Career education for Music Performance: Yeah Right!

The Music Industry

I get asked by many people what path people should take educationally for a career as a performance artist in rock, folk, or other styles of music not related to the theater. Of course college drama and music would be an obvious path for the theater but here I am talking about an education you would get if you wanted to be Bob Dylan. There is my example.

There is no school to teach you how to be Bob Dylan. Or Kayne West. Or Swizz Beatz. Or any original performer because they are the production of themselves. And there is only one person who can teach you how to become an original, unique, and sought after artist: you. This frustrates so many aspiring musicians, performers, or singer songwriters who have few clues about this thing they see clearly but have no idea how to become. There is a reason for that, there is no School of Rock out there and probably never will, effectively, be one or should I say be an effective one.

I will avoid the tales of “school of hard knocks” and simply say this artist you foresee coming forward one day has to be less born than berthed. When I use berthed I mean much more struggle than release. Struggle that at times will seem at odds with oneself and its goals but work and struggle which must be consistently done, sometimes with factory like drudge, day after day, and sometimes with every ounce of energy you have to give away.

When I get asked by the oft musician here and there “what should I study in school? I want to be a rock star.” I sarcastically answer “Rock Star 101 at Angus Young “U”” sometimes but really go on to tell them that they need to find an educational option which will provide a career for them and will allow them to develop their performance chops along the way, as well as some common sense which is many times none existent in the 19-25 year old crowd. This is not always the rule but have fun during those years, there is a time and a place for everything, and this place is called college.

When you have a job, which pays actual money, from your studies, you will be much freer to travel away to a low paying but high profile gig across the country or afford to have that demo mastered at a wonderful studio as opposed to the cheap mail order route where at best you talk to some engineer on the phone as opposed to sitting down and watching the actual process, thus learning a bit about the business as well from a potential sound guru. (these type guys know so much that I have never failed to learn something from them while in their midst.)

There is always the alternate route, or actually, the more traditional, tried and true method, which is leave high school, pick a town, and start booking gigs and shows immediately. I would not suggest this unless you are very confident of your abilities and willing to live on nothing. (There is nothing wrong with living on nothing for some time. I have done so and can remember the experiences being some of the happiest moments in my life). Sure there are the super success stories which are one in a million in the old days, one in three million now, but do not get lost in this dream. Your dreams need to be about performing one day in front of thousands of people, on your own terms, because of your own hard work, not because someone caught your set at the micro brew pub one Wednesday.

These days the music industry is a constantly changing field where many skills are required to have a successful job or even a career. With the advent of the internet and later file sharing the entire model of the industry was set aside and there has not been a consistently successful new mode for the industry to follow. Where this becomes bad business for large corporations it can be a boon for the independent artists and small groups willing to help and share information. Not only does the internet provide an artist or producer with the ability to instantly share music to a worldwide audience within seconds it also allows these individuals to access ideas and other routes for sales, promotion, and performance opportunities.

The old idea of signing a record deal or getting “discovered” is no longer a real option short of the two or three talent shows on television. Labels work with artists who have already shown themselves capable of getting material out there and doing the work themselves. Because the industry is no longer set up like it was they cannot afford to pour the money into artists for development and wait years to see this artist reach a level where this money is recouped. Now the artist has to show a label radio play, sales, internet activity, and a fan base which they generated from their own hard work before they will even be consider worth looking at for even a showcase.

Many young or novice performers, song writers, or producers still, in 2010, cling to the idea of the old way of doing things, ideas like “I will record a CD and blow up” or “I will be singing at some open mic and get discovered” when in reality this is not going to happen. The record company is a business and its business is to make money. With the condition of the recording industry as it stands now they can ill afford to take the chances they once took, especially when they do not even have a salient business model to fall back on should the artist fail to make money. In the old days labels could sign “discoveries” and have 9 fail and 1 succeed enough that it paid for the other 9 and allowed them to make a huge profit, it was a calculated investment that in today’s world has changed and the odds have become much leaner.  Sure there are artists like Lady GaGa who make tons of money but in the big picture she is a rarity and worked her way up from inside the business as a songwriter first. Her talents and abilities were already proven by her hit writing, thus she had shown she had the ability to create engaging material and was worth the risk. This was merely her in which she had to back up with talent and many other things.

For every Lady GaGa there are at least 500 artists who make a career by utilizing the tools out there now and adapting to innovation which is constantly in the mix. An example would be Blogging which most artists have no clue about but many have used as a vehicle to make others aware of them and share personal insight into them for their fans and blog readers.  Today’s artist has to be able to take a beginning (a song or an album worth of songs), get it there (self produce a CD), and keep it on the road (promoting it, building a fan base, and countless other tasks). Today’s serious artist creates the routes for themselves and has everything figured out or at least a broad understanding of where things should be.  It does not happen overnight and those that expect to are going to be constantly disappointed when it does not.

If all this sounds like too much then stop reading and just continue to do music for fun. There is nothing wrong with that. But if you are serious about the prospect then you have to empower yourself with the correct amount of information and then act on this information. It will not happen for you if you do not make it happen for yourself. Listed on the back are web links which are great place to start. Also any books you can read dealing with the subject , there are tons, will be helpful and give you new ideas to explore.




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