How To Be A Successful Musician: A Definitive Guide TM

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?

I looked it up. 

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.

Thesis:

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)

(OBEY MY DOG)

How To Be An Occasional Musician By Ian Keith Rogers

Ready?

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!

8NTPJS9Q7B2H

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4 thoughts on “How To Be A Successful Musician: A Definitive Guide TM

  1. Ok, so you’ve read a literal pile of biographies. And, by the looks of it, you’ve bought into – and are now perpetuating – the myth of musical success through random and supernatural talent.

    What of the guys that WORK THEIR FUCKING ARSES OFF to make music that’ll strike their friends, fans and families? Did anybody get anywhere half-imitating the Bob Weston look and sound, going “yeah, that’s kinda all right”,, stopping, then banging on endlessly about the fickle nature of “success”. What of the hours and days and years given up to wringing the right sound out of their instrument; making sure their bandmates are on the same page; and, after all that, asking that an audience follow along with you? What happens to these guys?

    And even if this is your “hobby”, even if you only hope for the least, as the “Occasional” rules say (Rule #2 reads like: Be a cunt and sell your soul or be cool and hold back and only offer a slice of YOUR REAL SELF), surely there’s a spot for the guys who don’t see it so black and white. It’s like you’ve offered vague room for a few of your favourite unthinking friends in the hope that you can all get together and make a whole lot of vague unthinking recordings and performances.

    Where’s the fun in that?

    • “Ok, so you’ve read a literal pile of biographies. And, by the looks of it, you’ve bought into – and are now perpetuating – the myth of musical success through random and supernatural talent.”

      I’m interested to see how you plan to argue this, even though I’m quite sure you only half-read the post. Or read it entirely under the influence of drugs. Proceed.

      “What of the guys that WORK THEIR FUCKING ARSES OFF to make music that’ll strike their friends, fans and families?”

      They end up in about the same place as everyone else. Sure, it’s hard to get ‘lucky’ without years of preparation but it’s not a meritocracy or a school project or an office job. Anyone who has spent more than a few years playing music can tell you that hard work is just the beginning, and luck and fashion play a larger role in success than most think. Also: I would never strike my friends, fans or family unless they were trying to attack me or burn my house down or something like that.

      “Did anybody get anywhere half-imitating the Bob Weston look and sound, going “yeah, that’s kinda all right”,, stopping, then banging on endlessly about the fickle nature of “success”.”

      Probably. A bass player half-imitating Bob Weston would still be pretty good, all things considered. Personally, I reckon I’m 100% imitating Bob Weston but doing it in a half-assed way. It’s going great.

      “What of the hours and days and years given up to wringing the right sound out of their instrument; making sure their bandmates are on the same page; and, after all that, asking that an audience follow along with you? What happens to these guys?”

      Well, preparation alone doesn’t equal (commercial) success in anything involving money. That’s a myth. And unfortunately you need a bit of commercial success to pay the rent. If the numbers are anything to go by, these ‘guys’ usually end up – in my country at least – earning less than $7,200 a year, working shitty side jobs they hate and playing the exact same places as their hobbyist counterparts. Sorry.

      “And even if this is your “hobby”, even if you only hope for the least, as the “Occasional” rules say (Rule #2 reads like: Be a cunt and sell your soul or be cool and hold back and only offer a slice of YOUR REAL SELF), surely there’s a spot for the guys who don’t see it so black and white.”

      Firstly, this is a terrible sentence even by the standards of the internet. And it’s odd that you – I presume – consider yourself a ‘guy who don’t see it so black and white’ yet you interpret ‘Rule #2 Make The Rest Up As You Go’ in such binary terms. Maybe I wasn’t clear when I suggested you do whatever seems appropriate to your band. Maybe.

      (Are you on meth?)

      “It’s like you’ve offered vague room for a few of your favourite unthinking friends in the hope that you can all get together and make a whole lot of vague unthinking recordings and performances.”

      You lost me at the second “unthinking” but I probably disagree.

      “Where’s the fun in that?”

      Are you trolling me. I’m not sure there is a music blog online at present that advocates fun over career more than what you’re reading right now. Jesus dude.

      Good luck with your Muse cover band.

      • All right, I’ll admit it. I was drunk. And, yeah, I probably shouldn’t have eaten those mushrooms or huffed that amyl before commenting on your post. And so I got properly smashed as a result. Exactly what I was after. That bit about striking family members? That was almost funny. Now, let me take a break from learning the songs off 2nd Law to add my retort. . .

        The point about the rock biographies was a little lame, probably should have thought it out a little better (but, hey, smoking ice is great so what do I care?).

        I just wish there was a little more personality to these posts. You make the whole idea of making music that’s a little under the radar seem so bland and defeatist. If “whatever seems appropriate to your band” of misfits, fuck-ups and geniuses is that they continue to “work shitty side jobs they hate” and “just give up” if they want to, then what’s the point? Again, where’s the fun? If they hate their lives that much their not very likely to enjoy the music they make, will probably never back themselves or the bands they play with, and, as a result, will become increasingly bitter and pathetic. Not a sign of an OK human.

        This isn’t a guide to coming to terms with your level of success, it’s a kind of rubber stamp of a approval you’ve gone and given to middling, hopeless, hapless groups and individuals. Fuck that.

      • If “whatever seems appropriate to your band” of misfits, fuck-ups and geniuses is that they continue to “work shitty side jobs they hate” and “just give up” if they want to, then what’s the point?

        The point is that none of that stuff is overly important in the grand scheme of things. I spend a lot of time here talking out the details but this post is about hard and fast rules…and in music there aren’t any except: don’t be boring.

        Again, where’s the fun?

        I don’t know where it is for you. Trolling stranger’s blogs on the internet perhaps? I find music endlessly fun. But then again, I don’t buy into this outdated romantic idea of ‘the musician’ so I have a lot of time and energy to focus on the parts of it I enjoy. You can be a misfit, fuck-up and/or genius in just about anything in life…except maybe mid-wifery…the idea that it is the archetype of what a musician is supposed to be is wrong…and to be honest, it’s boring.

        If they hate their lives that much their not very likely to enjoy the music they make, will probably never back themselves or the bands they play with, and, as a result, will become increasingly bitter and pathetic. Not a sign of an OK human.

        The people I live and work with mostly do music in addition to something else (to pay the bills) and they’re some of the most enthusiastic and creative musicians I’ve ever met. So in short, no, they don’t become increasingly bitter and pathetic. They get older, have families, careers, love affairs, artist projects and throughout they play music because they love it. What they don’t do is burn out on music at 25, like most of the kids who see it as career or a calling. This is the long game.

        This isn’t a guide to coming to terms with your level of success, it’s a kind of rubber stamp of a approval you’ve gone and given to middling, hopeless, hapless groups and individuals. Fuck that.

        I can live with it. Good luck with your Muse cover band.

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