Think you’re ready to make a career out of your art? Then you’re ready to accept these five things professional artists deal with on the regular. Read on to see what today’s music world requires of you.
1. Shared creative control
Unless you’re one of the very few artists going big on SoundCloud without any help from a label, an audio engineer or an expert music producer, you’re going to give up some creative control. If you sign to a label, you’ll probably give up more than just a little. But even if none of the above apply to you, you’ll still need to hire someone to master your music, and that’s going to be entirely out of your control, anyway.
That’s fine, though. Every one of these professionals spend their lives making everything that comes across their desk something people want to hear. Is that really a problem for you? Of course not.
2. Starting in poverty
Even if you’re able to play shows every night, sell merch, and get enough followers on YouTube to attract some advertisers, you’re still not going to be making as much money as you would at most full-time jobs.
The gasoline to haul your gear from venue to venue can be surprisingly expensive, as much as 1/4 or even half what you make performing. And about that — exactly how much do headlining performers make per show? As little as 50-150 USD when you’re not selling the place out, if you’re lucky, and that gets split between all your crew.
Keep your chin up, though. If you put on a great show, you’ll have more people come see you every time you return to a joint, and soon you’ll be able to pre-sell tix until the place is packed. Then venue owners will be really glad to pay you for your appearances.
3. Living on the road
Sounds pretty cool, right? Like an extended camping trip with friends. The reality is plenty fun sometimes, but after the first few weeks it’s just work. Your crew become coworkers.
Everyone is filthy. Clothes get worn to stained rags. The van stinks. Fast-food becomes your diet when you’re playing anywhere away from the coasts. You learn to sleep on almost anything, almost anywhere. You also learn to go without sleep when necessary.
Your personal life stops dead. Even long-distance relationships aren’t possible when you don’t have a data connection for FaceTime or Skype. Jealous lovers suspect musicians act like Axl Rose everywhere they go, too.
So, yeah. Sigh. The glamorous life on the road. Whee!
4. Treating your art like a business
Hobbyists have the liberty of idealism. They can insist their music sounds best one way even if nobody else agrees. (And who knows? Maybe they’re right. Plenty of people have told Tom Waits he sounds like a broken frog).
When you go pro, though, that goes right out the window. When your artistic merit gets tied to paying your rent, making music people like becomes your measure of greatness.
The right logo for your merchandise becomes the one most likely to sell, not the one which describes you best.
The right sound for your next EP becomes the sound your fans want, not the sound you want. Your lyrics, too, must also match what will bring in the profits.
Be prepared to make all this fiscal sense your top priority, or your drummer will quit to play in a cover band with a weekend gig at the local bar.
5. Missing important family engagements
When you’re a professional musician, you’re married to the calendar. Performances get scheduled weeks and months in advance. Tickets get sold without your knowledge. And if you miss a date, you get blackballed not just at that venue, but in that whole area. You can’t cancel shows.
But people have a hard time understanding this, and it’s sensible that they think a couple months’ notice should be more than enough. When you go pro, though, what they eventually — and regrettably — learn is that you’re just never around.
I don’t often speak of my own experience here, but in this case I’m a prime example: I missed my mother’s wedding.
“We’re getting married this summer!” she said, happily.
“What month?” I said.
“August!” said Mom.
And I had to look my mother in the face and explain that I would be in Illinois with four other guys and some support crew, not at her wedding to my step-dad.
Ah, the professional life!