Hitting the wall in your music career, what happens next?
You’ve written and released your music, your live act is polished and you’re playing good live shows. Your songs are getting some good streams and downloads, and maybe even some radio airplay.
What happens next may well be the toughest hurdle in your music career.
I’d like a dollar for every time I’ve stood at this “What do I do now?” junction in my career. It’s difficult knowing how to move forward if you’ve successfully ticked all the boxes, achieved the goals and executed the plans you’ve put together when you started.
But you’re still not quite there yet.
It’s important we put everything into perspective for a moment. You’ve been at it for sometime now, maybe years. It’s likely you’ve relocated to the city, left friends and family, and even changed jobs to concentrate on your music career – or worse still, you have no job at all.
You’re possibly low on funds and looking back over the many years of hard slog that followed some good initial headway when it all began. We all know this game is a gamble. Who knows if all the intense work will pay off? The uncertainty is challenging.
I’ve been nudging and prodding you all the way through this podcast, reminding you there is no road map on this journey to success. Every situation is completely different from another and technology evolves just enough to ensure that you never stay ahead of the game.
Just when you think you’ve got a good handle on the situation, everything turns upside down. This is the time that you may need to be the most resilient. When you need to be self-assured in what you want and unwaveringly confident in how you intend to achieve it.
It’s fair to say that nearly all the bands I have been involved with ended in either a colossal ugly implosion or a disappointing fizz. Each time it felt like the end of the world had come because you’ve given it your heart and soul and it hurts like hell when it fails or ends.
With the benefit of wisdom and hindsight, I can now see every error and mistake I made along my journey. I now understand how each band or act could have conquered its failings to become something bigger and more fulfilling.
It’s very easy for me to suggest you try this, enact that, move around and change that. When you’re in the middle of the storm, it’s difficult to find your way because unpredictable stuff happens. And when it does, it happens quickly, and advice often falls on deaf ears.
Perhaps the most unfortunate thing is that when you finally understand what is happening to you and your musical life, it’s often too late to control it. Every band that has made it big time has had to overcome immense hurdles swiftly and effectively. It really is extraordinary that any act gets to the top.
Then what happens when they do get to the top? They have to soldier on even harder. Write better songs, perform better live shows, evolve stylistically – enough to keep fans but win over new ones. They have to tour endlessly, stay healthy, keep the fun and a sense of humour just to keep their fans ongoing attention and love.
I never got this far in my music career and I can unequivocally state, that I’m actually glad none of my bands blew up to that extent. The musicians I know who operate at that level are mostly unhappy and stressed out.
There are no 24-hour parties; only isolation from family and friends, and an enduring sense of when will this all end and what will I do when it does end?
So, let’s take a little step back. Let’s look at the reality for the majority of musicians – us mere mortals that constitute the largest percentage who never actually get there. Whatever ‘getting there’ personally means to you.
Frank Varasso talks about the long game in my interview with him. He also talks about how industry people want to see that you’re devoted to your art and creativity, and you’re willing to work consistently hard to grow and improve, before they commit to supporting you.
What does that mean? It means you have to keep your shit together, keep planning and working hard, even when you’re exhausted and slightly lost at times. You have to keep across all the details and somehow keep your honesty, integrity, sense of adventure, and modesty.
That’s a tall order right?
It takes truly resilient people to have a lasting career in music. Yes, it’s fucking hard going but lets not forget it’s mostly a wonderful and deeply satisfying experience. That’s why we keep going irrespective of the difficult and dark times. We love it!
When your act comes to the crossroads of your career, lets say, when you’ve given it your all and you’re shagged. When you’ve built a following and the public is appreciating your music but you’re still not quite there, and you’re struggling with the big questions of what to do next.
This is when you need to dust yourself off, take stock of your assets, and push forward. Doesn’t that sound easy? It’s not. I’m not ashamed to say, I’ve been in that position many times, and made ill-informed mistakes every single time.
Take it from me, sweet success lives on the other side of this difficult junction in your career. Ask for advice, have a serious reality check, assess who’s still on your team, take a small break, rally the troops, and prepare to go back into battle – once again.
You might not know it, but you are being continuously observed. Providing you’ve got something going on, tastemakers in the music industry who make you a household name know you’re out there and are carefully monitoring how you progress.
Do you have the gumption to move up bigger, better, and sexier or will you just fizzle out like an embarrassing joke? This is why you must dig a little deeper and regroup for phase two of your main act.
What got you to here, won’t get you there.
Don’t walk away
Many great bands over my 30-year career just walked away when the time came to make the big decisions.
Granted, it’s not always easy with life’s pressures – being broke and compromising with a bunch of individuals that are difficult to work with at the best of times. But this is how superstars emerge from the pack of mediocrity.
I stood at that that crossroad with my band Prettymess in 2006. We were signed to Australia’s biggest Indie label, Shock Records, and had enjoyed two top 20 releases. Our booking agent had us playing on all the great shows around the country, and we were getting reviews and radio rotation to die for.
But I was exhausted. After an incredible show in front of 1000 people at the HiFi Ballroom, I hung up my guitar and walked away because I just couldn’t summon any more energy to move forward.
Because of this, I had ceased writing music of any value and I couldn’t figure out how to proceed … again. I know this was a mistake.
Hindsight always paints such clear picture. It’s never clear when you’re there, however. As it turns out, there were tastemakers and industry people who were on the verge of reaching out to the band.
They were looking for more evidence that we could ‘cut it’ and stay the distance. They were looking for another song that was going to break the band. We couldn’t do it. Or should I say, I couldn’t.
Take my advice, it doesn’t matter if you’re in a band or looking for a career change in your profession, dig a little deeper when you’re at the crossroads and keep with the game plan. Don’t deviate or shift focus. Something good is sure to happen if you do.
Success favours the bold.
What are your choices?
1. Walk away
As I’ve mentioned on numerous occasions, I have walked away from bands myself many times. There’s no shame in it. If you’ve had enough and can’t go any further, it may be best for you to walk away, find something else to do and give yourself some space.
Your health is paramount and it’s not worth getting sick over.
2. Join another band
Totally acceptable and often occurs. Drummers and bass players often live in this space and you’ll sometimes find drummers in three or four bands hedging their bets.
My belief is that giving a handful of bands a measly 27% of your time and effort is unethical. Join another band, but be fair, commit and work your arse off so nobody gets the run around.
You could also consider joining a cover band. I’ve often taken this road in the wake of a massive original band failure. It keeps you playing live, sharpens your skills and earns you money and It can be a great way to fill the void.
Also, It can also give you some mental space from the rigours of writing music and selling your wares to each and every person you encounter. But beware, many a good player has never returned from the world of covers. The money and regular stable shows are addictive.
3. Do nothing
Doing nothing may be the worst you can do at your musical crossroads. I too, have committed this crime. You’re tired and perplexed, and you really don’t have the foggiest idea of what to do next. So you take a break without communicating with your team.
Resentment builds, and team members’ lives are on hold waiting for your call. The band ultimately splinters and they take a disliking to you because of your self-interest and apparent apathy.
Not recommended and counterproductive to building a good reputation.
4. Regroup and keep trying
Everything I’ve been talking about in this podcast, from planning and comfort zone through to mental health, managing egos, and getting your business mind together, is all about staying focused and committed to your dream and musical aspirations. So you can succeed!
If you’re this kind of person, there will be only one path you can take when you reach your musical crossroad – and that is to continue. You need to flex your muscle.
It’ll be about setting new challenges, building a new plan, a lineup re-shuffle, expanding your network, changing management and record label, so that you can get to the next base more effectively.
Develop an entrepreneurial mindset, which will allow you to think outside the box to come up with solutions to give you every chance of succeeding.
The more you work at it, the better you will get at solving the problems, and these new skills will flow into your everyday life.
Who’s Got Talent?
Contrary to what to you might think, having your musical dreams handed to you on a plate is not the road you want to take! If you’re impatient and need it yesterday, why not organise an audition for Who’s Got Talent or The Voice?
If you succeed, you’ll have the next eight years planned out and controlled by others. You’ll get all the fame you desire, but you’ll have no smarts or understanding of what the heck is going on or what they’re doing to you and your life.
When you’re dropped, you’ll have no idea of what just happened to you.
You should keep learning and growing at a pace that works best for you. Everything you learn in the music industry is 100% transferable to other careers.
I’ll let you in on a little secret. The music industry is, in many ways, a training ground for life. The number of savvy musicians I know who have gone onto big careers in other lines of work are testament to this.
In many ways, it’s a life-skills apprenticeship, so don’t give up. Stick with it, get out of your comfort zone, and learn as much as you can. If you do, you’ll be thanking yourself forever.
Best of luck.
What are your thoughts on how to move forward in your career when you hit that inevitable wall. Are you happy with your achievements and are you prepared to walk away? Have you regrouped and come back, fighting only to be more successful?
Jump on my blog and share your stories with all of us. I’d love to know your thoughts and you may be able to help the rest of us find our way.
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Today’s episode is the last in the first series of the Indie Confidential podcast. I’d love hear from you and what your thoughts are on the podcast and what you’d like me to cover in the next series.
I’ll catch you soon.