Hard Truths For Young Musicians: No One Owes You A Living
In the recent years, I’ve encountered other musicians who were relatively young in their journey. They share a similarity in their attitudes, which I strongly feel is hindering them from truly succeeding in their music. Most encounters consisted of them asking for help, which is a good place to start, but just going about it incorrectly.
In no way is this meant to be a personal attack of any sorts. I’m not perfect myself. I simply want to share my opinion, in the hopes that all readers could learn from my experiences and most of all, not make the same mistakes that I did starting out.
It’s Nothing Personal
I’d like to believe most people are not malicious in the slightest. It takes someone truly mean to make stopping you from succeeding in your music their life mission. Everyone is trying to do what they can to make their goals a reality. Sometimes that means turning some people down, despite its unpleasantness.
I believe in the power of asking and you should believe in the value of your music. At the same time, you need to consider if the person you’re asking a favour from sees similar value in you and your music. If he or she doesn’t, there wouldn’t any form of fair exchange.
Get What You Want, By Giving Them What They Want
This is hard to swallow and it took me a long time to accept this: your friends, family and countrymen are not obliged to like and support your music. It doesn’t make them bad people. They are entitled to their opinion, just like you are.
However, people will support you if:
they feel you are a nice person (though this could be short term and/or limited in extent)
they like your music and feel that it adds value to their lives
helping you helps them to achieve their goals
I’ll explain this further using more specific situations.
Others with more experience
I came across this article by Fernando Gros and really enjoyed reading it. It made me realise that just like everyone else, I have only 24 hours a day. Therefore I need to prioritise my time, because an hour spent on my music would eventually make me more money than giving advice in exchange for a coffee.
Usually there is hardly any level of relationship established prior to meeting up and it feels unfair to me to give you something precious for free. If you expect someone to hand everything to you on a silver platter, then you’re going to be very disappointed. Life isn’t like that.
If you really need to pick someone’s brains, offer them more than just a coffee. One idea is to tell your followers about them. You can do this with a few simple posts on social media or even, uploading a video of you covering a song of theirs onto YouTube. After all, they are taking valuable time out of their schedule to help you. Life coaches, whose core business is giving out advice and monetising it, would charge much more for an hour of theirs.
Government bodies & other sponsors
In Singapore, musicians typically apply for two grants from the National Arts Council, namely the Marketing and Audience Development Grant for touring and the Presentation and Participation Grant to produce their EP. I’ve been fortunate enough to have received support from them.
The officers there have much responsibility placed on their shoulders, to make sure the grant is awarded to those with strong and convincing proposals, as that helps them meet their own performance targets.
That grant money doesn’t magically appear at the end of a rainbow. It comes from taxing hard working citizens and residents such as your family and friends and therefore, we need to show how we would diligently use that money to achieve both our own goals and the government’s.
One might feel that government bodies should lend you support the moment you decide to do a tour. Sadly, not all tours are made equal and yours could be deemed not good enough. Thankfully if you ask, most officers are friendly and willing to share how you could improve for future proposals.
So please, start working on your application early, not the night before! In my opinion, grants are great supplements but you should never make receiving the grant the crux of your fundraising strategy.
Music Industry Professionals
Many think that hiring a manager would solve all their problems and make that a top priority. They also forget that be it indie or mainstream, the music business is exactly that. A business.
Managers offer their services to make a living, not a charity. If 20% of your performance fee doesn’t cover their transport, why should they sign you? Imagine an event organiser not paying you enough. Even in an indie context, you wouldn’t take on that gig, because you feel that your value is not being recognised.
You need to instead prioritise building your audience and monetising them. This could be done through a combination of social media strategies and touring. Remember, “if you build it, they will come”!
I’d hate to see you give up your passion for music because you thought no one wanted to help you. That is simply not true! I hope that you will take all I’ve shared, take some time to reflect and work on yourself then finally, ask better!