When I was a kid and I decided that I wanted to have a go at becoming a creative music professional, I knew I needed a plan and a vision of what success would look like so that I could attempt to make my way to it. This began by answering a simple question: “what’s my motivation?” An even simpler way of putting it would be, “why?” Why am I pursuing this and what specifically do I need to do to satisfy those desires? My answer was about as pure and innocent as this often unseemly business can permit- I love making music. I love working in multiple facets of the music production process. If I could find a way to make my living and career doing this, I would consider myself a success. Whatever additional money, accolades and benefits would be bestowed upon me, I would consider a bonus. I reached my goal only a few years after setting it and have maintained it ever since. This self actualization does not mean I’m not still motivated to reach for higher heights in my field, but it does provide a foundation of content and happiness.
Anytime I begin working with a new client or colleague, I always try to find out what motivates them to do what they are doing. I am in the customer service business and if I can determine what is at the root of an individual’s desires, hopes and dreams, I can better serve and assist that individual in reaching them and insure that he or she is satisfied with my work. Oddly enough, I have found very few people share the motivation I have. Quite often, their motivations are primal and based on misconceptions and even delusions about what it means to be in the music business. As a result, even if and when one of these individuals does achieve a degree of success, they become disappointed when they realize that the things that come with it, are not what they thought they would be. Below is a list of the four primary motivations I encounter in people who are trying to enter the music business. Read and understand their drawbacks before using them as the driving force for your pursuits.
Many of us begin with the human need for attention. Few individuals I speak to tell me that they wanted to become a recording artist when they picked up a guitar or sat down at a piano and heard the magic emanating from the instrument they were playing. Quite often though, the story I hear is of the first time that person saw a rapper or singer on television or on stage. “Look how cool he is! Look at all the people focused on his every move! He is the center of attention. I want to be the center of attention!” I listened to music and played around with instruments throughout my entire childhood, but not until I saw Run DMC did I want to be a rap artist. As a white guy, it wasn’t until I saw the Beastie Boys that I realized I COULD be a rap artist, and later, seeing and meeting 3rd Bass, confirmed that I SHOULD be a rap artist. All that being said, it would be the countless hours I would spend learning and developing my craft that would shift my motivation to the satisfaction that comes with creative expression. I realized that the magic of beginning a day with a mere idea and then ending it with a recorded piece of art, transcends fame and attention. While I wanted to share this work with the world, I quickly ceased being motivated by that desire. Fame and attention became RESULTS of my work and not the reasons for doing it. Unfortunately, many people don’t ever make this transition.
Fame is a drug that is highly addictive when one first gets a taste of it. Those first few times one walks out on stage to a roaring crowd, those first people who are so happy to meet and have their picture taken with you, those first interviews when spectators are hanging on your every word; all have the addictive properties of nicotine. Unfortunately, fame is also fleeting. It rarely lasts too long at a high level. Most B list celebrities became B list celebrities by falling off of the A list. If one is motivated by fame and does not understand its shelf life, they are in for a fall. I have worked with so many people who were once famous and even more who were “almost famous.” These are artists who are older and are often trying desperately to get back to where they were. Perhaps they were signed to a major label, appeared on big records with famous artists, or even had a modestly successful project or two of their own. Whatever the case may be, they often didn’t fully appreciate and enjoy their fifteen minutes while they had it; perhaps believing that they had “made it” and that fame was the new normal. Fame kissed them on the cheek and then walked away, and although they publicly say they still do music because they love it, they secretly long for one more taste that more than likely, will never come. Plenty of people achieve fame, but very few become iconic. If you are doing music because you want to be famous, be aware that if you get it, it most likely won’t last long. Enjoy the moments, but if this is WHY you did all that work, get a Zoloft prescription because a future bout with depression awaits you.
It still amazes me how many aspiring artists can have their needs satisfied simply by putting them around some beautiful women. I’ve seen artists forego payment for their services and even come out of their own pockets just to be in the company of women who believe they are a future star. Perhaps these men didn’t get a fair helping of sexual experience in high school or college and now see their stint in music as an opportunity to mingle with a caliber of woman about whom they could previously only fantasize. Once again however, women as a motivation, is dangerous and foolish.
Access to beautiful women is a RESULT of success, not a reason for achieving it. Many recording artists spend their fifteen minutes of fame tasting all the fruit the groupie tree has to offer. But these women, as you may imagine, aren’t always cut from a cloth of high character. So many artists have children with the wrong women, alimony payments to the wrong women, child support to the wrong women; all because they couldn’t resist the temptation when they were on top of the world. Even worse, men with a weakness for women are easily identifiable and are easy to appease. I have seen artists pimped out of all kinds of potential earnings simply because they were distracted by women who were either intentionally or unintentionally placed into their lives by those with whom they do business. There is nothing wrong with partaking in some recreational sexual activity, but if you are getting into music for this, you will be disappointed. Many successful artists are actually very lonely. They live in a kind of bubble where everyone they meet knows who they are and must have their motives questioned. You will still masturbate the way you did when you were living with your parents and the promise of a different woman every night is either an outright lie, or a giant let down. If you want to fuck for a living, get into porn.
This is one of my favorites because it may be the most uninformed. Whenever I meet an aspiring artist who wants to get rich making music, my first impulse is to ask him if he has been paying attention to the music industry over the past ten years. Music business revenues have shrunk to a fraction of what they once were. Only a minute percentage of people in music have ever actually gotten filthy rich doing it and that percentage is even smaller in today’s climate. Even a modestly successful artist may only achieve really good money for a few years before he is on the backside of his career and the royalty checks fade away. Hip Hop is all about the illusion of riches. It has the ability to snatch up kids from lower class backgrounds who often don’t really know what a LOT of money is. If you came up on food stamps and a record label offers you a $150,000 advance (not to be confused with a budget,) you really might believe you struck it rich and sign your life away on the dotted line. What the artist often doesn’t realize, is that $150,000 is what he is supposed to live on for the next year or more. Once Uncle Sam takes his share and management and lawyers get reimbursed, the artist is left with the one year salary of a typical upper middle class American. Yet, the aspiring rapper celebrates his new “fortune” with the purchase of a $35,000 necklace and several large charitable strip club contributions. Six months down the line, he is living in an apartment with no furniture and no food in the refrigerator, hoping desperately his album is released on time, if at all.
Most of the people I know in the music business make the kind of money I make: a typical, modest living. Every once in awhile, we may do something that is abnormally lucrative, but those of us who have been around know to take that extra money and put it into retirement, investments or other long term ventures. If you are fortunate to get on a roll and skip up a few tax brackets, the notion must always be in the back of your mind that it can dry up just as quickly as it materialized. Until you have put away enough money where you can comfortably say, “I can retire today and maintain my standard of living for the rest of my life,” you are going to have to work. If you are motivated by dreams of getting rich, invent the next big web site or get into real estate.
The Myth of an Easy Living
Which leads to the last and most popular delusional motivation of them all: “I don’t want to work, I want to bang on the drum all day!” Making music for a living for as long as I have has been fantastic. Over the years, many people have expressed to me their envy of my position. Quite often though, their perception of my life is WAY off. I wish I had a nickel for every artist who has said to me,” I can’t work a regular job,” or, “I just want to get to where you are at. You get paid to sit around and do music all day!” Reality check… I WORK MY ASS OFF! I have deadlines to meet, budgets to which I must adhere and clients to whom I must answer. If you think this is because I mainly operate on the production and not the artist side… NEWS FLASH… You are going to work even harder as an artist! You want to “make it?” You are going to have to outwork everyone. Do you have any idea how many people are trying to do this? You have to beat them and being more talented than they are doesn’t matter if you are not willing to work. You are going to go into debt and rob Peter to pay Paul just to get an opportunity, and if you get it, the fun doesn’t stop! You will be staying up late for shows and then rising at the crack of dawn to do a morning radio show. You will be in the studio recording drop scripts for three hours and doing press junkets where you must answer the EXACT SAME QUESTIONS over and over again without losing your mind. You thought getting to this point was tough? Now you have to maintain it! Now you have to make it last as long as you can so that your label determines you were a worthy investment. There are half a million guys behind you just WAITING for you to vacate your position so they can snatch it from you. You got a hit record? Now you MUST make another one and soon… Got a family? You aren’t going to see them that often. Got interests outside of music? You better make some more hits buddy! You thought it was all after parties and getting your “money for nothing and your chicks for free?” You’re being sued because your bodyguard had to choke out an overzealous fan. Your sophomore album’s numbers are nowhere near as good as your debut. What now? Your label just dropped you. The ride is over. It’s time to get on with the rest of your life. Did you save any money? Maybe you go back to school so you can get a “nine to five” where you realize that life is a lot less stressful working a “regular job.”
The bottom line? The above motivations are empty. They will more than likely not be met by your musical endeavor. Do yourself and the rest of us a favor. Take a long look at yourself before you decide to venture into this fiasco. If you aren’t doing this because you love making music, have something unique to say and a deep passion for expressing it, do something else with your life. Otherwise, you are chasing the wrong dream.