Are You Too Old to Make It?

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Too old to make itMost musicians I know hold a dream to someday ‘make it’ in the music business. To play in front of huge crowds and live a lifestyle that they can only imagine. Many of us believe that we’ll someday get there. Unfortunately most of us find ourselves growing older with an ever increasing fear that we’re missing the boat.

We’re conditioned to believe that if we’re going to make it then we have to do it at a young age. I had already started to have this feeling when I was in my early 20’s. I felt like I was slacking because I hadn’t ‘made it’ yet.

So how old is too old? Well, I think what we need to look at is the fundamental equation the whole business boils down to. It’s a value exchange between the audience and the artist. The audience pays money for the value they get from the artist. So ask yourself: how old would a performer have to be before you stopped receiving value from them? Would you not pay for a great artist who was 65 years old? I would. One of the best performances I’ve ever seen was a rock and roll band of men who were all in their 80’s!

So if people are willing to pay for good music then what’s standing in your way?

I saw an artist last night who didn’t mention her name once. There were no visual cues to let me know who she was. She never mentioned anything about CDs or merch for sale. No website. No mailing list. Nothing. When the show was over, she walked off the stage and into the dressing room.

It’s easy to look at her and see what she did wrong. What’s more difficult to see is that to one degree or another, most of us are making similar mistakes. A lot of musicians fall into the trap of thinking that either they’re going to be ‘discovered’ or nothing is going to happen at all, so there’s no real need or urgency to actually do the right things to grow an audience and a career.

So I urge you, instead of having your head in the imaginary future all the time, to take an honest look at where you are now. You have positive things going for you right now. It’s time you capitalize on those things and make the most of what you’ve got in front of you. Success is created in the present, not the future. You may never get to play Wembley Stadium or sing the national anthem at the Super Bowl, but you can absolutely have more and more fans coming to your shows. You can have a room full of people screaming your name. It may not be a 60,000 seat venue, but believe me, it will feel good.

What you need to do is let go of the belief that someday someone is going to make it easy for you and instead take 100% responsibility for your career. Have CDs and merch for sale and take responsibility for learning how to sell them. Have a mailing list and learn how to get people on it and how to use it. Take responsibility for letting people know who you are and how they can stay connected to you. Good things will happen in the real world when you step up to the plate, and believe me it will feel even better than when they happen in your imagination, no matter how old you are.

Article by Scott James of The Independent Rockstar Blog.

About Scott James

33 thoughts on “Are You Too Old to Make It?

  1. This jus encouraged me to do more with myself. I am about to be 39 in May and I feel like this is the “GO ALL OUT or nothin. But if it doesn’t happen this year then I can dream for next year and I got that many more people screaming my name. I have a TV Show “Wat It DoTV!!!” on Comcast Community chnl 26. It comes on every Saturday nite @ 10:30p with my associates (DGood) TV show “ValleyStreets” on at 11a. However, having your own TV show is alot of work and without support and help, jus like the woman who performed and didn’t give her name or websites (youtube/209valleystreets) no one would know me and I wouldn’t have over 10,000 viewers. But the music and media world is what has made me and it’s my LIFE… I CAN”T see me ever too old for any aspect of it period.

  2. I turned 57 yesterday! I knew I wasn’t going to “make it” when disco became big. Then came the boredom of punk followed by the even more boring 80s-MTV fashion music, and my soul and self-respect compelled me to remain true to myself and play ONLY music that spoke through me – trends, A&R, managers, demographics, and labels be damned. I haven’t made a living from music but I’ve enjoyed playing the stuff I love, and right now I’m enjoying it as much or more than I ever have. A large portion of the reward comes from the knowledge that the joy I get is backed up with integrity. I’ve made it in terms which make sense to my internal method of evaluation, though someone else might wonder why I continue. And NO, I don’t play country or classic rock! This is my own story. Your results may differ, but in any event, KEEP PLAYING.

  3. I turned 40! I was worried because I am a child of 80’s music and videos living in a new decade where today’s music and sensibilities makes me feel a little out of place. I like coming back to this article to feel reinspired. After all, Tina Turner’s bright solo star rise happened later in life, so why not for all of us! I believe there is an audience out there for everyone and every choice of music. – Fuzzy Soul Tiger

  4. I’m turning 35 in April and have been feeling the weight of this question for the past several months now. Having had a few different opportunities, or ‘breaks’ that I didn’t pursue for various reasons in my early 20’s, I’ve often wondered if I made the right decisions and if it’s too late to continue pursuing my dreams. This post encouraged me greatly.
    You’re really never too old to build relationships with people regardless of their age. If music is truly ‘tangible expressions of our emotions’ then you ALWAYS have an opportunity to share your music and build relationship with an ever growing base that appreciates and enjoys your gifts. A month ago I did some music at a College here in Florida and was really touched by the authentic positive response I received. I think with the internet and social networking, virtually ANYTHING is possible. It may not look like what you wanted it to look like, but heck, WHAT DOES now?

  5. I guess it all depends on what you mean by “make it.” I’ve been playing music since I was 8 (1963, you do the math). After a kind of rough time as a teenager, I found inspiration to become a serious professional musician and teacher. I had also chanced on a self-help book at a friends house that talked about creative visualization (can’t remember which one) and started writing down my goals in a notebook. I can still clearly recall what I wrote; to play great music with great musicians in small venues, teach music, own my own house and studio. 35 years later, I smile when I realize that I’m still living that dream. I’ve studied, played and recorded with some of the greatest musicians in jazz; Barry Harris, Kenny Barron, Eric Alexander, Pat Martino, and many, many others. Actually, my FAVORITE venue to play is a little place in Greenwich Village that only holds about 28 people! (I’ll be there again on 12/11) I have not, nor do I ever expect to get rich as a musician, but I managed to buy a house, renovate it myself, build a studio, put out several CDs with another one currently in the works. Do I expect to make a lot of money from any of these? Not really, but it’s important for an artist to DOCUMENT their work, and having a new CD out is pretty much necessary to play even the modest little venues in New York.

    I think you have to realize that if you’re pursuing music to “be a star” or something, statistically you have a VERY slim chance of “making it” but if the pursuit is the reward in-and-of-itself, then you’ve ALREADY “made it.” You just have to LOVE playing music and doing this. If it’s not something that you HAVE to do, find another way.

    ~ Rick Stone

  6. This is so true. I had pretty much given up on my dreams of being a big star when I was 30 and had to face the realities of raising kids, paying a mortgage, etc. But some luck and good fortune came my way and I found myself in a position a couple of years ago to brush off the dust and give it one last really big stab. Full tilt. I took 100% of the responsibility of pushing my music out there. It was an email from Guitar Center that had a TuneCore ad in it that got it all started. Up till then, I had no idea I could attempt this on my own….

    I created my own record label, and over the last 2 years put out 2 albums. They are published and available on every known digital distribution channel. I wrote, recorded, engineered, mixed, learned the software along the way as I needed to know something, and produced these two albums and you can find them on Amazon, iTunes, Napster, Rhapsody, eMusic, etc. etc. etc. I think they are on 50+ distribution channels. I distributed through ReverbNation and it was a lot less expensive than I ever imagined. Artwork? Did that myself too. I downloaded the free program and spent a couple of Sunday afternoons fooling around and came up with all the art myself. So don’t let money get in the way. You can host your web site for free on google apps complete with your own domain. Reverbnation is free unless you pay for premium services. Digital distribution to all of those stores cost only $60 per year per album. Not a fortune.

    So I’m 51 years old, I have 2 albums out and I have close to 2000 Facebook fans, 200 Jango Radio fans, and have sold a few copies of my album so far. I consider the whole thing a big adventure – let’s just see where it goes, you know? No expectations. The thrill for me is that people are actually liking my music, there are a couple of dozen ways to listen to it including listening for free on my web site and ReverbNation and Guguchu… to name a few.

    Today, I submitted my 2010 release album titled “Tip of the Sword” to the 2010 IMA awards. I am kinda nervous about the giant list of big stars that will be judging, but hey! You never know!

    So this isn’t any kind of plug or spam. It’s a true story. I put work and effort into this every day. I really hope in the end that I can be working for a living in some capacity in the Music business. Right now I write software for a living as an independent consultant but my heart will always be with music. The only person that ever stopped me from going for it was me.

    Jerry Boutot
    Scary Tales
    Psychodelectric Media

  7. So if people are willing to pay for good music then what’s standing in your way?

    Lack of money, that’s what.

  8. I have read every thing that was said, The one thing everyone has to understand at this time the big Record Companys control all the Radio stations ( play list, formats) Its not in the hands of the D Js anymore. We often ask. Why don’nt they make any good music anymore ? They do! we just do not get to hear it. Maybe with the internet The Record companys & radio stations will be a thing of the past. Then music will be put back in the hands of the people again where it really belongs

    Gary E Higgins

  9. Now in my 60’s, I’ve been involved with the “music business” most of my life. I’ve attended “hit” recording sessions with top producers. Despite my numerous attemps at getting a record deal, I failed to do so with mediocre and “cut-above” material
    but I kept writing. Disc Makers also manufactured my CD’s for my solo project. I have given most of them away to friends and strangers alike. Most of the time, they weren’t even listened to. Why? Because of “self-promotion”=invalidity. You can’t blow you own horn and expect someone to listen. If someone else “blows the horn” about YOU, and endorses the material, you sure to get attention. That’s what record companies, radio stations, and video media accomplish. As an artist, I don’t believe you can promote your own material (in most cases0 successfully. It’a a known fact that the listener values”media certification”
    as validity, and self promotion as a “wanna be”. Would Lady Gaga have made is without the trurst of major label and 10’s of thousands in promotion. She happens to me a mega talent (she’s great but that’s what the record companies look for before they invest their money. Many things have changed in ther record industry, but this is something that has not “The Look, The Sound, The Stage Show”. Quite franlkly, I don’t know of any band or artist that has hit “Mega-Star” status on their own.
    For others like us , we keep dreaming, and spending our own money to market our music The manufactures make money on us, and keep tring to sell us a dream. Maybe someone is listening..and it makes it worthwhile. When’s out next gig?
    Sorry guys, but I speak from experience.

  10. @Jeffrey Normal – that’s right! I’ve spent nearly a decade learning the ins & outs of the music business as well as web development & social media marketing. Sometimes it’s seemed completely hopeless, but I always try to focus on the reason I’m doing it in the first place… I Love Making Music & Sharing New Music with Friends.

    Profits have yet to turn and it’s still a monthly investment financially & time consuming, but I enjoy doing it & I know persistence & consistency will one day pay off… or at least pay for itself… lol

    Visit my website to check out my Free Music Network the Underground Music Spot! On Facebook, Twitter & Tumbr too!

  11. Scott, wow, man, thanks for the butt-kickin’! I really needed that today. I’m 44 and finally did invest in myself after waiting for others to do it for so long. I borrowed the money and made a live CD in front of about 250 friends and family. It’s on sale, actually, on CDBaby, iTunes and the others. But now I’m running out of friends and family who’ll buy it. I wondered if this was the end. You kicked me out of THAT hole. I appreciate everything you guys write by way of instruction. You are the man. Blessings to you today.

  12. I totally agree! Part of the problem is that you’re not really trying to convince all the 80 year olds reading this blog they can still live their rock star dreams, haha, but the way things are those of us mid 20s and beyond are made to feel we missed the boat!

    And like the poster mentioned above with hip hop (did you see the episode of Marriage Ref with the white stock broker middle aged dad who lived a double life as an aspiring rapper? haha!), I’ll never, for example, be the next Teen craze… nor do I want to be. But as you said so well, by taking responsibility for the career I do want, that fits what I do… I can make it happen, one way or another!!

    I also think that as the big label machine continues to fail, even if it reinvents itself, it will be something very different from what it was… anyway, I think people see through all the cookie cutter ‘made’ type artists and hype, people are developing a taste for the real thing it seems… which is good for us who may not fit what the old industry machine would have seen as a marketable package age/image wise. Image is important sure, but you know what I mean right?! Great music is great music, even if you’re -omg- 35 years old or something. (for the record I’m 29! haha)

  13. Thanks for the comments everyone. Nick – yeah I think I know that guy! 😉 That was good stuff. I miss those days. When is the Blacklist re-Union tour?

  14. Age is mind over matter –
    That said, if you are an ‘older’ artist, chances are you will fair better aiming at the ‘older’ audience. To try to break into the Hip Hop craze at 40 plus, unless you could pass for 19, is not your best option.

    That said, it is true that in todays market you must work harder, regardless of your age. You must reach out to your fans, and work hard to gain new ones.
    If you are not a fan of you, why should I be a fan?

  15. I always knew it all along. Because it doesn’t compute, the age thing and the musicality. I’ve been all over the world trying 2 make it. Hey, but the truth of the matter is the process and the urge to create and produce what I consider quality music, despite the hindrances from lack of technological affordability. I now play bass with my left hand, keys with my right hand while singing supported by my DR – 880 alone and whip it like a solid 4-piece band funky band. Not a lot are convinced as yet. So,I must resort to making videos up for Youtube. It’s music that matters

  16. I thank you from the bottom of my heart for this re-inspiring article… Many years ago, (before another band stole the moniker). I belonged to a band called Blacklist Union. We were a hard-rock/heavy metal band from Rhode Island. We had a tremendous guitarist, bassist and drummer. We were the future… Then as all things happen, there was a breakup and we were no more. It had gotten me to thinking. Maybe this isn’t it for me… Now. Almost a decade later I have realized that if you really want something bad enough, you have to earn it. Just like any great athlete. It is not just being in the right place in the right time, or knowing the right people. It really comes down to having the talent and knowing how to make it seen, heard, and most of all… PROFITABLE. Let’s face it, no one ever picked up a guitar, a bass, drumsticks, or a mic without ever once dreaming of being “IT”… Once again Scott. I thank you for the incite as well as the faith to keep on pushing…. Everyone needs to really listen to you and learn. By the way, have you ever heard of “Blacklist Union”? I think you will find the guitarist to be absolutely amazing, as I do….

  17. Damn right, no matter how old the artist, if the show rocks or takes you where you want to go then people will continue to attend. Saw Lionel hampton in his 80,s and the show was still representing his talent. The real shame are the acts who haven’t grown in many years and still think they deserve to be rewarded on last decades efforts. We all appreciate hard work in entertainment or food service or whatever and those who rest on laurels will get what they are due. Too many mcdonalds’ too many convenience stores, too many artists all fighting for the same dollar, so lets reward those whose produce a product that satisfies our need for new experiences.

  18. Your never to old to play music for fans and friends. Yes. It is good to understand the dream of future. We all love that. We don’t all do that, mostly we are busy working and paying bills. However, we all love Music. That is the main reason to do the work. The rewards are pleasant. But do we have a crystal ball? Can we really tell if folks love us or hate us before were big time? Bottom line is we are here to make music and have fun, so our listeners and fans have fun too.
    Just as there was only one Marilyn Monroe there is only one Amy Winehouse or Madonna or YOU, or whoever you wish to name that is a fave Star. That means fans can’t get what you have anywhere else. Nothing beats the real deal. And it’s worth paying for. Know why? Because that decade will never be again…the styles, clothes, hair makeup, and music can’t be repeated the same. Clone bands do their best attempt but it pales when compared to the real band. The farther away from the 1980’s or 90’s you get, the harder it is to bring it back, even on Film. So what do we conclude here? : This time, right now will never be again, when it’s gone it’s gone.. So ya gotta get out there and have fun on the Strip or the Festival show! Jump right in!

  19. nicely written, Scott. (once again!)

    I wouldn’t stop seeing / paying to see an artist unless they fell off performance-wise in their later years… But outside of that reason, there’s really no ‘age’ to music itself. Who cares how wrinkly the guy/gal playing the music is? Doesn’t matter a bit. Only the music does.

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