The following text is by Mike Britt, from a post on his Facebook page. Inspiring read. Do yourself a favor and read this, especially if you’re feeling a bit jaded and cynical about your life as a struggling/working musician.
During a session the other day I heard a band member say out loud that this isn’t his main thing and we’ll “never make any money” and it’s been a long time since I’ve heard someone use those words out loud (even though many are THINKING this) and it was very eye-opening to me. Like many people who begin performing as a teen it took until somewhere around 19-22 to wise up to how pay-to-play and presale tickets and so many other things are programs designed to benefit their executors and not the musicians who do the actual work, and that the “music industry” thrives and depends on a steady influx of teens who purchase instruments and participate in these programs. The industry is fueled by the newcomers, like any other Ponzi scheme.
Anyway I (as a songwriter) I also decided this wasn’t my main thing and I’ll “never make any money” and I believed what this guy believed generally from the age of 22-30, and was partly why I decided to dedicate my time to teaching or recording younger people who were still “living the dream” so to speak. In fact I now remember very clearly the AH-HA moment. I was working at Sam Ash as a warehouse worker (I took the job hoping to network with local musicians) and one day I witnessed a starry-eyed mother buying an $800 guitar for her kid who was playing for less than a year. Oh he’s gonna need an amp too. So she also buys a marshall for $800. My parents were very supportive of my musical interests but they took great care to make sure I didn’t turn out like an entitled bitch boy and I don’t see how all the straight As or high SAT scores or taking in the trash in the world could’ve warranted such a reward from his legal guardians. Anyway before I get all Ayn Rand on you I saw this mother give $1600 to sam ash and it occurred to me that the music industry is fueled not by selling records to music fans. It is fueled by the friends and family of young musicians who believe they will become rock stars. Coincedentally, It was also around this time I had read a very convincing essay written by Steve Albini which lays out the economics and legal tricks involved in a standard major label recording contract, which is apparently not the best deal. The essay is titled “the problem with music” and for my personal experience, this was the nail in the coffin for the pre-internet business model of selling records.
I tried not to spill the beans to the other people I worked with throughout my 20s because A.) their passion is what’s actually important and B.) my fate does not have to be theirs and to tell them what I knew would only be discouraging words. Sometimes I felt like I was living a lie because I would be involved with people who believed we were working towards our “big break” but I was well aware we were one of thousands of young bands who fuel the bottom levels of the “music industry” by purchasing equipment and buying studio time and inviting our friends and family to buy tickets to drink at a bar and watch some bands etc.
Anyway there’s light at the end of the tunnel so stay with me here. Through my travels a few of my friends did find some modest success and I met a few people who SOMEHOW were able to sustain themselves solely from their music income. Sounds crazy, right? As I got to know more people behind professional musicians and more people who make a living playing music I discovered that it’s not a “dream” at all. Living the life of an artist and dedicating some time to getting your music heard is merely a piece of the pie when setting up a diverse income. There’s income from shows, lessons, merch, online sales, royalty payments, session work, royalty payments from collaborations, and a plethora of ways to “make it” and it’s not unbelievable to me because I’ve gotten to know people who actually do this.
People who haven’t been there will try to talk you out of it. Let’s say you were interested in getting into computer programming and maybe you wanted to start your own web design firm.
“You’ll never be Bill Gates. Keep dreaming buddy”
Now wait a second.. you’re using a $60 billion dollar man to suggest that making $80k a year to sustain myself is impossible.
This is but one example of the logical fallacies you will be met with. Just because you can’t be Dave Grohl ($225mil) or Taylor Swift ($250mil) doesn’t mean you can’t make $32k a year, enough to afford a car and a place to live and be able to eat without suffering and enough to classify as being part of the top 1% of income earners WORLDWIDE. Read that again, 99% of the world’s population pulls in less than $32k yearly.
When people try to talk you out of it, they assume you’re trying to be world-wide famous and make a million dollars a show. This is hardly what I’m talking about.
When I was 31-ish I discovered that to say “i’ll never do this” is simply a decision you make. It’s like how they say “you can’t win if you don’t play”. By then it wasn’t too late for me and I hope some of the people I work for don’t wake up at 30 years old and realize that it was up to them all along. I know many musicians who are perpetually waiting for “something to happen” or some sort of “big break” or “getting signed” but it’s really up to us all along. It’s no different from applying for a job or doing your taxes. Positioning yourself isn’t sexy or fun, it’s just old-fashioned work. Unfortunately, there is no bullet-proof roadmap for doing this. All I know is by looking at how other people have done it, reverse engineering their path and learning systematic routes that all converge. I can say that being a professional musician is apparently NOT just a dream, and it can be a reality only if YOU DECIDE that it will be. You may know this already and i’m just ranting. I’m at my parents house we’re about to sing happy birthday for my dad and sister in law so I had some time to punch this out. Moon Days session tonight and we’re working on some amazing stuff. See you soon.