music morsels August 2006 


by Mark E. Waterbury

if you are a musician, boy! do you need it

There is not a person on God’s green earth who does not have to face adversities in their lives. Adversity is part of being human, it is how each individual handles adversities that often shapes what kind of person they are. Musicians face adversities, perhaps more so than a lot of other careers, because being an artist, they have chosen a life’s path that involves others being critical of their craft. It involves taking risks and sailing into uncharted waters just to try to get your name out. This definitely opens up potential flood gates for adversities. Musicians have to learn how to not just roll with the punches, but to take them square in the jaw without getting floored. They need to have thick skin.

In order to develop thick skin in regard to your music career, you have to learn to keep your ego in check. This we have discussed before, and it is important to the fledgeling musician or band because everything is just not going to be perfect for you, even if you think you are going to be the next big star. You may have built a nice fan base in your home area, and enjoy getting in front of a couple hundred fans who know and love your music and treat you as such. When you hit the road the first time however, this is likely not to be the case. You may play in front of the bar staff, the other band’s girlfriends, and the obligatory drunk yelling “Freebird!” all night. OK, that is an extreme example, but it can happen. If you make just a few fans in each venue the first time you foray away from your home area, it is important to go back again to keep building your fan base. However, some musicians get disheartened or angry when they tour and they don’t have adoring fans flocking to their show. They feel it is not worth it to play that club again. Unless the club itself was truly a bad place to play, you can’t have this attitude. You have to look at the positives; that you did gain some fans, and if you stay in touch with them and let them know about your next time through the area, the next gig will improve and the progression towards building a fan base has started.

The Rolling Stones may have said it best with their epic hit “You Can’t Always Get What You Want.” This is true of life in general and often very true in the music business. So when you go to play gigs, head into the recording studios, do a radio interview or whatever you are doing to grow your popularity, you may think that everything is going to go perfect for you. While you should not necessarily be one of those negative thinking cynics that believe bad things are going to constantly happen, you also have to be wary that everything may not go perfect. This will help you to deal with any adversities thrown at you and build the thicker skin necessary to shrug it off and shoulder on. There are too many musicians out there that, to put it quite bluntly, are cry babies, They whine incessantly about factors they often cannot control and pout when everything does not go their way. These types of musicians tend to be more controlled by the bad sectors of their ego, which weakens their skin to deal with adversities because they believe in their mind that everything should be perfect for them all the time. That PA system the new club you are playing at may not be perfect. The DJ at the radio station who is interviewing you may bump you to another time and not tell you about this until you've been in the station’s lobby for an hour. The recording studio your label sent you to may not have a lounge area designed after the Taj Mahal. Some musicians wine and stomp their feet and wring their hands, or even get indignant with a “how dare you treat me like that” attitude towards whoever created the dilemma. Those who have thick skin deal with the situation in the best way possible and dismiss it as just another bump in the road of life. Whining and sulking about a situation you feel is unacceptable is not going to help you resolve anything or grow the tough skin you need to deal with the inevitable next adversity.

Now that we have dealt with dealing with basic adversities, we come to the big “C”; the adverse part of their careers that many musicians seem to have real problems with: Criticism. Criticism is part of everyone’s life, because none of us are perfect. Everyone has been criticized by parents, teachers, bosses, and many other people who have been ingrained in their every day lives. Criticism is even more prevalent for those who have chosen the arts as their field of endeavor. There are people in the media hired solely to be critics of music, film, visual arts and restaurants. Everyone wants to think their music, their labor of love that they have put their heart and soul into, is a masterpiece. Unfortunately, some critics may not agree. They may not like your music just because of musical tastes. If you look for reviews on the internet, this is a breeding ground for people who love to rip any piece of music that floats their way from stem to stern. Even some journalists in daily newspapers or national publications get off by being overly critical. If you get a bad review of your music, this is something you have to shrug off. There are people who are going to rip you, even if your CD is the next “White Album.” You have to expect this and, instead of letting it bother you too much, you need to focus on the good reviews. A bad review is no reason to crawl into a corner in an ego bursting fit of self-loathing. The bad review is just someone’s opinion and everyone has their own opinions.  It does not mean that everyone is going to think that way.

Some journalists will criticize your music, but in a less belligerent fashion. Maybe your production was not the greatest, or the vocals sounded a bit muddled, or the drumming was not dynamic enough. This is called “constructive criticism” and is the most important kind of criticism you can get. Constructive criticism can also come from those business professionals working to help advance your career. Your manager may tell you you need to put on a more intense show while on stage. Your label may say you have to be more aggressive in your interaction with fans. Your publicist may tell you to be more clear and concise in your interviews. When these people tell you this, they are trying to help you improve your overall music persona. They are often times experienced professionals who are giving you this advice because they have seen it work for others. Most  importantly, they care about you and your music.  Unfortunately, many musicians can’t even handle that kind of criticism.  You even see this on the popular TV show "Rock Star," where some of the contestants believe that the famous members of Supernova, who have every right to be picky about who they want to front their band, are being overly critical. Some musicians tend to think everyone in their camp needs to tell them how great they are and how perfect everything is. This is what your significant others and your family members are for. The professionals on your business team are only trying to help you, and you need to heed their advice when they dispense constructive criticism. Often times, the best of friends are the ones who tell you when you are going astray, because they care about you. Your professional team can be the best of friends at times, and you need to treat them that way. If your skin is so flimsy that you can’t even tolerate the constructive criticism that those who care about your career give you, how can you have thick enough skin to deal with journalists who may shred your music in a review? Or the adversities that are inevitable?

It boils down to the old “glass half empty” or “glass half full” mentality, The glass half empty types shed every little adversity in such a negative light that they are ill-prepared to handle the next bump in the road. Musicians have to always be the glass half full type and stay focused on the positive. They have to take the punches, and accept and heed constructive criticism if they are going to survive. Plain and simple, if you do not have thick skin in the music biz, your survival chances are minimal at best.
Division of Serge Entertainment Group