Combating ageism in the music industry

While there are many legacy acts still performing today that might make it seem otherwise, ageism is a huge problem for the music industry. Here, we look at the problem in depth and explore how to take strategic action against it.

Guest post by Bree Noble and Cayla Brooke of Soundfly’s Flypaper

What is the best age to launch your music career? When is a musician in their prime? Did a number pop into your head?

Chances are that number is less than the age you are right now. And if not, congratulations! But if you felt a pang of regret or panic when you thought of your number you’re not alone. Read further; you’re in more control than you realize.

Let’s be clear, there is ageism in the music industry. Big record labels are looking for young blood and have little interest in anyone over 25. As we get older, we can feel “less than.” We lose value like a used car with each passing mile (or milestone).

Why is that? It can be depressing and feel like an up-hill battle, and yet independent musicians have revolutionized the music industry. You, and others like you of all ages, are an integral part of that revolution.

Ageism in the Industry Starts With Our Own Perceptions

So, back to my initial question. What number popped into your head when I asked when’s the best time to launch your music career? How did you come up with that number? Is it written down somewhere, and there’s a universal law that makes it so?

Or did it come from the media or a conversation you once had with a loved one. Do you even know? Just because we believe something to be true does not make it so.

The media influences us, and our ideas about age. That’s a given. But family members also affect our perception of age and its meaning as we get older.

What were your parents and grandparents like when they reached certain milestones? Did they continue to embrace life, or did they age considerably? Did they stop growing and learning? Or did they pursue dreams and take on new challenges? Our perception of age can be a direct result of our close family.

So, where does the belief you must be young to start or grow your music career fit? Is it even true? No! It isn’t. It’s a perception as limited as those who felt the 4-minute mile was impossible. It’s waiting for you to prove it otherwise.

Below are four things to remind yourself as you continue to pursue your music career, or advise others on theirs.

+ Learn production, composition, songwriting, theory, arranging, mixing, and more on Soundfly —  whenever you want and wherever you are. Subscribe for access!

Kicking Ageism to the Curb

“The best time to plant a tree was 20 years ago. The second best time is now.” (Chinese proverb)

1. Change Your Mindset

Mindset is more than just a buzzword for social media posts. How we think is in direct correlation with how we act in real life. For example, how do you think your actions line up if you believe in your heart, you’re too old to grow your music career? Our thoughts lead to our actions which then lead to our results.

If we want to change our career trajectory, we need to transform our belief system on the subject. What if you threw out the imagined limitations touted by the music industry and for your life in general? How would that affect your actions? How would your thought patterns change?

  • “No one wants to hear me now. I’m too old” becomes: “There’s an audience anxiously waiting for me and my music.”
  • “I look too old to be a performer” becomes: “My audience wants to see someone they can relate to. Not everyone buys tickets to see Justin Bieber.”
  • “I missed my chance” becomes: “I’m here now and ready to put in the work.”
  • “No one wants to book me” becomes: “There are lots of venues waiting for someone like me to perform there. I only need to find them.”
  • “Tech is too hard” becomes: “I love a challenge and learning new things.”

2. Find Role Models

Pursuing a music career at any age takes work, and there are ways to keep yourself motivated. Remembering your “why” is a big one. Having someone to keep you accountable is another. Mentors give you guidance in good times and bad. But if you want to feel inspired — find a role model.

A surefire way to get motivated when you’re feeling like you’re too old to keep going is to find someone older than you who is crushing it. It’s easy to find people in their 40s, 50s and 60s who are successful. But how about in their 70s and 80s?

Do you have any of these beliefs kicking around?

The voice deteriorates once you hit a certain age.

  • Check out Sir Tom Jones. Have you heard him sing lately? He is 81, and he looks and sounds fabulous! His music career has spanned six decades.

You’re too old to perform on stage.

  • Mick Jagger and the Rolling Stones have their 2021 “No Filter” tour booked.
  • Tina Turner retired from touring at 68 and has since written three books.
  • Cher is 75 and still touring.

Yes, these are all mainstream musicians with a large following. But is every iconic band from the 1960s and ’70s still performing and filling huge venues? Absolutely not.

Need more inspiration from ordinary, not-so-famous people?

  • Check out Joan MacDonald, who found a new lease on life at 70 through weightlifting. She is living the life of her dreams at 74. Her motto: “You can’t turn back the clock, but you can wind it up again.”
  • Wang Deshun is an 80-year-old fashion model. “When you think it’s too late, be careful you don’t let that become your excuse for giving up. No one can keep you from success but you.”
  • Jacinto Banilla – Try and do this 81 year old’s workout. I dare you.

What do all these people have in common?

  1. They don’t think of themselves as being “old.”
  2. They don’t let age limit their potential.
  3. They haven’t stopped dreaming and achieving.
  4. They haven’t stopped growing.
  5. They put in the work required and don’t give up.

+ Read more on Flypaper: “5 Music Industry “Rules” I Broke (and You Should Too).”

3. Become a Role Model

What would it be like to be a Joan MacDonald or Wang Deshun? You can find out by being a role model yourself and not limiting your dreams or goals because of your age or people’s perceptions.

If that isn’t enough incentive, if you have kids, how about being a good role model for your children? Do you want your children to think their potential is gone when they reach (insert your age)?

Ask yourself these questions:

  • What if you chose to wipe away the imaginary line that says once you cross this you are old. How would your life change?
  • What actions would you take?
  • What dreams would you pursue?
  • And how many other musicians could you inspire?

4. Take Consistent Strategic Action

There is a difference between dreamers and achievers, and that difference is action. Consistent, strategic action. If you look at the role models mentioned earlier, you’ll notice they all took massive action. And they had a singular focus.

There are enough courses and instructors in cyberland to help you. With them you can confidently create your unique musical career pathway. But, it is easy to get stuck in busy work and not take the actual steps required to move forward in your career. We all know what it’s like to be on the social media hamster wheel.

Choose your focus. Find the right people to guide you. Go all in, and show up every day. And don’t take “No” for an answer.

It is an exciting time to be a musician. We can record and produce albums from our bedroom; we can share our music with the world; we don’t have to rely on a record label for help; we have access to the best mentors if we want. And we can do all of that at any age — I promise.

Yes, there is ageism in the music industry. But your thoughts and actions about your worth, no matter your age, can help to overcome the common biases other people hold. You can become a role model for others and prove how flawed the presumption is that we lose significance with age.

Be an anti-ageism activist by proving the industry wrong. And one day, we can say, “there once was ageism in the music industry … until there wasn’t.”

Bree Noble quit her corporate job as a Director of Finance to pursue music. After a successful run as a touring singer/songwriter, she founded Women of Substance Radio to promote quality female artists in all genres. She hosts the Profitable Musician Podcast where she teaches musicians how to make money by drawing on her extensive experience as a musician, online marketer and business owner.

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  1. A fantastic article, long overdue and especially valuable for women who are constantly age-shamed in society. To break down the whole issue, whether inner or outer shame, like you have here, to basically one word, which is “action” is inspiring! Thank you!

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