AKA THERE ARE NO PATHWAYS TO SUCCESS, ENOUGH ALREADY
Last week while I was trying to decode why Spotify annoys musicians I mentioned something in the introduction of that post. I was just riffing, trying to make something boring seem less boring (a big part of what writers do) and this popped out:
“We live in a time where rock ’n’ roll does have a manual and that manual is the internet.”
And because I’m
a wanker an academic, this idea that slipped out kept playing on my mind. If the internet is the manual, what does it teach us as musicians?
What are the core principles the internet has given us on how to achieve success as a musician?
The answer is horrible.
The 12 Steps To Becoming A Successful Musician by The Internet
#1 Write great/awesome/wonderful/talent-displaying songs.
#2 Develop a Unique Selling Proposition (USP) and make a plan.
#3 Build an appropriate relationship with a group of largely anonymous strangers via new media technologies. And adopt all technology early. Just in case.
#4 Leverage these relationships.
#5 Be consistent and convenient.
#6 Be flexible and adaptable to change.
#7 Be online 24/7 but play live shows all the time.
#8 Be entrepreneurial. Diversify your brand.
#9 Take note of all the advice of professional musicians that is available online 24/7.
#10 Never give up / repeat.
At Least The New Manual Is Up Front About It
It used to be that people didn’t learn this stuff from the internet. Instead, they learned it from rock mythology, the media and other musicians. And to be honest, the results weren’t much better. For my PhD thesis, I read a pile of rock biographies and looked at how people imagined it was that success was created.
It was lot less illuminating than the internet even:
The 6 Steps To Becoming A Successful Musician by Rock History
#1 Be born supernaturally talented.
#2 Form a band and struggle.
#3 Develop an audience and band solidarity through live touring.
#4 Sign to a recording label or acquire some sort of business angel. Or keep looking.
#5 Repeat steps 2-4 and never give up.
#6 Meanwhile, develop some sort of authenticating ‘outsider’ problem; almost always a narcotics habit or alcoholism. Although, a type of psychosis will also work.
Of course careful readers will have now worked out that the problem with all this is not that the answers are wrong. People have done those things and are now successful.
The problem is that the question is ass backwards and impossible.
There is no clear route to success. It doesn’t exist. There is no modelling music’s future, no universal truths or no assured career paths any more. What works two hours ago might not work tomorrow.
So, fuck it, it’s time to break out of that mindset.
You don’t need anymore (so called) good advice on success.
I think it’s high time you took on some bad advice for a change!
Take my bad advice!
(Please, I’m begging you)
How To Be An Occasional Musician By Ian Keith Rogers
Rule #1 Write Terrible Music That No One Wants To Hear (At First)
How many good songs have you heard in your life? Too many. ‘Good’ music is bullshit. Good music reminds people of grey carpet and photocopiers and Christmas carols. You should do the opposite. Do whatever feels like the polar opposite of the rest of your boring life. It doesn’t work for everyone but you probably should try to be as terrible as possible. Always be a little out of tune or sloppy or gaudy or sludgy or weird. Just be anything other than what the nice bands are. Your job is to be the opposite of nice, the opposite of mundane. That’s it. Easy.
Rule #2 Make The Rest Up As You Go
This one is really important. Do whatever you want. Have a music career or be a DIY punk. Study music or keep it as a hobby. Live off it or like it or try it and forget it. Give up if you want to. Your band can be on Facebook, have a Twitter, have Spotify or Bandcamp or do fanzines, release double-vinyl or 30 cassettes (no repress) or sign to a major label or an independent label or start a label or have a manager. Or none of that. You can tour constantly or never play a single fucking house show. Sell your music to Coke. Or spray the lyrics (if there are any) on a police station wall. It’s all up to you and none of it dooms you or saves you either way if you’ve got Rule #1 covered.
Rule #3 Be An OK Human
Remember to try to be kind to yourself and to other people along the way. You don’t need to be overconfident or a kiss-ass or helpful or friendly. (You are not a politician.) Instead, you have to an empathetic human being. If you can’t be one of those, you have no place in music. Try upper management.
Rule #4 Drink plenty of water
I couldn’t really think of a fourth rule but I really wanted there to be four. But still, good advice. Music-making is often dehydrating. It’s real.
If only all things in life were so simple!