Remember when you were a kid and you’d go out on the playground at recess to play with your friends? Remember how the big kids would be around and use words you didn’t understand and laugh at jokes you thought you would never get? Remember wondering what it would be like to get to play with them? You knew that maybe know you weren’t cool enough to roll with them, but one day you would be. One thing I’ve slowly started to learn as I become more independent in the music industry is that very few people are ready to play with the big kids. If you’re lucky someone will reach down a helping hand and try to bring you up to the big kid level – but if you’re not ready for it when you try and take the plunge then you might have ended you career before it ever began.
Now I’m not saying it’s bad to not be a big kid. If you just want to book at a couple of small venues and have a few touring bands come through every once in a while that’s fine. But be aware that even if the touring bands get progressively bigger it’s unlikely that you are going to ever start moving up to the next level. In my experience things happen in fits and bursts. You get a phone call and then suddenly you’re batting in the next league up, it’s not a gradual growth but rather a staircase. Some people are happy with being on a lower level – music is stressful – there are a lot of reasons to stay where you’re at. The thing is – when someone reaches out to give you an opportunity that takes you to the next level you need to follow the golden rule of freelancing – under-promise and over deliver. Otherwise – you will go down as just another poser.
The thing is – the big kids talk amongst each other. There is a reason that they are a hyper exclusive super limited club. They interact on a extremely personal level because there’s only a handful of them – a music illuminati if you will. Each member of this group has friends on their own level and then a few above them who they try to work more with and a few below the who they are trying to bring up. Yet with each level in the music industry things get exponentially smaller. Every time you move up you find that there are even bigger kids who you have to deal with – you will never be at the top, but you need to be able to deal with people from all levels of the industry to proceed.
It’s hard to quantify what a ‘big kid’ is but you know that you have a chance of becoming one when someone makes the offer. Someone might not say it using this particular metaphor, but if you’re lucky they will try and bring you up to their level because you did something to impress them. It’s important to remember though – the higher the level, the higher the stakes. When you realize that babies are being fed with your work and that some of these people are full time musicians if you just want to screw around and have fun with your buddies then you are doomed to failure. The music industry is a place where few qualifications are quantifiable and everyone is trying to oversell themselves – if you aren’t ready to deliver then it’s going to be hard for you, not only to find regular work but also to establish a reliable reputation.
Another important thing to realize is that the big kids don’t expect you to be able to be a big kid. Much like in kindergarten – even if the first graders let you play with them, if you fall over and started crying they have no problem leaving you in the dirt. Everyone, myself included has had hundreds if not thousands of people flake out on them when given the opportunity of a lifetime. People don’t want to work – they want stuff to come easily. You need to spend years dogging big boys for them to take you seriously. You need to prove yourself. As I have said in many other articles, you don’t need to ask for permission, you need to do stuff. Yet – when the time comes to go to the next level you need to make sure that you know how to deliver – because big kids have no time to mess around.
The fundamental issue of the independent music industry is that a lot of it is held together by amateurs and those amateurs don’t understand how hard this makes it for the professionals. If you want to keep doing stuff, and then eventually make a little scratch off of it you need to prove that you are reliable as they come and can answer emails on time, act politely in social situations, know how to admit your screw ups (And then trying to fix them) and not make people angry with your opinions. These are all key elements of being a big boy. In other words – if you want to make money doing music you can’t be an immature kid, you have to take responsibility and move forward with everyone.
See – here’s the thing, a lot of this music industry stuff doesn’t stem from being smart – it stems from being a freaking adult. It stems from being able to do what is right, even when it would be so much easier to do what is wrong. It stems frmo having honor and being willing to stand up for what is right. This might sound romantic, but remember all these music industry people are artists at their core – the drama, the over the topness, all of it appeals to them. You need to stand up as someone who deserves to be here, and grow the fuck u, so when the time comes to play with the big boys you don’t mess it up.