When performers take a good hard look at themselves, they’re likely to find a seat at one of three tables: amateur, avocational or professional. What determines the seating is a combination of ability, experience, commitment and direction. Sometimes the only differences between an avocational performer and a pro are time and money; how many hours in the day go towards music and what pays the rent.
Aiming for the pro life requires substantial cojones, a balls-to-the-wall, single-minded determination that doesn’t take no for an answer.
I’m not talking about the lucky ones, the singers and musicians with a great look and zero background who are given opportunities the rest of us would drool over. There’ll always be the lucky stories out there which become musical urban legends.
No, I’m talking about the rules of the road and what to expect once you turn your life over to music.
Rule 1: In pro-land, think like a businessman – nice, but tough; receptive, but wary. Know more than the competition. Plan on being a little bit of everything: roadie, attorney, publisher, agent, public relations expert, internet marketer, technical innovator, recording engineer. Don’t make the mistake of relying on others because gaining the knowledge seems intimidating. It’s not like 10 years ago when specialists had special knowledge which was hard to come by. With the internet, you can master what you need to know.
Rule 2: Have artistic vision and be able to articulate it. If you really want to make an impact in the music business, really know what your music is about and create sound bites which can be used in press kits, on radio shows and in the office of bigwigs who will have little patience with the ramblings of a knuckle head. Try to say what you do in a condensed but still mesmerizing way. ”¹…”My music is a combination of X and Y with a dash of Z’, ”¹…” I like to combine folk and metal into a new genre’, ”¹…”My stuff is a brand new thang and you’ll just have to hear it to get it’. Be provocative, think about the hole in the fabric of popular music and how you exist to fill that hole and move the scene forward. Maybe make a little history.
Rule 3: Don’t be boring. Boring may work in a quirky way for a record or two but is not interesting enough to sustain a career. If you’re voice is boring, make sure your lyrics have bite and sting to them. If your songs all sound rather the same, make sure your vocals sizzle and excite. Unless you’re doing a concept album, make each song into a unique world of feeling. Your job as a performer is to take the listener on a mind-trip. Make it a good one.
Rule 4: No partying. Not for the pro. When you’re a hobbyist or even a serious amateur, fun is part of the deal. The professional singer or musician, on the other hand is more like an athlete who must follow a strict regimen of diet, exercise, sleep and good behaviors to keep the old carcass lighting up the stage as the years of living on the road go by. Pros think long-term, not tonight.
Rule 5: Be good. Suffer over your music, your vocals, your lyrics, your chops. Play and sing the very best you can. On some level, you have to believe that what you’re doing is important, that it can make the world a better place, that it can bring more life to others’ lives. Pros don’t sacrifice themselves on the altar of the music business because they want to be famous. That’s for amateurs. And anyway, there are easier ways to get your face on TV.
Why even try to be a pro, with all the hard work and competition? Some people just know that creating music is their calling and that no sacrifice is too big for the chance to bring their special gifts to an adoring audience. Others, particularly those singers and musicians who began training at a young age, aren’t particularly good at anything else. For many, creating, rehearsing, recording, performing, touring and then starting all over again is the ultimate challenge. It’s really hard to pull off well, like an aerial maneuver. There are so many elements to master and so much luck to be had. For the professional musician or singer, it’s artistry tempting fate every day.
If you’ve been mulling over which seat to grab at the table: hobby, avocation or full-tilt professional route, check out these books. Knowledge is power and knowing the potential pitfalls really ups your chances of success. Whatever path you choose: Rock On!