5 Life Lessons For The Unsigned Musician
Here a long-time struggling unsigned musician shares five lessons he has learned throughout the years regarding positive self-development, perseverance, and understanding the proper motivation for pursuing a career in an industry as harsh as the music business.
Guest post by Adam Mezzatesta of Bands For Hire
The perpetual struggle of the unsigned musician isn't something that most of us take much notice of, as we casually throw everything into the basket and decide that fame and rock stardom is most definitely for us. As my teenage years set in, music was at the epicentre of my world and there was no turning back – I had the songwriting bug and it was all or nothing.
As a young musician, joining your first band, recording your first E.P. and taking to the road, you're at the beginning of an epic journey that will sculpt your life for many years to come. Regardless of the level of success you achieve, you can be confident that you'll learn a number of lessons along the way. Now, having reached my mid-thirties and long since having retired from life as an unsigned wannabe superstar, I've listed just a few lessons I'd like to share in hindsight.
Learn to take criticism
Criticism is hard to take, whether it's from a journalist, friend or relative. Nobody wants to have their hard work put down, whether it's honest, well meant feedback or in the form of a witty one liner from a high and mighty music critic. The difficulty with criticism is that it's all too easy to either take offence at, or brush off as irrelevant due to the, quite frankly, uninformed and naïve musical tastes of the critic in question (maybe!).
In retrospect, I failed to take on board criticism at times when I should have, perhaps because it could have meant drastic changes in direction that I simply wasn't ready for - but most likely down to a bruised ego! Even now, criticism can be a difficult pill to swallow but the trick is to take time out before that initial emotional reaction, let it sink in and deconstruct what's been said before deciding whether positive action is required to improve or change.
Learn new skills
For those who have the talent, and sometimes luck, the ideal scenario is to be picked up early by a manager or small label that can develop you as an artist, promote your act and build up a fanbase, leaving you to concentrate on the creative side of things. But with an abundance of new artists in every genre, the majority of artists never have that opportunity, at least not in the initial stages of their careers. This means it's up to you to take on many of these roles yourself, all the time learning new skills that will stay with you for life.
As an entrepreneur, it's obvious that being in a band was the perfect apprenticeship for me, unwittingly picking up a range of skills that would later become the foundation of my business. From programming and web design to public relations, social networking, setting up a record label, tour management and more; the number of jobs unsigned musicians take upon themselves is astounding.
Having spent time building up a reputation and fan base, you may discover there's a fairly short timespan in which to capitalise on that success. When a band is generating a buzz, it's time to work quickly and take things to the next level, but it may not always be enough, and what goes up must eventually come down.
At this stage there are still options: the second project may well be more successful than the first, but if things start to go stale, don't be afraid to reinvent yourself.
This is one thing I failed to do – we had a band that had moderate successes and so the thought of ripping off the band aid and potentially losing fans was too much to bear. Looking back now, a new producer and band name change could have generated fresh interest from the local music scene and industry as a whole.
Do it for the love of it
The majority of artists have a desire to be recognised for their achievements but sometimes ambition can take over and we forget why we became a performer in the first place. Leaning new skills and taking things into you own hands are all positive aspects of being an unsigned musician, but when managing a band overshadows your creativity, it may be time to take a step back and find someone else to take over.
Determination and perseverance are the keys to success
I often make comparisons between being in a band and running a business – except that being in an unsigned band can be ten times more difficult than running your own business, not least because of the toll it takes on you from a psychological perspective. In almost any other profession, the amount of energy you put into your career correlates with your overall success, but in the music industry that's not always the case.
When auditions, meetings and plans don't go your way, just remember that it's all part of the journey and there will be more opportunities in the pipeline. The music industry is a fickle business that you simply can't control, but with talent, determination and perseverance you might just find a way to break through.