While the old saying states, “Pursue your passion, and the money will follow,” the truth is, sometimes it’s good to separate pleasure from work. For the last two months, I’ve been on the road working with a NGO whom partners with the music industry to help spread their mission. I took this job because I love traveling and the environment (booyah!), but I also took it because I wanted to love music as much as I did in the past. I still love music, don’t get me wrong, but it’s been some time since it has been at the forefront of my life. I signed on to re-ignite that passion for live shows, discovering new bands, and reveling in awe when hearing the perfect song at the perfect moment. While this objective has been achieved, I’ve also seen some of the mystery of the industry evaporate as my understanding of the inner-workings grow. It has been a privilege to see the ins and outs, but there are also some lessons that I won’t be able to unlearn.
SPOILER ALERT!!! Bestowed upon you below is some of the most important things I’ve learned while penetrating into the world of the music industry.
1.) Most people in the industry are dicks - Sorry to say it, but most people in this business didn’t get here by giving a fuck about anyone but themselves or their “art.” Be it musicians, managers, promoters, etc., I do have to believe that the music industry is where the phrase, “a big bag of dicks,” came from. That isn’t to say there isn’t a gem here or there (because there are and they are awesome!), it just isn’t a large enough number to combat the ever-growing dick-filled bag.
2.) It’s cut throat - While this can be true of many industries, following along the lines of #1, most people aren’t looking to make friends. To work your way up, you need to be ready to jump at any opportunity, regardless of who it metaphorically (hopefully) shits on. People are willing to let go of morals, values, friends, or foes, all in hopes of getting a shot at their dream job.
3.) The “biz,” is one giant pissing contest - Imagine a room full of the cockiest, most arrogant dudes you have ever met in your life. Throw in a handful of the story-topper friends, and a few chip-on-the-shoulder bros, and that is basically what it’s like. If ever there was an example needed for the detriments of male pride, look no further. Better bring yo umbrella, cuz yous gonna get a golden shower.
4.) If you’re not stressed, you’re not working hard enough - Sure hard work is fine and dandy, but truly efficient people know that being stressed constantly normally doesn’t render efficacy…hints why the music industry is not incredibly efficient. Running a tour, promoting shows, booking artists; these are not simple tasks. Each one has its set of problems or setbacks. With that being said, when you see people running around day in and day out doing the same last minute tasks as if their life was dependent on this gate being open, or that table being moved, you have to wonder if maybe a little more foresight and planning could eradicate such high-intensity worry. That energy could be used in much better ways if someone only chose to do so.
5.) Artists aren’t always the people you want to hang out with - Be it because they are absolute dicks, or just plain weird, some of the people we lionize in this industry may not actually be someone you’d wanna grab a drink with. That isn’t to say some of the artists aren’t extremely awesome, but the more artists you meet, the more you realize they would be no where without their crew, merch people, etc. Whenever I have the option, I choose be hanging out with the latter.
6.) Women in the “biz,” are like unicorns! - Not only are women rare, though they have every right to be the most aggressive, harsh, cut throat warriors trying to slice off their tiny sliver of this male-dominated cake, the majority I’ve meet have been incredible. They have been caring, complete work horses, and not caught up in the egotistical bullshit of their male counterparts. My one piece of advice to reform this business? Hire a shit ton more women! The outcome would be rehabilitating.
7.) Truly good artists perform every night - One of the least majestic things about jobs in this business is seeing some of the same bands every night. Believe it or not, even if you think you love an artist, hearing the same song over and over every night does lose its appeal. Do I hate the bands I’m touring with? Absolutely not. Do I watch full sets every night? absolutely not. Live shows can become monotonous. Good bands, though, even if you see them 100’s of times, will still make you stop and appreciate what they are doing. Even if you don’t want to watch the whole set or you realize the headliner’s act is the only time you may steal a quick break, a truly amazing artist will be able to engage you for at least a few minutes every night you are riding with them.
8.) Live performances can make or break a band - I think this is a statement most music fans know, but one those in the industry have had completely drilled into them. Lots of musicians can make good CDs, but not all bands can be real performers. Bands who can’t bring it live don’t last very long, and for good reason. CDs don’t make money, live shows do. CDs garner attention, yes, but live shows create fans. The hardest working bands, the ones grinding it out on the road perfecting their shows, these are the ones who are going to make it.
9.) No matter how you do it, touring is hard - While my tour is currently on the same budget as any garage band hawking CDs out of their trunk just to get the gas money to the next city, even the best of the best still have issues. Waking up in a new city everyday is hard. Living in a van, bus, or car that needs to be packed and unpacked each day becomes tiresome. Flights, long drives, buses, boats, or whatever you are taking form point A to point B is going to wear on you, even if it is top-tier.
10.) Everything is less magical when you see its make up - Sad, but true…or is it? While there is some majesty to seeing only a final product without knowing its production, being with a project from start to bitter end opens a completely new point of view; a new frame of reference for “magic.” I’ve loved attending concerts and festivals for some time, but I’ve never been on the other end until now. Seeing the good, the bad, the bizarre, and the unbearable has absolutely had its up and down times, but the end product, while forever set in a new frame, will always be the same. Live music is live music. It will always be good. Maybe my choice in musicians, festivals, and standing within the music industry will change, but as stated before, the objective to love music with reignited fervor has been accomplished.