I’ve been “in a band” since I was 15-years-old (I’m 27 now). Through that and working at a record store I’ve learned a few things about music, and the business that envelops musicians. In turn, here are some rants, criticisms, and (if you look hard enough) advice based on what I’ve experienced.

Success

When it comes to music, there are two different kinds of “success stories.” One is the public viewpoint, the other is the truth.

The public thinks everybody is an “overnight success.” Every Rolling Stone Magazine reading and MTV watching kid feels their newly “discovered” “favorite artist” just happened to be approached by an EMI A&R rep’ last week in the garage after having formed one month prior. Instantaneous rags-to-riches follow. Sometimes, the actual people in the band think this. If they just play a couple shows around their hometown and “rock out to their fans” for a few months they’re sure to have a “couple suits” show up in no time! Hell, this was almost true back in the early 90s, when “grunge” was ejaculating all over mainstream radio the “underground” was the new above ground. Bands like Brian Jonestown Massacre and Butthole Surfers actually held out for the “best deal.” Every band with at least 100 loyal fans were signing away to what they thought was the “greatest deal of all time.”

“Ain’t even Ray Charles don’t have a contract like mine!”

Back to reality, a true “success story” happens the same way a career grows. You’re unhappy with your job in data entry so you head to school to become an aeronautics engineer. Obviously you don’t expect to be hired by NASA next month. Hell, even after you graduate it’s going to take a few years to even begin thinking about NASA. For some reason, in this analogy, it’s a lot more acceptable to work your tail off for that engineering degree than it is to become a career musician. Think about it. What if you don’t get hired by NASA (and there’s probably a good chance you won’t be)? Big deal, you still have a frickin’ aeronautics degree! As a musician, if you work hard for 5 or 6 years and don’t get signed to a label, you’re akin to a sick dog, “why doesn’t someone put him down?” You could still have a viable career. Sure, you’re not pulling an engineer’s salary, but you’ve got the “being your own boss” thing going for you, which is nice.

So why does the public shy away from everything that’s not sold to them as the next new, fresh, biggest thing? These “local” guys are at times working twice as hard as those mainstream radio heroes. Hell, I work 40+ hours every week at my “day job” then boot up the home studio every night to start tracking, mixing, and/or writing. Between that, I send slurries of emails and MySpace messages in attempts to book tours/shows; design flyers, CD covers, t-shirts, buttons, web pages, Virb profiles, and everything else the big guys contract out. Sure, their tours are much more extensive and they have to make pit stops all over town to sign autographs, get photographed, do interviews, and buy drugs. But they also tour in private jets, cushy buses, and stay in hotels (with *gasp* showers). We’re lucky to have a van/truck with “just” enough leg room, and get a 3 foot by 7 foot chunk of floor to lay down our sleeping bag.

The funniest thing about this is not how quickly the rabid public eats up mainstream notions of brand-newness, but how quickly they spit out what they once embraced. For a musician, it’s a conundrum. On one side you’re only “respected” if you express some semblance of “earning your keep.” On the other, if it takes too long for that keep to reach a state of earned, you’re yesterdays news.

Read: The Perils of DIY