For an industry that seems exceptionally obsessed with being a badass who doesn’t follow the rules I think that there’s exceptional importance to making sure that things are set up in a way that makes sense and is going to enhance your brand over the long term. I started thinking about this today when I was helping a record label with some back end stuff. A lot of labels are not even aware of things like UPC codes and why they aren’t able to access distributors, to say nothing of labels that haven’t yet learned that they actually need a distributor The worst part is that this is only one small slice of one of the many problems people in the music industry face. When it comes down to it, we could all benefit from a little humility so that we could have a proper education. A lot of this doesn’t happen because we are all too busy, but sometimes taking the time to learn that is what you need to do to reach the next level.
When it comes down to it – the music industry is fundamentally screwed because there are two ways to success. On the one hand you have the people who go to college, learn how to play by the rules and then start off in a nice cushy label or distribution company job. These are the people who wen to schools with nice music industry programs and smiling shitty faces. And that’s a totally valid way to find success. The other type of people are punk kids who came up from the bottom, clawed their way up and were able to use their understanding of the underground in order to help cultivate a better future for everyone. These are the folks who I think are finding the most success in this new music industry based around niche marketing and diversification. That’s not the point though. The point is that a lot of these people haven’t learned some of the fundamental things you need to know, and don’t get why they need to take the time to do that.
Complaints about dumb industry people asides, this is to say nothing of folks in bands who are usually the last to learn and who have the most to suffer. I remember interviewing an artist a few years ago who was talking about how much he hated the music industry for screwing artists. When I asked if he was interested in trying to change it he said something like, “No, I wouldn’t even know where to begin.” This is exactly the issue though. Artists and industry people who don’t take the time to learn more about the industry are setting themselves up to fail. You don’t want to be in a position where people are able to easily take advantage of you because they know more than you. Yet, we all know countless musicians who don’t bother to do their research and who fail to understand time and time again that they are getting the short end of the stick because they refuse to study the industry they want to make a living in.
Furthermore, and perhaps more importantly than just getting screwed over, you are missing out on a lot of really good opportunities that could help you out. If you’re not educating yourself then you are missing out on money from folks like ASCAP, booking agents, tour packages and all that stuff. You miss the things that make a lot of the higher levels of the music industry actually profitable. Instead you find yourself consistently stuck because you don’t have the understanding to collaborate. I know that a lot of that is due to networking too, but guess what, those people aren’t going to want to hang out with you if you can’t talk the talk. It’s all about being able to impress people from the get go and I think that a lot of those people who want to be impressed also don’t have the time to be constantly teaching musicians about basic parts of their craft that they frankly should already know about and be capitalizing on.
So what can you do to grow and not get screwed constantly? Well, quite simply you need to take the time and energy to educate yourself. This isn’t an easy industry to be in. In fact it’s one that’s going to take a lot of struggle and note taking and of course copious googling. But if you can do it then you are going to have a leg up on many of your peers and thus be able to move forward faster. Now yes, I know that you have managers and stuff who are supposed to do a lot of this shit for you. But when it comes down to it, that’s not really relevant. What if your manager decides to screw you? You need to know, but they can probably screw you in ways that you don’t even know. So it takes a certain degree of education and wisdom to start going somewhere real with all of this. As a matter of fact, a lot of managers won’t want to take you on if you come to them totally clueless because, again, it implies a huge amount of work to educate someone in this.
At the end of the day, the music industry remains a tricky place to exist in, and it’s going to be frustrating as you miss opportunities and inadvertently hurt yourself time and time again. But there is a lot of hope out there for those who are willing to spend the time and work on growing their profile substantially rather than just being another group of pretenders pissing off people like me who are hung over, grumpy and just don’t have the will to put in any more effort into this shit than they already do. And it’s those people who are the gatekeepers. Think about that as you build forward and guide your band into brave new worlds.
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