A few months ago, I got a call from a young musician who is getting ready to graduate from music school. He’s starting to think about what avenues he wants to pursue after graduation and had apparently gone to see a career counselor at his school to get some advice on how to go about making a decent living making music. Sounds logical, right? Apparently, after much discussion, the career counselor’s words of wisdom were “if you want to make a decent living …(drum roll please)…you should become a plumber” (!) No joke. Now, I don’t think this was a personal affront toward the student’s musical ability, but more the counselor’s estimation of the current state of the music industry.
True – The music industry, as we’ve long known it, has changed considerably
True – CD/music sales aren’t what they used to be
True – The competition for a label deal is really tough
And so on…
What’s important to remember however is that the major label artist business model has never been the only business model for musicians. It may have been more attractive than others, but it was never the only option. Musicians were making a living making music LONG before this business model came into existence. Consider: the guy playing the piano at the saloon; or the traveling musical theater troupe; or the musician playing for the King’s court. I’ve heard stories that Bach and most of his family members were busy, working musicians, hustling gigs wherever they could get them.
The key is finding the business model that’s right for you and then seeking out the opportunities. Club gigs, theater gigs, studio gigs, restaurant gigs, private gigs, songwriting gigs, church gigs, music therapy, music education…the list goes on and on. One that I heard about recently (that I LOVED) is a singer/songwriter who got a job as a product demonstrator for a line of vocal effects products. Her job? To travel all over the world, set the products up at music conferences and then demonstrate them by playing and singing her original music. This was probably a lot of hard work, but what a great gig!
This doesn’t mean you have to give up the dream of the major label record deal if that’s what you want, but it also doesn’t mean that you have to wait around for it, or give up on music if it doesn’t happen. Get out there and Design your OWN career!