The One Thing That Pretty Much Every Failed Artist Has In Common

NeilB0no3_2464901bBy Shaine Freeman on Sonicbids Blog

career in the music business can be one of the toughest, most frustrating paths to take, especially if you're a musician whose dream is to top the charts and sell out stadiums. It's an industry where the overwhelming majority of musicians experience failure more often than success. For the sake of defining what success is, in this case I'm talking about earning a living creating music, as opposed to the fantasy lifestyle that most people think of when they imagine what success in music looks like.

As a producer turned manager/A&R rep, turned magazine publisher/speaker, I can tell you that I've heard a ton of great songs by some amazing artists over the past 21 years. I've also seen most of them have their dreams dashed as a result of one specific issue that seems to plague most (not all) failed artists' careers. Is it because they never got signed to a record label? That can't be it, because tons of unsigned artists earn a living in music without ever signing a label deal. So, what is it?

The primary issue that most failed artists have in common is the fact that they do not view their music careers from a business perspective. If you currently earn your living from the music you make, or you're not looking to earn a living from music, then this article may not be for you. But if music isn't your primary source of income, and you'd like it to be, then it starts with your mindset and habits. It's my hope that you’ll learn something from this article that will help you find the right path to success in your music career.

Phase 1 – The Dream: I Love Music

When we first started to seriously consider music as a career option, we all – if we're honest – imagined this 30+ year career that included an enormous accumulation of financial wealth and notoriety. We imagined ourselves in the best studios with the top creative minds in music, touring the world, playing for sold-out crowds, Grammys, #1 Billboard chart hits, and all of the other glamorous stuff that comes with being a top artist. We didn't consider that all of these amazing things were the result of business transactions that involved invoicesattorneysmanagersagentsrecord labelspublishing companies, marketing execs, performing rights organizationspublicists, accountants, and even the IRS.

MusiccontractWe loved the idea of being in the music business so much that we thought, "Man, I'd do music for free!" But, as stated earlier, monetary gain was a big part of our dream, which meant that we were implying we wanted to be paid for our music someday.

Phase 2 – Creating: Let the Spending Begin

Once we decided to go after this amazing music career, we had to purchase instruments, pay forstudio time, hire a producer, hire a photographer, hire a graphic designer to build a website, pay forCDs and merch, and the list goes on. We just saw it as a necessary part of being an artist. But is that really it?

When we start spending money on service providers, we're engaging in business activities. Sadly, many artists are willing to (and do) spend more money and time on the creative aspects of their careers than on the areas that will actually pay their bills. This baffles me. I was once told by a major label A&R rep: "For every $1 you spend on recording, you must spend $2 on marketing and promotions." Consider this – when you're spending tons of money on recording in fancy studios just so you can feel like you're in the music business, the only people who are getting ahead are the studio owners, engineers, and the producer(s) you hired.

Phase 3 – Recouping: The Hard Lesson

Now that we've spent all of our rent money, we're thinking about how we can make our money back – or in music business terms, recoup. This is where the hard lessons kick in for most artists who don't understand – or don't want to understand – the business side of music. In this phase, they realize that it not only takes money to make money, but it also takes proper planning to make money.

In many cases, it isn't until artists have emptied out their bank accounts and have nothing to show for it but a few boxes of CDs and T-shirts in their closets that they realize they didn't think things through. They thought people would recognize their talent and rush over to iTunes to download their songs, but that didn't happen. So, now it becomes even more pressing to figure out a way to recoup at least some of what's been spent, because the rent is due and their stomachs are growling.

Phase 4 – The Future: Education = Success

At this point, many artists begin to contemplate their next move. Usually, they're forced to take one of three routes:

  1. Cut their losses and cease operations
  2. Rinse and repeat (i.e., jump right back into the studio and follow the exact same path of failure)
  3. Get educated about the business side of their dream job – like you're doing now – and approach it the next time with a real plan in place

Those who take the first route and quit weren't really cut out for a career in music. Those who take the second route are usually the artists who become jaded and angry, oftentimes blaming everything and everyone else for their failures. These are also the same artists you see celebrating their fifth album release and still don't have a solid fanbaseBut those who take the third route tend to be the ones who eventually find success and don't need this article anymore.

Ultimately, it's up to the artist to decide whether or not earning a living in music is important. If it isn't that serious for you, then you're likely just a hobbyist. But if you view music as the only career path you want for yourself, then start educating yourself about how the business side works. I always tell people that there's no excuse to not know the business of music when there are music conferences taking place everywhere, and you have free resources like this blog and I Am Entertainment Media at your disposal.

Shaine Freeman is the co-founder and music editor of the award-winning I Am Entertainmentmagazine, as well as the host of the highly talked about music podcastThe MiewsAlthough he studied construction engineering at Bradley University, Shaine has worked with major music publishers, licensing companies, and even spent five years as a talent manager guiding the careers of top film and TV actors and indie recording artists. Today, he resides in Atlanta, GA, with his family where he's leading his editorial team into their fifth year of circulation.

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  1. The “music business” is filled with smug, glib, condescending know-it-alls like you who “manage talent”. Don’t make me laugh. “…attorneys, managers, agents, record labels, publishing companies, marketing execs, performing rights organizations, publicists, accountants, and even the IRS”… all have their hand in the proverbial cookie jar. It’s all about money changing hands, never about music. That’s why artists do it all themselves these days. The common thread with failed artists is lack of TALENT, not business acumen. The music business isn’t rocket science. It’s a business like any other, and all of the fundamentals are the same. I’ll stop here so you can finish your latte before it gets cold.

  2. Indie Musicians tend to under estimated the importance of understanding the business side of music. The ending result is either getting nowhere or choosing bad management to help you get nowhere. If they take the time to figure out what they know and don’t know, they can make solid decisions on how to successfully guide their careers. The best time to do this is before you go into the studio.

  3. Thanks ducky, well said.
    So, if I do learn all the business acumen that is required, when I am I supposed to create? Practice my instruments etc etc.
    What business and tech people lack is the understanding of the creative process. That is what YOU lack.
    Yes, you now can go back to your latte.

  4. What the commenters above are missing is that there is a difference between content creation (creative process) and content distribution (business process).
    Both are required to deliver your product. To think you only need one shows ignorance by both sides.

  5. Well said Jason and Dreamcoast. What Renu and Ducky are also missing is that very few artists make it because they themselves are sometimes “smug, glib, condescending know-it-alls” as Ducky put it.
    Ducky, did you buy your instruments? Were you upset at the salesperson or company who put a price tag on those instruments you bought? That’s also about money and business transactions.
    Education is what makes an artist successful. I know a ton of talented musicians who will never make it because they refuse to learn the business.

  6. The “music business” is a dirty and uninspiring word. I like to think od ot as just an extension of the music. Its really not hard… just the initial inertia, reay.

  7. I’ve been an A&R man for 4 years and I can only agree with this article. Ducky and Renu are obviously hardore Type 2s.
    One thing many people fail to understand is that there are a LOT of talented people out there. And when I say ‘a lot’ I mean… MILLIONS. That’s millions of people who have the talent and songwriting skills to be professional musicians. Luck is important, sure, but the artist makes his or her own luck by WORKING, TRYING and EDUCATION! I have seen many hardworking not-so-talented acts get signed… and good for them! In a nutshell, there are 2 ways of ‘making it’ in this business. Number 1: Be Mozart, Jimi Hendrix or The Beatles… and you’ll be fine whatever you do. Number 2: Read, network, practice, fail, improve and repeat. The problem everyone thinks they are the next Jimi Hendrix when they are just another talentless dimwit with Garage Band.

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