Thursday, 3 October 2013

Whats your backup plan?

I recently caught an episode of "The Voice" and was somewhat astounded to hear both Seal and Joel Madden tell a poor young Med Student with great vocal talent that if she wanted to be successful in the Music Industry, she can't have a backup plan (referring to her Medical studies).

I have a problem with this.

You see, for both Seal and Joel, this approach worked fine. They had no backup plan and this caused them to work hard and keep going until they succeeded. Their thinking was that because it worked for them, the only way to be successful is to cast yourself out into the world, with no other consideration of ever being anything other than a huge international hit. They had no consideration for the possibility that they could just as easily have not made it.

My problem with this is that not having a backup plan does not automatically guarantee that you will  be successful. In fact I'm a far greater proponent of the possibility that luck has more to do with anything in the music industry than hard work.

History is littered with thousands of chart topping hits from people and bands that could barely string 3 chords together and you only have to take a stroll through the pubs and clubs of any major city on a Friday and Saturday night to see thousands of incredibly talented musicians churning out April Sun in Cuba to hoards of barely interested drunken louts.

How many times have you heard someone say "That person has so much talent, they should be huge".

Sometimes it takes an entire lifetime of disappointment for musicians to realise that commercial success has little to do with talent and mostly to do with luck.

Think of it this way, the most talented sperm does not make it to fertilise the egg.
Sure, it has to be pretty quick and strong, but there are thousands of others just as good there at roughly the same time. Its just the luck of the draw as to the one that makes it through.

So what does this mean for you as a musician?

It means ALWAYS have a backup plan.
A good education will ensure that IF you don't succeed as a musician, you have something to fall back on. A good education might also increase your chances of being successful in the first place.

Set yourself some clear musical goals and give yourself a time limit to achieve them.
Don't make them impossible but each should be slightly more aspirational.
Set a time limit on each goal.

For example, after recording an album you might set some goals such as:
  • 3 months - Solid local radio play
  • 6 months - Opening for local concert.
  • 12 months - Regular National Radio Play
  • 18 months - Support act for National Tour or opening for regional concerts outside your local area.
  • 24 months - NZ on air funding or signed to label
  • 36 months - 10,000 units sold per annum, National Tour booked.

Quite often what seems to happen is that you will experience some initial success and then things stagnate or go backwards. You might get to the National Radio Play stage and then 12 months later find its not there anymore and you are back to trying to 'get your name out there'. This is where you need to give yourself a fixed time limit to get to the next stage or 'call it a day'. If you are more than 6 to 12 months behind on a specific goal, the chances are, that you are probably unlikely to go much further.

Its at this point you pull out your 'Backup Plan' and relegate music to your hobby with the realisation that you are probably not going to be an International (or even national for that matter) Superstar.

There is nothing to be ashamed about by being a hobby musician, its loads of fun and can be extremely fulfilling. By removing the disappointment of 'not making it' you can enjoy your hobby much more.

Don't forget that even if you aren't going to make it as a Superstar, there are loads of well paying jobs in the music industry that can be just as fun. You can teach music, work for a radio station, work in the production / technical side of the industry, work for a label or in promotion / advertising. Even jingle and backing track production can be lucrative business.