to be licensed is a key factor. One of the things you should be focusing on, at all times, is creating more music, so you have more music to license into more opportunities. It’s also one of the few things in this business, YOU have complete control over.
A few years ago, on my podcast, I interviewed a musician who made a full time living, based solely on this realization alone. His name is Matt Farley and his entire strategy is to make a ridiculous amount of music based around every imaginable, silly theme and idea he can think of. He has songs about poop, pee, UFOs, singing random people’s names over and over, writing songs about specific cities based on Wikipedia posts and much more. Thousands and thousands of tracks. His focus is more on making from streaming on platforms like Youtube and Spotify, as opposed to licensing. He doesn’t make much per track, but he makes so much music that, when I interviewed him in 2016 he was averaging about 2k a month in revenue.
That was a couple years ago.
I googled him to see what he’s been up to since and discovered he’s up to about 19,000 tracks and records under 17 different aliases, such as:
He’s also up to making about 65k a year from his massive catalog of almost 20,000 tracks, according to this article in INC magazine:
Matt is an extreme example, and it’s debatable whether or not much of his music would be considered great works of “art”. But, he’s paying his bills with music alone. Are you?
If you’re trying to make more money from your music, a great thought experiment is to simply look at how much money you’re making per year from your music, divided by the number of tracks in your catalog. This way, you can get a per song average of what your tracks earn. Then just extrapolate out.
So, for example, if you made $1,000.00 from your tracks last year and you have ten songs in you catalog, each song is earning on average about 100 dollars. Want to increase your income to $10,000? You’d need 100 songs, based on this rate of return. To get to $100,000.00, you’d need 1,000 tracks. Like I said, there are obviously other factors, but one of the easiest and most straightforward ways to grow your revenue from your music, is to simply make more of it.
This was the exact epiphany that Matt Farley had. He noticed one of his tracks earned almost 74 cents on Spotify, so he thought to himself, that’s not a lot of money, but what if I had thousands of tracks each earning tiny amounts of money. Eventually it would add up.
Of course, in something like licensing, there’s the potential to earn much more than 74 cents per track. I’ve made as much as 5k per placement and there are placements that earn much more than that. The problem though, with focusing on how much you earn per particular placement, is that you don’t entirely control when and where your tracks are used. You can influence this by more actively pitching your tracks, making new connections and so forth. But you can’t directly control it.
What you can control is the music you make. How much of it you make. What you make music about. Where you make it available and so on.
To a very large extent, your musical output = your income.
I’ll never quit music. Ever. This is a path I’m on for life. My entire life. I’m firmly committed to the path, for better or worse, in sickness and health. My commitment gives me a sense of clarity and calm. It also give me a sense of direction. I have my life purpose figured out, or at least one of them. Whereas many people struggle their whole lives to “figure themselves out” and “find their calling” and discover their purpose, I got that shit all figured out.
However, it hasn’t always been easy. It’s still not easy. Figuring out my life purpose hasn’t translated to a life of ease and leisure. To the contrary, I sometimes feel like figuring out my life purpose has brought with it an enormous weight and an added sense of stress and responsibility. After all, now that I know what my purpose is, I feel an obligation and pressure to pursue it, to make progress towards my goals, to not rest on my laurels and to keep advancing. This extra pressure is, in my view, a net positive. There is extra work and stress involved, but it’s worth it in the end, because of the meaning and depth music provide. I could just skip all the work and effort and not be bothered with any of it, but I would be missing out on something that also brings with it an enormous sense of reward and satisfaction.
But, there is a clear price to pay for being a professional musician and a career in music is filled with challenges, obstacles and typically, many setbacks along the way. If you’re pursuing a career in music or are thinking about going into the music industry, I don’t think this reality should be glossed over. I’ve seen multiple studies that show that musicians, on average, have much higher rates of things like depression, anxiety and substance abuse than the general population. I even saw a recent study of over 12,000 musicians that concluded that professional musicians, on average, die a full 25 years year younger than the rest of the population. That’s a significant difference and this reality of the music business shouldn’t be ignored.
Ok, so being a musician is hard, or at least it can be. Now what? Why on earth would anyone go into a business that’s fraught with so many challenges? Is there a way to mitigate the risks involved with pursuing a career in music? Well, that’s what this article is going to explore.
So, let’s get to it…
Let’s start with talking about the upside of being a musician and why a career in music is, at least potentially, so rewarding. First of all though, let me preface all of this by stating that what works for me, might not work for you, and vice versa. We all have different things that drive us and motivate us. Some people are quite content and happy to lead very simple, somewhat mundane and conventional lives. Nothing wrong that. Who am I or anyone else to tell you or anyone how to live? We all get to figure out what works for ourselves and ultimately, we’re the ones most qualified to decide how we live our lives. After all, no one knows you better than you. With that said, if you’re also drawn to making music and share that passion with me, it’s probably safe to assume we’re at least somewhat alike.
So, why pursue something that is so difficult and risky? Well, doing something that is difficult isn’t necessarily a bad thing. In fact, I would suggest that what plagues many people living in modern, western society, isn’t that their lives are too difficult, it’s that they’re too boring and lack meaning and depth. Many people spend their time, or much of it, doing things they don’t find inherently meaningful or interesting, but that they feel they have to do in order to survive. A life spent simply working to pay bills, with occasional periods of relaxation mixed in, probably isn’t that fulfilling for most people. As Thoreau said, “most men live lives of quiet desperation”.
Maslow’s Hierarchy Of Needs
Abraham Maslow, the American psychologist who came up with the idea of the “hierarchy of needs”, aka Maslow’s Hierarchy Of Needs, observed that “the healthiest and most motivated among us, are those that are motivated by trends of self-actualization”. This was Maslow’s conclusion after decades of studying the psychology of those who excelled in life, in a variety of fields. Notice that he didn’t say anything about money or one’s net worth in relation to their well-being, although I’m sure many of the people he studied did quite well financially.
Maslow defined self-actualization as “an ongoing actualization of potentials, capacities and talents, as fulfillment of a mission”. Does this sound like something that could apply to musicians? Way before I had ever even heard of Abraham Maslow or his theories and research, it was self-evident to me that this was true. From a very young age, I sensed a deep sense of satisfaction from the process of struggling to get better at the guitar, putting in hours of practice and eventually progressing to higher and higher levels. It just seemed obvious to me that this process was somehow connected to my happiness and sense of fulfillment in life. By directing my energy towards something concrete and tangible, like progressing as a guitarist and musician, I grew as a person, which brought a deep sense of fulfillment and helped shaped my identity and path in life.
Maslow was so convinced of the importance of self-actualization in life, that he boldly stated, “If you plan on being anything less than you are capable of being, you will probably be unhappy all the days of your life”. This idea resonates deeply within me. When I go through periods where, for whatever reason, I’m not working on and progressing with music, I feel a gnawing sense of dissatisfaction and restlessness, that becomes more pronounced over time. It’s a feeling that grows and grows, until eventually, I’m motivated to pick up my guitar and get back to the process of exploring new song ideas, finishing existing songs, writing new music, and so on. I can’t go too long without returning to my love of writing songs and playing the guitar.
Reconciling Art & Commerce
So, if pursuing a craft like music can be so deeply satisfying, why does pursuing a career in music often times feel so frustrating and uninspiring? Well, this is a big question, and there are a lot of variables. But let me try to unpack this conflict by sharing a few things I’ve learned on my journey.
I think the biggest and most obvious conflict is that learning to play music, learning to write songs and so on, and progressing in these endeavors, is very different than learning to make money from music and learning to excel in the business of music. They are obviously related. You need a certain amount of talent to make money from performing and writing music. But getting good at an instrument or getting good at songwriting, is not the same as getting good at marketing and monetizing your music. They are completely different skill-sets.
So, one way of reconciling this conflict is simply seeing this dichotomy for what it is. If you’re struggling to make it in the music business, don’t allow this to take away the joy you get from craft of writing and/or performing music. Realize that your lack of success in the music business might not have anything to do with your lack of success as a musician and the talent you possess. This should be rather obvious, but it can be easy to forget. You might be an amazing musician whose time simply hasn’t come. You might be doing everything right but for whatever reason things just haven’t lined up for you. There are countless examples of this having happened in the music business. I’m sure you probably know plenty of musicians that fit this description yourself, right now.
This is why I think the most important barometer for success should really be your own internal sense of whether or not you’re getting better as a vocalist, guitarists, songwriter, etc. Are you getting better at your craft? Are you writing better songs today than you were a year or two years ago? Self-actualization involves realizing your full potential. How much money you make may or may not be connected to that. For many it will be, especially if you go far enough and excel enough. But it shouldn’t be the primary thing you focus on, especially when you’re first starting out. After all, I’m sure we all know plenty of well-off people, financially, who are far from self-actualized. Financial well-being and self-actualization don’t necessarily go hand in hand.
One way a lot of musicians come to terms with this reality of the music business is by simply not going into the music business. It’s hard to fail at something you’re not really even trying to be successful at doing. There are plenty of musicians who are actively performing and writing music who aren’t really trying to “make it” in the music business. Yet, they still get a deep sense of satisfaction from playing music on a regular basis. Maybe they have a completely different career or day job, but yet music remains an important and consistent part of their lives. This is one way to deal with the conflict, and for those that are happy and content to approach music this way, I think it’s completely valid.
But what if, like me, you do want to make a career out of playing and writing music? How can you focus on the benefits of reaching your full potential as a musician without letting the struggle and the grind weigh you down? Is there a way to reconcile the conflict between and art and commerce?
Well, no two paths are alike, but my general suggestion, if you do want to make a living out of music, is to keep your day job and consistently chip away at creating revenue streams from your music until they reach a point that allow you to sustain yourself. Then, make the leap to doing music full time and devote even more energy to it and keep building the revenue streams you’ve created.
This will obviously take a sustained effort to achieve, but the good news is that in many ways this is becoming more and more possible and easier to attain. I think that in the near future we’ll see a rise of more and more indie musicians who are able to make a respectable living from their music. I really believe that. In many ways, it’s already started. I might be a little biased, because I work in the music industry, but I’m meeting more and more musicians who have figured out how to create a career out of writing and performing music. Most of them you’ve probably never even heard of, but they’re quietly building sustainable and growing careers in the music business, doing what they love.
To me, this is the ideal scenario for musicians and is really the best of both worlds. It’s what I feel most musicians are shooting for; the ability to make a living doing what they love. When you can combine the benefits of self-actualization and striving for and reaching your potential as an artist and musician, and also figure out how to make enough money to sustain yourself, well, it doesn’t get much better than that, now does it?
Yesterday I interviewed Swedish based “Chillstep” artist Christoffer Hylander, aka “Killigrew” for my podcast, about how he’s been able to generate over 20 million streams on Spotify and has created an income stream from streaming alone that he’s able to live off of.
If you haven’t checked out that podcast yet, you can do so here: https://musicmoneyandlife.podbean.com/e/how-one-artist-generated-20-million-streams-on-spotify-and-makes-a-full-time-living-from-his-music/
In the beginning of the podcast, Christoffer said that his success on Spotify basically was a result of good timing and luck. He said that he wasn’t actively trying to get on Spotify playlists, but that a curator that runs a gigantic playlist just happened to discover his music and featured Christoffer’s musical project, “Killigrew” on his playlist and as a result, Killigrew’s music blew up, and to date has had over 20 million streams on Spotify. Christoffer has been living off the royalties he makes on Spotify alone, for over four years now, in Sweden.
Christoffer’s story is great, but I was a little disappointed at first, to learn that Christoffer basically concluded his success just boiled down to luck. That’s the way he described it at least. I wasn’t disappointed because I don’t like it when people are lucky and have good things happen to them, for no apparent reason. I love stories like that. It’s just that, from the standpoint of my podcast and website, I’m always looking for the takeaway. I’m looking for specific tactics and techniques that can be replicated by other artists, myself included. I want to know what the lesson is in each success story I hear so that we can applies these lessons to our own lives and careers. I almost always find at least one nugget of wisdom in each interview I do. There’s almost always something to learn from everyone I talk to. Sometimes I have to keep digging though before I strike gold.
As Christoffer and I kept talking, he eluded to his being lucky several times. I continued to question him about his success and what led up to it though, determined to find some practical advice and ideas that would apply to all musicians. Although I appreciate Christoffer’s humility about his success, I eventually found, as I suspected I would, three key things Christoffer did that led to his Spotify success.
Here they are…
Big Fish In A Small Pond – What’s Your Niche?
Christoffer told me that one of the keys to his success,was being one of the first “Chillstep” artists. Full disclosure: I knew more or less nothing about “Chillstep” until connecting with Christoffer. Christoffer discovered this genre in its infancy and according to Christoffer, he was one of the first dozen or so artists making this genre of music early on.
We might not all be in a position to be pioneers in a new genre of music, but the takeaway for me here is that it’s much easier to stand out when you’re a “big fish in a small pond’. If you’re making a style of music that there is a ton of, it doesn’t mean you won’t succeed, but you’re going to have much more noise to cut through. If you’re doing music that is more niche oriented, you’re going to have less competition and a greater chance of succeeding. What’s unique and truly original about your music? Is there an abundance of very similar music? These are important questions to ask yourself if you’re trying to promote your music on platforms like Spotify.
This is the part of Christoffer’s story that was really an “aha” moment for me. Although Christoffer chalked his Spotify success up to luck, he told me that prior to getting featured on the Spotify Playlist that catapulted his success, he spent weeks emailing thousands of people on Youtube his music. His strategy was finding other artists in his genre, Chillstep, and reaching out to fans of other artists who were making music similar to his. Christoffer said that although a few people would get upset and accuse him of being “spammy”, the vast majority of people were positive and receptive and he gained thousands of new fans using this method.
Here’s where it gets interesting. Christoffer said that it was a connection he made on Youtube that led to him inadvertently being featured on the Spotify Playlist that ultimately led to millions of streams. Someone who discovered his music first on Youtube, was the curator of the playlist that Christoffer was featured on that led to his Spotify success. So although he wasn’t actively trying to promote his music on Spotify, he was on Youtube, and the work and effort he put into promoting his music on Youtube, led indirectly to his success on Spotify.
Although I can appreciate Christoffer’s sentiment that luck played a role in his Spotify success, it’s also clear to me, after hearing his story, that had he not exerted so much effort in promoting his music on Youtube and in general, he never would have had the success he ultimately found on Spotify.
Finally, the last thing that Christoffer pointed to that led to his success was that deliberately created very distinct imagery and branding around his music. Christoffer’s project “Killiigrew” features an emphasis on nature and the beauty of nature and the outdoors. Like his music, his branding and the imagery he uses illicit a very calming, and relaxing feeling.
Here’s an example of some of the artwork he uses to promote his music:
It’s important that you have clear and consistent branding. Think about the kind of images, artwork and story would best fit your music and the message you’re trying to convey with your music. Good branding will help you stand out and make it easier for people to remember you and the music you create. There’s a reason major corporations work with ad agencies to help promote their products; because it works. Advertising and branding are a huge part of success in any industry, including of course the music industry.
So, what’s the ultimate takeaway? Does success in the music business simply come down to luck and being in the right place at the right time? I don’t think so. It’s clear in hearing Christoffer’s story and the countless other success stories I’ve heard over the years, that success in the music business is usually the result of both hard work and often times, what seems and feels like luck. Perhaps it’s better to say that success in the music business often arrives in unexpected ways, but if you re-trace the steps that led to most artists becoming successful, you’ll find that a lot of hard work was done along the way.
A few days ago I sent out an article I wrote, called “The #1 Problem With The Music Industry” to my email list. In that article I articulated why I think the biggest problem with the music industry is that there are too many musicians, in the sense that the supply of musicians outweighs the demands of the marketplace. I see this as the biggest hurdle most musicians will face, when it comes to creating a career in the music industry.
This was a really well received article, I received quite a few positive responses via email and many people who were in agreement with my assessment of the music industry. However, I also received a few replies from people who seemed pretty discouraged by some of the statistics I pointed out. I even got one response from someone who had decided to basically quit the business because of the statistics I pointed out.
I would like to address those that were discouraged by that article in today’s post.
Knowledge Is Power
In order to make an informed decision about anything in life, we need to take in as much data as possible. Of course, we’ll never be able to assess all the data related to any given situation. There’s simply no way of knowing all the different variables that are at play in something like the music industry. There are far too many people involved in the industry, and far too many factors at play to be able to dissect all the different moving parts that make up the music business.
It's sort of like sizing up a potential dating partner. It’s impossible to know everything there is to know about another person. So, instead, we get to know people the best we can, we meet their friends and family, we spend quality time with them, and in the end we make decisions about people using a combination of logic, intuition and heart. If we’re lucky, we make good decisions and surround ourselves with quality people and with quality partners. Sometimes we let our emotions over ride our logic and we ignore red flags that are warning us to move in a different direction. Conversely, sometimes we let our logic and intellect convince us to not give people a chance that would actually be very good for us. We don’t always get decisions right. We live and learn.
But, the more information and data we have going into a situation, the easier it is to make a decision that is right for us. There are a lot of marketers and bloggers that gloss over certain realities of the music business in order to sell books and programs. It’s easier to sell a program about how to make money in the music business, when you convince people that it’s easy to make it in the music business.
But, I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again, my primary goal with my website and resources isn’t to make money. My primary goal is to educate and inform people about the realities of the music business, and in particular the music licensing business. The good, the bad and the ugly.
I don’t think the competitive nature of the music industry or the fact that it’s a relatively hard industry to succeed in should be overlooked. In fact, I think it should be embraced and fully understood. You need to be able to look at this business, for what it really is, square in the eye, in order to make an informed decision about whether or not you want to enter into it. You’ll also have a much better chance of success if you fully understand the reality of the business and what you’re up against.
With that said, you still need to have a healthy, big picture perspective of the music business. For example, in my previous article I pointed out a study that indicated that 90% of artists are completely unknown. Some of you took that to mean you only have a 10 % shot at any sort of success in the music industry. But, of course, that’s not how statistics really work. The study I pointed to simply reported that the vast majority of music artists out there are basically unknown. But that doesn’t reflect your individual odds of succeeding in the music business.
Maybe 90 percent of the artists surveyed are completely slackers with no work ethic. Maybe the vast majority are hobbyists who are also balancing families and careers. Maybe half of all the artists surveyed don’t even aspire to be full time musicians. The problem with statistics and data is that it’s impossible to tease apart all the different variables. Can we really know hard the competition wants to succeed? Can we really quantify how badly someone else wants to make it in the music business, compared to your own desire to make it as a musician? Maybe you are part of the 10 percent who have what it takes to succeed? Or, maybe you’re part of the 1 percent that go on to become ultra-successful in the music business. There’s really know way to know these things using statistics alone.
You also have to really look at the big picture, in terms of how being a musician factors into your overall life satisfaction. In other words, how much happiness do you derive from spending your time playing and writing music? Do you prioritize money and security over pursuing meaningful work? Would you be happy earning slightly less than the typical American or European (or elsehwhere) worker if you were able to make your living doing something you love?
The average professional musician earns $39,899.00 per year in the USA. That’s not a ton of money, relatively speaking. But the average person in the USA only earns $44,564.00. For an even larger, big picture perspective, consider the fact that if you make over $32,400.00 you are in the top 1% of income earners in the entire world! I realize that in certain areas of the USA, or other parts of the world, that would be very hard to live on, but I find it incredibly helpful to take a step back and look at just how much money, even a modest salary in the west is, relative to the rest of the world. Part of being successful is having perspective and knowing just how good you have it, even if you haven’t “made it” on the level of someone like Justin Bieber or Ariana Grande.
Again, these statistics are averages, and you could earn much more or much less than these figures, in or out of the music industry. But, success isn’t just about overall money earned, it’s also about other things, that are harder to quantify, like a sense of personal meaning and overall life satisfaction; things that are harder to measure, but are of vital importance to the quality of your life.
My goal is to provide the most accurate, up to date information about the music licensing business and the music business at large. It’s easy to get cynical about the music business and it’s easy to get discouraged. But in many ways, I don’t think succeeding in the music business is that much different than succeeding in other industries. A small percentage of people make it to the very top of most industries. How many multi-millionaire CEOs are there compared to minimum or low wage workers? How many rich entrepreneurs are there compared to entrepreneurs that struggle to get by? I’m not going to bore you with more statistics, you can look them up if you're interested, but I think you get the point.
Succeeding at a “rock star” level in the music business is hard, because it’s special. It’s not something everyone gets to do or can do, and that is what makes the goal so appealing. If it was easy, everyone would just decide to be a rock star, and then it wouldn’t really be that special.
Being a musician isn’t for everyone. In order to know whether it’s right for you, you need to deeply understand both the business and be very self-aware about how much talent you actually have. Do you have something truly unique and special to share with the world? Do you have a burning desire to share your talent? If so, in my opinion, you owe it to yourself and the world to chase your dreams!
Because remember, even if you don’t “make it” in the way that maybe you dreamed about when you were a teenager, even if all you ever become is a musician who succeeds on an “average” level, you’re still doing pretty damn good by virtue of the fact that you’ll be making way more than 99% of the entire world, doing something you love.
Think about that.
Here’s a video that sums up this article pretty well that I posted to my Youtube Channel recently.
On a positive note, here's a video I posted to my Youtube Channel a few years ago, that breaks down a straightforward way of making 60k a year as a musicians working 25 hours a week.
In my most recent webinar for How To License Your Music Premium, with composer Dario Forzato, one of the topics we discussed was the idea of luck vs hard work in the context of licensing. One of the topics Dario focused on in our webinar is how having a consistent routine and schedule that facilitates creating a consistent output of music will lead to consistent results over time. Of course, along the way, you might just get lucky here and there and stumble upon the right opportunity at the right time. There is an element of luck in the careers of most successful musicians and artists. But it’s the daily, weekly, monthly and yearly work you do, that over time will lead to the most consistent results and will greatly increase your “luck”.
My favorite expression about luck, that I’m sure most of you have heard, is that “luck is when preparation and opportunity meet”. I’ll give you an example. When I first got into licensing, I was lucky in the sense that my former songwriting teacher had gone on to form a successful publishing company and was in need of the exact kind of music I was making at the time. It was lucky, you could say, that I even knew her in the first place and that she just happened to need the kind of music I was into at the time. Of course, I had spent years writing and recording songs prior to our working together, which is where the work part of it comes in to play. Had I not been diligently working on the craft of writing songs and recording music for several years prior to reconnecting and working with my former teacher I wouldn’t have been prepared for the opportunity that presented itself.
According to Dario, and I concur 100 percent, hard work and consistency is what separates those that are able to do licensing full time from those who just get lucky and land a placement here and there. I did a podcast with Composer Eddie Grey recently where he more or less said the exact same thing.
If you make enough music and submit it to enough places, chances are you can get “lucky” and license a few random things. But it’s the composers and songwriters who diligently set out to create an amazing catalog of music and build ongoing professional relationships they cultivate and nurture over time, that end up in the “lucky” position of creating music for a living.
I recently created a Youtube video talking about this topic and someone left a comment along the lines of “Here’s another video that doesn’t really reveal the “secret” of licensing and doesn’t really say anything”. It was something like that. I sometimes get the feeling that musicians imagine there is some sort of insider, top secret, confidential knowledge, that only musicians “in the know” are privy to, that if they only knew would instantly lead to success in the music business and in music licensing. Maybe there is. Maybe the Justin Biebers and Bruno Mars of the world know something myself, and the hundreds of musicians I’ve worked with over the years don’t know.
What I aim to do with my website, podcast, webinars and so forth is share what’s worked for me over the years and also to find other successful musicians that have carved out successful careers in the music licensing business and find out what’s working for them. I came up with the novel idea of simply asking people who do music for a living to tell me how they do it, and I share that information with the growing community of musicians who read my blogs and are members of my website.
We all have slightly different paths and we sometimes get “lucky” in different ways. But what I know is true, across the board, of all the different people I’ve interviewed and worked with over the years who are successful in licensing, is that they’ve worked hard to get where they are.
If I discover some sort of “top secret” formula to success in licensing, believe me, I will gladly share it with you via my podcast, courses, webinars, etc. But, in the meantime, keep putting in the work. Hard work is the only thing that I know that works consistently and it's much more reliable than luck.
I've had a nice string of placements over the last several months. I've had songs placed in commercials, several tv shows and even a video game recently. I thought I'd share a few of my recent placements, so you can get a better idea of the kind of tracks I write and some of the places my music has been used recently.
Here are some of the highlights in terms of placements I know about. I've had a few other incidental uses of my tracks, but here are some of the more prominent placements I've had recently.... Note the diversity in terms of styles, vocals, instrumentals, etc.
Joy To The World (Instrumental Rock Guitar Version) - I recorded this version of Joy To The World a few years ago on spec for one of my publishers. It took a few years, but last December this track was used several times in different ABC promos for the movies Mary Poppins, The Great Christmas Light Fight, The Middle and ABC World News Now.
"Where We Were" - I recorded this track in LA with producer Gary Gray back in 2015. This was licensed for use a few weeks ago in a new VR video game called "Catch And Release". This was my first video game placement! I sing lead vocals on this one and my buddy MJ, sang the harmony vocal part. I never imagined, when I wrote this, that it would end up being used in a video game, no less a video game about fishing. But, now that I think about it, it does have a sort of, spending a day on the lake with a friend, casting out the line, drinking a couple beers, sort of vibe. This track is also featured on a corresponding soundtrack for the game, so in addition to an upfront licensing fee, I'll also be getting payments for the soundtrack going forward.
Closer To You Now - Here's another one that I sang lead vocals on. This was recorded a few years back with a full band in Chicago. You can really hear my Phish/Jamband influence come through on this one. I never imagined when I recorded this that it would end up on an episode of The Young & The Restless, but there it was on one of my recent ascap statements with a corresponding payment for a usage on The Y&R.
How Many Times? - For this track I recruited a friend of a friend to sing the vocal part. For certain songs, my voice simply doesn't work. I try to be as objective as possible about vocals and find the best vocalist for each track. Sometimes that's me, but a lot of times I use outside vocalists who can better capture the vibe of what I'm looking for. This track was also used on a recent episode of The Young & The Restless. I've had a lot of music used on this show over the years.
Falling Down (You Went Away) - Here's yet one more track that has been used on The Young & The Restless recently. I recorded this track with producer Gary Gray in 2015. My friend MJ sang lead vocals on this one. This one was has been used several times on The Y&R over the last two years, including a recent placement several months ago.
Up To You - This song holds the record for the single track of mine that's had the most placements. I don't know the exact number, but hundreds of uses over the years. This song has been heard on Fox Sports, The US Open, Rangers Insiders and several other sports shows I'm drawing a blank on at the moment. I just got my most recent Ascap statement, and sure enough, there it was again!
Retail Outlets - Blanket License Deal-Here's a few more of my songs that have been recently licensed into a blanket licensing deal for use in retail stores around the world. I don't know the exact details in terms of stores/locations yet, but should be receiving payment for these later this year. All of these tracks were produced by Gary Gray. I sing lead vocals on all of these, with the exception of "I Will Fly" and "Shooting Stars", which features vocalist Travis Nilan.
Venus And The Moon At Night
I Will Fly
Do you feel like your music career is on the right track? Or, do you feel like your spinning your wheels, not really getting anywhere? Are you sure your on the right track with your music career? Are you sure your pursuing the right goals for your particular set of talents? How can you be sure?
I had the revelation many years ago, that as long as I feel like I’m moving forward and making progress towards my goals, I feel satisfied. I’ve never been overly concerned with reaching a specific destination, as much as simply wanting to continually progress. For me, it’s always been more about the journey than the destination. Not that I don’t have specific goals, I do, but my over arching goal is to keep progressing and growing.
But how do you really know if you’re making progress in something like the music business? Is it enough to just have a vague sense of moving forward, or should you have specific, concrete goals you can gauge your success by? Is it about financial success? Is it about artistic satisfaction? Both?
Enjoy The Journey, But Know Where You’re Going
Ultimately, I think you need to have both specific goals and targets you’re shooting for, as well as a deep appreciation for the journey. The mistake many musicians seem to make is setting goals that are too distant and too lofty and then getting disappointed when they don’t reach those goals quickly.
If you’re obsessed with the idea of playing stadiums like U2 or The Rolling Stones, you’re probably not going to really enjoy playing small bars and clubs for many years, although it will be required in order to reach your ultimate goal of playing stadiums. If you have no appreciation for sweating it out in smaller venues and paying your dues, you’ll likely get burned out and give up way before every reaching your goal.
If your goal is to make a full time living licensing music and that’s all you think about, it might be challenging to appreciate the years it takes to get there by improving your tracks, writing more songs, spending days and months networking and building relationships, and so on. If you don’t truly enjoy the process, it will be much harder to push through the challenging times and ultimately reach your goals, whatever they are.
I used to fall victim to this sort of thinking in the past and it derailed me for several years. I felt frustrated because I wasn’t moving forward fast enough and wasn’t reaching my, admittedly, very big goals. It wasn’t until I redefined my own definition of success and changed my approach to making music and the music business, that I started to actually make progress and began to appreciate the journey.
Now, I know what you might be thinking. Because I’m thinking it even as I type this. Isn’t this just some sort of a trick to get your mind to accept settling for less? And the answer is a definitive no. I don’t want you to settle for less. I want you to push as hard as possible and give everything you have towards reaching your goals. In fact, you might even need to set bigger goals for yourself, to give yourself the proper motivation to truly grow and move forward. BUT, you also need to be truly in touch with yourself and with where you are in the grand scheme of your career and life, in order to set the right goals. You need to learn to enjoy the daily, weekly and monthly process of grinding it out and moving forward. And most importantly, you need to be sure you’re pursuing the right goals, the ones that are a best match for your particular set of skills, your personality and your desired lifestyle.
Part of success, in any industry, is being realistic about where you actually are and the things you need to work on to improve, on a daily basis in order to reach your goals. If your dream is to perform in stadiums in front of 50,000 people, but you can barely muster up the courage to perform for 40 people at your local bar, you clearly have some work cut out for you. If you don’t look forward to the incremental steps you need to take to inch your way towards your bigger goals, it’s going to be hard to move forward at all. Even if you get extremely lucky and somehow manage to skip the necessary steps you need to take in order to achieve success, there’s a good chance you won’t be ready for it when you get there, if you’re not prepared.
You also need to be realistic about how much you actually enjoy the work required to reach your particular goals, whatever they are. If your goal is to become a famous touring musician, but you don’t actually like being on the road and being away from your home for extended periods of time, you might need to reassess your goals. If your goal is to perform for thousands of people, but you don’t really enjoy performing or feel comfortable in front of large crowds, you might need to reassess you goals. If your goal is to license music full time for television, but you don’t actually enjoy the kind of music that’s used in TV, you might need to reassess your goals. If you want to be a famous songwriter, but you’re not comfortable with periods of struggle and uncertainty, you might need to reassess your goals.
Even though we live in a time where there are, perhaps more musicians than ever before, making a career out of music is still a fairly unconventional and risky career path. Although there are plenty of examples of people who have figured out how to turn their passion for music into a viable career, doing music for a living requires and enormous amount of both self-discipline and self-awareness.
You might have a dream of becoming a famous touring musician, but do you really, truly want that deep down? Is your passion and love for music strong enough to overcome the enormous obstacles and challenges that will inevitably present themselves on your journey? Only you really know the answers to those questions. Only you know if you really have what it takes to make it in the music business. Only you know what part of the music business your particular temperament and interests are a good fit for.
If you’re not sure what you really want and what you’re a really good fit for, perhaps some soul searching is in order. It took me many years to really figure out where I fit best in the music business and to learn how to turn my passion for music into a viable career. I’m still tweaking and modifying my particular formula for working in the music business, to this day.
Also, keep in mind your goals and interests may very likely change as you move forward and grow as both a person and musician. When I was younger, I was dead set on forming a band and becoming a famous rock guitarist in the vein of Carlos Santana, Trey Anastasio, Jerry Garcia, etc. So after I finished Berklee I formed a band in Chicago that lasted several years and played a lot regionally. After this first band broke up, I formed another band and continued to perform. This band lasted about two years. After that band broke up, I formed yet another band, that lasted about a year and a half. After that band broke up, I formed yet one more short-lived band, that only lasted about six months.
After a decade of playing in different bands, none of which became “rock star” level successful, I was forced to reassess my path and goals. I loved my time playing in bands, but as I got older, there were things about this lifestyle and path that started to feel incongruent to me. For example, when I was younger, I used to get pretty bad stage fright and my solution at the time was to simply drink alcohol until I felt comfortable enough to perform. After all I thought, I’m working in an environment where drinking is not only permitted, it’s given to me for free! Drinking alcohol is a really effective short term solution to stage fright. It works in the moment to relieve nerves, but like many “quick fixes”, it comes at a price. Negative health consequences, hangovers and social costs, are all part of the fun of using alcohol excessively.
So, after a decade of performing live I decided to step away from playing in bands for awhile. In retrospect, it was a much needed break, because it allowed me to really focus on myself and get healthy. I took a trip to Costa Rica and Nicaragua during this period, where I ended up actually performing a lot, particularly in Nicaragua, where I befriended a fellow musician and bar owner. Except this time, I was performing mainly for fun, so I didn’t really feel the pressure I felt before when I was trying to “make it”.
I learned how to perform either with no alcohol or very little. To this day when I play gigs, I will often have one or two drinks. I’m not against moderate drinking, I’m just against using alcohol as a crutch, to the point where it becomes a problem and bleeds over into other areas of your life. This is an easy and common trap to fall into if you’re not careful. In fact, I read a study recently that said the average “famous” musician has a life span of about 25 years less than the general population, mainly due to drugs and alcohol.
These days I perform live frequently. Usually at least once or twice a week. Sometimes I play solo. Sometimes I perform with different bands. Over the last several years I’ve performed in a variety of different contexts. Playing live is probably my favorite thing about being a musician. I love the immediate feedback and immediate gratification of getting up in front of an audience. But, it took me a few years to really learn how to perform in a healthy way. Ultimately, the best cure for stage fright, is simply experience. I don’t necessarily aspire to live a life on the road, but I’ve learned to love performing and it remains an important piece of the musical puzzle for me.
The point I’m making, is that the path you choose to pursue, will potentially impact your entire life. You need to know yourself well enough, to know which path you should go down and which path is really right for you. Being a touring musician, for example, isn’t for everybody and if you come to the conclusion that it’s not the life you desire, there’s no shame in that. I’ve talked to many musicians who have had considerable success touring who decided it wasn’t what they actually wanted after getting a taste of success and life on the road. A few years ago, I interviewed the former Saxophone player for Sublime and “Sublime With Rome”, who also happens to be a medical doctor, who decided after more than a year on the road with Sublime, playing venues like Red Rocks, that the touring lifestyle wasn’t what he wanted! He said ultimately, that he missed his family and didn’t really enjoy the extensive travelling and the lifestyle that went along with playing in a band as successful as Sublime.
Many Different Paths
The music business is comprised of many different roles and career paths. Becoming a famous musician ala Justin Beiber, Beyonce and The Rolling Stones, may be what many of us think of when we think of “making it” in the music business. But, it turns out there are many different ways of “making it” in music. There are songwriters who simply write music for a living. There are musicians who have carved out careers in only licensing their music. There are producers who produce music for a living. There are music publishers who publish and license music for a living. There are artists who make a living performing only regionally. There are music teachers who inspire and teach other musicians. And there are artists who do any combination of the above that make a good living though several revenue streams.
There are many different ways to make it in the music business. What path is right for you?
I played a gig a few nights ago that was one of “those” gigs. If you’re a performing musician you probably know the kind of gig I’m talking about. It was one of those gigs where something just clicked between myself, the other musicians on stage and the audience. During gigs like this it feels like I couldn’t play a wrong note if I tried. All apprehension and nervousness fades away, and the music seems to flow out of me, without my thoughts or ego getting in the way. It doesn’t happen every time I perform. Sometimes multiple gigs go by without getting into that “zone” or reaching that place. But when it happens it’s undeniable and palpable and the crowd responds accordingly. This feeling, this “zone”, whatever you want to call it, is the feeling I’m chasing every time I get on stage.
Things didn’t click until the second set. It started during the opening song. A song I sang lead vocals on. I could tell the crowd was into the song, which gave me the confidence to sing with even more conviction and excitement as the song progressed. The song ended and there was thunderous applause. I can’t remember ever getting that enthusiastic of a response to my vocals. To be honest, I was pleasantly surprised by the crowd’s over the top reaction, which set the stage for the rest of the night.
As I thanked the crowd, a huge grin came over my face and we launched in the next song, an instrumental funk number that lasted about ten minutes and was built to a dramatic climax. As I launched into my solo, I stumbled upon a simple, but catchy melody that I continued to come back to throughout the jam. The saxophonist in our band latched onto the same melody and together we weaved in and out of this motif for the next several minutes. We played it in different octaves, with different rhythmic variations, sometimes together, sometimes more of a call and response, for several minutes, until the jam seemed to reach a natural conclusion.
Again, when the song stopped, there was thunderous applause. Mot of the second set was like this, until things seemed to peter out a bit towards the end. But by then, it didn’t seem to matter. Every one was clearly enjoying themselves, band and audience alike.
After the show, different people came up to me to tell me how much they enjoyed the show. I got a lot of “great job”, “you play great” sort of compliments, which is always nice to hear. But one conversation in particular struck me as particularly poignant. A girl I’ve know for a couple years came up to me and said how much she enjoyed the show. I thanked her and said something like, “thanks, I love to play”. “Well”, she said, “it shows”.
I had an end of the night drink after the show with a few of the musicians I performed with and went home. When I got home, I still had so much adrenaline and excitement from the gig that I couldn’t sleep. It was strange, because I’ve played so many gigs at this point that I’m usually not that amped up after shows anymore. But for some reason I was strangely excited and my mind was racing more than usual. It reminded me of how I felt when I was younger, in my early twenties, after a really good gig. I used to get so excited that I would stay up until the early hours of the morning, reflecting on the night’s performance and de-briefing, in my mind, the good and bad elements of the show.
When I woke up the next morning, my mind came back to my friend’s comment about how she could see how much I enjoyed playing music and it struck me, that that was probably about the best compliment anyone could give me. The show was great, because myself and the band I was performing with, we’re having a good time. The audience had a good time because they fed off the energy of the band. The band picked up on the audience’s response and we got even more excited and as a result played even better, with more confidence. And that, is essentially, what live music is all about. It’s an exchange of energy, if you will, between musicians and audience. It’s an opportunity to escape from the problems and stress of our day to day lives for a few hours, let our proverbial hair down, and simply have a good time.
When I was younger I used to be really into the band Phish. I saw them live dozens of times. Love them or hate them, in their prime, they were an amazing live band. They toured with Carlos Santana in the early 90s and Santana had this great way of explaining the live concert experience at a Phish show, and at concerts in general. His analogy was that music was like water, the band is like a hose, and the audience is like flowers. Yeah, it sounds like some super hippy, stoner talk, but it’s a beautiful analogy if you think about it. Here’s Trey Anastasio from Phish on Santana’s idea:
“When we went out with Santana, he had brought up this thing about the Hose. ... where the music is like water rushing through you and as a musician your function is really like that of a hose. And, and well his thing is that the audience is like a sea of flowers, you know, and you're watering the audience. But the concept of music going through you, that you're not actually creating it, that what you're doing is -- the best thing that you can do is get out of the way. So, when you are in a room full of people, there's this kind of group vibe that seems to get rolling sometimes.”
I love this idea that as musicians, especially during moments of improvisation, we’re not actually creating the music. It’s more like we’re channeling the music from a deeper part our ourselves, or from somewhere out there in the cosmos. This rings true to me in my experience, because in moments where I feel in the “zone” and things are flowing particularly well, a guaranteed way to screw it up is to start thinking too much about what I’m doing or over analyzing things. It’s better to not think about things at all, or as little as possible and just let the music come through. If you think about it, that’s what stage fright or nervousness is all about, it’s about focusing too much on yourself. When you an learn to redirect that energy towards the music, your stage fright and nerves will naturally dissipate.
I think that’s why music, at its best, is so enjoyable. It’s a way of getting outside of our egos and problems and transcending them, to experience even greater joy and reach greater heights than possible, when we’re stuck in our egoic, “monkey minds”. That’s why playing music is so enjoyable. Because, when we’re truly in the moment, in what’s known as a “flow state” we’ve transcended, albeit temporarily, the stress and problems that tend to permeate our day to day lives.
When I was younger I used to have this grandiose concept of what it meant to be a musician. I looked up to artists like Hendrix and Dylan and saw how music, at its most impactful, could change the world and impact culture. Of course, that’s still true. Music and art have that potential. Music and art have the potential to both reflect and shape culture in profound ways. The Beatles certainly impacted culture. Beethoven certainly did as well. As did Dylan, The Stones, Pink Floyd, Coltrane, Radiohead, Paul Simon and countless other great artists over the years.
But music also serves a much more practical and perhaps less dramatic function, which is to simply lift people’s spirits and help them enjoy themselves and well, as Prince said, “get through this thing called life”. If you accomplish nothing else a musician, other than simply entertaining people and helping to elevate their moods, even temporarily, know that you’ve still done something truly great.
Life is hard in many ways and on many levels for many people and the world needs as many people as possible sharing their gifts, lifting each other up and inspiring each other. If you have the gift to do that through music, you should, you know, like, keep doing that.
I did a live webinar a couple weeks ago, exclusively for members of How To License Your Music Premium. I’m doing one live webinar a month for members of the new premium site, focusing on different topics related to music licensing. The most recent webinar focused on how to build connections with music libraries and music supervisors and featured myself, TV composer Eddie Grey and music producer Gary Gray.
During the webinar, one of the questions that came up at the end was about how to stay motivated when you’re new to the industry and things aren’t going the way you want them to go. How do you stay motivated when you’re trying and trying to get your music career off the ground, but you haven’t yet achieved the success you’re hoping for?
This is a good question, because I think it’s all too easy to get thrown off track when you’re new to licensing, or even if you’ve been at it awhile, if you lose sight of a few important things. If you’re only focused on your lack of results, it can easily prevent you from taking the necessary steps to reach your goals. So, with that in mind, here are a few things to keep in mind and help you stay motivated and positive, even if you haven’t yet reached your licensing and music career goals.
It Takes Time
One of the things that you have to keep in mind related to licensing, is that it takes time. Almost everyone that I’ve interviewed and worked with over the last ten years that is doing licensing on a full-time level, has indicated that it took at least a few years for things to get to the point where they could live off the income they make from licensing. The exact time frame varies from person to person. I’ve heard two years, four years and even longer as the length of time it took for different composers to reach the point of making a sustainable income from licensing their music.
As my friend and composer Eddie Grey stated on a recent episode of my podcast, this business is a marathon not a sprint. Don’t get discouraged if you’re not seeing a ton of results right out of the gate. It’s normal. It takes most writers a couple years or more to really get things rolling with licensing. If you think about the way the business works and the nature of the music licensing business, this makes complete sense. Even in the absolute best-case scenario of writing a song today and licensing it tomorrow, it still takes time to get paid, collect performance royalties and so on. Music Licensing is a slow-moving industry. Of course, you probably won’t license your music that quickly. Most likely it will take time to write and record tracks, build connections, start getting placements and so on. You can avoid a lot of frustration in the beginning of your licensing career if you’re aware of this fact and go into the business with open eyes.
Focus On The Work
Because things do take time to get rolling in the beginning. The best use of your time will be focusing on doing the work. Focus on building and growing your catalog, making connections, signing with different libraries and so on. It makes no sense to get discouraged about not getting the results you want immediately and letting that throw you off track. Instead, focus on the things that need to be done, that you can actually control. The more you do this, the quicker results will come.
With a few exceptions, most of the writers I know that make a full-time income from licensing, have very large catalogs. Think anywhere from 500 to 1,000 or more tracks and cues. Licensing is a numbers game and the more tracks you have that will potentially work in a broad range of applications, the more money you’ll be able to make from licensing. Again, there are exceptions and some types of placements pay considerably more than others, but you should always focus on growing your catalog and continuing to write great material. When you write new tracks, you’re exponentially increasing your odds of getting more placements. Don’t rest on your laurels once you start getting placements and become comaplacent. Instead, keep writing new music, so that you’ll always have more tracks you can license down the road.
Stay Connected To Your Passion For Music
One of the best ways to stay motivated and positive about your music, when you’re not getting the results you want, is to simply stay connected to why you love music in the first place. I think most musicians have a love for music that transcends simply wanting to make money from music. Stay in touch with that.
I’ve had periods in the past where my frustration about the business of music led me to temporarily losing touch with my passion for music. Don’t let that happen to you. The music business and the music you make, that comes from you heart and soul, are two very different things. Don’t ever forget that.
Whenever I find myself getting discouraged or down about music, which fortunately doesn’t happen that often anymore, I simply go back to writing music from a place of joy and passion. I’m more prolific when I’m in touch with my passion for music, I tend to write better music and ultimately I end up licensing more music and making more money from my music as a result.
First and foremost, I’m in touch and connected with my love of music. I’ve often said, that as much as I love licensing my music, I’m not overly concerned or even that excited with any particular placement or usage of my music. Don't get me wrong, I of course am super grateful for every opportunity that has come my way and getting paid for my music is extremely satisfying. But, ultimately, it’s more about the joy of writing songs, building my catalog and trusting the process.
In the end, all you can really do is write the best music you’re capable of writing and connect it with as many people as possible. If you’re persistent in doing this and you do this consistently over a period of several years, you can realistically reach a point where you can live off the income you’re making from licensing, or at the very least, supplement your income in a substantial way. But to focus on the business of music at the expense of your love and passion for music doesn’t make sense to me, because even if you end up becoming successful, if you’re not enjoying it, you’ll end up with just another “job”. I don’t know about you, but that’s not why I got into the music business.
Speaking of my love for music, check out my latest track, produced by Gary Gray, called “You’ll Be On My Mind”. We just finished this track a couple weeks ago and just signed this to a new publishing/licensing deal this week.
I just found out another one of my tracks was licensed for use in a video game! My track “Where We Were” (produced by Gary Gray), from my CD "Shooting Stars", will be featured in the upcoming VR video game "Catch And Release" from developers Metricmind and publisher Advanced Interactive Gaming. This track is one of 30 that will be featured in the game and will also be released on a corresponding soundtrack.
Check out the song here:
This latest license is, I believe, the 15th new license in the last three months or so. I’ve built quite a momentum lately with licensing my own tracks, and as they say, when it rains it pours. I also have around ten or so other tracks that have been shortlisted for various projects that I should know more about soon. I don’t say any of this to boast, it’s simply the result of a lot of hard work over the last couple years.
In today’s post I thought I’d explore how to build and sustain momentum with your tracks and licensing. It’s all too easy to get discouraged when pursuing something like licensing. Results can be incredibly slow going in the beginning. There are simply no guarantees in this business and all too often writers sign with a few libraries, sit back and wait and then….. crickets. Nothing! I’ve been there and I know the feeling. It’s not a good feeling!
However, the flip side, is that once you start to see the results of your efforts pay off it’s an incredible feeling. When you work towards something for a sustained period of time and you start to actually see the results you want, that’s a hard feeling to top! It also gets easier over time. Success begets success, and once you start licensing your tracks, it become easier to license more and more. You still could have times where things slow down, like in all industries, but once you get how the business works and realize what works and what doesn’t, it becomes much easier to build momentum and move forward.
Here are a few things to keep in mind as you’re getting started and building your own momentum.
It Takes Time
Licensing takes time. You have to understand that going into this industry. This isn’t an instant gratification business. Many of my recent licenses have been songs that I recorded several years ago or more that are just now getting picked up.
It takes time to build a catalog, build contacts in the industry and ultimately to get things licensed. You have to remember this in the beginning when you are getting started. A great analogy is to think of it like planting a garden. You do the work now and things come to fruition in the future. This can be frustrating if you’re trying to turn this into a full-time revenue stream, but it is what it is. You have to think long term and focus on the things in front of you that you can actually control. Things like building your catalog, writing and recording new music, making new contacts in the industry and so on should be your focus in the beginning.
Another good analogy is to think of it like dating. When you’re single you never know when you’re going to meet the next person you click with. You can’t really control it or predict it. What you can control are things like taking care of yourself, focusing on your purpose and mission in life, where and when you socialize and so forth. When you focus on the things you can control, things tend to fall in place.
Licensing is a lot like that. There are always things you can do to move forward and set the stage for things to go well in the future. Too many musicians get discouraged when they don’t see instant results. Don’t get discouraged. Instead keep focusing on the thing you can do that will get you closer to realizing your goals.
If you’re not getting the results you want, here are things you can focus and work on, RIGHT NOW:
Grow Your Catalog
The more songs you have, the better your chances are of licensing your tracks. Of course the songs need to be good and the production needs to be good. But, in general, the more tracks you have the better. The more tracks you have, the greater the chance that you’ll have something that meets the needs of different projects looking for music. Of course, no single artist will be able to cover all the different, potential needs for licensing. But the larger and more diverse your catalog is the better.
Keep Expanding Your Network
Another thing you should focus on, at all times, is the network of people you have pitching your music. The more tracks you have the greater the chances of something landing, and the more people you have pitching your tracks, the greater the chances of someone landing you a placement. If you have a great catalog, but it’s not earning you substantial money, focus on growing your contacts. I have my music with quite a few libraries and publishers at this point, and usually when one quiets down another one will pick up. Again, to use the dating analogy, think of it like meeting ten people and getting ten phone numbers. They probably won’t all pan out, but if you meet and connect with enough people, eventually you’ll make a solid connection. Dating is a numbers game. So is licensing.
This part really applies to life in general. But, while you’re doing all this, stay positive! It’s easy to get frustrated about the things you can’t control in life, but everything seems to flow better when you have a positive mindset. By simply focusing on the things you can control you’ll get much better results and you’ll be a lot happier.
Don’t get me wrong, I’ve definitely been through periods of extreme frustration when things weren’t going the way I wanted them to. But, looking back, I wasted a lot of energy getting upset about things that I had little or no control over and ultimately, my frustration did zero good. The only thing that’s really helped me move forward is just doing the work.
If you aren’t where you’d like to be, you have more work to do. It’s that simple. So, keep putting in the work and effort until you get there.
Do you ever find yourself feeling discouraged because you haven’t gone as far in your music “career” as you’d like? Do you sometimes find yourself obsessed with thoughts about when and where your “big break” is going to happen? Do you wish you made more money from your music? Do you wish you were more known and respected for the music you make?
For some reason, a lot of musicians associate being successful in the music business with being “famous” in the music business. I think a lot of musicians even start with this being their primary goal. As if being a great musician and being a “famous” musician were somehow the same thing. It’s sort of weird if you stop and think about it. There are few other professions where the goal is to get famous for doing said profession, apart from the entertainment industry. If you aspire to become a great doctor, you’re probably not also hoping to get famous in the process. Unless you’re Dr. Oz or Dr. Phil perhaps, but do they even count? If your goal is to open a restaurant, chances are you’re not looking to become famous for it.
Ideally, fame, if it comes at all, should be a byproduct of being a great musician. If you’re really, really good at something, and enough people find out and appreciate what you do, there’s a chance fame will come as a result. But, to pursue fame as the ultimate goal, is a bit like putting the cart before the horse, in my mind. I’m not really sure if I would even like being famous, it seems like a lot of pressure. Especially if you’re super famous like Shakira or Justin Bieber. Although, there are obvious perks, I can only imagine that fame would also come at an extraordinary price, in terms of having very little privacy, having increased demands on your time and the pressure to maintain the success you’ve achieved.
When I was younger I used to put a lot of pressure on myself to succeed and become famous as a musician. To me, it seemed at the time, to be the ultimate goal. I wanted to be famous like my idols that I looked up to. When I didn’t have the success I aspired to have after several years of playing in bands and doing everything in my power to make it happen, I grew disillusioned. I started to feel really negative about the music business and my role in it. I can remember the awful feeling of playing gigs that weren’t well attended and feeling like a failure. This isn’t how this is supposed to be going I thought. Music, for awhile, stopped being fun and started to feel like a giant source of frustration and pain. My goal of becoming a famous musician seemed to drift further and further away.
This feeling lasted a few years, until after about ten years of gigging, I took a break from playing live and playing in bands, in my early thirties. For a couple years I sort of put music on the backburner, not really sure what to do with my passion or love for music. I still wrote new songs during this period and continued to pursue things like licensing, but music started to seem like more of a glorified hobby than a career. This feeling continued for the next few years until I noticed something sort of strange, which was that I reached a point where I wasn’t trying to “make it” in the music business anymore and didn’t really think about it anymore. As a result, I no longer felt the frustration associated with trying to do something and falling short of my expectations, but, my love for music remained. In fact, untethered from the need to “make it” in the music business, I realized I enjoyed writing and playing music more than ever. It was as if I rediscovered what drew me to making music in the first place, which, at least in the very beginning, wasn’t to become famous. I simply loved music!
I think for most musicians, there’s something that drew us to music, before the idea of “making it” in the music business entered our minds. When I grew up listening to music, I wasn’t drawn to bands and artists because they were famous, I was drawn to different bands and artists because I enjoyed their music. They became famous, because a lot of people enjoyed their music. I was drawn to making music, because I simply loved music and wanted to follow in the footsteps of all the great musicians I grew up listening to. It wasn’t until later, when I was in my early twenties, that I started obsessing over and worrying about becoming famous.
Benefits Of Detaching From Your Success
I’m about to get all zen and philosophical on your ass. That’s right, here it comes! There’s this idea in eastern philosophy, and western philosophy for that matter, of detaching from the outcome of things. The idea is that as you pursue your goals and desires, it’s best to do so from a place of non-attachment. In other words, go for what you want, but relax about how things unfold. This isn’t the same as not caring about the outcome at all, but it’s just that things aren’t always going to go exactly how you want them to go, so you’ll be a lot happier if you just lighten up and not worry too much about how or when things happen. Do you really want to be successful, but worried and stressed out all the time?
One of my favorite quotes, is a zen proverb that sums up this idea: “the hungry don’t get fed”. Think about this and how it rings true in your experience. Think about people who want things so much that they come across needy and desperate, as opposed to ambitious and confident. You obviously don’t want to simply throw your hands up in the air and become completely apathetic about your life and your goals. That’s not what I’m suggesting. But you also don’t want to be so fixated on your goals that the thought of not attaining them causes you to become crippled with fear. I think there’s a middle ground where you can simply pursue the things you love and let things happen, however they’re going to happen.
Back To The Music
When you shift your focus away from being overly concerned with success and back to your love of making music, you take your power back. You see, there are people in the music business, who in some ways can hold you back from success, although not as many as there used to be. But, there are still gatekeepers that can reject your music. Maybe it’s a music publisher who doesn’t think your music has what it takes, or maybe it’s a music supervisor who doesn’t think you have the right “sound”. But, when you stop worrying so much about success and just focus on making great music, well, no one, and I mean no one can stop you. Only you can decide whether or not you’re going to keep making music, keep writing better songs and keep improving your craft.
You are completely in control of how good you become as a musician. Maybe you haven’t had the success you’ve desired so far, but it’s up to you whether or not you want to keep improving and growing as a musician. This is what’s so exciting about letting go of the need to “make it”, it puts you back in the driver’s seat and puts the focus back on the only thing you ever really had control of in the first place, the music!
And of course, the better you get as a musician and the better your music becomes, the chances of attaining “commercial success”, or success in general, become greater. It’s easy to be cynical about the music business and there are plenty of examples of uber successful musicians whose music you might not respect, and we probably all know musicians who are uber talented who, for whatever reason, haven’t found much success to speak of. But, in my experience, when you work hard, and stay focused on growing as a musician and doing what you can to move your career forward, opportunities do come and doors do open, eventually. It might not happen exactly when or how you think it should, but when you persist at something like music long enough, success, in varying degrees will eventually come. And when that happens, you can take a deep breath, relax, and get back to making great music.
Today’s post isn’t directly related to music licensing or the music business, but yet I think it’s completely relevant to all of us as musicians. The topic I want to discuss, is the importance of being positive in both your approach to making music, the music business and life in general.
A few days ago, I hosted the first in a series of live monthly webinars that I’m offering via my new website, How To License Your Music Premium. This webinar featured TV composer Eddie Grey and music producer Gary Gray. As Gary was introducing Eddie and I at the start of the webinar he highlighted how, in his estimation, Eddie and I are positive, optimistic people that others want to be around and how our optimism, in his opinion, is at least part of why we’ve been able to carve out successful niches for ourselves in the music industry.
Later in the webinar, during Eddie’s presentation, Eddie told the story about closing a recent, lucrative deal for one of his tracks, and suggested that one of the main reasons he was able to close this particular deal was that the person he signed the deal with simply likes working with him. He said that obviously his music was good as well, but that in his opinion his attitude and positivity had as much to do with his success in this particular instance as the quality of the music he makes.
Later that day, I skyped with one of my publishers in LA for about an hour and our conversation drifted to the topic of my producer, Gary Gray, who we both know and work with. We both talked about how positive and upbeat Gary is and how nice it is to work with people like this. Then my publisher spent several minutes talking about how, in her own career and life, being a positive person has been a big part of her success and has served her well.
This theme of being positive, kept coming up over the course of this day and it inspired me to reflect on my own life and how positivity, and the lack of it at times, has impacted my life.
I consider myself a “glass half full” sort of person. I think most people that know me would describe me as an upbeat and optimistic person. I always look for the positive in situations and do my best to stay optimistic, regardless of what’s happening in my life at the moment. I can’t say that I succeed at staying 100 percent positive, all the time, but I definitely lean in that direction.
Endeavors like running a business and working in the music industry, are both pursuits that can knock the strongest of us off our centers, if we’re not diligent about maintaining a positive perspective. To be honest, this is something I have to work at on a daily basis, despite my own generally positive demeanor. Sometimes, in life, things happen that challenge our disposition. It happens to the best of us, which is why it’s so important that we actively work on developing and maintaining a positive outlook.
I think the more we’re striving for in life, the greater the chances of things happening that we perceive as negative and the greater potential for losing a positive perspective. If you’re the kind of person who has no goals or ambition and are generally content just coasting through life, well, it’s pretty easy to stay upbeat if that’s your outlook on life. If, however, you care about where you’re going, the progress you’re making and desire to advance in life, it can be easier to get thrown off course when we face the inevitable setbacks, rejection and so on that are part and parcel with a life well lived.
If you’re aiming for success and growth, you’re going to face setbacks. It’s unavoidable. I don’t know anyone who hits 100 percent of the shots they take. Do you? I could mention several of the cliché quotes about success and failure that I’m sure you’ve all heard a thousand times. You know, like, you miss 100 percent of the shots you don’t take, and so on. But, just hearing these sorts of ideas does little to comfort us when we’re in the thick of life, dealing with the ups and downs we all deal with. It’s easy to just tell people they should be positive, but what about when things aren’t going our way and we're feeling really discouraged?
As I mentioned in a couple previous blog posts, I went through a break up recently. And by the way, I don’t mention things like this to evoke sympathy, I ‘m just sharing the experiences of my own life, in the hopes that my own realizations and insights will be helpful to you. I went from seeing and living with someone every day for two and a half years, to simply not having them be a part of my life. It’s pretty intense, and as anyone who has gone through an experience like this can attest to, it’s something you have to really experience to understand.
Platitudes like “it’s better to have loved and lost than never have loved at all”, are of little comfort when you’re dealing with the immediate aftermath of a break up. Advice like “don’t worry man, there’s plenty of fish in the sea”, do little to comfort a broken heart, at least initially. Although with time, they start to make a whole lot more sense!
When we face challenges in our careers and personal lives, we’re presented with an opportunity for growth and an opportunity to truly flex our positivity muscle. It’s how we deal with these inevitable challenges and setbacks that define who we are as people and inform and shape our character. It’s easy to be positive when things are going well, but it’s when the proverbial “shit” hits the fan that we find out what we’re really made of.
Here are a couple strategies I use on a regular basis to maintain a positive perspective. Both of these philosophies have served me well and have helped me stay upbeat and optimistic in the face of challenges in business, music and in my personal life.
The Obstacle Is The Way
One of the ways I’ve trained myself to stay positive, in the face of challenges and adversity, is to adopt a sort of stoic philosophy to challenges in my life. There’s an idea in stoic philosophy, that any challenge we face in life is an opportunity to advance to even greater heights and move closer to our goals. As the great Stoic, Marcus Aurelius, wrote: "Our actions may be impeded, but there can be no impeding our intentions or dispositions. Because we can accommodate and adapt. The mind adapts and converts to its own purposes the obstacle to our acting. The impediment to action advances action. What stands in the way becomes the way." In other words, like author Ryan Holiday declares, in his book about stoicism, “The Obstacle Is The Way”.
The idea, and it’s a beautiful idea really, is that any event we initially perceive as “negative” or “bad”, can be turned into a positive and actually help us get closer to our goals. It’s a matter of perspective and how we choose to look at the situation.
How can we apply this philosophy to our lives? Let’s take something most of us our probably familiar with, breakups, to start with. When my girlfriend and I broke up recently, I was pretty shaken. I wasn’t really devastated, because to be honest I saw it coming months in advance and had contemplated how I would react if and when it happened. I had even considered ending the relationship myself for a variety of reasons that ultimately contributed to the demise of the relationship. It was more or less an amicable decision. But, I was still pretty upset when it finally happened, as can be expected.
However, with time, I’ve come to see what happened as a positive event. It’s been an opportunity to grow in many ways that I wouldn’t have, had the relationship continued. It’s given me an opportunity to really reflect deeply on the kind of people I want to allow into my life on an intimate level. It’s forced me to grow in ways that I don’t think I was really capable of within the context of the relationship. It’s motivated to step up my “game” in different areas of my life. I’ve embraced things like going to the gym, working harder on my business and socializing more. Part of these changes are simply a result of the extra time I have by not being in committed relationship, but most of the changes have been positive and are leading me to an even better place in life. The breakup has been a catalyst to move in the direction of my desires.
How can you apply this philosophy to something like music and the music business? Pretty much the same way. When you have setbacks as your pursuing a career in music, these setbacks will generally point you towards what you actually need to focus on to reach your goals. Are you trying to license your tracks over and over, but they keep getting rejected for the same reasons? Maybe you keep hearing that your tracks are strong but that the vocals are not on point. Or maybe you keep getting feedback that your production is not up to speed. Whatever the case may be, whatever setbacks you’re facing will most likely point to what it is you actually need to focus on in order to succeed. In other words, the obstacle is the way!
As I’ve gotten older, I’ve trained myself to look at life this way and it’s helped me stay positive and upbeat, almost irrespective of whatever temporary setbacks I’m confronting. I’ve faced a lot of challenges and continue to, but I no longer see setbacks as some sort of permanent state or a reflection of my worthiness as a person. I see setbacks and challenges as feedback. Our setbacks either point us in the direction of areas we need to focus on and improve, or they indicate we’re simply on the wrong path and need to try something different. Either way, our challenges can be seen as guideposts, pointing us in the direction of our goals and dreams.
Another strategy I utilize in order to remain positive, is good old-fashioned gratitude. So often in life, we’re so focused on things that don’t work out, or don’t go the way we’d like them to, that we lose sight of all the things that are going well. It’s easy to get bogged down in a sea of negativity if all we’re focusing on are the things that aren’t working out the way we’d like. But, I think if you’re honest with yourself, it’s pretty easy to find plenty of things to be grateful for.
Start with simple things. Are you alive? Check. Are you breathing? Check. Do you have internet access? Check. Do you have goals and dreams? Check. Do you have at least one friend or someone you’re close to? Check ( I hope, if not go make some friends!).
It’s so easy to lose sight of things that we should be grateful for. As I mentioned in a previous blog post I wrote about gratitude, half of the world’s population lives on less than $2.50 a day. If you’re reading this, then most likely you’re in the other half of the population. Be grateful for that. Be grateful for the many things you most likely already have going for you in life and let that gratitude carry you forward to even greater heights.
I make a list of things, on a daily basis, that happen that I’m grateful for. This could be a positive interaction with a friend, having a good day in terms of business, having a good date, maybe licensing one of my songs and so on. I look for things to be grateful for and I take note of them throughout the day. I find that by doing this, I’m training myself to look for the good in the world and in my life. It becomes sort of addictive, the more you look for things to be grateful for, the more you’ll find. The opposite is also true, it’s pretty easy to find things to bitch about. But, why would you do that?
Focus on the things that motivate and inspire you. You’ll find plenty if you look.
Check out highlights from our recent webinar on writing instrumental cues for Television, available exclusively for How To License Your Music Premium members.
I sent out a survey last week, asking for feedback about the types of issues musicians are struggling with in terms of getting their music licensed and moving forward with their careers. To my surprise, the issue that musicians brought up, more than any other issue, that they said they needed help with, was help or advice on how to manage their time.
With so many things to do as indie musicians, it can be overwhelming trying to juggle so many different tasks. How do you know what areas you should be focusing on or prioritizing? How do you find the time to do so many different things? How can you best manage your time on a daily basis, so you’re both moving forward, but also enjoying your life and avoiding burn out?
These are the issues I’m going to be addressing in today’s post. As someone who both runs a business and is simultaneously working as a professional musician, both gigging and recording/licensing music, I’ve learned a few things about how to manage my time effectively over the years. I can’t say that I have all the answers, and every situation is different, but allow me to share some of my best practices for managing time, staying organized and moving ahead, without losing it in the process.
I believe in both the value and power of hard work. There’s something about the feeling that I get at the end of day, where I know I gave it my all, that I find incredibly satisfying. It’s one of the things that has allowed me forge ahead and not give up in both business and music, both things that require an incredible amount of dedication. With that said, I also enjoy “down time” and other aspects of life that don’t revolve around work. Things like relationships, friends, family and just good old rest and relaxation, I find incredibly important and so I do my best to make time for these things as well.
I’ve been really getting into going to the gym lately and I find the extra energy I get from working out, as well as the changes in my physique and health, well worth the effort I put in. However, as anyone who works out knows, or should know, there is a point of diminishing returns with exercise. You can work out too much and actually get worse results than you would have had you allowed time for your body to rest. Or, worst case scenario, you can actually cause damage and injury to your body if you overdo it too much. Your body needs periods of rest to recuperate and repair itself from the stress and tension working out puts on your body. Without these periods of rest, you won’t get optimal results from your workouts.
I like to think of work in a similar way. You need to put in “the work” to get results in anything, whether it’s a business you’re starting, or a new CD you’re releasing. Obviously, you have to put in effort to get results. But I think any conversation about time management should take into consideration that you also need to factor in periods of rest and relaxation, in order to get the most out of your periods of hard work. Like Jack Nicholson’s character famously said in the movie The Shining, “all work and no play makes Jack a dull boy”.
So, with that said, let’s talk about ways to effectively manage your time so you can get the best results, achieve your goals and kick ass in 2018.
Define What Your Goals Actually Are
Before you can effectively organize and manage your time, you need to know what it is you’re actually trying to accomplish with your time. The more clear you can get about what your goals are and what it is you’re trying to do, the more effectively you’ll be able to break down the steps you need to take to get there.
I like to think both in terms of long term goals and short-term goals. In other words, where I want to be, and the steps I need to take to get there. I have a document that I’ve created, that I go over daily, where I break down my overall “life vision” and then break down things to do on a weekly basis in several different categories, including business, music, health, finances and so on. I find that by breaking things down into different categories, I get a real clear picture of where I need to be focusing my time as it relates to my most important goals.
Here’s an example of what that looks like from the actual document I use. I start with my “Life Vision” because I think it makes the most sense to start with an overall vision that I’m trying to realize and then break it down into smaller steps.
Thriving Member site that delivers tremendous value to musicians
thriving indie Music career with lots of placements,
play shows regularly (minimum weekly)
10 K monthly from music and business combined
Nice place that I love living in with a
Podcast / Recording Studio
Three rooms – studio/office, bedroom, guest room
Plenty of money in bank at all times – grow savings
In great shape
amazing primary relationship that I feel great about, trust, love, connection, support
great relationships/friends that I love
Live in area that I love
Travel and connect more
Life that flows with ease and love and peace
Ability to travel several months a year to cool places
As you can see, The Life Vision part of my goal setting is fairly broad and relates to several key categories of my life; business, music, relationships, health and money. In other words, the areas of my life that have the biggest impact on my quality of life.
After I’ve established my overall life vision and the kind of life I’m trying to create and bring to fruition, I then start to break down each area that I want to focus on, and figure out the things I need to focus on in each category. Here’s the Music category as an example:
Music To Do This Week
- Finish NCIS Song And Record New Cue”
-One guitar jam recording or video weekly
-Upload music and artwork for new EP, Chill
-And new Vocal EP
-One Youtube video weekly
-Post to reddit (Weekly)
-Facebook ad (weekly)
-Submit to five new places daily
-upload tracks to Ad Rev
-New Music Video
-Send Beth Wernick Music
-Get tracks featured on Spotify
-Launch boom goes the music, podcast and make playlists
Each week, I change the things I need to do and focus on for that week. Right now, I’m recording an average of two new songs a week, for specific projects I’m working on. I’m also releasing a new EP, working on creating new content for my Youtube Channel and in the process of launching a new Podcast featuring other artists. I’m also continuing to promote my music and reach out to new contacts as well. There’s a lot to do, but by breaking down so clearly what I’m trying to accomplish, it makes it much easier to determine the steps I need to take.
After I’ve determined my overall life vision and the things I need to do on a weekly basis in each key area, I then I make a daily list of things to do each day. I tend to do this each night for the following day. As an example, here was the list I made for myself for yesterday:
8 am - Workout
get to office
Work on member site
Create new videos, content, add new leads, etc
Make 5 submissions
Submit to five places
Work on new music video
Send 90 day leads
Write new instrumental cue and make demo
Promotion: Email colleges, universities, etc
6:30 Call with Senne for 90 day challenge
8:00 – Finish recording with Eusebio
I tend to start my day by working out, then head to the office and focus on business things during the day, and then at night I tend to focus on my music, writing, recording etc. I continue this process more or less the same throughout the week. I usually factor in at least one day a week, normally Sunday, where I don’t do any work and spend the day, normally relaxing with friends, going to the movies, going out to eat, etc. I also typically have at least two or three nights a week where I go out somewhere, either on a date, hang out with friends and so on.
Overall, I would say I’m a pretty busy person, but I feel like I lead a balanced life. I’m busy, but I don’t feel overwhelmed or out of control. I know what I need to do and I focus on getting things done, but I also make sure to take time to “stop and smell the roses”. I think when you give yourself regular periods of rest, at least one day a week, when you do return to work, you’ll find that you’re more focused and rejuvenated, and you’ll be able to get more done.
Have you ever seen the movie “Yes Man” with Jim Carrey? In the film, Carrey’s character attends a self-help seminar where he learns about the idea of simply saying yes to every opportunity that comes along. By saying yes to every invitation and every opportunity to do something new, he transforms his life and lifts himself out of a deep rut he had been in.
In today’s post I’d like to explore how you can apply this same principle to your music and your music career, in order to lift yourself out of ruts, or simply move forward and push your career even further, if you’re already experiencing some success. Regardless of where you’re at in your career, by saying yes to more opportunities and seizing more chances that come your way, you’ll experience more success, grow as a musician and move ahead more quickly.
For the last year or so, I’ve taken this approach to my career, without really thinking about it deliberately. I didn’t sit down and say to myself that I’m going to start saying yes to everything, I’ve just found myself starting to embrace more and more opportunities and trying new things. As a result, I’ve made new connections, expanded my catalog of music and have made more money.
I’ll give you a few examples of how this has played out in my life. Think about how you can apply this approach to your own music career. I think most of us have opportunities to move forward that we miss out on, because we’re so focused on what we think we should be doing, or what we would simply prefer to do. There are lots of different ways to be successful with music, that are outside of the realm of the conventional ways we think of “making it’ in the music business.
For example, a few moths ago I started, for the first time in my career, writing instrumental compositions. Of course, I’ve been very aware of instrumental music and its role within the context of sync licensing for years, but I never really considered writing this style of music? Why? Looking back I think I was simply too locked into a very narrow role I had defined for myself and my music, which was that of more a less, a singer/songwriter. I’ve always loved this kind of music, and so I set out to create and focus solely on this genre. For years I dedicated my time to writing songs with lyrics and vocals. Of course, I don’t regret any of this and clearly this style of music is a valid and popular genre of music. I’ll continue to write this kind of music forever, because I love it.
But, now that I’ve started to get into writing instrumental music, it’s opened up a whole new genre and style of music for me to work with and pursue. I really enjoy writing instrumental tracks and I never would have known if I hadn’t said yes to a recent opportunity to create instrumental tracks for a TV show a friend of mine works on. In the past, I probably would’ve said no, that’s not really what I do, or “I don’t know, let me think about that”. I can think back to similar opportunities in the past that I turned down or didn’t pursue with much conviction, because it wasn’t exactly what I wanted to do.
I recently heard back about a batch of new instrumental tracks I’ve submitted and was told I would most likely get several new placements as a result of these tracks. This particular show goes into production next month, so we’re still waiting for the exact dates/episodes. As a result of this project, I also now have basically a CD’s worth of instrumental music I can release on Spotify, Youtube, Itunes, etc. All by just saying yes to an opportunity.
I’ve also had another opportunity to write music for the show NCIS, and I’m creating several new vocal tracks this week and next to submit to this particular connection. The great thing about saying yes to these types of opportunities, is that regardless of how things pan out, whether your songs get used or not, you’ll grow as a musician and of course end up with new songs that you can market and sell to other places.
Another great thing about saying yes to more opportunities is that it creates momentum with your career and music. When I have specific projects to write for and specific goals related to my music, it gives me something concrete and tangible to aim for. I find this incredibly inspiring and motivating. When I go through periods where I don’t have these types of goals related to my music, I of course still write and create music, but I have a tendency to get more complacent and lackadaisical with my approach to making music. Sometimes having no restrictions or parameters on the music you make can be incredibly freeing, but it can also lead to a very aimless approach to your music that doesn’t really lead anywhere, if you’re not careful.
As musicians, we need to have goals to aim for, to both motivate us to grow, and on a practical level, just to have something to shoot for and focus our time. I think I was resistant to approaching music this way in the past, because I didn’t want my music to simply become a product or commodity to be exploited in the market place. So I clung to the idea that I have to write music that I’m passionate about and believe in, regardless of whether or not it fits into the box of what is “commercially viable”. I felt like I had to write music that first and foremost, I love, and then try to figure out how to monetize it.
Now, I look at it this way: Of course, I want to write music that I’m passionate about. After all, if I don’t love and enjoy what I’m doing, it sort of defeats the point of being a musician. However, as a professional musician, I also have to write music there is a need and demand for. So now, what I try to do is find the place where my passion intersects with an actual need. For example, with the instrumental cues I’ve been creating, there is a specific format for these types of tracks that works best. The music can’t be too busy or have too many notes, because it needs to support the dialog of the scenes. So, I have to keep this in mind when I’m creating these tracks. This minamalistic approach is different than what I would do normally, but I still love creating these tracks and find plenty of room to be creative and express myself artistically.
By saying yes to more opportunities, I’ve been able to grow my catalog and discover a new side of my musical personality that I didn’t even know existed. If you’re feeling stuck or not sure what direction to go in, seek out more connections and opportunities, then when opportunities present themselves, as they inevitably will, say yes!
Check out one of my newest instrumental tracks, Flying, here. This one, as usual, was produced by Mr. Gary Gray.
After I finished Berklee, I returned to my home town of Chicago and continued studying guitar under the tutelage of the great Jazz guitarist John Mclean. I remember one day, during one of our lessons I asked him if he ever got cynical about the music business and his place in it. I asked him if he ever got frustrated that although he was (and is) an amazing, accomplished musician that he was relatively unknown, compared to groups like the “Spice Girls” (who were big at the time) despite having, at least in comparison to Mclean, little talent.
I’ll never forget his answer. Without a hint of bitterness or cynicism, he said, there are two different mountains to climb in the music business. One is that of becoming a “big”, known artist. The other is the mountain of becoming a “great” musician. Both mountains, he said, were difficult to climb and both had their rewards and merits. But, he emphasized, they are different mountains, that have little to do with each other.
I hadn’t thought about, or reflected on this conversation in a long time, but for some reason this morning, as I was in the gym, getting my morning workout in, this conversation came back to me. I played a gig last night, on a sidewalk, for about 50 people, in front of a Tex-Mex restaurant in the Dominican Republic, where I’m back for I think the 5th time in the last four years, spending several weeks playing music in the beach town of Cabarete, on the north coast of the island. I love coming here and taking a few weeks each year to play music and re-calibrate my psyche and perspective on the world. I always feel like spending time here is sort of like hitting the “reset” button on my life. It’s a time to reflect and unwind a bit, before returning to the many projects and endeavors I’ve decided to purse in both business and music.
After the gig, which was with a 28 year old guitarist/singer from Savannah, Georgia and a 64 year old harpist/Saxophonist from Montreal, Canada, the three of us hung out for a bit, shooting the “proverbial” shit. Of course, at some point, the conversation turned to the music business and how hard it is to “make it” in the current music industry. The harpist, Michael Freedman, who due to his age, has a broader perspective than either of us, in terms of the ways in which the music industry has changed, basically has concluded that the live music, bar scene is dead.
I’ve heard this sentiment echoed pretty much my whole adult life from older, more experienced musicians. I don’t doubt that it’s changed. Even in the 20 or so years that I’ve been playing music things have changed. But to conclude the scene is dead because it isn’t what it used to be seems a bit bitter and jaded. Although, I can understand Michael’s stance, compared to what it used to be, I’m sure things pale in comparison.
But, here’s the thing, live music isn’t really dead and music certainly isn’t dead. The show we played last night, was to around 50 people. Almost all of them stayed the entire show. They were captivated and clearly enjoyed themselves and the music. I play shows like this all the time. No, playing live music for 50 people isn’t the same as playing live music for 500 or 5,000 people. But the point is, people still clearly enjoy live music and there are plenty of bands and musicians who make a living performing live that can attest to this.
In my mind, there’s no point in lamenting the fact that things aren’t what they used to be. The current music industry is the music industry we have, for better or worse. Focusing on the fact that it used to be better or different is as pointless as being single and focusing on the fact that you used to be in a relationship and were happier in the past. You are where you are in life. It’s as simple as that.
Speaking of being single, I recently became single again, after being in a relationship for several years. It was a hard adjustment at first, but I hit the ground running, started going to the gym religiously, got back to focusing on my business, socializing more, playing more music, etc. Now, two months into the breakup, I feel a clear and resounding feeling that things are going to be ok. Better than ok in fact. I actually feel great. I feel much, much better than I expected to feel at this point, but only because I’m embracing where I’m at and accepting the challenge of growing and improving myself, instead of trying to fight it.
I look at the current state of the music industry in a similar way. I write and play music, and this is the climate I find myself in. I can fight reality, deny it, get angry and so on. Or, I can accept the fact that things have changed, adapt, and do what I can to make it in the current music industry. I can get up every day and approach music with the same tenacity that I approach things like going to the gym, working on my business and so on. Or, I could lay down and just give up.
It’s not easy, but back to my former teacher’s idea, the mountain that’s most important to me to climb, is the mountain of becoming a great musician. My guitar teacher and I had this conversation close to 20 years ago. And yet, this advice and philosophy is as true today as it was then. I find thinking about music this way incredibly helpful and motivating.
Climbing the mountain of becoming a “great” musician is something you can actually navigate and control, to a large degree, regardless of what’s happening in the music “business”. You can put in the hours and the work needed to become “great”, and chances are that if you persevere long enough you will achieve a degree of greatness, and in one way or another you’ll be recognized for it.
The mountain of becoming a “famous’ musician has faded a lot for me, into the background of my life. I can still see it from my vantage point, off in the distance, but I’m less and less motivated to make the trek between here and there, and I’m not even sure it’s a mountain that I really want to climb anymore. Perhaps one day, if I truly become a “great” musician, the mountain will come to me, or at least move a little closer.
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.
The blog of musician and thinker of deep thoughts, Aaron Davison.