Thought I’d dispense a little wisdom today about how to pursue your Rockstar dreams the right way.
Many people tell musicians to forego everything else in their lives to become a success in the music industry. This is terrible advice and completely unnecessary.
The proper way to pursue your musical career, and when I say career only the top 1%* make a living touring, and only the top 1% of that 1% make significant money. The average musician who files taxes makes $35,000/year and that’s an average so plenty of people making much less and having no health benefits. The income of U2, the Stones, Madonna bring the figure up to $35,000 when factored as a whole. Otherwise you don’t even want to know what it would be per year.
Some other dismal stats: Of the 75,000 albums released in 2010 only 2,000 sold more than 5,000 copies. Only 1,000 sold more than 10,000 copies. Without going into details, 10,000 albums is about the point where independent artists begin to go into the black on professional album production, marketing and promotion
So with the prospects of making a living in the music industry (let alone becoming a huge Rockstar) so dim what’s the best way to go about achieving your dreams but not screwing your entire life over in the process?
Ideally, start learning to sing and play an instrument early, like around 5 years old. Start writing songs, learning to improvise, learning to play covers. When you’re old enough start playing with some bands in the clubs in your area. Learn how to put on a great live show. But all the while you’re in school see, getting good grades, finishing your education. You’re playing at night and on the weekends, but you still have time to study and hang with friends.
If you haven’t made it by 17-18 go to college. If you have a great band in your hometown that you don’t want to break up with then go to college in your hometown and again play at night and on the weekends. Major in music even, maybe even some business classes, because lord knows if you’re lucky enough you’re going to need to understand the business side of things even if it’s just understanding what your manager and attorney are telling you to sign.
Summertime is touring time! While everyone is on the beach you’ve got 3 months to get in a van and tour the country. Have some friends in Europe from that study abroad? Freaking drop in on them and play some shows in Paris, London and Hamburg! Become international like that!
That means you have every weekend in your elementary, high school and college career to play shows and build your following and all summer to tour the country and become a national act from the age of like 10! Now that is plenty of time to make it and find out if you really have something special (Michael Jackson was huge at 5!), but hey if you graduate and you still haven’t made it, no worries you’re freakin only 21! You have all the time in the world to make it in music and guess what you also have? A freakin’ COLLEGE DEGREE! So if music doesn’t pan out you can get a decent job, have choices, not kill yourself because you’re forty and the future looks so bleak and it seems too late to get that degree you should have gotten 20 years ago, but didn’t because everyone said you had to sell your soul to the devil. Newsflash you don’t. Live your life, get married, have a family, have friends, a good day job with health benefits/401K, but also strive for your musical goals. Just don’t let your ambitions deprive you of a lifetime of happiness and future financial stability/security when the prospects are 99% sure you won’t make a living at music writing and playing original tunes (obviously cover bands make money and hey that could be your day job).
This isn’t defeatist thinking, it’s realistic, smart, not screwing your life over thinking. You’ll write as great or better of a song when you don’t have to worry about where you’re going to get your next meal.
And in the end you’ll play a lot of great shows, get critical acclaim from all the online blogs and music sites, have a blast doing it, but money (especially today with everyone ripping your CDs for free) is 99% guaranteed to elude you if you don’t get an education and rely solely on the music industry to support you. It won’t. Even one hit wonders are broke after a few years, even legends who wrote all those amazing hits, musicians signed and dropped to multiple labels who you’ve never heard of, all broke because they didn’t save that windfall or because their project got put on the shelf indefinitely by some label because their champion at the label just got fired, which happens all the time.
So play your hearts out, live your musical dreams, but always always have a backup plan by graduating from school, and hey, you’ll write more intelligent lyrics as well! Ha! All the best to you in your musical endeavors, and remember to balance your life with your passion. Playing and creating great music does not require obliterating everything else that makes you happy in this short sweet life. You have a right to be happy while playing your music because it’s a long way to the top if you wanna Rock ‘n Roll. Might as well enjoy the entire journey. Best of luck to you!
And ps. remember never pay to play. You’re helping shady clubs and promoters who should be paying you to entertain their patrons not the other way around. Don’t let them make you feel like it’s your honor to put money in their pocket. It should be their honor to hear you play and put money in your pocket for the privilege. At the least you’re their temporary employee and should be treated with respect and paid for your professional services. If bands don’t support these exploitive situations they will go away! Peace and love.
*Stats taken from this great article on Trichordist: http://thetrichordist.wordpress.com/2012/06/18/letter-to-emily-white-at-npr-all-songs-considered/