Home | Articles | BookstorePromote Your Music | Music is Your Business | Subscribe
Twitter | Start a Record Label | Radio Promotion | CD Art Design | Music Career Help

'Making It' in the Music Business
An Alternate View for the Independent Musician

by Graeme Kirk - Spaced Out Sounds, April 2002

Back to
The Academy

As an independent musician you will find that many experts in the music industry will be more than happy to feed you great morsels of advice. Often they will present this advice as a “reality check” or a “wake-up call” to dispel any naïve misconceptions you may have about establishing your career. Unfortunately this advice can sometimes be exactly what a budding musician does NOT need.

When We Were Young...
I formed my first band as a teenager. We were never very good but we had fun. Like most young bands we reached a stage where reality reared its ugly head. “Get some good equipment”, we were told. “Practice every day…”, “…get a good manager…”, “…learn about the business…”, "..learn to write catchier songs...". All seemingly good advice, but the effect on us was demoralizing. We had other priorities. The thought of spending all our time and money on a potentially dead-end career was not something a bunch of middle-class kids with alternative career prospects were ready to contemplate. Music was a passion but it was not our life.

The band broke up and we drifted off into boring day jobs.

“So what?” you may ask. “You just didn’t have the commitment to make it in the music business”. True, but only because we didn’t realize that there can be many different definitions of “making it”. The problem is that most people who were giving us advice don’t realize it either. If we had only been told that there could be more to being in a band than the hard slog, paying your dues, waiting for record companies to notice you path that everyone assumes is the only way to succeed, things could have been much different.

It all comes down to how you define success – how you define “making it”.

"Making It' - Redefined
The truth is that all around the world, wherever you look there are people making music who are successful without ever “making it” in the conventional sense. They can do this because they have realized that, in the immortal words of Ricky Nelson “You can’t please everyone so you’ve got to please yourself”. They may never make enough out of music to quit their day jobs but they are appealing to the only audience that really matters – themselves. The lucky ones have even discovered that once they start making music they can be proud of a broader audience suddenly develops.

If you listen to the advice of the industry experts they will always be pushing you in certain ways. Managers, producers, promoters, they all want to shape your sound. What they are trying to do is make you more marketable. This is all very well if you are primarily interested in making money, but take a listen to the music on the charts. How much of it, in your opinion, sucks big time? And this is the stuff that is successful! If you spend all your time trying to be marketable then you’ll be stuck in a downward spiral towards mediocrity. To be successful on your own terms you need to take risks, and taking risks will inevitably lead to a vast majority of people labelling your music as crap. As an independent artist it makes more sense to be true to yourself, and then try and seduce people around to your way of thinking.

Of course if your goal is to be like Britney or *NSYNC and sell millions of records then follow all the expert advice you can get, and good luck to you. But don’t try and call yourself an independent musician.

Don’t get me wrong – I’m not telling you to ignore expert advice. What I’m saying is that only you can judge whether the advice is good or bad. Just because it comes from an “industry expert” doesn’t mean it’s right for you.

Make music to please yourself - then find an audience for it. The music business is all about seduction. In the end it all comes down to self-belief and marketing.

Practice Makes Perfect?
Another piece of advice you will hear often comes from professional musos. “Practice whenever you can. Hone your live act. Become a master of your instrument”. Again, seemingly good advice but not always appropriate.

Nothing beats the buzz of playing live. To be on stage entertaining a crowd of people is one of the great thrills of a musician’s life. But it has its downside – hard work, unresponsive crowds, months spent on the road touring, unscrupulous promoters. For many d-i-y musicians it can all become a bit of a drag, particularly for those electronic musicians who spend all their time creating music in home studios but don’t actually have a band to play live with.

These days it is possible to have a successful career without ever playing live. You will probably want to at some stage, but putting in the hard yards in the studio developing your sound over a period of years can pay dividends. Many electronic acts release album after album without ever appearing on a stage. Their first live appearances occur AFTER they have already had commercial success. Much of their success comes from being plugged by DJs or via the Internet. In fact, it is becoming more and more common for non-electronic musicians to follow the same path to success.

It is true that live performances are a powerful promotional tool but the Internet has opened up global opportunities that render such localized promotional activities irrelevant. Even non-electronic bands have embraced the global reach of the Internet and are successfully marketing their studio recordings internationally without any need for live gigs. If you look hard enough you are sure to find an audience for your music somewhere in the world.

Another problem with expert advice from musos is that often they are terribly elitist. If you don’t have the best equipment, or can’t tell the difference between a solo played in the mixolydian scale and one in a pentatonic blues scale then you run the risk of being branded an “amateur” – which you may well be, but this label should not be used to belittle your musical accomplishments.

This elitist attitude is so outdated it is laughable. What the world needs now is MORE amateurishness as an antidote to the homogenized pap that infects the music industry. Being a virtuoso is fine if you want to be a session muso but it’s not always the pathway to creating interesting, unique and personal music. Many is the time I have sat watching awe-struck as a brilliant technical guitarist run his fingers lightning-like up and down the fretboard yet I have remained totally unmoved at an emotional level. On the other hand I have a recording I made of my 4-year-old nephew banging a cheap organ and singing nonsense words which I find incredibly intense. Maybe I’m just a little strange but I’m not totally convinced of that yet (despite what my wife says).

I’m not saying there is anything wrong with being a master musician. I just don’t think it is a necessary prerequisite to creating great music. It can sometimes make the whole process easier, but it can also stifle true experimentation. These days it’s possible for music producers to do great work with little more than a computer and a bunch of samples. I guess you could argue that the computer has now become the instrument and you need to master it like any other, but I’m not sure that too many “musicians” would accept this argument. Once again experts can be too narrow in their definitions – what makes you a virtuoso is not technical brilliance but emotional involvement.

So, What I'm Saying...
I guess in the end what I am saying is that there is no one path to success because there is no one definition of success. The music industry may think otherwise but who says we have to be part of this industry to be successful? I believe that independent musicians should educate themselves so that they can use the services of the music industry to achieve their own form of success. If you subscribe to the industry’s definition you must either become a part of the machine, or a victim of it.

So do I regret being demoralized by all that advice when I was young? Not really. The story has a happy ending. That boring day job has actually given me quite a comfortable existence, and now I can focus on making music without financial pressures. If I had to live on the proceeds of my music I’d be destitute, but I am now making music I am truly proud of. Modern technology has made it easier to be a part-time musician and still produce music of a professional standard that is heard by a wide audience. And whether I make five million dollars or five cents from my music it really makes no difference. It’s taken me the better part of 20 years but I have finally learned to define success on my own terms.


Graeme Kirk is an independent musician and label manager from Sydney, Australia. He has produced a number of independent CDs and can be reached by email at: gk@circleofwillis.com.au

You can find out more about Graeme’s work at
www.spacedoutsounds.com or www.circleofwillis.com.au

Submit An Article for Consideration!
Would you like to submit an article for publication at MusicBizAcademy.com? If you have music-related expertise you'd like to share with other musicians including career tips, how to's, or general music business-related articles, please feel free to send them our way. We'll be glad to consider them.
Submit your article!


Follow The
Music Biz Academy
on Twitter. Get instant notifcation of new music promotion tips tips, music business articles, resources and news. It's all business, all the time.

Subscribe FREE...
to the
Music Biz Academy newsletter! Music promotion tips, articles, site recommendations, and industry news will be delivered to your inbox. Details Here

How to Promote Your Music Successfully on the Internet

How to Promote Your Music Successfully on the Internet
This easy-to-read guide to music promotion teaches you how to effectively sell your music online! Learn what works and what doesn't from a musician who's now promoting music on the Internet full time!

Get Educated...
Master the Music Biz!
Online Courses. Many Programs. Learn Day or Night.
Details Here

Our Top 25 Articles
How to Write an Artist Bio
Performance Contracts
Mastering Your Music
How to Copyright Music
21 Songwriting Tips

Tax Tips for Musicians

Sell Your CDs Online

What's a Record Deal About?
Artist/Band Interview Form

Inside Record Labels
Internship Do's & Don'ts
How to Make a Living w/ Music

How to Write a Press Release
Reasons Demos Are Rejected
Facts About Music Licensing

Trademark Your Band Name?
Planning A Radio Campaign
A Legal Checklist
Industry Quotes to Live By
Songwriting Techniques
Guerrilla Marketing Tips
Starting a Music Business
Live Performance
Music Marketing Plan
Can U Afford Distribution?

Lots More Articles...

All Content © 1996-2013
Midnight Rain Productions.
All Rights Reserved.
Privacy Policy