Looking ahead to 2019 and trying to work out how the land lies is difficult. This is not a typical period in our history, and we just don’t know how the whole Brexit scenario will pan out for the Music Industry. How can we plan when no one has the slightest idea of what will emerge in the coming months?
As musicians, I suggest we have some marked advantages compared to most. For one we are used to uncertainty and working around it, we have also been through a period where our industry became utterly devalued as the advent of file sharing and streaming made music to all intents as good as free. We survived, continued to make music and carve out successful careers and will continue to do exactly that in 2019 and beyond. It’s a mind-set and if there are significant challenges then that’s a good thing, as it clears the field for people who mean business, who work a bit harder and have the necessary drive to make things happen. There is nothing new about this Darwin-esque process which has been with us since the dawn of rock n roll. Many are called but few are chosen...
We have to accept that to attempt a professional career in music, much like a professional sport, the odds are already hugely stacked against us before we even start. And yet it is entirely possible to design a career path that is viable, realistic even with the right approach.
Let me give you an analogy that I find helpful in understanding the effect of chance and luck. As some of you might know I go fishing a lot. I do this because it is meditative and calming, but also because it is a useful philosophical exercise. Fishing is a way of gaining an understanding of life and business, and especially in the proactive management of chance and statistical outcomes.
Consider the biggest sea fishing competition in the UK; The All England Cod Championships, held in Spring over two days, over 30 miles of the North East Coast, and attracting hundreds of anglers from all over Europe. The contestants are allowed to wander the full extent of the 30 mile match boundary to try and find a cod or two in the North Sea and the overall winner is the angler with the heaviest bag of cod at the weigh-in at the end of the day-very much a ‘needle and haystack’ type of scenario.
Much like music, many people would think that luck would play a huge part in the outcome. Not so, as records show time and time again, its the same anglers within the top ten positions. Why is this? Having fished alongside these people, I would say that the level of skill is comparable to the top musicians, and a large part of this is that they understand how to adapt to ever-changing conditions, and how to manage the odds, so that every micro decision along the way moves you closer to the desired outcome. Be that catching a fish or growing an audience, the principles are the same.
The angler needs to find fish in a vast expanse of water, and present a bait so well pre-prepared that there is zero chance of that fish passing it up. Before a bait is even cast out there may have been hundreds of big and small decisions, each one taking you closer (or further away) from the desired outcome. Those that understand how to manage this process will win.
It is exactly the same in music. Here are some key fundamentals for beating the odds and building a career:
Understand the context for your music and the scene. So many musicians are working in the dark without knowing what they are producing or who it’s for. If you make this mistake you’ll get detail and nuances wrong, and wonder why you’re not picking up a following. Can you answer questions such as:
Who am I making this music for? What other artists am I in the same ballpark as? Who would be a great support for my band? What festivals would be a good fit for my music? How many bands am I competing with and what level are they at? How does my music compare? Why would anyone care about my music anyway?
Most bands don’t think in this critical reflective way, and doom themselves as a consequence to ‘hoping for the best’. Some will get through with instinct and ambition, but most will be doomed to a few years of frustration, missing the mark and not understanding why.
The first step is to really appreciate how many bands are out there trying to make it. There are not hundreds, there are THOUSANDS, MILLIONS. Once we accept that, and embrace it even, we can begin the fairly straightforward job of putting ourselves at the top of the pile.
Once we have an understanding of our scene and know our audience, the next job is to apply some attention to detail.. Making sure that, at every step of the way, with every micro decision, we are moving ourselves further towards that goal of reaching that audience.
Again, most bands just cannot do this as they are rooted in a mindset where they already believe in themselves to be the finished product, and don’t want to consider improvements. This is almost always a terminal problem as , to compete we need to, write much better tunes than everyone else and look right and make a great video every now and then, to name a few. The single quickest win for all of you is to produce one song and one video that is much much better than the competition. There is so much new music in the world, we don’t need more songs, but we do need great songs. Quantity won’t help you. Quality is all. If we understand the scene, the audience and make the right music then all that remains is to ‘plug’ the music into that scene and I promise you if it’s good enough then you’ll see the results.
The good news is that the process of connecting the two (your music and your audience) is just mechanics. Sure the machinery changes all the time, but that is just us staying on top of things. Stay tuned into WaterBear socials and we’ll research, learn and share knowledge together. Everything we do will be about the fundamentals. We have three jobs to do in 2019:
1. Make awesome music
2. Locate and understand your audience
3. Connect your music to that audience
After that, life becomes very simple. Every variable and decision can be distilled into a binary response. Does doing X take me closer to my goal (of connecting music to an audience) or further away? Essentially, we have taken the complex and stressful life of the artist and boiled down infinite variables into a simple set of fundamentals. This allows us to travel in a straight line, rather than round in circles all of the time.
That’s the real secret of a career in the music industry.
All the best to you all and your musical endeavours in 2019.