Access is why you will never be a rich and famous musician

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There is a myth involving the music industry that seems to persist from generation to generation. The myth that, when it comes to music, the cream always rises to the top. That is, the best music/artists will always get signed to a major label, get played to the masses, make it to the top of the charts, become a sit sensation, etc., etc. That the music constantly getting played on the radio or that finds its way onto a movie soundtrack is the best of the best. This is simply not true; the sheer amount of pedantic crappy pop music that constantly assaults our aural peace is proof of that. Naturally, artists and labels generally don’t want to dispel this myth, as they benefit financially from the illusion that things like constant radio play means that the music is popular and thus worthy of your money ala download sales and concert tickets.

The reality is that determining which music/artists that get to ‘rise to the top’ is primarily an issue of access. Access to the right people and the right funds is what drives the music industry (or any industry for that matter).

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It’s all about who you know (or networking, networking, networking)

Every industry has gatekeepers. There are gatekeepers everywhere you turn. As if dealing with them wasn’t challenging enough, figuring out who the ones are that can provide any actual help is damn near impossible. The guy claiming to love your sound and absolutely will get you signed and make you rich and famous usually turns out to be some coked up blowhard looking for a new drink ticket hookup. Meanwhile, that slightly awkward guy you just accidently bumped into and made him spill his drink because you were too distracted by that coattail-rider putting dollar signs in your eyes and didn’t even offer an ‘excuse me’ like your poor mother taught you, is a major label rep who just wrote you off.

The good news is that no single gatekeeper can make or break you. There are many paths to success, but they ultimately all rely on your network. Who you know and, more importantly, who knows you. You can have the best music in the world, but if the right people don’t have access to it, it will mean nothing in terms of a career. Now, if you are just making it for yourself, or for that one hipster and his bragging rights for finding your unknown work after an all-night smug fueled search, driven by the constant worry that he won’t be allowed in the gluten-free locally sourced vegan coffee shop without scowls and jeers from the artisanal baristas unless he produces something previously undiscovered, then this need not apply to you. But if you want to build an audience, and make a career in music, then you need a network.

Not only is your network crucial for exposing your music to “important” people in the industry, as well as building your audience, it is vital for you to improve and refine your crappy pop music so that you can build a bigger and wider audience and move on up the ladder within the industry. There are no overnight successes, despite what you may hear, there are just people that have access to better networks.

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Money money money money, money

If you don’t have access to money (whether it be yours or an investor) you aren’t going to be that chart-topping artist that you promised all your ‘haters’ you would become. Money makes the world go ‘round, and the music industry in no exception. Aside from needing money for obvious things like equipment, accessing listeners (you know, the ones that actually pay for your songs and for those overpriced tickets to your show and gives you value as a selling artist to labels and venues) costs money, mainly through both direct advertising and indirect advertising (like radio play or those crappy CDs playing in stores that retail clerks have to listen to all day long and then die a little inside when you ask them what song is playing right now because they have no idea and they just want you to buy that damn shirt so they can go refold all those clothes you just messed up looking for that perfect black V-neck).

One of the advantages of being on a label used to be that they essentially acted as an investor. They would take care of getting the music beyond your own small fan base and activate their hype-machine to get your work exposed to the mass market, just like any other business and product, all to maximize their return. Given the, now, low return from digital sales and the extreme saturation of available music, this model has changed and you basically have to already be profitable before you will be taken seriously. Further, everyone has all but relegated to compete for listeners online (usually on the same limited sites and social media platforms). To make matters worse, the algorithms that expose content to people on these sites are always changing, making it even harder to get exposed without any kind of substantial investment.

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Think of it this way… Beatport, one of the more popular digital retail outlets for dance music, has over 4.6 million songs just in their Progressive House genre alone. When they first started 11 years ago, you could search and sort by artist, the site is so saturated now that it no longer remains an option. Further, let’s just use a safe round number and say that you are competing with 1,000,000 other artists worldwide for attention. This means you have a .0001% of making into the top 100. Want to be a top 10 artist you say? Well, then that would be .00001% (and this is all assuming of course that your music isn’t complete crap, which, odds are it is).

The truth is that the odds you are going to be a superstar are very low, sorry to be the one to have to break it to you. Unless you are one of those lucky few that just happens to make the right kind of network, or have the right amount of funds to invest millions in advertising, you might want to start making friends with that hipster after all.

Disclaimer: Yes, I know that there are always exceptions to the rule and that there are examples of your sister’s cousin’s ex-roomate’s, former dog’s owner’s lover that made it to the big time after being discovered in the ghetto while doing dishes in the back next to the toilet. There is a reason those stories stand out, because there are extremely rare. Being at the right place at the right time can play a role when extreme talent is involved, but access to a good network is still key even in those cases.

Disclaimer part 2: I’m not trying to discourage you from making music or following your dreams. Ultimately I just want you to be realistic about your goals and how to get there. If you have real passion for the music, and you have a vision that you really want to share, share it. Now, if you are just trying to be famous for the sake of being famous, I am actually trying to discourage you. The music industry is saturated with enough meaningless crappy songs, quit.

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Analog vs Digital vs Digital: Are we killing our dance culture?

I’m not opposed to change by any means. Change is crucial to life and growth.  It’s just sad when valuable perspectives, experiences, and lessons get lost as a result.

There is a lot of discussion in dance culture around vinyl vs digital, cd vs laptop, mixing vs programming, etc etc.  Those who embrace the new defend it, those who have mastered the past defend it, insults are thrown, pride is put to the test, but most importantly, there is a key discussion being ignored.

For those of you who are too new (and by new I really mean anyone in the scene for about 15 years or less) to really have experienced the history of the dance culture and electronic music scene there are some things you need to understand (don’t worry I have some words for the old-timers too).

Most of us in the early years of the scene had to constantly fight. We had to fight for space, for sound, for music, for a voice, for validity. Many of us didn’t even know we were fighting, we were just deeply connected to the music and had to express it, whether making it, playing it, or dancing to it. It was even a fight just to get the music.  It was expensive, limited, and you had have the hook-up to get the choice new releases in your area before someone else did.

The music was a necessity for us, the very essence of us. We were mocked, we were told it was garbage, it wasn’t real music, that it was a passing fad.  Because we were so connected to the music and identified ourselves through it, this meant they were calling us garbage.  We banded together, we built communities, philosophies, and we danced our asses off because it was who and what we were.

Every record was special, it was a weapon in the battle for validity.  Every scratch, imperfection, and skip was a memory of a party, an experience, a good time, a bad time.  We didn’t replace our music every week, we played it until it wouldn’t play anymore.  And even then we might try to play it a couple more times hoping that it had somehow magically healed itself through our pure love of the song. Long story short, we weren’t just connected to the music, we were the music.

Things are different now. People interact with the music differently, they relate to it differently, they express it differently.  There are a lot more people in it for money and fame as opposed to the pure need to express and connect with the art. Because of the foundation that was built, there isn’t nearly the fight for validity there once was (proven by the fact that dance music is in the top-40 mainstream).  There is a mass consumption of a product that we spent decades forced to keep underground.

This is something the old-timers need to recognize beyond the obvious.  These newbies aren’t connected to the music they way we were/are. They aren’t seeing the house built from the ground up, they are inheriting the family property. That’s not to say it is better or worse, just different.  We fought so they didn’t have to, they explore new ways to express it, some good, some bad, some down right insulting to those of us who have spilt blood, sweat, and tears. We can’t expect them to get out of it what we did because they aren’t building the scene, they are inheriting the scene.

The discussion should not be about what equipment they express on, or what medium they use, but rather do they have talent at what they do?  Is there effort, art, passion, connection, and most importantly, respect? That is what is important here. Are they pressing play or are they creating art? We old-timers can learn some new tricks from you newbies, and newbies we can show you some foundations and perspective that make this meaningful and an art form, not just a revenue stream or a way to get laid.

The reason I implore all of us to switch the focus of the discussion is because we are at a delicate turning point in our culture.  As something becomes consumed on a mass scale, there is danger of that thing being consumed to its extinction.  How many forms of music, fashion, art, etc., have been destroyed because it was over-consumed and the meaning, art, and specialness were forgotten and lost?

I love this music, these people. I want it to last as long as possible.  I want it to remain a meaningful culture.  Not just some ‘in’ product that will be thrown to the wayside because it becomes a gutted shell. Let’s keep dance music a meaningful art form, a culture with a rich history and that focuses on talent and passion.  Being in the top-40 realm isn’t inherently bad, but unless we maintain a level of quality, an understand of the roots, and pure connection to the passion and art of our culture, we will lose it. And rightly so.

Friends don’t let friends become a DJ Pauly D.

Just say no.