I’ve been wondering for a while now what direction to take these blogs in. It’s a lot of fun to write about where the band and I are, where we’ve been and what’s been happening, but I start to get a little restless with anything after a bit. Surely there is so much else to write about. But what?
Someone comes up to me every couple of shows and asks me a question about music and the music business. Each time it jogs my memory and I tell myself, “Someday I want to write a little about this,” then I go back to whatever else it is I’m doing and promptly forget all about it until the next time someone comes up to me and asks a similar question.
So, sitting here at 8:30 in the morning in a coffee shop in Bristol, England, I’d like to inaugurate a new set of blogs for Book of Jubilations. These will be a series of writings on making music, making a living in music, and whatever else comes to my mind that I think is important about making a life in music.
When I was getting started I read a lot of books about making a living in the music business. I suppose the purpose of reading them was to build the confidence to go out and do it on my own. To that end they succeeded, however their usefulness - the actual informational content they proposed to offer - has been negligible in my career to the point of comedy. Why?
One major problem I have with many music business books is that they leave out some of the most important stages of getting started at a career in music. Rather than begin at the beginning, with open mics, cold calls, mailing lists on notebook paper, they opt for the romance of several years down the road. “So You Wanna Make a Living in Music” books usually start at the stage when this very special person, a diamond in the rough, has already performed the music business equivalent of digging themselves out of the rough, traipsing into town to the jewelry store and selecting the finest ring setting to set themselves within. Rather than help with the early stuff, the books attempt to offer advice to this very special diamond, currently twinkling nightly at small arenas around the country.
The other major problem for me is that the books are dry and inelastic. Listen, I’m not going to spend any time on this blog telling you about how to brand yourself on Facebook or Spotify or any of the million other music and social networking sites that beckon to you from the darkened doorways of the internet. You can find all that yourself, and you will. In fact, you probably already have. And anyway, can you imagine reading a book about that stuff? Now try to imagine reading a fifty-page chapter on collecting royalties. This is certainly important stuff, but I would like to suggest that before you get too deeply into arcana, you have a bit of perspective on the art you’re making, your reasons for making it, and the people who can help you survive to make more.
It’s hard to get good advice about making a life in music. Like many a great song, making a living in music is like fumbling around in a dark room until you somehow trip over the chorus. There is no right way, no wrong way and plenty of shortcuts that lead nowhere. This is why the books don’t necessarily help and why it is imperative to understand that advice from anyone, be it friends, enemies, grandparents or me, is only advice and we should always salt our advice well before eating.
Hunter S. Thompson famously described the music business as “a cruel and shallow money trench, a long plastic hallway where thieves and pimps run free, and good men die like dogs. There’s also a negative side.” This quote, while hilarious when it comes from Hunter S. Thompson, is less so when memorized and dashed off ad nauseum by schmucks at parties.
Here’s a riposte.
I prefer not to imagine what my life would be like without music. I prefer not to imagine my closest friends in the occupations they might have if they didn’t love music to the point of tears and folly. Making music, and the business of making music is a long strange trip, the kind I’d call a calling. It is as hard as any other job, and as dangerous. It’s also complex, driven by all the deep, weird compulsions that cause people to do precisely the ridiculous things that everyone tells them they shouldn’t do. And it’s populated by strange characters who, thankfully for their own sakes were born with a love of music so intense that it helped them survive their early life and continue on to bring music into the world in whatever capacity they can.
In this series, I’d like to describe some aspects of making music. If I’m even a little successful, I hope that questions can be answered and other people will be encouraged to take the plunge they’ve wanted to take with some idea of the nature of the plunge they are taking.
One final note. I’m just getting started on this idea. I have no real idea of where it will go. I’m open to whatever comments or questions you might have. Please write in with anything. And thank you for everything. This will be fun!
The first installment, coming soon, is upliftingly entitled, “We’re All Gonna Die.”