The Cut Throat Music Biz
One of the most painful lessons I’ve had to learn is that “the music business is a rejection based industry.” I’m not sure who uttered that phrase first but it’s pretty much universally known here in Nashville. People tend to come to Nashville bright-eyed and confident but that feeling rarely lasts once you’ve spent years trying to swim in a sea of talent. And, of course, then there’s the music industry, often described as a factory that spits out artists from a machine, the line workers scrutinizingly checking each artist for flaws so as to discard any that have them.
The music industry is hard and going in alone is scary, rejection is inevitable. I see talented people give up and go home every day because they just can’t handle one more “no.” And the hardest part is that there’s no exact manual on how to succeed in music, nor is there a college degree that guarantees a job as a music artist. And to top it all off, everyone is your competition…right?
That is the mentality I want to shut down. I feel like there’s a stigma that musicians live in fear of another person swooping in and stealing their title but, honestly, the idea of competition in the music industry is all but made up. I don’t know, maybe I’m the only one, but when I came to Nashville I expected a never ending episode of “The Voice” where everyone was trying to be better than everyone else in order to win the record deal prize. I was terribly mistaken.
Here’s some food for thought: If a record label can make a million dollars off of you and a million dollars off of me, why would they sign only one of us?
The biggest reason I still love this town is because of the wonderful community of artists, writers, producers, and musicians that come together to help other struggling members of the community. And I’ve never seen a single one of those people, once they reach success, forget about where they came from and what they went through. Ok so maybe there are music industry people that are cruel and cut throat but…I’ve never met one of them. I’ve only ever met people who want to help younger versions of themselves but maybe don’t always know how.
There is no denying that the business side of music can be frustrating, more machine-like, and very hard to access, but you have to remember that these people deal with a lot. Every day they are bombarded with hundreds of artists banging on their door, swearing they’re the next Blake Shelton or Taylor Swift. But that’s not what the industry wants.
The last thing the music industry wants are duplicates of other, already famous, artists. The first rejection I got in Nashville was the first time I came here. I played a song of mine called “Fairytale” for a writer for George Strait. I excitedly announced that I thought it sounded like Taylor Swift and he responded by throwing the disc in the trash. He turned to me and said, “We already have a Taylor Swift.”
Man, that hurt, but I never forgot his words. The music industry always wants the next big thing, they just don’t know what the next big thing is. They don’t know what they want to hear but they know what they don’t want to hear and they hear what they don’t want to hear A LOT. That’s why the music business is…shy. We have to push past that shyness, be patient, not get frustrated when it doesn’t work and stick together and support the individuality of our peers.
Don’t become cynical. No one is out to try and make you fail. Everyone from the starving artist to the owner of Big Machine wants to see you succeed. But you have to remember that success comes in many different colors. You may not ever play at a stadium filled with 20,000 people but that doesn’t mean your music can’t change lives. It might not be in the cards for you to produce for Ocean Way but that doesn’t mean you can’t give an upcoming artist their dream sound. Don’t let yourself give up when one thing doesn’t work, just get up and find the thing that does.
In Nashville, if one of us is successful, we are all successful. That’s the nature of being a part of such a bonded community. We struggle together, we cry together, we fight together, we thrive together. The music industry is one of the hardest industries out there but it’s made up of some of the most loyal people I’ve ever met.
Whether your dreams come true or you have to find a new dream, you will always have a shoulder to cry on. And whether you decide to give up or you want to keep trying, you will always have someone to support you.
Love your neighbor and don’t be afraid to let them love you.
I wish you all peace, love and music.
Till next time…