Lessons Learned From My 21 Year Journey of Failing and Succeeding In The Music Business.
You know how you hear those horror stories about people who signed deals back in the day without an attorney, or did no paperwork at all when it came to music? Well, I’m one of those people. I have lost millions of dollars, and several multiplatinum and GRAMMY® Award winning accolades because I thought that doing business would stifle my creativity.
There’s an old saying that goes, “As a person thinketh, so he/she is.” What’s interesting to me is how something so simple can carry so much weight. This article is my way of helping those of you who are struggling to get your foot in the door in whatever career path you’re aspire toward. I want you to know that you can be successful in entertainment but, you must first understand how you formed your ideas of what “success” really means, and then assess whether or not it’s misguided.
Our perception of success is usually shaped by where we feel we are in comparison to our peers. Some will use that as motivation to propel them forward, while others will take a less inspired route and start feeling hopeless, sad, frustrated, and all sorts of other negative emotions.
USING NEGATIVES TO FUEL POSITIVE GROWTH: I learned early on that I had to use negatives to fuel positive growth in my life. I grew up in a low income family in Peoria, Illinois (home of comedy legend, Richard Pryor). While I have many great childhood memories, seeing my peers living in nicer homes, riding in nicer cars, wearing nicer clothes and shoes, going on family vacations in the summers, and having the latest toys is what shaped my early ideas of what success was. To me, having a “good job” when I grew up was the way to success.
So, after high school I went to college, and then onto a white collar desk job at the Illinois D.O.T. where I worked in the civil engineering profession. One would think that I’d be content with finally accomplishing my childhood dream of getting a “good job”, but throughout my college years I had developed an affinity for creating music. By the time I finished school and began working my fulltime corporate day job, my idea of what success looked like had shifted.
Spurred by the fact that several guys I knew from local churches had gone on to hit it big in the music business as Grammy-winning producers, earning millions of dollars, my passions were now fueled by becoming the next big thing from Peoria. A “good job” didn’t look like success to me anymore. Now, becoming a full-time music producer was my idea of success. That’s when my perception shifted gears on me, and I now wanted to become a millionaire record producer. Working as a civil engineer earning under six-figures wasn’t appealing anymore.
So, I packed up my things and left town to become a music producer.
MY FAILURES = MY GAINS: As I embarked on my journey to becoming the next super-producer from my hometown, I never once stopped to consider my motives. I didn’t take into consideration that money and fame was fueling my desires, and therefore I went into the music business on blind ambition not knowing anything about the business aspects of the profession. This is the very thing that has caused millions of talented people to be cheated out of millions of dollars (me being one).
For the next decade, I experienced the ups and downs of the music industry; scoring several mild successes with major and indie label recording artists and top producers, flanked by long periods of failure, doubt, and
frustration. It’s a very tough pill to swallow when you hear your ideas on the radio, TV, and in movies while you get no credit or payment for it. It’s even harder to watch top singers go on to sell millions of copies, win major music awards on TV, and unknowingly give credit to the wrong people for your music; while you sit at home seething toward those who you thought were on the up-and-up.
ADVICE: Possession is nine-tenths of the law, so: (1) never make music in someone else’s studio, using their gear without first saving it to your own external hard drive and deleting all traces of it from theirs, and (2) never trust ANYONE in the music business when there’s the potential for money to be made. Make sure you handle your business first, before you collaborate with others. No matter who they are. If you need a “Publishing Split Sheet” visit the MUSIC section of our website – www.IAEMagazine.com – to download one.
EXPLORE YOUR OPTIONS: But, it was in those low moments that I began to learn that I had to change my perception of who I was. I was not a failure, I was just a guy who trusted the wrong people and didn’t educate myself about the business because I thought it would interfere with my creative process. I couldn’t continue to beat myself up over not making a million bucks and winning a Grammy; even if I felt I deserved it.
So, I went on to try my hand at being a manager in both the music and film/tv industries, with some successes. While doing this, I developed a ton of great connections and business savvy that have led me to where I am today; a successful magazine publisher, writer, and music entrepreneur who has the blessed privilege of helping others avoid the pitfalls I have experienced.
WHAT IS SUCCESS TO ME? I was recently asked, “If you could go back and change anything, would you?” My answer was, “No way! Without those experiences, I doubt that I’d be as successful as I am today.”
So, what is the success I’m speaking of, you might ask? It’s simple…success is when you’re doing exactly what you love to do, you’re impacting lives for the better, and you’re being paid to do it. I call this “Retirement”.
WHAT’S NEXT? I said all of that to say…consider what success really is to you. If making millions of dollars and being famous is what you’re in hot pursuit of, then quit now while you’re behind! You may make it there, but at what cost?
Instead, look at what you’re really good at, what you’re passionate about, and what areas of the music business you would go into if you had to exercise other options. Once you figure that out, start working toward that career path while you’re continuing your journey as a recording artist, music producer, songwriter, or whatever it is that you do right now. I’m sure, retirement will find you as you press forward.