your music career

Want happiness in your music career? It’s never too late to learn.

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You’ll love Jewel’s story because it’s incredibly inspiring. You might also hate it, because it will leave you with zero excuses in your pursuit to find happiness in your music career.

Happiness is a learned skill, and it’s never too late to learn.

Have you heard this before? Do you believe it? Really?

Let’s take it one step further and propose that happiness in your artistic career is a byproduct of behavior – not a destination. You may hear stories of an artist’s “one big break,” but that big break happened on several levels as a byproduct of a life spent working diligently. You’re not going to find happiness and success with one fortuitous connection.

Successful artists were noticed because of the work they were doing, and they were prepared to walk through the newly opened door of opportunity.

Jewel’s story

I pretty much devour Gary Vaynerchuk content, and his interview with Jewel on the Gary Vee Show is incredible.

She has a story I want to share with you, and you’re going to love it because it’s incredibly inspiring. You might also hate it, because her story will leave you with zero excuses.

We’ve all been broken before, and we’ve all had (or have) people in our lives who try to break us. Jewel did, and she overcame all of that. She didn’t let life’s horrible twists make her a victim or a statistic, though they could have.

Jewel moved out of her home when she was 15 years old because her dad was being abusive. She ended up in San Diego, CA a couple of years later, but she was disenchanted by the music scene because the coffee houses were “pay-to-play.” She didn’t get it. She didn’t see how the coffee shop could profit from an artist’s energy and soul for a few hours and offer only tips in return.

By this time, she was 18, and her boss wanted to sleep with her. When she refused, he withheld her paychecks. So she thought to herself, “I’ll just sleep in my car for a month or two until I find a new gig.” This move might have been good for her soul, but left her homeless for a year and a half.

During this time, she was shoplifting quite often. On one occasion, she caught a glimpse of herself in the mirror. She was disgusted. She had become the very thing she promised herself she wouldn’t become: a statistic.

Which brings us to the pivotal moment I want you to think about. You are suffering in some ways. We all suffer in some ways. Jewel explains (and I agree) that it’s a gift to be allowed to struggle, because this is where successful people find the tools they need to cope. Coping tools are the instruments we need to continue to be productive and work through our suffering as humans and as artists.

I can relate. I lost everything in the 2008 financial meltdown. I rebuilt and moved forward, and it wasn’t easy. There were many moments when my soul was violently careening on a current of negative energy, and it was my thought processes that got me off that wave.

Buddha says, “Happiness does not depend on who you are or what you have, it depends on what you think.” I’m sure that way too many of you believe happiness depends on who you are and what you have.

Some of you may feel because you’re well-off, you should be happy. That’s called entitlement.

Some of you may feel that new guitar (or some thing) will make you happier, but it’s just another possession. It’s just a “thing”.

Some of you might feel that a person will make you happier. That’s called dependency.

The reality is, Buddha is right. Duh. Happiness is all about what you think.

For me, losing everything – which is an unbelievably scary thing to think about and even more terrifying to endure – was the greatest gift I ever received. I realized my things and my relationships don’t define me. I also am no longer scared of losing everything, because I’ve lived through it.

Yes, it totally sucked, but I know I can handle it. I have the capacity to innovate my way out of trouble.

During Jewel’s homeless period, she found a coffee shop that was going out of business. She struck a deal with the owner (who had nothing to lose), offering to help build a steady following for the business with her performances. He agreed, and suddenly Jewel found herself at another crossroads: she only knew cover songs. Songwriting was going to have to happen – and quick.

Jewel recognized she was lonely, and so were many other people, so she figured she could connect with them through her lyrics. She also admitted she deserved to be lonely, because she only told the truth in one place: a notebook that nobody read. She decided it was time to talk openly and take a risk to be vulnerable. This is an epiphany most indie artists seem to miss.

The songstress thought to herself, “Fear is a thief. It takes the past and projects it into the future and robs you of the only opportunity you have to create real change, which is right now.”

It’s easier to be derivative than it is to be vulnerable. Maybe you have a lot of talent, but because you’re unwilling to be truly exposed, you’re not getting the attention your talent deserves. Or maybe you don’t deserve the attention right now. Did you ever think of it that way? I have news for you: it’s your personal truth, your story, that will separate you from the crowd and make you special.

Then, there’s your marketing. Most artists aren’t thinking about or acting on any kind of marketing. Here’s an illustration of how bad it is.

Not long ago, I was just at a new record label showcase. One of the artists who played the event was a Curb Records artist. He was an amazing R&B act, and I was familiar with his last song even though I don’t spend much time listening to that genre. He was great, but his social media sucked.

Literally half of my artists have much larger and far more engaged fans in their respective social media communities than this major label artist. I find this to be generally true: unless an artist is famous, his or her social media engagement is seriously lacking.

This artist is clearly relying on the record label to bring him to market, which is sad. We’re down to a few major labels precisely because they’re not sure how to bring an artist to the market anymore.

Back to Jewel

With her head on straight, Jewel goes to work writing and starts to play the coffeehouse shows.

Her first show had two people. The next had seven people. A few months later there were people lining up around the corner to hear her sing.

The packed coffee house was a byproduct of her thinking, at first, and then her actions. Someone bootlegged a live recording of her, and a radio station in San Diego started playing it. Soon she was a highly requested artist, and then the labels came calling.

This is another pitfall I see many indie artists fall into. They’re waiting to be discovered.

Jewel went out and found her audience, and like I always preach, the industry found her. She was offered a record deal, but she was a folk artist in a grunge market. How could she possibly cut through?

The label offered her a million-dollar advance. She turned it down, and used the advance to buy (renegotiate) a much better back-end deal on her contract. She was gutsy, and knowledgeable. She had read one book on contracts and realized the advance was recoupable.

Jewel broke through before the social media age because of her brain. Yes, the talent was there, but her audience was only made aware of it because of the way she thought, acted, and pursued her career. As Gary Vee said, “Your fans got there and gave a crap because of you, and then they took over.”

Do you see where I’m headed with this? You, the artist, must start the fire. Cultivate your first 1,000 superfans, and then let them take over. You have to give to receive.

If you focus on making other people happy, on providing value to them first, you’ll learn how to be happy.


Johnny Dwinell is a veteran Los Angeles artist/producer/businessman who created Daredevil Production in 2011 to provide innovative artist development in the new music business. In mid 2013 Daredevil Production started a weekly blog as a free resource for artists and songwriters to use for inspiration, advice, support, and knowledge. In late 2013 Johnny Dwinell wrote the bestselling Music Marketing On Twitter book. Thousands of artists and songwriters have improved their understanding and execution of social media with the help of this free book!

Learn How to Make Social Media Work for You

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One thought on “Want happiness in your music career? It’s never too late to learn.

  1. In 1992 I was getting ready to start playing a wedding at the Boulderado Hotel in Boulder, Co. Up strolls a girl in long blonde hair and a brown prairie skirt and asks if she can sit in and sing “Baby what you want me to do” by Jimmy Reed in E. I knew it and said “sure.” She sang it great, and the audience loved it. We departed from our mostly pop wedding repertoire and kept Jewel singing country and blues standards for the whole set. When the set was over she said she was headed back to San Diego to get her originals together. A year or so afterwards I was half-watching Letterman when she came onstage and started performing. I then realized who she was.

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