For the purposes of this blog, lets imagine that I am taking the role of the renowned psychiatrist Dr. Leo Marvin and you are my ambitious patient, Bob Wiley.
If you don’t know these characters, do yourself a favor by finding a VCR (the preferred way to watch a classic of this magnitude) and pop in “What About Bob?”. Now Bob Wiley has just about every possible phobia known to man. Despite Bob’s difficulties, he makes an astounding transformation from a man who fears anything and everything to a capable, and valued member of society.
It is surprisingly common for students to call me and tell me they are going to quit their jobs, study Music Business full time and then become an A&R, a highly competitive job that requires extensive experience in the music industry. In short, quitting your job for a risk this big is not a good idea. I am in no way saying that people with such lofty goals are in the same category as Bob Wiley, but I often find myself giving advice that I learned from his psychiatrist, the great Dr. Leo Marvin. Baby Steps….
Student: “I have 3 kids and a mortgage and I work in the legal field. I don’t like my job so I am going to quit and start a record label.”
Michael: Baby Steps…
Student: “I write songs using a computer program. I am thinking about dropping out of college to move to LA and give Film Scoring a shot”
Michael: Baby Steps…
The “Baby Steps” idea definitely comes into play when you are interested in getting into the music industry (in any capacity). The talents who are discovered performing on YouTube and rocket straight to the Ellen Show are few and far between. It is ok to take your time and develop a foundation that you can build your future career on.
Step one: Come up with Measurable and Attainable Goals
It is fine to have a stretch goal like “I want to make music my primary means of survival”. The chances of this becoming a reality increases greatly if you have the foresight to break it down and get specific. For example, in 2011 I was studying Orchestration and I gave myself the goal of writing 10 new songs in one calendar year. The purpose was twofold: Get familiar with the regular writing demands required to do this professionally and to further develop my craft and portfolio. The exercise was challenging and contributed greatly to my goal AND I didn’t have to bet the farm to meet it.
Another exercise works for performers and teachers. Set a goal like the following “I want to make $500 this year from gigging/teaching banjo lessons/doing studio work/anything else related to music.” This will teach you how to manage your opportunities and how to follow-up! If you have convinced someone to study music with you and they have taken $100 worth of lessons and suddenly dropped off of the face of the earth, you need to make sure you nurture the relationship so that they come back and of course, tell their friends. Baby Steps…
Step two: Be Persistent
So, you have been baby stepping along and things are going great! Lets say you have a ton of music produced and you want to get some of that sweet, sweet royalty money. You have heard that Music Libraries and Sound Catalogs are a good way to get your foot in the door so you send some demos out and wait…and wait…and continue to wait.
You will keep on waiting unless you are persistent and leave no stone unturned. Call, email, and even show up at every music library you can find and be prepared to tell them why they should listen to your tracks. Have everything labeled and neatly organized to make it as easy as possible for them to hear your work. Just because you get one person to listen to your stuff does not give you an excuse to stop calling more libraries.
Step three: Never leave an opportunity on the table
I have tried my hand at transforming nonsensical synth midi recordings into orchestral scores so that an ambitious hobbyist could hear his creations performed by a studio orchestra. One time I had a gig transcribing extremely complicated Liberace piano solo’s from old video clips for a client who was dead set on reviving the old tunes. I even had the opportunity to score music for a group involved in supervised (yet illegal) intravenous drug use (that was a wild one). Sure, I made money in some of these cases. Others were utter financial failures. What gained in every instance was experience, and just as importantly, a reputation. Now if a transcription/film scoring/weird orchestration gig comes up I have demo’s to show them AND I have references. Be creative and realize that getting out of your comfort zone can lead to a breakthrough!
Working with music is extremely rewarding. Even if it takes you longer than you want to reach your financial goals, enjoy the ride. We are performers, producers, orchestrators, songwriters, artist managers, and more. It is amazing that people are willing to pay us to do something so fun! Take baby steps and you can make a transformation…just like Bob.