Engaging With the Business of Music
The other day an email arrived from an artist who approached us a couple of years ago about getting involved with their career. For a reason that wasn’t revealed to me at the time, we never got it going. Now I heard that some band members vetoed it, and the email went on to say that the naysayers quit music not long thereafter, leaving the remainers to pick up the pieces.
When someone who could have done it but didn’t do it, now regrets not having done it, it’s surprisingly easy not to gloat. It’s just a grim reminder of how fortune favours the brave.
Equally, however brave you are, fortune doesn’t always find you as quickly as you’re prepared to wait for it.
Bruce Springsteen, whose wonderful autobiography I’m reading, did 4 x 45 sets in shitty bars for five years before “making it”. On his two failed trips to LA (they went there to “make it” but had to come back broke and dejected) he traveled, with another three band members, in the roof rack compartment with the gear. Van Halen were a covers band for four years. Chad Smith played in a top 40 covers band for eight years before striking it big with the Chillis. The funny thing is that he considered playing shitty bars as having made it. The Wombats had one guy driving in a passenger car with all the gear, while the other two took the National Express. They did hundreds of shows this way. The 1975’s agonisingly slow ascent to fame is well documented.
Over the years we’ve worked with really good bands who’ve been able to keep it up on the pub/club circuit for a year or two, maybe three. In an era where most bands quit much quicker than that they are truly the exception. But, in comparison with artists who really pushed the boat out, it’s generous to consider them as serious contenders.
A banker friend’s 24 year old nephew, a classical cellist of some note, had called him for advice. The cellist had been playing since childhood, no one had ever needed force him to rehearse. He was really into playing the cello, always had been. Six hours a day, no problem. Fifteen years of it. Done. As a consequence, he’d been a guest performer with some of Europe’s finest orchestras. Never quite made the permanent line up, but he was right up there. Close.
He didn’t feel his career was big enough, his ascent quick enough. He had always wanted to be a soloist, not just a pit player. And now he wanted to become an investment banker instead.
My friend thought long and hard before asking the cellist how on earth he thought he would find it any easier to become an investment banker, the inference being that the kid quite fancied doing what my mate, a middle aged man, does for a living. Never mind the gruelling, long days staring at the computer screen, the ridiculous working hours, the insane competition that goes on in that world for years before guys “make it”.
The cellist said he would like to live in London to do a bit of banking while he’d get to jam with really good musicians, of whom there are many here, because he still enjoys playing.
As if the serious musicians, busy busting ass playing for hours every day, performing, rehearsing, would want to waste their time on an amateur. People like that play with other people like them.
When I left Finland for a life of musical adventure in the UK, what I considered a great opportunity was, in reality, a reckless, pigheaded shot in the dark, wholly opposed and actively discouraged by everyone in my life, except my brother. We wanted to make music. Where better to make it than in the creative capital of the music business?
For anyone born and raised in the UK it’s so easy to engage with the business of music. Just step outside, knock on a door and engage with it.