music morsels

Adam Rich

October 2006 


Working with people, not against them

by Mark E. Waterbury

Rodney King’s famous words have been bastardized and used in both humorous and wishful aspects ever since he intoned them in the wake of the 1992 L.A. riots. There are many applications to ponder why everyone can’t just get along. Some may want to apply this to nations or religions, especially considering current world events. Maybe more people could get along overall on a grander scale if they just attempted to undertake it in smaller avenues first, with those who they interact with on daily or frequent basis.

O.K., I’ll get off the proverbial soap box now. Where this is leading is the interactions between bands, musicians and their fellow peers, and bands and the professionals in the music industry. On the indie level, it is paramount that bands, musicians, and business professionals not only get along, but work together to help each other as much as possible. Everyone should realize that it is an immense struggle for indies against the giant corporate machinery that represents the major label sector of the music biz. The cliche that there is strength in numbers rings true here, and there are plenty more indie bands and indie music professionals then there are major label personnel and signees. The more indie and unsigned bands and musicians help each other and work and network together, the better the chances they are all going to achieve success with their careers, whether they get signed to a major or not.

The problem is, not only do some musicians and bands not work with others to strengthen the overall indie music scene, they work against them. Of course, bands and musicians want to have a certain competitive spirit in regard to other acts. What this spirit should feed is to ensure you are making the best recordings, putting on the best shows, and showing integrity in all facets of how you are pursuing your music career. Some musicians however feel that their best recourse in success is to stab other bands in the back - badmouthing them, ripping flyers down, and generally throwing negativity their way to make their own bands look better.  Putting down other bands or musicians does not improve your situation. Most psychiatrists agree that people who too often put down others only do so to try to gloss over their own shortcomings. Whether this is true or not about your band, if you keep putting others down, some people are likely to start wondering what you are hiding. It also weakens the overall indie music scene. Think of today’s political climate as an example. The past few presidential and congressional elections have been far more based on the two major parties smearing each other and fueling the fire with as much negativity as they can, rather than concentrating on addressing the issues. Has this helped either party? No; on the contrary, what it has done is created a burgeoning mistrust of politicians in general, no matter which party they belong to. This translates into a music scene if too many musicians bad mouth each other. A lot of people tend to think most musicians are flakes, and this type of negativity can help exemplify those thoughts. You need to follow the cliche that if you can’t say anything good about someone, don’t say anything. There may be some cases where a band has done something flagrantly dishonest or bad enough that yes, others do need to be warned about it. Most negativity from other musicians though is bred through jealousy and arrogance, and this is the type of negativity you need to avoid.

Rather than putting each other down, musicians should be helping each other up. If you are an indie musician and you really need to focus on fighting an enemy to further your career, then you need to look at the major label world in that light. Most indies are not going to join that world, so it makes far more sense to band together for the betterment of all bands and musicians in a scene, whether you are in New York or Tucumcari. One way bands can help each other is to become fans of each other. If you don’t have a gig one night, go see other bands, and try to get your fans to come with you. You can help their draw look better, which will help them garner integrity with the club owners, and if your fans like them, they have new fans. Interact with them before or after the show, give them your schedule, talk shop, show interest and support in each other. They are likely to be reciprocal the next time your band is playing on their off night. Most indie band’s fan bases start with family, friends, and OTHER musicians. This is a very simple way to help each other gain further success. If you are on a bill at a club or event with one or more other bands, try to pool your promotional resources. Get everyone together to form a massive street team getting flyers and hand bills out, and generally spreading the word. Maybe you can even pool some money together for advertising. In the music business, you should be scratching each others backs, not slipping knives in there.

Indie bands and musicians also need to change their perceptions on professionals in the music industry. First of all, there is no denying that there are crooks in the music business who want to do nothing more than separate musicians from their hard earned money. That is why it is important for you to first check the credentials of any professional you may want to work with. But there are crooks in EVERY business, not just the music business. This being said, there are far less crooks in the indie music scene than musicians sometimes think there are. Most indie professionals are in it because they love music and have great respect for those who create it. Granted, they need to make a living, too, but they are far more likely to help you, make sacrifices for you and take less of your piece of the pie than a major label would. They are not rich people driving around in Rolls Royces and yachting to Bermuda for their vacations. Their dedication is more personal and targeted with you so you should consider them and treat them as friends, because that is how they tend to feel towards you. Some musicians however have this misguided conception that absolutely all music business professionals are evil crooks bent on stealing from them. Some actually have an indignant, distorted credo - fueled by the bad sectors of their egos most likely - that since it is THEIR art THEY should get all the money from the selling of it. Face it musicians; you NEED professionals helping you with your career. That is going to take some monetary investment from you, whether it is money paid up front to a PR firm or radio promoter, or commissions paid to managers or booking agents. Anyone who produces art of any type still has to pay those who are helping get their art out to other people. Do you think a novelist gets every penny of every book they sell? Do you believe painters or photographers don’t have to give some piece of the pie to others who help sell their works? That is the part of the business side of music you have to work in harmony with. Very rarely do you see a musician or band achieve any real success without involving business professionals on some level. The people doing it completely by themselves may say, "yeah, see, I keep the whole $15 I sold this CD for." If they only sell ten CDs because no one was helping them spread the word, is that really success? A former boss once told me that he would rather make $1 off of ten people than $10 off of one person. Today, this gentleman is one of the more successful businessmen in his city. This kind of philosophy can work for indie musicians as well. It is all part of the investing in your career ideals, but you have to get it out of your head thinking all business professionals are crooks. Many are there to help you, and it would be a mistake to dismiss them by way of a sweeping generalization and misconception.

Also, to be quite frank, there are dishonest musicians out there as well, so it is not like musicians can get on their high horses when speaking of business professionals dishonesties. A household name musician who is highly respected and everyone would know if I mentioned his name, said in a national magazine a couple years ago that in his experience there are more musicians that are thieves than business people. It is true that there are musicians who do not pay their commissions to agents or managers when they should, or refuse to pay back investments or loans from their professional team. It is strange, but often times musicians that are dishonest in this aspect are the ones crowing the loudest about what big thieves industry professionals are. Some of these actions are also driven by a musician's ego, as some seem to think that because they are so talented, the world owes them a living, and show no appreciation for what others do for them because they feel it is standard and owed to them. This is a very destructive mode of thought, because eventually you will have no one wanting to work with you.  Just as bands and musicians need to work with each other in harmony and honesty, the bands and professionals need to work together that way as well.

There is back stabbing, thievery and dishonesty in all walks of life, and in the music business, it often seems to be a more voracious negative aspect. That does not mean you have to follow the path of those who continue to act this way. Sometimes dishonest people or those who backstab or refuse to help others may taste a quicker success. Whether you believe in it or not, karma is very prevalent in the music business, and what goes around does very often come around. That success can come crashing down for them once their dishonesty is exposed. Those who are more honest and caring about others may have to suffer and struggle a bit more at first, but if they stay on that course, good things are bound to happen for them. So it is best to be honest, work hard, help others, and form bonds that strengthen your ability to create a success for yourself in the tough music industry. We all CAN get along, and work to the betterment of everyone involved.

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