There’s no industry on the planet full of more mythology and bull shit than the music business.
Where cowboys and villains abound in an unpredictable unregulated ecosystem, there’s bound to be mountains of manure spread as far as the eye can see.
Yes, welcome to the music business and it’s full of ridiculous myths. In this epidsode I’m going to share five of my pet hates.
Why All The BS?
The music world is indeed saturated in myths and bull shit. Why is this the case and what can you do to avoid all the music myths and BS?
Well, the short answer is that you probably can’t. You’re bound to be tripped up or slip over at some point along your journey. I have. Everyone has. It’s almost a rite of passage to be caught up in all the ridiculous nonsense.
But don’t despair, you’re in good company and together we can try and nut out some of this crapola.
It seems that over the years, some of the bull shit has shifted in accordance with the change in technology. However, what I consider the five big ones that still exist, I’ll share with you in just a moment.
It’s always important to remember that you must always make your own educated judgement on what you hear. Be especially cautious when people begin to spout off stories and innuendo about individuals and what they’ve been doing in the music industry.
In a world where jealousy and envy thrives, there’s bound to be some nasty untruths being told.
So, without further ado, here are my five most despised music myths:
1. The overnight success
This is a doozy. Do you think there is such a thing as an overnight success? Let’s be completely honest here, yes there are very ocassionally acts that qualify as the overnight success story. Largely though, it’s a furphy.
There is no shortcut, there is no fast track to becoming a success. Everyone I know who has acquired a high profile status that’s viewed as some kind of success, has had to struggle from the bottom.
If you listen to episode The Music Success Formula, you will quickly learn that it’s a long hard road that requires building relationships, honing your craft and staying the distance.
Even for me, who was never a superstar by any means, always got greeted with: “Great CD you’ve done, are you just starting out?” – even though I’d been at it for decades.
Yes, the overnight success theory is a load of crap and registers high on BS meter. By the time an act has broken through in any meaningful way, they have usually been around the block a few times.
In fact, this is usually why they are successful. They have developed over a protracted period of time, long enough and determined enough to be noticed as being special.
On the road again
All the big bands that I toured with over the years were always road hardened, experienced campaigners: The Church, Switchfoot, Thirsty Merc, MotorAce, and many more.
My band Alcotomic, was battling it out in the alternative rock trenches from 1995 to 2001. Our drummer was a devoted soldier. He and I did it rough big time.
We shared many mattresses and often slept on floors. We travelled in vans for days on end, sharing the driving, and were regularly physically threatened and ripped off. And of course, all the regular highs and lows of playing in a band together.
After the band folded in 2001, he went on to play in a number of struggling bands, eventually ended up joining Melbourne punk rockers The Living End, in 2004.
To on lookers and commentators he was seen as lucky, an overnight success, but Andy had been doing it really tough for over ten years. That’s why he was a great player and why he was chosen above a hand of hopefuls to be the replacement drummer for that band.
Never an overnight success.
2. Big recording studio = big success
To be fair, this once may have been the norm. But as I pointed out in episode IC16 the Million Dollar Myth, those days are thankfully over. Funnily though, people are still hanging on to this one like a like life raft at sea.
The reason there are very few studios left is because we’re all making music at home now. On our laptops, or even iPads. Although I own a fairly expensive studio with lots of vintage outboard gear, a 24 track console and 16 inch tape machine, I’m the first to admit, it’s unnecessary.
The big few studios left in operation today pretty much serve the pop superstars with a handful of producers that churn out most of the music you hear on the radio.
That’s a fact, and it’s not going to change in a hurry. If you could even afford a big studio, it’s not going to turn you into a huge success. The potential is that it’ll just make you broke. Buy a laptop instead.
3. The best gear money can buy
You’ve heard this one I’m sure: purchase great gear and you’ll sound amazing. I sits alongside: buy the best formula one racer and you’ll beat them all or get a facelift and you’ll be desired by all.
You get the idea.
There’s nothing further from the truth. Having great gear is handy, but what’s the point if you don’t know how to use it? I’ve seen a stack of muso’s with ace gear that can’t keep rhythm.
In fact, the best players I’ve seen had totally shit gear. I remember seeing a guitarist called Brett Garsed playing at a run down little pub in Bendigo called the Railway Hotel in the late 1980’s.
He was such an astonishing and accomplished player at the age of 17. The very small audience was floored by what we witnessed. He played all the Hendrix classics note for note, playing behind his head and with his teeth. No words can explain it.
But his gear was crap. He came from the small town of Newstead and had no money. He was improvising on second-rate guitars and a crappy old amp. But, he made them sound totally glorious.
Brett became a superstar and played with everyone from John Farnham to the Nelson Twins in the USA. Not just because he is a lovely human being, it’s because he knows how to play.
Why is that?
It’s because a great player can make any instrument sound amazing. An amazing instrument can’t make a great player, only the skill of the player, and that’s it.
4. It’s all about the song
Along with just about everyone I know in the industry, the belief is that “song” is king and that’s the real thing that matters! Right?
As a songwriter, I was a big believer too. Well, I’ve changed my mind on that now, and that’s because the music industry has changed so dramatically since I began.
Once upon a time, probably in the 1980’s and earlier, the song did matter. In 2019, I believe it doesn’t anymore. What seems to matter more are the visuals and production aesthetic. I’ve already pointed out in episodes IC5 and IC6 that most songs on the radio use either the 1, 4, 5 or 6 chord structure.
There simply is nothing new or revolutionary in pop music anymore, certainly not like there was in the 1960’s. With all the auto tuning and predictable production, all generated by the same 8 or 9 producers, it’s actually difficult sometimes to tell the difference between Lady GaGa and Justin Bieber.
Granted, in highly marginalised music styles, there is still creativity with songcraft and clever musicians pushing the envelope. Although, it’s likely you’ll never hear it.
Indeed, Spotify is growing and potentially opening up those styles, I talk about this regarding CEO Daniel Ek’s comments in episode 24 podcast. However, while Spotify expands and may one day be the most influential, FM radio still rules in 2019.
FM radio is saturated with homogenised cookie-cutter, over-produced pop music and just like a Hollywood blockbuster, there’s no surprises and mystery anymore.
To me, there are no heavy-duty well thought-out lyrics that tell unique stories. There are no challenging and unpredictable song structures that surprise and delight you. There is no interesting instrumentation, voicing and production.
In fact, genre’s such as hip hop and pop have been corporatised by the big three major labels. They now ram it down your throat ad nauseum. It’s a fact.
The manipulation of songwriting essentially dumbs down the listener into accepting predictability so that anything different becomes unpleasant to the ear. I see this happening all the time.
On FM radio, you hear – and will expect to hear, the same thing, song after song, after song. Therefore, the song doesn’t matter as it once did.
At least not to the major labels because they want to peddle more of the same. If you step outside of that with a little creativity or difference, you won’t get airplay. It’s just a numbers game of making money by middle aged men in suits.
To make that money, it has to fit a formula determined by the big three corporations, and by definition, that means creativity and true song craft have become the casualties in some ways.
The song doesn’t matter (as much as it did).
5. You can go it alone
No you can’t. Well, maybe you can go it alone, but that would depend entirely on your genre and desired outcome.
There are many many acts that prefer to remain grassroots and build a following over a long period of time. Folk, singer songwriter, and alt country come to mind. If that’s your thing, fine, go for it! However, this episode is about the others and for them, going it alone is near impossible.
If you have any aspirations of reaching a wider audience, selling music, playing festivals and breaking into the charts in some way, you simply cannot go it alone.
You need a support team. A support team includes a tour manager, booking agent, publicist, a record label, marketing team, a publisher, and devoted fans. In some cases, it can be your mum and dad.
Yes, without mentioning names, I’ve seen a number of parents being the financial support team and cheerleaders in their kids’ success. One person in particular, who is now a huge success, had his well-off parents at all his early shows, putting up posters, handing out flyers, and bankrolling the press campaigns.
Mum and Dad
Your mum and dad are still a support team of sorts, and we all need a support team in order to get to the next step. My early bands had no support teams – we were essentially alone.
It was an arduous and difficult battle to get shows together and ramp up interest in our acts. We were not alone, many others were doing the same.
Only towards the latter part of my career did I begin to see the power of a support team and the many opportunities missed without one. A record label pushing your singles, a booking agent putting tours together, publicist getting you high profile appearances and then, your beloved fans spreading the word.
It’s essential to have your tribe or your team working for you because going it alone is just too challenging. Overcoming the huge hurdles that you face on your journey is almost impossible at times. So, get yourself a support team.
You can’t go it alone.
Just the beginning
In summary, I’d like to say that these five music industry myths are but a small sample of the rot that is floating around. As I’ve said before, you need to put on your bullshit helmet and reject the lies and negativity that abounds.
Don’t believe all you hear. Make your own sensible judgements based on fact, not rumour. As chopper Read once said, “Don’t let the truth get in the way of a good yarn”.
That pretty much sums up the music business.
Do you have any myths about the music industry you’d like to share with us? You can leave your comments and any questions on my blog below. You can also follow me on Instagram @indieconfidential.
Don’t forget to subscribe to the podcast through iTunes or whatever streaming service you’re using. That way you’ll be notified when my weekly episode is available.
In the next episode of Indie Confidential I will be talking about mental health in the music industry. This is a super important topic that effects us all in one way or another. Not to be missed.
I’ll catch you soon.