Asking permission is so twentieth century. In this hyper speed day and age those who sit around and wait to be told what to do or try to get permission to do something are never going to succeed – and between you and me, I think that they realize it. The simple fact of the matter is that the greatest teacher is experience. Sure you can take a course in how to manage a band or how to run a PR company but nothing is going be valuable as actually going out and doing it – and who is to stop you? If you are willing to stick your neck out on a line and try and produce something great, people will take notice and want to work with you and eventually start having to give you permission. Anyone can be a dreamer, it’s the doers who really draw the attention of those in power.
As I look around the music industry and the people I work with and admire I realize that surprisingly few of them ever bothered with any sort of degree. In fact the only ones who actually have music degrees are top flight guitar teachers or professional musicians. Most people who have made a career of this though are the people who said ‘Hey, let’s just fling ourselves into the industry and see what happens.’ It’s very rare to find someone with a business degree really running a business these days. As the industry evolves in the post piracy and post scarcity world I’m increasingly finding that this is and always will be the number one way to go. Why? Because it simply makes sense.
We’ve talked on this blog before about the democratization of the music industry which is, by and large a good thing, especially if you know how to take advantage of it. Now that just about anyone can become famous just about anyone can become an influential figure in the industry too. It is no longer a question of money and college degrees (Although those things can help) What it boils down to these days is largely what you’ve done to prove yourself. Setting up the groundwork can be hard, and it might take a while, but once you stumble upon the right idea the world is your oyster. You need to prove that you are a creator and someone who makes things happen. An easy way in that a lot of people have started using these days is content creation, be it in photography or writing, people use these avenues to start to grow their contact base. Another great way to start proving that you know what’s up is booking shows. You’d be surprised to find out how many top flight venues require no credentials beyond politeness to book at their spot.
Of course, these privileges, while often easy to gain can also be easy to lose, and you need to be careful with how you implement your choices. Though you might not need to ask for permission you should try to be careful with projects involving other people – folks don’t like having their time and money wasted. That being said, much of this industry I based on a throw of the dice and the desperate hope that things work out in the end. I know it sounds hopeless at times, but that’s how it goes. You take advantage of what you can and then you scrabble in the murk until you hopefully manage to reach out and grab the next rung on the ladder. As you pull yourself up though, be sure to try and show some other cats the way up.
Believe you me, I know all about losing privileges, in an industry that relies so much on interpersonal relationships things can be unsurprisingly brutal. Even as you jump in without permission but good intentions, there will be people who jumped in without permission but with different goals in mind, that clash of priorities and ideologies is one of the harsh realities of this industry in the modern context. Not everyone has themselves together or is in it for the community. Beyond that, as great as it might be to be able to go forward all guns blazing booking tours because, guess what, these days it’s just a few emails away, you’re also going to find that we are facing an oversaturation of interested individuals.
As we’ve discussed in the past there is a good and a bad side to this, but in terms of asking permission it means that the few people who have been able to crawl up to the next level find themselves inundated with requests. These people need to sift through literally hundreds of emails from incompetent or misguided people every day. You need to be aware of this if you want to carry on. To demonstrate this I like to show people the example of my email inbox. Sure it’s quieted down in recent weeks because of Christmas, but most weeks I get somewhere around three hundred requests for record reviews. In a world where no one asks permission even crappy publicists can charge a buck and some bands think that they can do it on their own (Which is by and large, not the case) Not needing to ask permission is a dangerous thing, and while it can kick start your career it can also drag you back.
What this means for you is that though you can do anything you want in the industry whenever you want that doesn’t mean you should. On one end, you have choice paralysis and simply not enough time to cover all of your bases – that’s part of why it’s good to pay people with specialized skills to carry your brand forward in ways that you can not. On the other end you have hyperspecialized markets that can’t really support a stable income, which is why you should be willing to branch out. Be ready to drive forward in exciting new ways and innovate in a world that thrives on it, but also be ready to realize that you can not do everything, and people who think that they can are probably hurting your chances of getting noticed. There’s a whole lot of crap going on out there and embracing it and being aware of all that it represents is perhaps the most important part of surviving in the music industry.