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 If you want a revolution, become a revolutionary, not a musician. | Photo: Pixabay
If you want a revolution, become a revolutionary, not a musician. | Photo: Pixabay
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10 Tips for Musicians Who Are Missing the Boat

If you spent your teenage years in the '90s (as I did), you may be shocked at what happened to your beloved music scene. Everything is different. The whole system has changed, old models collapsed and the Top 50 chart has turned into a bizarre mix of DJs, feat. artists, singer-songwriters, porn stars and weird acts I just don't understand. Rock and metal are dominated by "emeritus artists" who earned their fame at least twenty years ago, and the new scene belongs to computer nerds and engineers with eight strings and flowing frets.

What on earth happened? I didn't think I would rant this way before the age of 60. Everything changed too fast for my taste. I'm trying to follow the trends and stay "in", but I'm not really enjoying it. It's just stressing me out. I'm missing the boat, and I don't know what to do about it.

To switch to a positive note, I decided to put together an inspirational list to help me adapt to the rapid changes in the music industry. I see it as mental hygiene, a moment of honest self-reflection to clear things up and come up with some fresh ideas. But I'll be glad if it helps some of you too.

Let's get to it, some of this might hurt...

Empty venue

1. Empty venue

It's not true that people don't go to concerts. They don't go to "your" concerts. Why? Because you do it the same way over and over again, repeating models that don't work and you don't have a big enough audience. You spend too much time on social media spamming your band/project, missing the good old days, and you don't dedicate enough time to practising, composing, and the real world. Fortunately, it is still true that if you play, sing or produce something exceptionally well, you will be noticed sooner or later. There's just no getting around that. If your music doesn't reach people's hearts, a thousand quick comments and shares to all sorts of FB groups won't help.

2. Faustian bargain

Take a cue from YouTubers and established commercial brands. Musicians love romantic ideas and the nostalgia of past decades because back then everything was "real", music was at the centre of the cultural scene. Now your job has been reduced to perpetual attention-seeking and audience-building. No matter what I think of YouTubers, they're always ten steps ahead. They have a huge fan base, they comment on the current situation and they are working on their development. It's actually pretty challenging to produce quality content week after week, and it takes a lot of work and dedication.

The online world is brutal. Anyone can spit anonymously at you from their keyboard, drop a piece of poison, or you can break down from other people's million-dollar numbers and success. But you just can't give in! You build your Adidas or Nike, a brand that people believe in, love and follow. You don't have to become a sleazy seller of your merch, but you can adopt the flexible business model of successful YouTubers to make your music dream a reality. But this is not a path for everyone. It's a deal with the devil. Not everyone wants to churn out videos and build a YT channel, and while you may enjoy it at first, keep in mind that significant results (the desired millions of followers) will only show up after years of work. If you're not an "influencer" or a "YouTuber" then just drop it, focus on music and look for other ways. There are always other opportunities.

Sharp tongue and a lot of business talk for musicians. Maybe there's a gem hiding in there that will get you started...

3. Vision needs a visionary

Think conceptually and have a long-term plan. Whatever you do. When you're making a record or EP, start planning the promotion and building a story that will entertain your audience for months. Do things properly and sensibly. Make sure your budget is sufficient, only compromise where it doesn't hurt, and maintain your artistic integrity.

4. Don't be a dick

Humility and honesty are priceless. Whatever situation you find yourself in, don't be a dick. Always try to understand the other party's point of view, but be yourself. I mean, be your own person if you're kind and courageous. It's easy to sink into a cynical, sarcastic and nihilistic pose, but other than the occasional pungent joke, it won't get you far.

5. Wake up

Forget romantic fairy tales about being discovered by a big label, manager or producer. The most famous folktale still believed by all sorts of musicians features a band playing in some godforsaken, seedy pub. Suddenly, the door bursts open and a legendary manager of a famous record label walks in with a million-dollar contract in his hand. He's got a big smile and he's puffing on a fat Cuban cigar. This has never happened to anyone. Not even Guns N' Roses... by the way, read Duff McKagan's biography. Don't dream, don't fantasise, don't philosophise. Build your audience step by step. Produce music, work on your vision, meet people and stay in the real world.

6. Have no expectations

Of anything or anyone. Living and creating will be easier. When you decide to do something, do it fully, don't second guess, don't speculate and don't expect the world to stop in awe at your genius. If it does, take it as a sweet reward and enjoy every second of the glorious moment.

7. Secure your income (and dignity)

Value yourself and work for a fee that will satisfy you and pay at least your rent. Seek income in your field – teaching, session playing, selling merch/products. Unless you've written some really famous songs, you can't be supported by royalties from radio and TV. Otherwise, do something that makes a profit but doesn't occupy your head too much to stop you from making music. Doing some kind of physical work is often better than chasing "music" income. I used to distribute fliers for a while. You're outdoors, you can get fit, you've got music or an audiobook in your headphones and you can't wait to play after work. I'd definitely recommend doing some research on Patreon, Bandcamp, Fiverr and similar services for musicians where you can generate real income, but unless you've built up a sufficient audience, it might still just pay for your beers.

Want to succeed on Spotify? Damian Keyes says your song must catch the listener's attention in the first 30 seconds, the tempo for 2020 was around 124 BPM and preferably pop with a bit of controversy. Another brilliant analysis of a successful track, but one that doesn't help you in any way.

8. Don't worry about Spotify and co.

Yes, it's unfair, they pay artists a pittance and run an algorithm that favours the big and famous. By the way, did you know that Spotify has over 800 different ways of rewarding individual streams? It's such a complicated system that it's almost impossible to decipher. What can you do? If you want a revolution, become a revolutionary, not a musician. It's an in-between phase, everything is always changing and it's going to turn out differently than you think.

9. Ask for help

You need capable people around you to help you with the tasks you simply can't manage. If musicians don't play, write, rehearse, record and perform, they will become administrative workers. I mean, how much time do you spend on non-musical activities like emails, social media posts, video editing, phone calls, procrastinating on games, Netflix, scrolling through Instagram or discussing why something isn't working?

10. Don't stop

Don't stop believing, looking for opportunities and educating yourself. Don't stand still. But you don't have to feel stressed. Do one thing a day for your music career. Just one thing and you'll get to 365 in a year.

That will certainly make a difference... but... shhh... no expectations.

Slap Like Now or the most successful bassist on the internet, Davie504, totally nailed it. He's never been in a band, never played a single tour, never made a record with anyone famous, never written a hit, but soon he'll have more subscribers than the population of the Czech Republic.

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Marek Bero
Bass Gym 101 books, touring & session bass player, football tactics aficionado.