It’s quicker and easier to make connections with others in the industry because so much of the industry is here and many of your friends are in the industry. Let me rephrase, your friends in music, who stay in music, eventually rise to be respected figures in music. Because if they stay in music long enough it’s because they don’t suck and have discovered that music is their true calling.
Eventually, all of us in music, no matter if you’re on stage, backstage, side stage or behind the proverbial stage in an office in Lagos, only stick with this unstable, unrelenting, inexplicable, occasionally rewarding career path because it’s who we are. Not merely what we do.
If there are 13 things I’ve learned about how to stay relevant, respected and prolific in music it is to avoid the following:
1) Acting Bigger Than You Are
Nothing is more of a turnoff than when someone tries to convince me they have hoards of fans when they don’t. This isn’t simply ‘faking it till you make it.’ When it comes to personal relationships and making connections, you want to be authentic. Confident, yet humble.
It’s one thing to have a coordinated, cohesive online aesthetic with airtight production. And it’s a totally different thing to relentlessly talk and tweet about your ‘fans.’ There is no shame in cutting your teeth. Gigging out to empty clubs. Having (authentic) modest social media follower numbers. Buying fake followers and talking about all your ‘fans’ when it’s aptly clear you have none is embarrassing. You may get someone to take a second look if you have impressive social numbers, but once they dig one layer deeper and discover they’re all fake and you actually have no real followers and your music is not even close to where it needs to be, you will be written off.
2) Promoting Too Quickly
I will be the first to tell you that if you don’t promote your music no one will listen. If you don’t promote your shows no one will show up. As Ben Folds says “Self-promotion: if you don’t want anything to do with it stay in your fucking basement.” Yes, promotion is necessary, but don’t start implementing sales funnel style marketing strategies and throwing money at Facebook ads before you’re ready. Play out. Test the waters. Fail hard. A lot. Practice your ass off. Write a hundred songs. Build authentic relationships. Make friends with people who care about you and will tell you if something is not ready without fear they will hurt your feelings. If you invite the industry out to your show or beg them to listen to your track and you suck, you can bet they will never give you a second look.
“Self promotion: If you don’t want anything to do with it stay in your fucking basement” – Ben Folds
3) Badmouthing Anyone
Trashing others in your scene isn’t hurting their rep, it’s hurting yours. Stay positive. Surround yourself with positive people. People don’t want to be around negativity. Be a positive presence in your scene. If you get into the habit of trash talking, you’ll bad mouth the wrong person and it will come back to bite you in the ass. The biggest difference I noticed in the Los Angeles music scene versus most other local scenes around the country is that musicians in LA are here to make a living with music by whatever means necessary and don’t let the countless obstacles get in their way. They don’t have time for negativity. No one wants to hang out with people who bitch all the time. They want to hang out with people who constantly inspire them and encourage them to keep pushing for their dream.
4) Falsely Accusing Songwriters of Stealing Your Songs
The singer/songwriter scene in LA is small. Yes, there are a zillion singer/songwriters in LA, but the community of singer/songwriters who are out there every night of the week playing, co-writing, networking, supporting, is tightly knit. Word recently spread that someone in the scene accused someone else of ‘stealing’ her song. No songwriter sets out to plagiarize someone else’s song intentionally. All music is derivative and we’re all influenced by everyone else. If you hear similarities in songs, let them be. It happens. If the song becomes a hit and earns lots of money, do what Tom Petty does and be cool about it.
Don’t sue. Don’t publicly accuse someone of stealing when most songs won’t earn back the cost it took to record them. The person who accused our friend of ‘stealing’ has quickly been blacklisted. Think anyone wants to co-write or play shows with her now? It’s not how you build community. This isn’t a competition. We are creating art. Anyone accusing someone else of stealing their creations is in it for the fame and money and has their motivations completely skewed. Anyone who thinks suing over mild similarities in art is merely ‘protecting intellectual property’ isn’t an artist, is motivated by money or is extremely insecure with their own creations.
5) Cheating, Scamming, Shaking Down The Unprotected or Naive
This is geared more toward those who work on the industry side of the biz. There are unfortunately countless examples of people who are dishonest and take advantage of musicians who either don’t know any better or are simply unprotected. If you shake down musicians when you are the reason you didn’t make any money, convince musicians that ‘paying to play’ is the only way to make it, run pay for stream scams, lie about your deals, fudge numbers, withhold payment or manipulate musicians or your co-workers, word will spread. You will not last. It’s short-sighted and unethical. Cut it out. We will find you and publicly out you for your shady practices.