Most of the musicians in today’s music industry were taught by others who lived when talent and blood, sweat and tears were all you needed to survive. You practiced hard enough and learned your scales fast enough, and someone magically came by your practice room with a check to whisk you off to a land of milk and honey. Those days are gone and have been for some time.
I hear a lot of musicians say things like, “The pools of money for music have dried up.” They remember a time only 5 or 10 years ago when the average musician could survive off of 3 gigs a week, a few students and a couple of sessions. But gigs now pay 50 percent less, and major recording studios are shutting down left and right. That old way of making a living is basically impossible now.
The pools of money for music haven’t dried up, they’re just smaller. And instead of a few large pools, there are now many more smaller ones.
Where are these pools of money? They’re everywhere! But the money is not only in playing gigs and studio sessions. It’s in doing gigs as well as satellite sessions where you record yourself and send the files to a client on the other side of the World. It’s in making CDs in your home to compete with major-label CDs that once cost 1,000 percent more to produce and manufacture. It’s in designing and building your own website to sell products automatically so you can get to your gig on time. And it’s in a full-time commitment to blogging, sending mass emails and updating Facebook and Twitter to drive traffic to your site to boost CD and T-shirt sales.
I know it seems like a horrible time for musicians, but it’s a hopeful sign that many young people still want careers in music. We can learn a lot by looking at the way they approach it. They are not just musicians. They are music producers, vocals producers, composers and film scorers. They are also bloggers, internet marketing geniuses and graphic designers. They develop all these skills because they’re fun for them just as performing music is fun. They’re adapting their skills to the world they see around them. If we pay attention to them, we can learn how the environment in the music industry is changing and how to change with it.
The musicians who are teaching this new generation are often under the impression that the techniques they used to build a career in music still apply. But to survive in today’s economy, musicians must have many skills not related to performing. They must be great musicians, and they also must be audio engineers, producers, sales representatives and website designers. They must be fluent in the language of music as well as of computers, marketing and social networks.
We live in a time when musicians can empower themselves to make their career dreams come true. We have an opportunity to be the first generation to hold on to more money that we generate from our skills than we sign over to a corporate entity or agent. We can make music without selling our souls. What a beautiful day to be a musician!