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Click to email ChrisWhat's it Going to Be?
A Fantasy Music Career
or a Real One?
by Christopher Knab , January 2011

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America Loves Celebrities.
Stars are shown as if their lives were one big party. You’ve seen the limos, the gorgeous babes, the mansions, and the glamor of celebrity. Of course it looks appealing. Who wouldn’t want to live in luxury, meeting other celebrities? Be honest, haven’t you said to yourself, "My songs are really good… I could be on the radio and TV too!" Of course you have. 

Pull Back the Curtain
Remember the scene in The Wizard of Oz, where Dorothy and her friends are finally in the inner chamber of the Wizard? They’re in awe of the spectacular sights and sounds when Toto pulls back the curtain. The Wizard is nothing but an old, ordinary man who had been pulling strings and pushing buttons to create those sights and sounds. Well, that’s what I want you to do. Pull back the curtain of illusion and take a close look at the business of music. 

If you’re going to have any real shot at success, you have to see the entertainment industry for what it is - a multi-billion dollar-a-year business that uses songs as just one of the many ways to get money from millions of consumers. And yes, most of the people behind that curtain are actually old, ordinary looking men and women who have a job to do and do it quite well. 

Unfortunately, the media usually only shows you celebrities; it doesn’t offer a course in how to be one. Your constant exposure to successful artists has had a negative effect on you, whether you’re aware of it or not. 

The path to success as a musician isn’t paved with yellow bricks. Hell, it ain’t paved at all. It’s a road built with down and dirty, gritty work based on real world realities.

The Entertainment Industry Sells Fantasy
The entertainment industry’s job is fantasy. Fantasy is what keeps the listeners listening and the viewers viewing.

But watch out. 

Fantasy can be hazardous to your career, however. Let me tell you about the insidious “starry-itis” disease. It’s a disease that affects many musicians each year, but luckily, there are some real cures. 

Symptoms of “Starry-itis”:

  • Walking around in celebrity look-alike garb.
  • Copping an attitude that a star already uses.
  • Writing and recording songs that mimic an established musician.
  • Boasting that you’re “the next big thing” to everyone you meet.

These symptoms are a sure sign of the disease and are obvious to anyone in the music business. We tend to avoid contact with those who show these symptoms.

Starry-itis can prevent musicians from establishing their careers. Some musicians put together a band, start to play some gigs, make a demo or record a CD, get a website up, create a MySpace page and/or a Facebook account and feel pretty good when a few devoted fans start telling them how great they are in e-mails.

But what happens if they can’t get their music on any kind of radio, the clubs they want to perform in won’t book them, or their demo shopping fails to generate any interest from the labels? Why, the rejection is enough to make a grown man cry.

I Coulda' Been a Contender!

At this point, bitterness and frustration can lead to a complication of starry-itis. Now, “I could have been a contender-itis” sets in. People at this stage say things like, "If only my band-mates hadn’t quit on me," or, "I just picked the wrong guy to be my manager," or, "No one at my booking agency really cared about me."

Their lack of success is always someone else's fault. 

They feel unappreciated. It was too much work sending out all those demos anyway, and the clubs don’t have a clue what they’re missing by not booking them. And those A&R Reps, what do they know? "I’m a great undiscovered artist."

There’s a cure for all these maladies. Forget the fantasies. Don’t listen to the voices that make excuses for not doing good, old fashioned, in the trenches, hard-ass work. It’s not about fantasies; it’s about music and your commitment to it. Grab that reality and just get down to the business of being a dedicated, practicing and performing musician. That’s the secret of it all.

Naiveté is the cause of starry-itis, but the disease is curable, and you, yourself have the cure. 

The part of you that knew you had to work to get established was right. The error is thinking that after a certain point the work stops and the party begins. Actually, the work never stops. If you thought struggling to make it was rough, imagine the day-to-day reality of maintaining star status. Do you have any idea how much work it takes to tour non-stop for eighteen months? Try that fantasy on for size.

Do what you love because the best success, perhaps the most fantastic sensation of all, is satisfaction.

Satisfaction always follows a grounded-in-reality dedication to developing your career. You are a musician, and real musicians never stop playing their music, no matter how frustrating that road may be.


Christopher Knab is an independent music business consultant based in Seattle, Washington. He is available for private consultations on promoting and marketing independent music, and can be reached by email at: chris@chrisknab.net

Chris Knab's book,
'Music Is Your Business' is available from the Music Biz Academy bookstore.

Visit the
FourFront Media and Music website for more information on the business of music from Christopher Knab.

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