To most reading this latest entry in my blog series about the music industry, it won't seem as though I've been away, but in reality, I've taken nearly six months off of my regular blog posts to focus on a huge transition with my son, Spencer Kane, and his career in the music and acting industry.
Spencer graduated from high school in June last year and turned 19 in October. It seemed that somewhere between October and December, everything he'd been working toward in his young career was coming to a boiling point. When I speak of boiling, it is in both the positive and negative connotation. The phone was ringing with opportunities and the doors that were quickly opening were quickly closing at the same time. Faced with choosing college or pursuing his career was a lot of pressure and he chose to take off one year of school to see what could happen with music and acting.
I don't believe we knew what that really meant.
Most artists face a season of trying to build their presence in the industry and with fans while eking out a living. Many have to focus on day jobs or day-labor to pay the bills while pursuing their dream. This reality hit hard when Spencer realized he was no longer a full-time student with a part-time music career. This brings me to the first of five things to avoid when building your music career.
1. Don't Give Up Your Day Job
The delicate balance of how to devote your creative passion to your dream career while being distracted with a job you likely don't want to be doing so you can pay the bills is one of the more difficult aspects of building your music dreams. Fortunately, Spencer and I spent several years hanging around and being introduced to some of the music industry's most tenured and experienced leaders and artists that we were coached on the importance of not getting too sold on your own hype and staying grounded. Part of staying grounded when starting your journey is to remind yourself that the bill collector's don't care about your musical genius as much as you and your treasured fans may feel at the time. No amount of meeting with labels, management companies or even doing shows with well-known artists can rocket the majority of artists into a job-quitting situation. So this is extremely important. My advice is that if you can't replace your current consistent income and have a slew of funds in the savings account, keep finding a way to balance your passion and a job.
2. Swallow Your Pride
One condition I have witnessed repeatedly in the music business while touring and doing festivals with Spencer is the unfortunate disease of egocentricity that surrounds most new artists. Whether it's an insecurity within a personality or a quick rise of attention from a regional fan base, most emerging artists start believing their own hype to their own detriment. Even worse, they consider themselves equals to those who have paid dues for years. Now, it's not a bad thing to have confidence, but it's a serious detriment to be so arrogant about your talent and ability that you come across as a prima donna to those who can help or hurt your career. Sadly, we've witnessed and experienced overconfidence ourselves along the way and prevented some opportunities from happening if humility were more prevalent. It's incredible how wildfire-like egos can spread to key people in the business. What makes it worse is when you intentionally focus on being humble and watch successful music artists and leaders treat others like dirt and puff up their own egos because people pander to them because they feel it will open doors. The lesson here is to always be grateful in action and words to everyone you interact with along the way. You never know who's watching or will hear a story about your character that could make or break an opportunity.
3. Never Assume You've Arrived Creatively
A struggle I've seen with emerging artists is the stubbornness they present when developing their sound or brand. Many times an artist may find some success (accolades) in a particular song or live show. The misstep here is to rely solely on that past success as your compass moving forward. Great and successful artists who have long and sustained careers have found ways to serve their fan demand for music while remaining fresh and relevant. It took Justin Timberlake quite a few years of developing his sound before striking gold on his solo albums. Madonna reinvents herself every few years without changing her signature vocal style. Being willing to experiment creatively and work with producers and songwriters who may have something different to give you will dramatically help you get to your full-time career faster.
4. Stop Comparing Yourself To Similar Genre Artists
This may seem to contradict point 3, but it is different. Just because you can sing an 8 note run like Mariah Carey or Beyonce doesn't mean you're original and going to find success. Many artists have built their careers recreating songs (covers) from other artists. However, not many have long careers by trying to be or sound like an existing artist on the radio. Speaking to a half dozen A&R's from Sony, Warner, Universal and a few smaller labels, we found that demo CD's or submissions get tossed in the trash if they sound too similar to what's already on the radio. I've heard many artists try to replicate what they hear on the radio assuming it will validate them for a career. Unless you intend to be a cover band or artist, find a way to creatively separate yourself from the pack.
5. Stop Advertising Every Phone Call Of Opportunities
Opportunities are so fickle. Some can move you forward, but most will disappear or discourage your motivation. The fact is that rejection is so normal in the entertainment business (I know this sounds cliche) that you will find yourself with egg on your face if you tell your circle of family and friends about each opportunity that arises. We've learned the hard way that the next time you see that person or friend, it's awfully embarrassing to have to explain why something didn't work out. It's eerily similar to the boy who cried wolf. After a while, your support group will walk away or you'll feel like giving up. The fact is that most emerging artists will never find a way to earn a living in the music business. It's like dreaming of being a professional athlete when you're in high school. Statistically, it's just not going to happen very often for the majority of artists. I went out to dinner with my wife this week and pointed out something that even I found hard to grasp. I mentioned that the NFL has 32 teams of which each maintain an active roster of 53 players. Doing the math equals just under 1700 professional football players. These are players who get paid to play football for a living. Now how many of those 1700 players can you name right now? It's stunning to realize that most artists will be obscure in the industry that way. The number of high paid artists making over $100k year is even more obscure. So it's best to wait until you've actually signed a contract and cashed a few checks before announcing to the world that you're a mover and shaker in the business. Trust me, it's much easier to do that than to eat crow about that big label meeting.
Spencer is now part of the group called ANTHEM LIGHTS as well as continuing his solo career. He has been in his first two big-screen films (God's Not Dead 2 and Camp Cool Kids) as a featured actor and is living between Nashville and Indiana most of the time. I hardly see him anymore but from December until February, his whole career path took a direction we had not foreseen. He's earning a paycheck now and hopes to get his own place in Nashville. As a parent, that's what we want for our kids. As his manager, it's what I've prayed and hoped for. But none of this has come without learning hard lessons along the way.