Blood, Sweat and Tears: How to Make It in Music

Written by Scott Manning on . Posted in Music

You just started a band.

You start small by gathering in someone’s garage or apartment clubhouse and writing some music. You score a gig opening for a semi-known local act on a Thursday night at the dumpiest venue around. Maybe a handful of your friends come, enjoy, and request a CD that you don’t yet have. You can’t afford the studio quite yet, but your bassist has a camera that records sound, so you set it down during practice and hope for the best.

You determine that the next best thing to a CD is a Myspace band page so — ignoring the poor recording quality — you don your page with all sorts of band branding and upload your tunes. Now you can tell potential fans where to find your music after shows. You book your second show, feeling a bit more prepared and ready to blow the crowd off their feet. You text everyone in your phone and wait for the inevitable throngs of people ready to support you, but by the time you strum your last note, there are two in the audience other than the other bands — and they’re sitting down in the back of the room rolling their eyes.

Welcome to the world of the musician.

Anyone who has played in a band knows that with any one step forward there seem to be ten steps back. There are no breaks, there are no handouts, and there are no special tricks that will guarantee you power, fame and money.

Take, for example, a band called “Trik Turner.” Trik Turner, a rap/rock band from Tempe, Ariz., got their first big break with a song placement on the Adam Sandler movie “Mr. Deeds,” and from there they were on the fast train to a record deal. Then two things happened: their frontman left, and the nation realized that rap/rock sucked. They were as dead as a seal during Shark Week. They weakly attempted a second album and marketed everywhere they could, but it was clearly over before they even started.

What does it take, then, to make it as a musician? Here are three points I would consider to be the most important.

1. Blood, Sweat and Tears

If you aren’t fully invested in your project, you may as well give up right now and save yourself and your band mates the time and trouble. Being serious about music is an understatement of what you need to keep things going. You will want to quit at least every other month, and if you don’t keep your eye on the big goal you’ll do just that.

In my own experience, working with a band is always hard. Just think about it — you have to deal with two, three or four other people all wanting different things and usually never as invested as you are. There will be times where you will be the only thing holding it together, and you may feel that no one else is even attempting to help out. Just keep your focus on the end goal, and remember that the constant feeling of failure is pretty normal… at least in the early stages.

And most importantly, be patient. On average it takes a band four years to get anywhere noteworthy — including Neon Trees.

2. Business-minded Mentality

You may think you’re avoiding the corporate world by not getting a real job and just doing the band thing. Newsflash — running a band is running a business. There’s marketing, accounting, public relations, sales, development, human resources… you’re not weasling out of anything at all if you’re doing it right. So read up — if you run a business successfully, you can run a band. It’s that simple. It’s the same gig, just a different product with some slightly different ways to pitch. That doesn’t necessarily make it simple — keep in mind that at least two-thirds of all businesses fail within two years of starting.

3. Being “Social”

A lot of band members out there would sit well on the cast of The Goonies as far as their level of misfitery. Many of us never had social lives, friends or any extroverted tendencies whatsoever. That’s why we start bands, so we can express our weirdness through music. But the day you want success is the day you change all that.

People are over 10 times more likely to accept something or purchase from a friend than a stranger or mild acquaintance, so start making some friends. Some of the things that work best are hanging out at other bands’ shows and shooting the breeze with their fans, being active on a couple social media outlets (don’t just talk about your show next week and how badly you want them there, be a human), and — believe it or not — blogging. And when you think you’ve reached the point of rock-god status and no longer have to interact with your fans on a personal level, just remember that even cute little Justin Bieber spends well over two hours on Twitter every day.

Feel free to comment below what you would add to this list.


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