music career killers

Music career killers!

Music success doesn’t come easy, but the truth is we often get in our own way – don’t fall prey to these music career killers!

This post is excerpted from Music Career Killers! 20 Things That May Be Holding You Back In Your Music Career and How To Fight Back! Written by Ben Sword (AKA Chris Rockett) and reprinted with permission.

Every hour of every day, there’s a talented musician somewhere on the planet who makes the decision to put their artistic side on the back burner in favor of a more stable career. Although they vow they will pursue music in their spare time, just this simple mindset shift could mean that writing songs and playing gigs will always take a back seat to almost everything else in life.

In a way, it hurts too much to do music when you make this decision because it reminds you of all the dreams you had and gives you the feeling of being a failure. Even the most committed indie artists can be ground down to nothing after years of playing empty shows and sending out hundreds of demos with no reply. But once you start to recognize the common mistakes you’re making, you will be able to avoid them and get on with the real work of consistently creating music that your fans will appreciate.

Music Career Killers: #1 Not working on your music every day
You can spend your whole life learning music marketing and still fail if you don’t have great music to promote, but you can suck at marketing and still do well if your music is on point. The ideal, though, is to find that perfect balance between marketing and music creation. Commit to working on your music skills for an hour a day, and do your music marketing in any additional time that you can spare. It can help to make this into a little game, so every once in a while go back three months in time on your YouTube channel and see the kinds of songs you were writing then. Over that time period, you can really start to notice an improvement if you work on your music and songwriting daily.

Music Career Killers: #4 Not selling anything
So many musicians drop the ball at this stage: they produce great music, but then feel bad and don’t ask people to take the next step to buy something. Or they do try and sell, but because they don’t feel comfortable, they get nervous and do a poor job of it. So if you don’t currently have anything for sale on your website, then don’t do anything else until you do. It can be as simple as a $5 per month subscription to get a song of the week delivered to their inbox.

Music Career Killers: #8 Not taking at least one marketing action everyday
I’ve mentioned the importance of daily progress with your music, but just as important is the power of doing one thing per day that will get your music out into the world and in front of a targeted, interested fan. See, music marketing is like trying to push a car with your bare hands. At first it seems like it won’t budge, but then you start to get a little movement and before you know it, you’re going at a steady and predictable pace. Once in a while, you’ll come across a hill where you can sit back and let things roll, all you have to do is steer. But if you just start to push for five seconds then stop for a few days, then come back and try again for five minutes, you will never build up enough momentum and it will never get easy.

One of the biggest challenges that faces the modern DIY musician is consistency, because things will come up in your life that seem more fun or more important than working on your marketing.
But a little bit of focus on one really cool project can work like magic – all you need to do is remember why it’s important and why you decided to start learning music marketing in the first place. For me, it’s being able to work for myself and staying out of the rat race. I find that idea always allows me to refocus on what’s important.

Music Career Killers: #12 Boring your fans and playing it safe
I can’t tell you how many times I have seen this happen. You go to a show and see a band rocking out some amazing tunes, but each time you see them, they just continue to play the same old set over and over again. The bottom line is that one set of good songs does not make a music career. Make sure you write something new everyday, and the gems will come by default. You’ll be showing people considering an investment into your music (a fan, a record company) that you are making a commitment to being consistently productive now and in the future.

Music Career Killers: #13 Playing every crap gig you get offered
When you first start out you might as well play every show that comes along because this is valuable experience, and can even save you some money on the practice room. This becomes a music career killer, though, when you continue to play every bad show that comes along in the hopes that it might just convert one new fan. Playing to empty rooms with no pay not only sucks, but it’s also like a cancer to your career because it will destroy your enthusiasm. Next time you get offered a bad show, turn it down and spend the evening connecting working toward getting a killer show. One really good gig is worth a hundred empty venues.

Music Career Killers: #20 Getting jealous of other musicians
Nobody feels great about getting jealous, but it’s natural right? You work your tail off for months to try and get hits to your site, and then you see another musician getting featured in the press and you know that in one day they are going to get more hits than you got in the last three months. I’m sure you may have felt something like this at some point.

But if you just make a little mindset shift, you can get a new perspective on the success of others. When you see another musician doing something cool like getting played on the radio, getting signed, or getting press, think to yourself, “Cool, that means I have the opportunity to do the same thing, because this guy has just uncovered another opportunity for me to market my own music.” If you go as far as to track other musicians who have a similar fan base to your own, you can find new opportunities for you to connect with people who will be open to what you do because they just featured something similar. This follow up approach is something I call the “slip stream,” because you get to ride on the wave of the work done by other musicians and PR companies and it can take a lot of the guess work out of your marketing.

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Click to get your free download of the Music Career Killers! white paper and read all 20 “killers.”

Ben Sword is a frequent contributor to Disc Makers Echoes blog and is the founder of the Music Marketing Classroom, whose mission is to empower musicians to create a sustainable income, even with a modest music career, and teaches a simple four-step marketing philosophy to achieve that goal. Learn more at

The Complete Marketing Process

Read More
Building A Career in Music
Give fans more reasons to buy your music
Make a living in the music business – myths and methods
Don’t Be Afraid of Your Own Crazy Ideas
Want a successful music career? Don’t get too comfortable

119 thoughts on “Music career killers!

  1. Everybody’s going nuts about the ‘Crappy Gig’ suggestion. First, it says don’t play EVERY crappy gig that comes along. It’s OK to play some – often you don’t know it’s a crappy gig until it’s over! Second, a crappy gig is one that does not fit into your marketing plan. If you are at the stage in your career where you need to build your chops, by all means do what it takes to play out – low/no pay, off night, etc. But don’t play where you won’t be appreciated. If you’re a Wedding band, don’t play the punk club. If you’re a heavy metal band don’t play Billy Bob’s Country and Western Saloon.
    Write your own definition of ‘crappy gig’ and then don’t play them . . . too often.

  2. Another career killer…is the POLITICIANS we vote into office! MOST of these guys and gals are attorneys…and rather than encouraging business and tourism–they just make more and more restrictive laws that will ultimately kill off live music venues such as clubs. Beware of the Liberals who get on the “enviornmentalist” kick…they see US as the cause of NOISE pollution; and the places we work in as “dangerous enviornments” because of cigarette smoke, or some imagined potential for person injury….so they enact all these multi million dollar liability insurance requirements and anti-smoking laws…and the end result, is our clubs closing down because of the large attendance DROPOFF…and all the musicians sitting home instead of working. After 6 years of the public smoking ban law, New Jersey went from being a lucrative live music scene…to a ghost town and a police state rife with predatory and unconstitutional fines. Nobody wants to come here anymore. The non-smokers never came back into the clubs like these politicians all promised us….the REVERSE happened. Now everybody is sitting home out of work, and deluding themselves into thinking that being on-line is somehow a “musical career”…what a crock of BS we were all sold.

    1. WE have smoking bans here and they did not do any damage. If people want to kill themselves with poison that is their choice. I will not them do the same to me.

  3. I am proud of every ones sense of humor, capacities , will power and hospitality along with your professionalism, you make this conversation more important than any U.N meeting believe me. My love to you all and my respect from a Rastaman and a musician, experience and studio they commonly walk hand and hand depending on who is doing the walking, if as an artist you are willing to walk that walk then you are a torpedo on the way, you won’t miss the mark, be positive on all your works and approach life lively and content, always trust the Almighty God to walk with you and not only yourself, when the shaking starts build your confidence in His imperial majesty and so you will succeed. Life is what you make of living and showbiz is life, sometimes the light might get dim but the true light is the Lord. Stay strong in your positive work no matter what world comes crumbling down, just make sure it is not your world. God bless you all. King Abaddon 1

  4. Crap gig is relative. I have four criteria I refer to before I accept a gig. Will I earn decent money? Will I learn something? Will it be fun? Could it position me for something else? If none of those criteria are met, it is a “crap gig.” If at least one is met, it may very well be worthwhile.

  5. This is all so interesting. I think the attack on Gibson over rose wood from India speaks loads over ” is playing real music” in our world importaint. Real you might ask? Yes music that takes years of effort to flesh out. I ask in the worst times in this century were is the new Dillions? You wont have the burden of building your own depression.Your in one and your freedom of expression is under attack. What could be better? The music machine has gone by the way of the jackal. They are dieing way to slow and have made a mockery of the disipline of music.So please pick up that ax ( that we need to hide from the Govnment). And kick there ass with it.Real music about real people who care about real people will allways over come . God Bless

  6. I have been a singer/songwriter all my life. I have experienced success in this business and also many failures along the way. I try and do something everyday for my music. itunes has been a great way for me to get my music out into the world. Radio Air play has helped me and of course Disk Makers is awesome! I like the part in the article where it’s talking about turning down gigs that suck and expect you to play for free. I have come to the place in life where I would rather turn down 10 bad gigs and take the great paying house concert annytime!

  7. Music Career Killer Financially: How do I (or how does anyone) justify spending $11 – $17.00 per disk (+ shipping) for CD duplication for restocks for the Portland Distribution Center when one may only recoup a third of that cost in sales? Would like to offer CD’s but I don’t see the financial sense in doing so unless I buy my own duplication gear. Am I missing something?

    1. Have you check out Disk Makers yet? They’re awsome and you can put together your own CD package for a great price. 🙂

  8. Working is always good practice and is a learning experience about audiences and venues.
    For musicians who love to play, the size of the audience is unimportant. Consider the great music played by jazz musicians after the venue closed for the night.

  9. jealousy is bad in general, but had i not been jealous of other people, i probably wouldn’t even have done as much and gone as far as i have, in show-business, even though i haven’t gotten too far, of yet, anyhow. all i’m saying is that one may very well need a kick in the butt, to make them move in life and start trying to express and accomplish something, so even jealousy may come of benefit

  10. Awesome article. Good reminder and great food for thought.
    I’ll be in Paris looking for opportunities 5/5-5/20.
    Anybody w connects, holler at your girl.

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  12. Crappy gigs build character, and more importantly keep your chops up. The one thing it lacks is gaining notoriety. But I’ve done many to which that 1 gained fan turns into 50 more simply by way of word of mouth. I agree with transferring energy toward bigger and better, however one missed opportunity can also result in the loss of 50 potential future fans. Don’t do things for the money or the magnitude. Do them for the passion and those said things will follow suit.

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  14. I think people need top stop thinking of the music/ent industry as if this is still the 80s or 90s, and realise that there are tons of people that have made it by traditional, & non-traditional means. Yes, i know of some people that went as far as sleeping in their car, or sleeping on people’s couch year after year until they got their break.

    But i also have met some people that did all of those things and it ruined them for life, never doing music again, with no one caring about them, and still no big break.

    And some people have worked a 9-5, and after taking longer, things worked out the way they wanted. The important thing Ive found to be true, is that working smarter not harder is what brings you success. Look at some of the people that have actually started a successful ent career because of YouTube.

    Im not saying YT is the new answer, im just saying that people went about achieving their goals in a smarter way that’s relevant to the 21st century, rather than what the “rules” have always been. Networking with the right people is invaluable, but knowing that you will have to spend money as an investment into your career wisely if you really want to go somewhere.

    As well you have to admit that the USA just doesn’t respect the arts in general as they used to. So you have to have the mentality of broadnenig your horizons, rather than emphasizing on just one thing.

    Perfect example, look at film composers. For many years a composer in the industry was told that you have to seriously focus on just tv, or film, or advertising. Now in this day and time, it’s not uncommon to see composers working in all of those industries at the time, including producing songs for label artists, and remixes.

  15. I have been a roadie, techie, and mostly a music professional for most of my adult life. I toured with bands as a manager and as a musician and this is the voibe I can offer. U2, no matter where they play and what they say, have a quality commitment that isn’t unlike any successful Corporation or firm I have been honored to be a part of. The thing I see in the success and failure of the bands, companies, and performers I have been blessed to know in my life have a common denominator in the consistency and quality areas of the overall personality you portray. EX: If drinking changes your outlook or behavior to something even your family doesn’t appreciate, don;t do it while your working or in the presence of the fans you are or just have worked for. Be on-time and always friendly and consistent in your attitude and associations and the ones that call you back are the ones that are genuine and the ones that don;t are either not interested in your product or need a reminder that you are what you say you are and play what you say you play. I feel that any gig you play, with the right pre-cursor and follow-up meet and greet, will just be considered the “ones that are good” and the ones where you changed the product without any warning will inadvertently become the “bad.” Expectations versus what you deliver, if they are markedly different, will be perceived as bad by those who give the bad voibe and provide the negativity based on an inconsistent show a failed marketing strategy or just plain disrespectful performance tactics delivered at any venue or gig. Be quality minded and don’t always believe “you get what you inspect, not what you expect” or play different to one than you would 100 as it will be perceived as less than high quality and the seed for future negativity the constant micro-management or oversight methods drive the formulate for No Quality as opposed to Total Quality in any performance. Put people in charge of delegated tasks with the interest in and vision synchronous with your ultimate goal and relate how their success means your success together. Most people, if they feel appreciated and an integral part of the TEAM will do a phenomenal job, yeah for you, but also for themselves Besides that, part of our goal as performers is to have fun. Try to convey your enjoyment in your performance and what you say to an audience encourage others to do the same, its contagious and it works! I witnessed countless remarks from Bono of U2 when directed to an audience like they are his personal friend and confidant, really gets them interested in everything else he might say from that point forward. And it is always something positive – or at least carries a positive and personal or “christian” message that is based on care, not dare! Rock On! v/r, drdave

  16. Not so much is this a music career killer but I offer this more as a corollary, a possible career booster.
    Every day, when you leave your abode, you enter a world seen only through your eyes. If you set your mind to “song radar,” you will be pleasantly surprised at how many ideas will begin to materialize as you move among people, talk to people, even drive in traffic.

    No, these ideas won’t all be dissing a crazy f’ed up world. Some will actually emerge as song potential about people showing kindness, patience, innovation, maybe even a little love. It’s the stuff we see that we don’t put to music that kills our career. Life is full of music. Every day is a new song.

  17. i don’t feel #13 is a bad point. it’s more of a psychological problem than anything. if small crowds and less money kill your dreams, that’s on you. one point every musician should accept if they really want a career is that not every artist is gonna make it big. some will go on to start a trend, make millions and inspire new upcoming talent. others will live on in the underground but if music is your passion, that wont ruin anything for u. marketing really is the key to a successful music career. that’s been what’s held me back for so long, i never took it seriously. once i started performing at house parties and promoted myself by showing up where people wanted me to perform at, i jumped from 2,000 plays to 21,000 plays. people talk. you have to be involved with other musicians and other people in general, not competing against everyone and just showing off what u can do alone. if you really want to make it, form a group and spread the responsibility of getting the music heard/noticed. otherwise, have fun in front of that mirror.

    1. Well said, from an old hand who is still on that journey and is, and still will be proud to put out his own music. Ray

  18. i say, play out as often as you like. if your all having fun and making a buck go for it. a free show will not kill you but crappy gig burn out might. practice every day. if practicing gets boring invite a few friends youll be amazed at what they can do for you. remember its all about the drums o sorry, the music,friends and having a good time. if your missing any of these simple ingredients fix it. lifes short play hard. push yourselfs. thats what good band members do.

  19. I am confused…one “pro” says play out often and many times now #13 says don’t play out every gig you get. I disagree even some of the “big” shows are “crappy”. It is what you make it! If you put on a good performance, I don’t care where it is, “Bob’s Pub” or the Civic Theater, people will notice. And as soon as you lose sight of that you might as well stay home and play to the mirror! I do every kind of show possible and some of the best shows have been at those so called”crappy” gigs. Keep music live!!! and Live your music!
    Thank you.
    -Jeff Varga

    1. One of my favorite bands if all time is Scorpions. I have a concert DVD that includes a documentary and they say in their early days they would play at every place that had a socket to plug their gear into. Rudolf Schenker said he knew other musicians who sat on their asses in the bar trying to act cool and when they would see Scorpion band members they would ask where they had been, they hadn’t seen them in a while. Rudolf would say, “we’ve been playing gigs everywhere. You could, too, if you would get off your asses and do it.” Point? Take every gig you’re offered, at least early on.

  20. #13 Crapy gigs or what you may think is a crapy gig may be the deal breaker. The crapy gig one is full of crap. As a past artist and having worked for the majors and distribution for years #13 is full of crap. Don’t buy it.

    1. I think it depends on what you’re trying to accomplish. If you are merely a working cover band or similar, being picky can create a vibe of exclusivity- leading to bigger paychecks if the band is good.
      But if you are an independent artist trying to be “discovered”, playing everywhere, all the time is the best way to make contacts, be heard, etc.
      If playing a backyard party lead to meeting “Uncle Clive Davis”, you would not be disappointed.

  21. Oh, and another one: Stay the heck away from the drugs. I know too many people who spent more time getting “inspired” than practicing and it showed. You need the focus and disipline to succeed.

    1. This one definitely should’ve been on the list. Sometimes people forget “pro” stands for professional. Peak efficiency and peak proficiency means no hallucinogens. I wont work with people who “need” drugs to create. Because Art is unconventional and its forefathers of our modern era (enlightenment etc.) led such abstract lives people use this today to justify a blatant lack of drive, passion and discipline. How does killing brain cells (via stimulants, hallucinagens, depressants etc.) help you think, write and perform better?

  22. Start with this. Why do you play music? Or write it. Or Produce it? Is it to be wildly rich and famous? Is it to the the object of sexual desire of your fans and acolytes?

    If the answer is yes, Rock on. Go for it. It may or may not happen. And if it does not, You will most likely stop doing whatever it is you were doing with and around music. And that will be fine as well.

    If you are one of those human beings that simply MUST make music, then accept it. You do start, stop restart, restop, but you will always be called back to the music. because something in your soul demands it. In each of the phases of what you do, you will end up likely learning new things, such as how to play, write, produce, sing, market and all those things this article has mentioned. Some you will do grudgingly at times, others you may embrace. I know because this was the sage advice given to me by Alexis Korner, a legendary bluesman from the UK and the Godfather of the British Blues movement- where Mayall, Clapton, Watts, Page and countless others all got their start. I had the great fortune to spend a little time with him before he passed away and the wisdom he passed on to me on that Austin afternoon sitting in a little beer garden with he and his wife has proven true. My own career, with its fits and starts, has borne that out.

    So whatever you do along the way- dayjob, no dayjob, poverty, modest incomes, kids and families and car payments, it all goes into the music.

    I have been a full time musician, a budget music supervisor in LA, a composer, had day gigs, you name it. In my latest incarnation, which involves a day gig, that day gig paid for better gear, let me pay a few of my buddies for playing on my tracks, finance some professional mastering, and buy a little email based indie PR. As a result, I now have a track in a compilation project alongside Bruce Springsteen and Bob Dylan, I have my performance of one of my tunes in a payoff scene of a feature film being distributed this January by a major studio, I have had an e-book out with a CD’s worth of music embedded, radio interviews in the US and overseas, the list goes on…and damn near no money to show for it, because as many other posts have stated, the industry is in “turn-around” and there is a restructuring of the business models….

    But the music goes on, and my life is better for getting to make it, which at least in theory makes me a better person for the world to interact with. Few of us are one single thing, and most of the ones who are are simply boring. Even the most singly focused musicians seem to have an inner curiosity about the world and cosmos that keeps them from being one dimensional. Life is trial and error, but music comes out of living….at least the music I find with something beneath the obvious surface…

    So don’t worry about all the other stuff. Make the music. Promote it, or not. Just be honest with yourself and the rest works out from there…Good luck and blessings to everyone out there….

  23. How many topics can discmakers and cdbaby recycle? That’s the only question that should be addressed. The rest is nonsense.

    Look, folks, to “make it big” as a musician is about as likely as being in the starting lineup for the Yankees. The odds are astronomical. Do those odds impede people from playing sports? Of course not! Just drive by your local softball field, or the tennis court near your home….or the flag football game at the ……

    You get the picture.

    If you TRULY love music, and the paying gigs just aren’t there, you should be willing to play for free. If you ONLY play music when it pays, then that speaks volumes about your LOVE of music.

    If you play in a rock band that’s too abstract, or underground, to get any serious paying gigs, then lighten the load and gig with a smaller lineup; a duet with acoustics, instead of electrics.

    But to stop playing, because you ‘ain makin’ $$$?!

    Only a physical or mental incapacity would keep me from pursuing my dream…..which is to create my own, original music until I drop dead.

    Money? Not important.



  25. the music industry is so controlled that it makes it almost imposible for people to ‘make it’ outside of it.
    us creative people need to realise that maybe our talents arent for the entire world, but for a few people around us. AND most of all – it’s for ourselves. writing songs is an outlet that many don’t have. it keeps us sane because we can release ideas and feelings that would otherwise make us sick…

    we need to make sure we don’t forget why we do it – it’s because we love it and we bring joy to others with our gifts.

  26. I Believe in Fate to and If it aint ment to be it aint ment to be. Ive been doing music mostly Hip Hop for over 10 years and Ive been told im better then some mainstream Artist including Eminem. But u have to work or find another way to make money sometimes. It gets really hard almost impossible to do all the marketing an music yourself. I find that it overwhelms me a lot. So being a independent artist is very very difficult nowadays.

  27. After reading a bunch of these comments I have come to a conclusion… musicians are crazy!
    Everyone on here is not a failure, musicians are simply defining success with the wrong parameters.
    The first thing you have to understand is that GOOD ART and MONEY have no correlation. If your goal is to make money…you are trying to take the fast track in the slow lane.
    Music is communal, it is about sharing, it is social., it is not about making money.
    Good music can build a scene and create emulators copy-cats. If people are following you and watching you and trying to borrow your ideas…this is a very good sign that you are doing something right.
    You are inspiring them.
    Good music is inspirational, but it does not have to be narrowly defined inspiration, such as religious music.
    Go out and spread hope, inspiration, and provide a fresh viewpoint…this is what people are interested in.

    Remember that you cannot truly share your love until you love yourself and you cannot inspire others unless you are doing something that truly inspires you.

  28. Xdrummer. I did just the opposite. Here’s my partial story. I started writing after playing Bass in a church. A writer asked me to play in his studio. I did and learned his songs. They were original and best in the Genre’. To this day the guy is a premo writer and he is still in his bedroom writing songs. We played one gig. I had to pray for that gig after all the hard work. There wasn’t a dry eye in the house. God showed up. Then he was seduced by a Jezebel and started back on dope. Yeah wew did Contemp Gospel. I cried. Then something interesting happened. An old time Southern Gospel Band did a concert at my church. They needed a Bassist. They hired me. I learned the road. No money though. So I did that and learned the road from a motor coach perspective. THey the wife divorced me. So I moved and went back to music school and learned much more. Then I got kicked out of school for my beliefs. Then I became a CDL 18 wheeler driver. SO now to avoid the sex and disease traps I need a virtuous woman who is not a Delighlah to go with me join the band in some capacity and be a crucial part of my vision. Any lady Missionaries who won’t give me a hard time and want to marry a Christian Musician may apply. I prefer those who are physically fit or I will Turkey neck. Attraction is big for me. Isn’t that shallow. I went back and learned cover songs to improve my knowladge. Listen to the crap out there and you know what I mean. People are making money on that garbage. I’m not jealous. I’m ashamed. Like one rock star said, “What happened to music”? John R Kanerva

  29. Another thing to consider: DON’T DO ANY GIG FOR FREE. If you’ve ever been lied to by a venue or promoter, you know that the “great exposure” line is a load of bologna. GET PAID GET PAID GET PAID. If you don’t get paid you’re devaluing yourself and making it more difficult for other professional musicians to GET PAID. Even coffee shops and small venues CAN pay, but they often don’t because so many musicians think they have to do free gigs. What will the venues do when they can’t get musicians to perform for free? They will PAY YOU. If you don’t think you’re worth it, you’re probably not, so quit. But if you’re going to be out there making music, spending money on your equipment, your musical education, advertising, recording, etc…GET PAID GET PAID GET PAID. If you don’t ask for the money, you won’t get the money. Did I mention that musicians need to GET PAID?!?!?

  30. Made my living at music for 22 years, classical, broadway shows, jazz and recording. I got married –3 kids and found a useful place to make money–Real Estate. I am a RE broker in New York City and it fits real well with the music business. Fame was not what I was after–I toured for a little over 3 years and as far as Im concered having a family sure beats touring. First job was with Vancouver Symphony, came to NY and toured with the Metropolitan Opera for 2 years at which point I wanted a more creative course than classical and went into playing shows and then small jazz groups which were a lot more fun because of the creativity involved in writing songs and improvising on a gig.

  31. Hi to all you fellow musicians and artists. Been reading with great interest all your comments and opinions on your personal experiences and views-and living the life of music. I’ve been in the music world since early 4 track days (centuries ago) as an artist and composer, and now ‘head’ two record labels- one in the States and one in the UK. I am also on the voting academy of ‘The Brit Awards, and a judge on various music talent competitions (real one’s) bigger than ‘The X Factor’ etc. But in spite of all this, its just great to come on a site-purely by chance, to find real musicians and artists who really believe in themselves, their craft and real music, you are like a breath of fresh air in this age of mediocrity in the music business-cheapened by the ‘digital wannabees’ churning out (in the most) ‘plastic shopping bag’ sounds-defined as music-that may be here today, but are certainly gone tomorrow. Music (real) as we know, is one of the arts, and all rt-of whatever nature comes from within-as an expression of the soul, and no machine or commputor can replicate the various passions or moods of a musician or vocal artist, and though I see some great new talent emerging at various talent competitions like ‘Live Unsigned’, its still great to see so many of you-in these ‘strange times’, have not lost your spirit,and belief in yourselves. Life can be strange and hard with its ups and downs-none moreso than in the entertainment industry-and in particular-music. But things are sent to try and test our resolve, and whether you achieve your goal or not, you are involved in something that you want to do and (at times) gives you great joy and satisfaction-and remember, by entertaining people, you are making some-if not all-happy-for a short while,and that makes your talent very valuable. If music is your life live it-and love it.

  32. Every musician who takes a swing at some form of success has talent and something musical to offer, but for a moment, we should consider the taste and agenda of the “Gate
    Keepers” who decide what music moves forward and what does not. I’m talking about the music screeners and supervisors who place music in the marketplace. How long did J.K. have to shop Harry Potter around before it got published? Check out the movie “Titanic” for a comment on early works by Picasso. The taste of the public is determined by the gatekeepers and what they decide to promote. I don’t think any music supervisor wants to use music that does not reference something that went before and was accepted and does not want to appear too far out of the mainstream while still staying “cool”. Sounds like high school. Most of my musician friends just want to have people to hear and appreciate their work. (and get paid for it)

  33. I made a go, had some success, and was a self-employed musician for 17 years. I fronted, booked, promoted, self-released, and whored my band out to earn a living (and have no regrets for doing so). But now I’m 52, and perpetuating all that got less and less lucrative, and tiring, to say the least. So… I finally start looking for a day-job that pays more than some ridiculous wage, and my resume says “self-employed musician” for 17 years. I might as well put down “Rodeo Clown” or something!! People in the hiring world can’t imagine that being a musician teaches you any skills whatsoever, and I’ll admit it’s very hard to explain to someone in an interview what it is I know how to do besides play bass, sing, and write songs. So… what’s your advice for a musician who’s on the other end, who’s taken it as far as they can and ran out of steam, and patient wives? I have a former club owner lying for me and saying I was his “building manager” for 17 years, so I had what is percieved as an actual job in that time frame.

    1. Maybe I can help? You’re absolutely right: “self-employed musician” reads like a synonym for “Rodeo Clown” on a resume for a “real” job. Let’s repackage that in terminology representative of what you actually did, that people on the other side might understand better:

      List position titles and brief descriptions of their respective tasks such as the following, customized for your particular situation (or not):

      Booking Agent and PR/Client Relations Manager for touring musical ensemble “(your DBA)” (19xx – 20xx)
      Developed and produced online and offline promotional materials, marketed to prospective clients and built an extensive client base for (insert # of players) – piece band that performed at (i.e., corporate events, festivals, weddings, etc.)

      Contractor and Business/HR Manager for “(your DBA”) (19xx – 20xx)
      Performed all administrative, accounting and management tasks for touring musical ensemble. Recruited, managed and coordinated personnel (incl. payroll processing) and organized all touring logistics.

      Sales and QA Manager for “(your DBA)” (19xx – 20xx)
      Oversaw production, duplication, distribution and merchandising of recordings by musical ensemble.

      Sounding more like “real” work now? YES, because it *IS*!

      VERY IMPORTANT: Leave the “musician” bit out of it and focus your resume around the transferable skills you acquired in order to become a SUCCESSFUL musician. Let them ask you in the interview “Oh, are you a musician too?” And then say, “Well, yes, but I had to develop that additional skill set in order to become able to earn a living as a successful musician for all of those years!” then watch their jaw drop and the light come on.

      Very best of luck to you!

      Brenda K (aka “Fiddlerchick”)

        1. Well thank you Elizabeth, and glad to hear my “Plan B” career came in useful for something, or perhaps we’re on Plan F or G by this point 🙂

          Aww hell, and while I’m at it since Pistol Pete mentioned running out of patient wives, a word from a long-suffering wife-slash-bandmate-slash Manager/Accountant/Booking Agent/Webmaster/PR-HR Director-slash-EVERY-f’ing-thing:

  34. I have make a couple of those mistakes, but am working on getting back in the wsing of things with them again.

    The tip about taking crap gigs is definitely true. When I first started, I would take any gig just to get on stage, but had horrible experiences with feedback, and also the clubs not wanting to pay me anything. I also did festivals….bad idea….unless it is a major festival, don’t do it. It will only make your band look desperate. Plus, most of those festivals won’t pay you anything. they just tell you to sell your CDs and merch to get money, but most of the festival attendees get in free and save their money for drinks.

    Good tips. I am printing this out to start using it as my musician’s bible of sorts.

    Jerry (Lthrboots)

  35. This is gonna sound horrible, but I hope all other musicians quit, so I seem more important. The whole “you can follow your dreams” attitude has produced some great things. But, on the flip side, it has also produced a serious supply and demand issue. There is an endless supply of poorly produced, poorly written, and over-all bad-sounding music available because of the accessibility of home recording tools, musical instrument super stores, and shows like American Idol that give a completely false sense of how the music industry really functions. So, all you fake hobbyist musicians need to quit. QUIT NOW. You’re muddying the waters, making it even more difficult for people who have invested their mind, souls, money, and sweat into what they have been put on this earth to do. I might quit, too, but you’re first…LOL! Keep doing what you’re doing, unless it’s no good. Be honest. If you stink, quit.

  36. I have a very simple mantra which can be applied to a music career or any other career or aspect of your life: “Start where you are. Use what you have. Do the best you can.” You can set goals according to what you want to do or whatever. But sometimes I see people struggling just to practice, write, get on the computer, or even something as basic as putting a pen to paper to write out their goals. Maybe you’ve stopped doing the music thing for a while and you’re looking to get back into it. I encourage you to grab a hold of a mantra like the one I wrote above and start right now, right where you are. Use whatever you have. Don’t wait for anyone or anything. Then just do the very best you can. Hint: If you’ve gone to sleep before your were exhausted working on this – you didn’t give it your best yet. A musician who isn’t up late chasing his/her dream is only dreaming. Dreams are great. But chasing them is where the rewards are!

  37. I agree with most of your points here but the whole atmosphere of DIY Musicianmanship is tainted with the hundreds of sites looking to take advantage of people’s dreams. They all have their hand out which comes along with the line “We can make you look (sound) great and all it costs is…” I’ve been in the music biz for over 35 years and don’t quite see the empowerment that so many folks talk about. Consistent effort is the bottom…and don’t get distracted by all the buzzers & bells that are out there.

  38. WOW, what a timely post and so much wisdom of experience that I am gleaning from everyone. It so happens that I am in a financial pickle and started down the path of reflection and reasoning just like most everyone who has posted. Up until 2 years ago, I had a great church gig as music director, a very prosperous teaching studio in a music store, and great paying gigs as solo guitarist. Then the church laid me off, the music store closed and many students’s dropped without new students signing up and gigs haven’t been all that great. Life is constantly changing; sometimes we can see it coming most of the time it just hit’s us. Then we have a choice to: retool, refocus, recharge and then adapt. Life will always challenge us to better ourselves and “flame out” or compromise ourselves and “rust out.” I’m going to flame out!!!

  39. I’ve been playing in a band for the last 38 years, for a living. It’s always been a cover band and I’ve had a wonderful time playing some great music in some great venues. Started as a sideman, went to band leader status about 15 years ago. Got very involved in my community about 12 years ago. That was just about the best thing I ever did concerning marketing the band. I learned how the “other side” looks at the music they hire. A friend of mine insisted that I apply to The Texas Commission on the Arts, a Texas entity that supports the arts in rural communities through non-profit arts presenters. Non-profits hold fairs and festivals. They organize conventions, meetings, dinners, fundraisers, etc… It’s a big market. I suggest that you find a non-profit organization you feel passionate about and volunteer your time. Not your music time, but contribute in other ways and make friends. You will find that making friends in this arena will bring you gigs. Most philanthropists have occasion to entertain and hire music. Since you are now their friend, they will ask you to play for them.
    The band I am with now has found a niche market. We play for the baby boomers over 50 mostly. They have plenty of money and love the classic cover tunes we play.
    We sell CDs at every show. Sometimes a lot of them. Just depends on how well we have connected with the audience. That’s the main thing.
    Find your market. In my opinion, one of the worst things you can do is play for people who have no connection to your music. We are older than 50 so it’s easy for us to know what that age group wants and likes. We do about 125 – 150 gigs or so every year. All for good pay. We are definitely a regional hit. Spreading throughout the state a little at a time. For me that’s success.

  40. I play as often as I can but probably only because I’ve been doing that for 30 years, and I get a huge kick out of playing.
    However I gave up on even trying to do shows in my area because there are so many hacks that will do a show way cheap most of the venues have figured out that they don’t have to pay much, many nothing, and in the last 10 years I’ve seen audience enthusiasm for any live show in the toilet, even hot bands won’t get them really going, it’s like they are way jaded. I’m out checking live shows as often as I can.
    I’ve never written an original tune in my whole career, instead I’ve always tweaked tunes that get me going to really smoke, like changing time signatures, changing the texture of the song (original slow and clean, do it grindy and speed it up, or if it’s fast and grindy slow it down and play it clean)
    When I used to do live shows when it payed well I always got feedback such as “I’ve always liked that tune but I really like the way you just did it ! Would you do it again tonight? ”

    So when I retire I plan to upload all the wonderful things that I do (I just built a better recording space) and sell them as MP3 downloads or whatever the heck is the medium 7 years down the road, but I’m done being my own roadie and risking my gear for next to nothing for audiences that increasingly become more jaded. Does anyone think audience jadation is due to the inroads of the dope war or the popularity of rap and hip hop? I’m curious, I kinda think both are factors…

    1. Paul, I’m not sure why people are jaded either, but like you I have noticed it for sure. Just a theory, but I think it probably has to do with the way technology has made everyone a do-it-yourself rock star (myself included). Right now anyone can record an album in their home, get pro copies made with great art work, packaging (shirk wrap and bar codes), have there CD on web sites like Amazon, have there songs on internet radio and even be interviewed. All of this can be done if you pay for it, and you may not even be able to play a note. 20 years ago there was a vetting process where you didn’t get to do any of those things unless SMEs (biz people) thought you were worth it. I’m not saying that it’s good or bad, that everyone can do it (hey I’m living out my rock star fantasy) i’m just making a point. I think people are aware of this “anyone can do it” status and it shows.

  41. I disagree with #13. I believe it was Dave Mathews’ drummer whom I saw on a TV show several yrs ago when he said, “Never turn down a gig.” I guess, if you’re not concerned about being a working musician and you just want to work on your own material, and you can afford to turn down gigs, then it’s OK, but I’ve been a working musician for 52+ yrs and I can recall only once when I turned down a gig for any reason other than being already booked. Even the bad gigs can teach something, perhaps only what NOT to do, or how to best deal with bad players, etc. If you turn down a gig because it’s bad, don’t ever expect that leader to call you again. No one is going to call someone else for the bad gigs and then call you for the good ones.

  42. I’m not a particularly good songwriter and I am definitely not a musician. I am a frontman with a marketing background. I love articles like this. It gives guys like me hope. I have had some very big breaks and successful years behind me. Many people tell me I peaked as an artist and I need to quit while I am ahead. I just can’t do that since I love being part of the music industry. Thanks for the motivation. Eric dodge

  43. The article and comments imply that a career musician is only one who makes money at it. Webster says a career is a “profession”, “conduct in life or progress through life”. A profession is an “occupation or calling, especially one requiring learning”. None of these definitions necessarily implicate the making of money. A music “career” is bigger than money or commercial success. Its how you live and conduct your life. Say you play classical piccolo or oboe. No club gigs, dude. No solo concerts before thousands of adoring fans. No living to be made at French horn. So why bother? Its because music is greater than personal acclamation and monetary success. Thus there is no conflict between having a job and a musical “career”. Go ahead and work in the bakery and make that original reggae album that only local fans and your parents buy. Some day some kid may pick it up in the stack of used CDs at an antique store and be inspired to greatness. The important thing is the music and giving it your unique personal interpretation at this time of your life. The notes are always the same, its just how you put them together in your own individual way. Be yourself. Play on!

      1. While I appreciate the spirit of Slim’s comment, I laughed out loud when I thought about my various friends over the years who have been making decent money on those instruments; and I’m sure I’m not the only classical cat who thinks that club dates (aka bar gigs, and I’ve done my share of them as part of my “crossover” sideplayer career) tend by and large to be the musical equivalent of cleaning sewers! Just for fun:

  44. Great article,

    As a musician, I can vouch for the ups and downs to all of what was said in the article. Having a day job can be the most fustrating thing if all you want to do is music. However, I encourage everyone to keep their faith and to pursue the magic that they have individually created. My word of advice that I try to follow is go under the notion of what is most unattainable, share with everyone. I believe this practice can apply to just about anything including music.Now I’m not reccomending going out and giving a ton of free products, but if you have a gift share it in your most sincere capacity. Do not worry about someone else’s success or become jealous as that will be a personal roadblock; however, concentrate on what you can do and let the rest follow.

    Good luck everyone,


  45. For starters, let me clarify that we are instrumentalists — not “singer-songwriters” (although my husband/ bandmate does write songs with lyrics as well as instrumentals), and that type of music has some unique challenges and opportunities. While I have never been given any reason to doubt that we could have and in fact still could make a viable go of it as musicians as long as we are willing to make certain compromises which we honestly haven’t had much appetite for, the deal breaker for me ended up being that I hate the whole process of getting into the position of being able to earn a worthwhile living as a full-time musician (and note that “worthwhile living” means something very different to me at the age I am now than it did when I was in my early 20’s!) so much that it has completely destroyed music for me. I more or less “officially” threw in the towel a few months ago, and here is the post I wrote about it:

    We haven’t totally quit though. We’re still rehearsing every day and writing new material and do an occasional gig for existing clients and anything new that comes up that is worth doing, but I’m taking a desperately needed holiday from running myself into the ground spending all my available time doing stuff I hate. Since I’m the one that has to do all the administration/ marketing/ PR/ HR stuff on top of working a full-time day job to support the whole house, plus keep it functioning, I’m just sick to death of feeling like a “one-woman sweatshop”.

    That said, I am presently trying to kick myself into gear and work up the motivation to spend a few evenings compiling press kits to mount one last offensive to see what might turn up for 2013. Maybe 2012 was just a crap year for us and things will come around if I just stick it out a little longer?

  46. We’re excatly in the same position… working hard everyday and not so many results…. We had to give ourself a deadline though, cause I don’t wanna arrive be 50 years old and asking my parents money……

  47. We couldn’t agree more with # 13.

    In fact, we said just about the same thing in our Four Things Every Musician’s Gotta Know.

    Until the mid 1980’s, performing music was a viable career. Musicians allowed things to backslide this far, and, together, we can take it back. Don’t expect someone to do it for you – this is a fight we all have stakes in, and there are no sidelines, no neutral ground. You can take a stand or (continue to) get run over – your choice.

    Endorse Fair Trade Music now, and find out how you can work for positive change in your local music scene.

    In solidarity,
    Jake Pegg
    Coordinator, FTM-PDX

  48. I will never give up. There is nothing else in this world that I want more. I wish people could see that its not about making it, but its about making music. I have every reason to give up. Job, wife, school. but I dont. I have been in the military for the past 9 years. My music has finally hit small radios in the US and in South America. I have filmed and recorded songs while deployed in combat zones. I dont see a reason to quit. I remember watching a documentary once and a young successful musician said. ” The journey is always better than the destination” Eminem. I can only imagine after making it. How bitter sweet it actually is. Guys, gals. This is our time! our golden years.! If thsi doesnt inspire you. Go on youtube and watch U2 Slane castle concert- Out of control.- In the middle of the song, Bono gives a speech. If you dont get goose bumps from that, then you need to quit for sure.!- All the best! While you contemplate quitting, Im sleeping away from my wife, wishing I was home making it!- Never give up!- Add on facebook if you like Gabriel KMillion Fortes

    1. Hey Kmillion, thanks for your service. I did 20 years in the Army myself. Can’t say it’s conducive to a music career, but keep plugging away. Randy

  49. Having played for many, many years as a drummer, live, studio, trained with some of the best schools and musicians, I can tell you this much = you will NEVER make it unless you do it before the ‘window shuts’. That means, unfortunately, if you want to perform on the big stage? Do it while you are young! I turned to writing and recording all my own material, play all instruments myself, vocals, everything. Then, have some realistic goals. With many friends (PROS!) in the biz, I’ve learned from them some things.
    1. It’s who you know that can open doors. That’s the most important thing. The industry is saturated with great musicians, songwriters all vying for that one big chance. You need to make GREAT, not good, connections.

    2. If you are older, you can still play like I do, in demand, but even playing with name acts, the pay is paltry, or can be. The best way to ‘make it’ is songwriting. Know how to write great songs, not good ones, but GREAT songs with terrific hooks. That takes a lot of experience and some tough self-criticism. IF it is great? People will tell you. If you hear nothing? You have nothing. Make sure you OWN your own material, with ASCAP, BMI, etc. I don’t push enough, but I need to. I have some plans to go to Nashville where I have some connections. But, I’m only going when I am certain I am ready. Two or three songs can get you far. It all depends on the genre, and you need to know what the audience is for the song. Make sure it it catchy, so people will remember it, and the big shots in Music City will notice you. It must be a great song.

    3. Media an social sites are ok, but again, they are saturated to the max. Hard to get noticed, like a needle in a haystack. You can still be a fantastic musician, get work, and still write and hope that a label will pick it up for one of their artists. You can live on royalties if you are smart. Again, you must OWN or make a good deal for your material. Also, a demo is fine, if it is top quality. Gone are the days of half-ass demo’s, they simply will not listen to it. Don’t spend hours on media sites that you know are loaded up already. Do something different. Have your own site, or use a good one like Reverbnation. I’ve heard some really good stuff on this site, this is the only one I am on.

    4. If you want your music to turn into a hobby, just keep playing in a cover band. No money in this in the long run. You are banging your head for $50 or $150 a job, and NONE of your music is heard. Studio work, for someone is great, gets you noticed, and the studio will use you if you are really good. Then, work a deal with the studio, and sharpen up your own songs. That is key. ORIGINAL songs! And, again, they must be GREAT! If you can’t tell the difference between good and great? You haven’t been listening or you need more experience.

    5. Be honest and know what you are doing. Riding on a tour bus is not glamorous. Having a label pick up one of your songs for a name artist will take you much further than anything else. If you are young, write some good stuff, play a LOT of shows, and put yourself OUT THERE. And, get legal advice. Never sign anything without counsel. You do NOT know what you are signing. Trust me. Or, ask U2 or Prince. Or, Boston. Try and get in thru good connections, get into a label door, and you are halfway there. I’ve spent many years working on songs, from analogue to digital studios in my home, and finally am getting somewhere. So, my plan is to go see my connections in Nashville, get in some doors, and see what happens. I don’t expect the world, but I do believe I can at least join in with some of my songwriting skills. Lots of years put in, and I expect nothing – but hope to make any kind of impression and show what I can offer up.

    Last thing = it’s ALL about distribution of your product. That’s why, you will never, ever be able to bypass the big labels and go indie. It just won’t work because it takes so much time and money. So, my advice? Write some killer songs, have your connections in place, and when you are ready, go for it. If you are a performer? Do your own stuff – cover music might as well be a dead-end street. And, from my experience? It is. Don’t dream, live in the real world and be aware that the competition is more than fierce. Don’t give up, but be realistic. And, just because you may be lucky and sign with a label? Doesn’t mean success. Not until you are recognized, backed, and have a unique sound. If you sound like Green Day? Sorry. There is already a Green Day and they are better than you. Just the truth. Be different, be Great, not Good, and write, write, write. That’s why those 60’s songs still hold up – they are GREAT songs. Get with ASCAP, BMI and work it. It’s a long hard road, trust me. Remember, you must be different, you must get some REAL attention, make connections will REAL people who are in the biz, and then be GREAT! A good song goes a long, long way. Make it a good one, then the marketing, distribution, all that, will be done by the label people and you, after legal counsel! , can get royalties. If you are a single artist or band? ORIGINAL songs, or don’t play. Covers are a killer for your career. Do YOUR thing! And, good luck. I’ll let you know how I do when I go to Music City – all in good timing. (and btw, I’ve prepared for this for two decades while doing studio work and working in my own studio, so it hasn’t happened overnight). It never does. And, the Big Wheels? They can tell. Remember that. Walk the walk. Then, you will get noticed.

    1. Good points. The best one: “if it is great people will tell you. If you hear nothing, then you have nothing.” Though occasionally it may be a genre issue (playing a punk song to a group of country fans for example) for the most part if you have to solicit an opinion, then your song is not great. People will tell you, without prompting, if you have written a great song. For the record I find that most non-musician people will like a few songs, hate a few songs, but for the most part, will have no opinion one way or another. To them it’s just a song, no more, no less, they’ve heard thousands of them (as we all have) and it’s neither good, nor bad, it’s just another song in the never ending stream of ’em.

  50. I believe that being fed and sheltered outweigh everything else at every point in your life. If this means full-time art gets pushed aside to take care of existence, then that’s a price you pay for having that type of gift.
    If you’ve given the art the best shot you can, sometimes you’ll be happier having it on the side rather than full-time. I had an active 15-year musical career without significant success, although it did pay my bills, and part of the reason for my lack of success was I was difficult to market. I didn’t receive feedback that I had little or no talent, just that what I did was hard to market. I’ve learned since then I could feed my artistic needs (which have always been strong) and create better music, even though I had only a few hours a day to create (rather than 24/7), as long as I worked days in order to attend to some creature comforts (like paid-for sick time, vacation, etc.). I think the business of marketing music has always been exploitatively cruel and subjective in its choices. Nowadays it’s even worse, because the artist must take responsibility for all aspects of his career. Some people enjoy having such control, but others, like me, would rather spend all that time and energy creating art.

    I think being relieved of the pressure to market yourself and your art can be an enormous relief and set free creativity you might not have known you had. You do undergo a goal adjustment, but we do that throughout our lives anyway.

  51. Just saying don’t play crap gigs is kinda lame, most of the time you don’t know they are crap till you get there and the music scene in norcal is pretty weak, we do take the path of most resistance having all original music, but the only people making money is the lame bands playing cover songs, I have marketed till I have turned blue, we even have 2 types of sets an agressive rock set and an acoustic set for coffee shops, we need a manager to filter out the crappy gigs for us, wish the music was the only thing we had on our plate, we have wives, kids, and regular joe jobs to contend with also, hit us up on facebook (the bands name is ”neurotrash”) and let me know where to look for managment.

  52. I am guilty of taking the path of least resistance; the dreaded day job/career. After reading the posts I’m not sure there are any right or wrong answers on what you decide to do. Some have noted that after many years on the road that they wish a day job was the direction. I on the other hand feel differently. As making music your life, a career can also deal you disillusionmnet and after 30 years no retirement, or employment for that matter. Of course the economy is a major factor but ultimately as I enter mid-life, I resent the fact that I didn’t dedicate more to my love of music. What I have learned is if you don’t do what you love than why do it. Screw the $$$ as it is only as constant as what the industry of choice can provide including music. More $$$ equals more debt typically and usually someone that didn’t work for it ends up with it at the end of the day. At least you can say you gave it your best and loved doing it instead of hating the corporate world, giving it your best while getting chewed up, spit out and are just another number in the payroll system.

    I have recently refocused my attention to making music after several stints of off and on playing. One of the posts noted above couldn’t be farther from the truth. If you do have to take the safe route never, ever put down your instrument under any condition or bitchy spouse (who by the way if they don’t support your art, will eventualy lead to a parting and you have then wasted valuable time honing your talent). There may be a day when you have a million brilliant ideas but you’ve lost the edge of using your tool and have to work twice as hard to get it back.

    Two other factors have changed in the past 10 years. Self marketing, producing and recording. Gone are the dreadful days of hopefully being in the right place at the right time to be enslaved by the vicious record execs and A&R pukes. You have the WWW to expose your art and gain a following of fans worldwide. Gone too are the $1800 gigs and are now lucky to get more that $100 for a weekend gig for each member of the band. So with the changes you must change as well but think of what is at your disposal. Screw the cheap-ass clubs willing to replace you with Karoke or DJ in a 1/32nd beat. Like noted above, be selective about the gigs you play to stay fresh and use the time in the deadbeat venues honing your writing, recording or marketing skills and researching sites like this one. It will pay dividends while not burning you out.

    Continue to dream and fuel your passion as if you don’t, you will awaken one day and wonder where the time has gone….


  53. Nice Article, but folks ….. here are a few add-ons.
    1) Don’t let age set you back….. it’s just an excuse. Be smart and write music that would fit well with your age that’s all. Don’t act like a kid when you’re 48 years old. Act like a very cool 48 year old who can inspire other 48 year old musicians or people who need to connect with music (your music) . It should be easier when you are older, since you’re smarter and might even have some money to make a small marketing plan take hold.
    2) Don’t try to make it big….. try to make it rewarding and fun. You can’t take anything with you when you’re gone. So getting a bigger car or house isn’t why you create… you create because you love it.
    3) If you can try to work in the music business doing something besides performing. Work as a session player, or behind the scenes helping other musicians, songwriting, kids music, making tracks for others, etc. It’s not always about selling your song. Certainly you want to sell your creative works, but being in the music business somewhere as a main job is better than being a plumber and a songwriter in regard to connections and the happiness factor.

    1. Well put Robert… I don’t look down at my age of 48 as a deterent for making music. Like you said, play to your age range and hopefully you have moved out of the 80-90’s scene. Overall, stay in touch with the music scene anyway you can and stay cool… Nothing can top wisdom and it is a long road to obtain it.

    2. Well put and thank you. I’ve felt the pressure as a getting older front man lately. I started 10 years ago and have 6 albums out. I need a second wind to kick in for another 10 years .

    3. Well said Robert. Though there is probably a time limit to be a desired rock-star (youth rules in pop culture folks, sorry but true) you can still be creative all the way to the end of the party.

    4. Robert, Your very first words made me smile! I’m almost 53 and ready to head back into performing again after a 20 year hiatus to raise my babies! I’ve started small by making music with online with collaborations with Phenomenal artists that will only make me grow and work harder!! These experts I’ve worked with ARE astounding as you’ll hear if you listen to my latest music! Now I’m ready to go back into performing once again…using baby steps. I’m not expecting the ‘big time’…I just want to perform, because I used to be good at it and….Dang it…I really miss it!!!!
      Before marriage and kids, I sang for 18 years, FULL TIME, and KNOW I can do it again!!


  55. I don’t believe there is such a thing as truly excellent, original, creative, incredible, and DESIRABLE music languishing in obscurity just because “music consumers today don’t care” or “people today just want free music” or “my music is too genius for the dumbed-down masses.” I firmly believe that any musician who makes truly excellent music will see it rise to the top in time. Be honest about your music and check it for important criteria such as creativity, beauty, powerful lyrics, recording and mixing quality, feeling, and general attention to musical detail and see how it compares to the stuff that’s already made it to the top. Go to the best local studio around, pay the producer $50 to give you an honest evaluation of your 2 or 3 best tracks (I did something similar and it was transformative for my approach to careful song crafting!). Ask for honest opinions everywhere you go and be ready to suck it up and improve when someone points out shortcomings. PAY GREAT ATTENTION TO YOUR ALBUM COVER DESIGN! Make sure it communicates, “I am an awesome album cover. You can’t wait to hear the music I represent!”

    In direct regards to this article, I have personally benifitted from my day job as it has provided great time structure within which to create. My particular sacrifice is getting up at 5:00 nearly every morning and tapping into the most fresh and creative part of my day as I sit and compose. As a strict rule, I add at least one element to at least one of my musical creations every single day. I find that the more honest I am and the more feedback I’m willing to endure, the better my music gets, little by little, 5am by 5 am. I wish you all the best!

    1. Ilan, ummmmm compare your music to the stuff at the top you say? Have you listened to a lot of the stuff that’s at “the top”? It ain’t all classics ya’ know. Though I would never advise someone from giving up their dream, i don’t see how one can not realize that listening to the current “hits” does not have the potential to be discouraging. Not all of it, but a lot of it, is crap that IS DUMBED DOWN FOR THE MASSES. If really excellent music rose to the top james McMurtry would be a superstar and Taylor Swift would be waiting tables.

      1. Yeah – amen to that. I think the key thing is to market your particular style of music to the right audience – if it’s “genius” – find the genius audience, rather than the “dumbed-down masses”. There’s absolutely nothing wrong with the masses, btw – I don’t mean anything derogatory by that – it’s just one of the many target audiences out there….

  56. In college, I was one quarter away plus student teaching away from getting my Bachelor of Music Ed degree. I realized that I didn’t want to stand in a public school music classroom and wanted to play. Knowing myself, I didn’t want to give myself a safety net and changed my degree to a BA Music in Theory/Comp. Ironically, I got some calls to go tour with some big bands over the next several years which delayed my ability to complete the degree right away. However, I got to meet my wife as a result of the delay since she’s a few years younger than me. After college we started a family but I was fortunate to do music with a combination of a staff church gig, lessons, gigs and a part-time teaching gig at a private college. Things were hard, but I was able to play and keep building my skills as a musician.

    Things eventually fell off the plate and I found myself having to get a 40 hour a week day job. I’d never done this other than for a year at home between touring and college so it was new to me. What I found was a situation where I didn’t have to take every gig that came along and I could pick and choose what I wanted to do and with whom.

    Recently, I hit a wall at my previous job and knew I was done at that job. A friend of mine who owns a jazz club and a software company asked me to work for him. I work at home now and have more flexibility to do music gigs. In fact, this month my schedule went from 3 gigs for the month to 8, with a couple of them being high profile/pay concerts. I’m getting to play with the better players in our scene as well as work with my own trio.

    In retrospect, I think there’s no perfect formula but every person needs to find their own way based on their situation at the moment. I have 4 kids to support so it affected some of how my path has been, but I have no regrets and know that my time with them has made me a better person and musician. Oh, I also am making a better living now between my day job and my top call gigs. I’m also getting calls as an artist/clinician for jazz festivals because of my reputation as a musician and teacher. Life is good.

    Reuel Lubag

  57. Okay I was going to go on and on about stuff but lets keep it positive… check out my site and my music! Not promoting yourself is the number one method to not ever getting your music heard!

  58. Dear Xdrummer.
    Folk singer Buffy St. Marie is 71 years old and still kicking butt on stage! Too old to market yourself as an artist? I say get back out there, knock ’em dead and the people who truly enjoy your music will always come to your gigs.

  59. I find what you are saying is very true. I am guilty in the 1st degree. I have been playing out for over 40 years. When i was single I slept ate and lived music. I had a band bus and a 5pc band behind me, we toured and performed openings for all the great Country Stars and then I got married and had children and still performed 200 shows a year. I stopped dead in my tracks after the divorce. It wasnt a good mix at that point having my wife manage my career. She kept me out of town just long enough to have a boy friend, ha! then I said screw it. I quit playing for 10 years. Biggest mistake I ever made. It is hard enough coming this close to a deal or fame the first time but trying the second time is even harder because all the fans have grown up and got married and have kids and they are not out at the clubs anymore so you have to actually start over. A lot changes in the music business in ten years. I have been hand picking the gigs though as not to just play anywhere for anything. So naturally the gigs are farther apart and not as many. I am now looking at 2 good gigs a month, when I say good i mean fun outside concerts in the parks or rodeo dances etc. Fun family stuff. Now that I have had a new family for 18 years I look back on all the right stuff we did like selling Hats and t shirts and cd’s at every gig. We had a crew member selling at a table right next to Charlie Daniels stuff. Heck we made more off selling our goods than we did playing almost. Now I am at a point where my guitar is right next to my chair and I pick it up every time I sit down to watch tv. I get a blast of encouragement from my son and I write a few lines of lyrics on my tablet. I found a great app. for writing songs. So now I have 20-30 songs I can work on anytime I feel the need. What I have to do now is get a recording systen set up on my computer so I can start laying down some work tracks for the band and email them a few songs at a time for their input. What a difference a decade can make as far as tech stuff. Anyways, It’s true that the job sometimes takes over the career in music but you can do little things to keep your chops up and I say keep writing or learning new songs. It keeps it more interesting.
    Thanks for reading.
    Lou Derr and Bootleg

  60. When I was a young musician, I made the mistake of playing it safe. I gigged in cover bands (some were very good and made very decent money) – but it did not really promote me. I worked hard to develop my talents as a songwriter – but there was no room for original music in the cover bands. Once I got comfortable with a steady income, I decided a day gig would give me more steady income (and much needed insurance). Soon, I had a day job, a wife, a part time cover band very little time to write – or even to improve as a musician (other than learning cover songs).

    Now I’m a old songwriter who spends much time, writing, recording, etc. (but have little time to market) and candidly, as defeatest as it sounds, I’m now too old to try to market as an artist – so I can only try to get songs published and placed). I’ve had some small victories – but the small BMI checks don’t pay the mortgage.

    Looking back – I wish I would not have played it safe – and would have forced myself to depend on my original material to eat. With the advantage of hindsight – it is better to try and fail than to wonder “what if”.

    1. Greetings,

      As an up and coming R&B and inspirational singer and song writer, I agree that it is better to pursue your dreams with all your ability than to always wonder what if. We as singers, song writers, musicians and etc. are giving talents that can be improved are made greater however, the talent itself was not giving by any human. In life there will be individuals who will attempt to talk you out of your dream because of jealousy, intimindation, or just simply not seen the possibility of your dream taking flight. Oprah said something oneday that i thought was very profound. She stated ”God didn’t give the dream to them anyway, He gave it to YOU! You have the gift, the vision, and the ability to make it a reality!!! What matters most is that YOU believe in YOU!!! I’m very confident in the pursuit of my dream. There is no doubt in my mind that I can’t succeed. I’m a Winner!!! Dreams Do and Will come True!!!!!!!!!:)

  61. This is a pretty solid list. Over the past few years, I’ve seen a few major shifts in my music, as it has taken somewhat of a back-seat (job, getting engaged, etc.):

    >I don’t write as much new material. Instead, I have trained myself to practice better. Despite less output, it is of far greater quality. This is largely beause I have had to optimize every second of my day, including my practice time.
    >I play fewer gigs. But, they’re all gigs I want to play. Maybe I’m missing some opportunities here and there, but every gig that I play I am excited about.
    >I practice more. Used to be that I could go a few days or even a week, if I was busy, and my “practice” would be the weekend gigs. They kept me fresh. Now, I usually end up going to bed with a guitar or three laying there beside me. Nothing weird, it just keeps all of my efforts towards making me play/practice more.
    >People ask me when I’m playing next. It’s all local, but the norm had been that I’d promote, promote, promote, and then get to shows and no one would be there; they all saw me the week before. Being more selective in the gigs I take, I have higher attendence and more interest is generated for them.
    >I don’t do marketing. I should, but I don’t have time. Really, it is the ONLY thing that has suffered. However, since I’m not relying on music for my main income, I can afford to just let my music do the talking. It’s never been about recognition, but about my ability to make awesome music; and that’s what it’s back to.

    So while this isn’t from a career perspective, this is how my life shits have been able to shape my music, mostly, for the better.

    1. Angela & Co.

      I went to your website today. Don’t give up! Just do one small, high-quality thing a day for your musical efforts and before you know it you will have built something truly great!

      I wish you the very best.

  62. On the other hand, artists who devote most of their time producing and promoting their music are told to go get a day job to feed themselves and their kindred and not rely on music career prosperity. Some, after 10-15 years are now reflecting belatedy and say, I wish I had found a day job first!:) Cheers!

    1. What most people don’t realize is that their years of not succeeding is due to some reason of their own doing. Some just aren’t good enough and don’t want to admit. Others continually make mistakes and either deny their own mistakes or are not recognizing them to change them. The great thing about articles such as this is it helps us to recognize some of our mistakes that we may be making. The main thing left is to determine if we are good enough to succeed if we continue.

      1. Not necessarily “of their own doing”, except as most broadly construed.

        After all, one may create beautiful and profound music that fails to find an audience, at least in its time.

        – V

      2. The truth is very talented people who are great performers and great writers don’t typically have the ability, gumption, lack of morals, or all of the above, for the business side of things. Let’s face it, the “music industry,” is a shit business mostly staffed by drunks, drug addicts, greedy club owners too lazy to promote their own businesses, and failed musicians turned promoters bent upon exacting revenge on those who can do what they cannot. These days, there are too many bands, too many clubs, and not enough paying customers. Not only that, but no one wants to pay for music anymore. The little room that is left is mostly taken up by mediocre bands with tremendous business skills. So most likely the reason you are not succeeding is either you suck and don’t know it (or won’t admit it), or are amazing but don’t have the ability (or the person) to do the dirty, tough guy, mafia wiseguy work. If you have a business degree, and can strum some chords and sing on key, you are destined for rock stardom.

    2. Colin, the opposite can also happen. I showed aptitude for music at an early age. My mother paid for lessons, nice instruments, etc,, but when she saw my grades dropping because I chose to play my keyboards instead of studying, she made me quit my band. My mother was the main one who kept urging me to find a day job to have something to “fall back on” in case music didn’t work out. Guess what: None of my day jobs worked out either. While I struggled (and I do mean *struggled*) to complete a college degree, I languished at fast food and retail jobs, none of which lasted more than 2- 2.5 years. The information I learned when working on the associates degree I finally did complete appeared to be outdated before I even signed up for the courses. So here I am — almost 48 years old, and a housewife. At least now my husband is encouraging me to try again.

      1. Aisling,
        I feel you. I did everything everyone else told me I should do and here I am at age 43, a stay-at-home dad, trying again. And, yes, my wife is very supportive. I teach lessons out of my home to supplement and am giving the music a go as much as I can being that we are a family of eight. I don’t expect to be a star but would be happy to build any kind of following that would translate into some supplemental income for us. I want to play music not get rich. However, it would be nice just to make a little.

        Age matters not in music or movies.


        1. Dave, would that it were so! I wish age was not a factor, but unfortunately it is, especially in certain genres. In our image-based business, talent is only one small part of being successful. I’m a classical musician, and therefore in the minority in this discussion genre-wise, but I’ve performed in many different genres over the years (but never in a rock band, I must admit). I’ve been held back in many instances by age, image, etc. Even the opera world is much more focused on age and physical type than it has ever been in the past. It may be different in the band world, but age, for me, has had a HUGE impact on my career.

        2. I suspect that Dave may have been referring to writing and recording music as opposed to performing it, but I’ll chime in by reiterating the obvious reality that age and image is undeniably a factor in any musical work that is visible (i.e., live performance rather than studio work or writing, which is solely based on competence AND contacts). I can’t tell you how many bass gigs have been offered to me (bass is NOT my main instrument!) that by any rational estimation should have been given to my husband, who is a million-times better bassist than I am and infinitely better versed in the musical genres several of those jobs came from (in fact, it is largely due to his training that I became “good” as opposed to just “passable” on that instrument). Why? Because I’m the pretty, youthful-looking white chick that everybody wants on the bandstand for reasons that are patently obvious. Could this possibly be due to the influence of Carol Kaye, who was not only a stunningly beautiful woman, but a SPECTACULARLY competent bassist and guitarist as well?

          And movies?! Did you mean the whole industry, including actors, or just writers, Dave?

          And for what it’s worth, even if you had pursued music with single-minded devotion, the industry overall has undergone profound changes over the years, and friends of mine who did just that and made a very good living for many years as A-list session cats working with everybody who is anybody, several of them are only able to survive now because they are married to someone who is making money, or they have additional income streams from unrelated sources. I have observed that the most successful independent artists are the ones who are also skilled with web/computer technology and are good “people persons”, i.e. good at networking and leveraging the efforts of other people.

        3. The industry has changed a lot. One of my strongest gifts is marketing and social media. I actually grew my online fanbase from 53 people to 7,720 in only 6 months. Based on what I hear from my male fan base all of the time, my image is not a problem. Everyone loves my voice and my songwriting ability. When I sing live its like some weird effect on people… I’ve silenced entire bars many times.I work on my craft constantly. I have 2 EPs out, but I still can’t sell more than a few copies of each EP. Meanwhile social media has opened up so much room for intense amounts of hatred from multiple cyberstalkers and mean commentary from ransom people. When all you get is hate and no sales, it’s hard to stay motivated. I’ve talked to so many professionals who told me I am doing everything right.

          The only thing I can think to do is rebrand my entire image. Look at Lana del Rae and Lady Gaga… Same music that flopped over and over again… Changed their image and blew up… With the exact same songs as before.

      2. Your story really resonated with me. I also pursued day jobs and absolutely none of them work out as a reliable long term source of income. I’m still trying to finish college, but I am dyscalculic and colleges won’t do a thing to help number dyslexics. I’ve poured so much money and time into my music, only to fail at it my first few times out of the gate. It seems like maybe I’m doomed to fail no matter which way I go. I don’t know who I am or want to live without a music career. I don’t know anything else because its all I’ve ever done. Learning to live and find myself without the music is the hardest thing I’ve ever done. I’m giving it a few more chances without expecting anything, and maybe it will work out or maybe I will be crushed again, who knows. At 28, I’m already ancient in music business years. I wish I would have forgotten about everyone else and said no to all the distractions and followed it anyways 10 years ago when I had time to risk. I don’t know how to want anything else. 🙁

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