This personal story from music consultant Wade Sutton reaffirms what you know but may need to hear again: working in music can be a real and gratifying job.
Working with independent artists from all over the world for the past couple of years has been a blessing. I’ve helped artists produce their shows, hone their live performances, and improve their business skills. I have designed websites and press kits, written biographies and press releases, and consulted on music business matters for artists in major music cities like Nashville, Austin, LA, London, Toronto, and Sydney.
Sometimes I even find myself serving as a pseudo-therapist for artists struggling emotionally when someone close to them suggests their pursuit of music is nothing more than a hobby, or a misguided fantasy, and that it’s time the artist considered a more traditional type of employment.
You know, they should “get a real job.”
In all my time working in music, including when I was transitioning from a career in radio to what I’m doing now, not once did someone make that kind of comment to me.
Until a couple of weeks ago. That’s when it happened – and in one of the worst possible settings I could have imagined.
Working in music is “some kind of fantasy”
In addition to working in the music industry, I’m a full-time, single dad of a nine-year-old daughter. Without getting into all of the dirty details, the story involves a recent filing for a modification to the amount of child support my ex-wife pays me each month to help with the care and raising of our daughter. That included a conference so domestic relations could determine whether an increase was in order.
During that conference, my career in music was bashed and belittled by the attorney representing my daughter’s mother. “What he’s doing is nothing more than playing. It is some kind of fantasy somebody pursues when they are young instead of going out and looking for a real job.”
Yeah, he said that, and I finally understood why this kind of comment rocks so many artists – from musicians to painters to photographers to writers.
I like to think I have achieved a pretty wonderful level of success working in music. I have an amazing network of people in the music industry sending me clients, from high-level managers and consultants to music educators, producers, songwriters, and voice instructors from around the country. Not to mention my affiliations and testimonials from award-winning songwriters and professional coaches. This is all in addition to the followers I have picked up on my own through co-writing a successful book, penning articles like this, and speaking at workshops and conferences.
When I found the legitimacy of the work I do coming under attack, I was irritated, to say the least.
Why people don’t see a music career as a real job
The first thing you have to do when somebody suggests a life in music isn’t a real job is understand that artists, by their nature, are creative people who see things abstractly. This leads many artists to pursue their livelihood “outside the box,” which puts you in the minority compared to those spending their lives getting up every morning, punching a time card, and getting a paycheck every two weeks.
Those people are institutionalized. If they lost their job tomorrow, the first thing they’d do is go look for another one. They find comfort and safety in that repetitive structure. They need it. It makes sense to them. It is safe.
Artists making a living from their art are just the opposite. You don’t clock in. You don’t have a steady paycheck, or have anyone looking over your shoulder to check your progress. The thought of such a rigid existence on a daily basis is enough to make most creative types want to take a long walk off a short pier. That kind of environment is suffocating to many artists.
So it is important that you, the music artist, understand it isn’t your fault those people don’t see a profession in music and songwriting as a real job. It is their problem. So f*©k them. When the day is over, their perception of what you do has zero impact on how you write your songs, sing your lyrics, perform during your show, book upcoming gigs, or interact with your fans.
It’s even harder if you don’t live in a big city
There are cities throughout the world in which the concept of working in music or being a full-time musician is looked upon as a viable career choice. The problem is most of us don’t live in New York, Nashville, Austin, Seattle, or one of those other blessed metropolises.
If you live in a smaller community, you cannot possibly expect most people to wrap their heads around how music can be a viable career choice. It just isn’t going to happen – it is too far removed from the perceived normal for that area.
I know. I live in a small town half-way between Pittsburgh and Cleveland. Two of the biggest employers in my county are the local hospital and WalMart. Music isn’t even on the map. When I try to explain to people what I do for a living, they look at me like I just dropped an anvil on their head. Even my mother can’t explain what I do.
That is why I’ve stopped attempting to get people to understand. When they ask what I do, I tell them I work in the music industry using the Internet and Skype and I leave it at that. It doesn’t matter if they understand as long as my clients and associates in the industry know what I do. It makes life so much easier.
My advice: if you can’t bring yourself to not care what people in your small corner of the world think, then pack up your s*!t and move.
Don’t make excuses about money, school, work, and all of the other reasons music artists come up with. Just pack it up, move, and figure it out when you get there. You’ll be shocked by what you can accomplish when you’re thrown into survival mode.
Go to a place where you can surround yourself with like-minded people. Find other musicians, songwriters, and people working at a speed and pace faster than your own so you push yourself to keep getting better and better.
To hell with the nay-sayers back in your hometown when they suggest you need to “get a real job” while they drag their asses into work every Monday complaining about their bosses, stuck working mandatory overtime, and slowly turning into jaded, miserable people.
Don’t give them the power
Your success in turning your music into a career has absolutely nothing to do with anyone else’s perception of whether working in music is something you can do for a living. The people who tell you music isn’t a real job are the same know-it-alls who insist on giving business advice to young entrepreneurs even though they have never run a business a day in their lives! The only power their statements have over you and what you do with your life in music is the power you surrender to them.
Pull up your big boy (or big girl) pants, tune them out, and be a bad-ass at everything you do.
With clients in major cities like Nashville, New York, London, Sydney, and Toronto, Rocket to the Stars’ Wade Sutton has dedicated his life to helping music artists in all aspects of their careers. Armed with 20 years of radio journalism experience, Wade now provides an array of services to artists, including writing biographies and press releases; creating press kits, websites, and sponsorship proposals; media interview preparation, and more. In 2014, Wade co-authored a music business eBook titled The $150,000 Music Degree with Rick Barker. Click here to get a FREE copy of the book today.
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