The Malaise of the Modern-Day Musician

The Malaise of the Modern-Day Musician


The music industry is a platform for the ambitious and creative.  With that comes a harsh realisation: many will not have long careers; others will take longer to find success.  In a scene where too many burn out (rather than simply fade away), it is understandable (from a musician’s standpoint) to have niggling doubts.  The music industry promulgates too many reality-star-quick-buck-no-talent-fly-by-night-clowns: true success/respect often arrives later (age-wise).  With so many of my musician friends disaffected- frustrated by their ‘lack of progress’- I have a little story to tell…


ONE of the biggest joys- and tantamount regrets- is witnessing the plight (of my musician friends).

It is an industry (music) I will be entering soon (with trembling feet and an optimistic heart); getting a band together- and laying down my ‘impressions’ for the world.  I am very excited (about what I can achieve) and feel sure I can overcome some inner-fears- stage fright, nerves; public expectation etc.   When I look around social media (Facebook and Twitter et al.) one thing always strikes me: the struggles (the modern musician faces) to get recognition.  We all have our ideals of life: what we want to achieve; where we want to be (and by what age).  The truth of the matter is this: our expectations are always a little overzealous.  The musicians I know are universally exceptional: each offer something new and genuinely original.  The fact that (the ones who feel short-sold) are not ‘huge stars’ is not a reflection on themselves- their work ethic or talent- more a (hard fact) of consumer culture/the current scene.  When speaking (online) to various musical contacts, they always tell me the same thing: (they) are deflated by the lack of attention (they have received).  I can understand this malaise: true talent deserves reward and acclaim.

I am in the same boat myself: I wanted to be a lot further along (in my life) than I am now- I have not given up on any of it.  It is disheartening to see some lovely people sound so down: stuck in a rut and questioning of their life’s ambitions.  To all those (who have these fears and resemblances), I would say this: keep holding on; do not give up.  It sounds like a trite bromide; yet it is a valid point: those that stick at it will get their just-rewards.  The fact that (the musician in question) feels so under-sold and under-appreciated shows how much they want it (success) – that is the type of passion and dedication that will see them succeed.  Before I expand upon this point- and offer some personal insight- there is something worth mentioning: the cost of being a musician.

From (recently) chatting with a musician friend, I know the financial strains involved in music- an average (no-thrill, holds- barred) song can cost between £200-£300 to get produced.  Considering the average human earns practically sod-all (my business studies background coming into play here!), the tableau (and parable) of the recording process is a fiscal nightmare: how many of us have that sort of money to throw around?  When you look at an E.P. (or an album), the cost runs into four (or five) figures- unless you are raking in some serious gig money- you are not going to accrue a massive stream of revenue.  Social media- and music-streaming websites- make it easier for Joe Public to get tunes for free- adding an extra arrow into the chest of the musician.  Day jobs and savings are often used (to finance musical endeavours); factor out rent, food etc., and the reality is: how realistic is a career in music?  I am immensely proud of ALL my music ‘friends’- the people who have given me so much pleasure and inspiration.  Before I wrap up; offer some solace and (I would hope) ‘pep’- like an ebullient cheerleader chanting for a U.S. football team- I shall get a ‘bit personal’…

Among my (multitudinous) business ideas- I shall touch more on this anon- is (trying to) formulate something for the musician: a fundraising site- like your Kickstarter-s and so forth- that makes it even easier to raise ‘serious’ funds.  The aforementioned site works on the principle of benevolence and mass co-operation: getting the music-buying public to donate to a musician/music project- that can often be a stumbling block.  Having tried (somewhat unsuccessfully) to get charity initiatives and fundraisers off the ground, I know for where I cometh: most people want their music free; few will spend their cash on something like a Kickstarter campaign.  It may be an over-generalisation, but there is some truth: the point of the idea (my alternate slant) would eradicate that side of things- it is in the ‘sketchy/infantile’ stage of development, but I am hoping for an ‘Archimedes moment’ (I shall keep you abreast if/when I get something concrete).  I digress, of course; but the point to my thesis is this: money is the major stumbling block (when it comes to furthering a music career) rather than a lack of talent.  This year I am getting my backside into gear; getting some music ‘done’: turning apathy into ‘hell-to-the-effing-yeah!’  In addition to recruiting various band members, I am looking at a fully fledged E.P.; making a move to London; getting my music out there- I will be exploiting sites like Kickstarter as much as possible.  On that point: I can understand certain reticence- people feel if they use it- and rely on crowd-funding, they are employing some dishonesty; maybe not being as independent as they would hope.  Bringing the public into your musical ideas- from the ground-level- is a great way to ensure long-term support- and detract from the disposable fair-weather fans.

I have quite an ambitious mind: my ‘dreams’ are quite extensive.  In addition to business ideas (music plans and the like), I have heady hopes and aspirations- they including moving to the U.S. for a few months.  Music is- and always will be- right at the top of my ‘to-do list’: few people on earth lionise music as much as I; have that intense hunger and desire (to want to be a part of it all).   Like everyone else, I set the bar high: have a timescale and plan of action; want to be big news very soon.  I feel like many of us assume we have to ‘get everything done’ by a certain age: most of the people reading this blog (and my musician friends) are in their 20s and 30s!  Some professions are a ‘young man’s game’- football, prostitution, child actor, trained assassin etc. – but most aren’t.  Music is an industry that provides a mouth-piece to the middle-aged and old alike (legends like Bob Dylan and Paul McCartney are still going strong).  I am worried about (how I am going to finance) most of my music: one of my songs will take at least £5,000 to produce- what with the studio time; crew of musicians etc.  Not wanting to descend into poverty (or sell my organs), I do wonder where the finances will emanate from: how will I ever afford a music career?  Small steps seem to be the answer: being modest at first and taking things a day at a time.  I understand that ‘your average musician’ does not rake in a lot from their songs- gigs and such only pay so much- so we all have to economise and scale-back to begin.  Ever since the ‘90s (when I was but a slip of thing) I have wanted to hear my songs in the ears of others: it is that realisation that subjugates petty financial concerns.    It is axiomatic to say the music world is over-populated: it seems every week several thousands new bands emerge; all ‘the next-big-thing.’  Making your voice hear (and getting a sturdy foothold) can be a source of anxiety and self-doubt.  Let me leave you with this…

Age and money are twin heartbeats that get slower (the longer they keep beating): the former merely a number; the latter a capricious and unyielding pain in the arse (we never seem to have enough money no matter how hard we work).  Aphorisms aside, my true-cum-basic diatribe should offer some crumbs (of guidance): success and appreciation come to those who keep at it.  It is a hard mistress, music: you slog and work; stardom can seem like a far-off beacon.  Before I sign off- and drill down to the bedrock of my blog- I will throw in some case studies…

Musicians like Ed Sheeran- not a huge fan of the music; fan of the man himself- arrived from a ‘humble’ and fraught background: nary a few years ago he was sofa-surfing and busking to make a living.  With a few pence in his pocket- and rejection calls ringing in his ears- he has moulded himself into one of the U.K.’s most exciting musical prospects.  Without getting fixated around short-term success; pacing his ambitions, Sheeran has bloomed into (one of the world’s) biggest stars- he is not a one-off by any means.  I know too many people who have lots of money; they are privileged and scarcely have to struggle- I know a few online friends who are in this position.  Money, comfort and luxury will come (later in life): the early years will always throw up their share of fiduciary woes and roadblocks.  Legendary artists like The Beatles and Bob Dylan rose from modest- that is to say, hard- backgrounds.  Having had to work themselves raw, they had no easy ride: their determination and talent got them where they are.  I know people get fixated with age: they assume that unless they have ‘cracked it’ by their 20s, then they will never succeed.  Bullshit.  I am 31, and have not even recorded a note- your most inspired days and mature movements happen in your 30s/40s etc.  The songs I was writing when I was in my 20s pale (by comparison to what I am recording now).  The world wants music that is of the finest order: it does not matter if you are creeping towards middle-age; so long as your music is good, you will get the support.  Although the young generation have limited attention-spans- and have shockingly-poor knowledge of ‘older’ music- they have enough savvy to realise a good thing.  So many music careers can be over in a blink, there should be no rush to ‘make it’- patience and limitations can be a good thing.  An historical sweep of the legendary music throws up its own maxim: the best there have ever been (took) years to become legends.  It may not be a world-beating saying, but you get the point: it will happen!  Bryan Cranston- Walter White from Breaking Bad- began his life on U.S. soaps: how many U.K. soap stars can you see being in his position (where he is now)?  It may sound snobbish, but few of our soap regulars can ascend to his heights.  The point is, that he- one of the world’s best actors- began life amidst low expectations.  His career started slowly; he began to get bigger parts- dramas and T.V. shows started to form on his C.V.  From there- doubting his ambitions; questioning his motives- he landed a part (as Hal) on (the criminally under-watched) comedy Malcolm in the Middle (playing a neurotic and happy-go-lucky dad to a clan of hellacious sons.  It was not until his 50s that Cranston scored the role of a lifetime: that of Walter White in Breaking Bad.  Aside from being one of the greatest acting shifts in history- Cranston played a lovable and put-upon man in Malcolm in the Middle; a drug-dealing cancer sufferer in Breaking’- it proved how patience, is indeed, a virtue.  Aside from Cranston’s biblical talent- few actors are as funny and traumatic as him- his biggest role has arrived in the middle of his life (well, we hope at least).  Society is too fixated with youth and (making it) young: the finest music; the best acting- that is (in this day and age) coming from wiser (and more mature shoulders).  Keen not to bore (to the point of rigor mortis), let me conclude:

The last year has seen (me suffering) some pretty f*cked-up things come my way.  In addition to being involved in a car crash, I have had a bad ‘depression year’- shall keep those details clandestine.  Having lost a couple of (good online) friends (under auspicious and ridiculous circumstances) – which has caused immeasurable stress and sadness, I have experienced personal ‘loss’- the death of those close to me.  In spite of all of this, I have never been more optimistic about music: that is thanks to those who provide the music.  From pink (now purple) haired Yorkshire stunners; to Surrey-based singers- I have revelled in the audible joy (they provide).  Over the past couple of months, I have spoken to three separate musicians who have said the same thing: they feel depressed because they are (not as far along in their career) as they had hoped.  Despite the fact that all three are insanely talented, I get what they are saying: we all (that write music) want to be wowing festivals; touring the globe- all whilst we still have energy in our bodies.  The realisations are these: a): those desires will be realised (trust me they will and b): stardom is the accumulation of gig tickets and magazine interviews.  Few will realise (reading this; they who make music) just what an affect they are having.  Set aside- for now- ideations of arena tours and record deals, and consider this: do you realise just what an affect your music has?  If you manage to influence and compel a single human, you have already made an impact: every musician I have review has done just that (and inspired me).  Every album I have heard; every song I have dissected- every new YouTube video that arrives- makes me a more confident songwriter- in words of Sam Smith: “I know I’m not the only one.”  It is the small things- the individual songs and performances- that make a big difference.  I know many will sit there and say: “It’s easy for you sitting there; try being us!”  Fair point, but I will offer this: you will all (those that want it) get success before you know it.  Whether it a spot on Later… (With Jools Holland) or a modest tour of the U.K., depends upon your talent and resolve.

The point of the blog- aside from trying to nullify the haunting doubts of some fine musicians- was to offer comfort and assurance.  Everyone I have reviewed- from Jen Armstrong through to Allusondrugs- will see their standards/hopes realised.  They may not know it (same applies to everyone else) but they have had a HUGE effect on me; they have inspired countless people- they have brought smiles to endless faces.  They are young, they are green (they- to paraphrase Supergrass- “keep teeth nice and clean”) – they should feel fantastic (more than merely Alright).  As for the future: give it time (that is, after all, what the future consists)- and know this: you are doing incredibly well.  Whether it takes a few more years- or you are hitting your prime in your 40s- it is worth sticking around.  Do not give up on music; do not question your career choice: NEVER doubt your talent and ability.  The reason I am optimistic (about music) and hell, even still breathing (no hyperbole needed) is because of the fantastic new music out there- saving someone’s life outranks sharing the bill with London Grammar (it may not to some, but it should).  As for those things that we (in the music-making sphere want): tours, radio interviews; to nestle alongside our heroes- that will all come along (I am not saying it to balm wounds and diminish ‘silly’ doubts).  Stick on a good tune; write a catchy song, and relax: you are doing marvellously.  In years to come- when gig stipends increase and hit singles are seducing the airwaves- all of the anxieties and fears will seem (almost churlish).  I know how you feel; I know how scary it is: we’re all in it together (and I cannot overstate how proud to know all you fine musicians).  Hell people, if the likes of me- procrastinator extraordinaire– are looking ahead (with high hopes), then you will all be fine!  Stay strong, keep playing, and (when next year arrives); keep your diaries well clear…

BECAUSE they will be very busy indeed.

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