Dear young musicians,
For years, I’ve been receiving emails from you asking for my advice on how you can get into the music business, how to convince your parents that it’s what you want to do in life, and how to not let your age hold you back. Today, I decided I’d post all of my advice online in this open letter, which I hope you will share with other young musicians asking the same questions.
How can I get into the music business?
Get 10,000 hours under your belt
My first piece of advice is to get your 10,000 hours of practice in as soon as possible. They say that to become an expert in any field, you must practice for at least 10,000 hours. This may seem like a long time, but that’s the point. If you rehearse your instrument or write music for 7 hours every day for 4 years, you will most likely become exceptional through practice. As a young musician, time is your advantage, so get those 10,000 hours in while you’re still young.
Learn how the music business works & build a network early
Forget buying top of the range instruments with your money. If you’re serious about building a career in the music business, you’d be smart to channel your time and money into building a network and understanding the music business. Pick up some music industry books from the library, subscribe to music industry blogs like Hypebot, Reverbnation, Passive Promotion, Music Think Tank, and attend music events. Email one music blogger or industry contact a day, and build a relationship.
Don’t rely on getting found – find the opportunities yourself
Nowadays, success in the music business rarely comes from getting stopped by a record label A&R scout at the end of one of your sets. You have to get out and find the opportunities yourself. Where do you find opportunities? That’s where the point above comes in – you have to learn which licensing companies can help you get your music on TV, which websites are the best for finding gigs, which sites offer the most effective music promotion. Reading blogs & following music business professionals on Twitter will teach you all of this.
How do I stop my age from holding me back?
You are never too young, just too inexperienced.
It’s not that your age is 14 or 15 that holds you back; it’s the fact that 14 or 15 year olds generally don’t have as much experience as older musicians, and experience is valuable.
I have been in your situation, at 19 years old I started a corporate job that involved presenting to hundreds of 40+ year olds, telling them how to spend their marketing budgets. Of course, their first reaction would have been “why are we taking marketing advice from a 19 year old who hasn’t even been to university?” so here’s what I did.
I let my work talk for itself. I knew that being 19 would mean nothing IF my work was considered to be exceptional, so I worked hard to make it exceptional. One person even tweeted “this guy is half the age of the other presenters, but twice as good!” during one of my talks, which confirmed o me that you are never too young, just too inexperienced.
As a young artist, don’t tell people your age to begin with – let them listen to your music first and then wow them with “oh and I’m only 14 years old”!
How do I convince my parents / teachers that I want to be a musician?
This is probably the toughest question for me to answer, and the only way I can really offer an opinion is by telling you how I did it.
When I was 13 I joined my first band and knew from then onwards that I wanted to be a musician. I got into a mindset of knowing that I would never have a fixed salary and that I’d have to fend for myself, and learn how to get gigs, promote music, and all of the rest.
Years went by, and I got several record deals, and eventually launched my own record label. My parents were supportive of me, but my school wasn’t. While I did quite well at school, my teachers couldn’t swallow the fact that I wanted to be a musician.
I got past this by remembering
• Life is short; spend it doing what you enjoy.
• Whatever you choose to do, people will tell you that you’re wrong.
• No one knows what your dream is better than you.
• 100,000’s of people make a living from music. Surely I could be one of them if I worked hard enough.
• Worst case scenario, I’ll learn some valuable life lessons and can always try something else later.