Lies You Believe About Music

author: CobenBlack date: 12/14/2011 category: junkyard

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Warning, this article is the best part of 3000 words long. I don't do shortwinded. If you have the attention span of particularly slow fish I wouldn't even bother starting. So what's the deal then? We all know that the record industry sells us lies to convince us to buy things we aren't actually that bothered about owning. We know that the image of just about any musician is getting to the stage where it's simply a parody of the musical genre that no-one seems to have found funny yet. Check out Vanilla Ice for more on this. So Coben, what are you going to tell us about the music industry lies to us about now? Well . . . Lie 1. If you are work hard then you'll get famous This is pretty much supported by every interview you've ever read. You know that band that you watched grow from being a pub band playing to 4 people that are about to head out on a headline tour of stadiums? They're doing an interview and they're thanking the fans that have been there since the beginning, and talking about how hard it's been to get to this stage. Their hard work is finally paying off though and finally they will be able to play the shows they always dreamed of. Good for them. The truth: What happens is that people read the interviews and the subtext is that hard work will get you signed, and get you distributed and get you into the charts or on a headline tour of huge venues, but the truth is, every band talks about it in every interview because the music industry demands hard work. We infer the wrong correlation in the career path. While we believe hard work gets a reward, the truth is that the minimum level for success is hard work. Not a single band out there made it without working hard. Does this mean that you will succeed if you put in that work though? No. There are millions of bands that have given everything and found it to not be enough. Why is there this scewed view then? Because of every single interview you ever read. How many interviews have you read where someone worked hard and didn't make it? None. We infer that it must be because hard work = reward, but the truth is that bands that don't make it don't get interviewed. How has this myth become so prevalent then? Well like I mention above, it's simply reinforced in every interview because everyone in the music industry works hard. The reason this crops up in every interview though is because of marketing. Remember that time people became famous with seemingly no effort and they called it American idol? Remember the amount of hate and loathing they got from rock crowds? That's because there is an image in rock music that bands must struggle to get where they are. It gets you respect. The record labels have to show their bands have struggled through difficult circumstances to get to where they were, they had to put everything on the line and take gambles because you are a rock fan and you expect that. If music is just a part time hobby of theirs but it's a massive hobby of yours then you're going to find it harder to relate to them. Both the record industry and Hollywood thrive on this particular brand of motivational message. If you work hard, you can achieve anything! Sure you can't achieve anything without it, but there have been millions who made all the right decisions, tried their hardest and dedicated themselves to it and never got anywhere with it, but we are programmed to believe that we can achieve the unachievable every time we see it done in film or in the form of a band making it big. Lie 2. Work on your own style and you'll make it if you're unique enough. Jimi Hendrix helped break psychadelic and hard rock music, the beatles broke pop music and then later all sorts of weird stuff, the beach boys started playing music with a surf edge, black Sabbath had a heavier sound formed by an industrial accident and created metal, depressed people in the 90's created grunge and more recently djent is becoming popular because it has a unique sound. The subtext is clear new styles of music with a new sound will revolutionise music. The truth this is just so wrong. Similarly to the first lie, this is something that occurs in our own minds because we see the effects of the bands that made it big and don't see the bands that didn't make it. There are millions of musicians piloting a sound that we've probably never even considered before and it will never make any tiny bit of difference to anything. It may change the world, but in all likelihood it will fall flat on its ass. The truth is that the music industry tends to move in cycles. Step 1: There is a mainstream style of music Step 2: People start getting bored of it Step 3: A band that hated that type of music gets big because they've found a fan base that's also getting sick of it. Step 4: They strike a chord with a large audience having been given exposure and get popular Step 5: Record Labels start signing more bands similar in sound to that band because they are selling well Step 6: Everyone gets sick of those guys too If you're in the right band at the right time then you'll make it for being just the right sort of different. Then you'll tell everyone to just make the music they love and that'll work for them because that's what worked for you and that's not wrong, but the reason you'd have got famous isn't because you did something different it's because you signified something marketable at the time you were most active and had a strong existing fan base. If you want to hear an example of a band who were brilliantly talented musicians, who made music that was very different then just check out focus and their song hocus pocus. for those of you who can't be bothered watching the video, focus were essentially a mad prog band who liked to add yodeling to their songs as well as flutes and . . . well anything else they could fit in. They were just a pair of lederhosen short of being traditional german prog folk metal before that actually became a real genre. They're just about the only band I can think of who don't fit into this pattern. They were different, they got a fan base, but you don't see many bands that list them as an influence now. Lie 3. If you're good at your instrument then you'll get work in the industry, you'll be able to join lot's of bands and/ or make lot's of money/ have sex with lots of groupies. The truth hahaha! Let's look at this from an objective perspective. Two of the most famous virtuoso's in the guitar world are probably Steve Vai and Joe Satriani. You may argue that there are people better and that's fine and also completely missing the point. The point is they are probably the most prominent virtuoso's in the world. They get a lot of endorsements, they're on just about every list of best guitarists ever, they are rated by just about any guitarist who has heard them, they are on the front cover of magazines. By any standards of reckoning, they are probably the biggest guitar heroes we have left. How successful are they though really? Think about any time you may have seen them, these guys get more press to their core group of fans or people who may like their music than any other type of musician in the world. The endorsement deal is the same for Steve Vai as it is for Taylor Swift talking about her cat on twitter. It gets attention from people who like pedals and would therefore be interested in a musician who uses it, and she will gain attention from people who's sole interest is cats. They get attention all the time from the exact market they target and how big a set of venues do they play? They're not exactly playing stadiums, but the thing is, these guys are the top of the rung. You want to be great at your instrument, that's awesome and I encourage it, but there is a belief that being good at what you do is going to be the way to get known, and it's simply not true. The truth is, as you will probably find if you ever go to a party and play a guitar to the average casual music listener, that once you get past the level that Ultimate Guitar readers would probably consider OK, you are too good at guitar for these sorts of things. You will get no recognition for amazing shred sweeps, but will get all sorts of female erogenous zone access if you are playing some Adele. There is a law of diminishing returns when it comes to skill and the truth is you're probably past it if you just want to write music most people will enjoy. Advice Stop working on guitar playing for a while and work on song writing skills. It's surprisingly complex and even bands you hate will probably have this down better than you if you focus on technique more than song writing. Further proof lady gaga is a great pianist did anyone care? Nope. Works on songwriting and makes some catchy tunes and then reinforces with an image that allows free publicity and suddenly she gets famous! Jeff Beck, despite having more control over the guitar than almost anyone else in the universe was most famous in The Yardbirds because he replaced Clapton and was replaced by Jimmy Page, since then most people seem to have forgotten about him. Eddy Van Halen helped introduce tapping to a wide audience which helped him with guitarists, but they didn't start playing stadiums till they had a few catchy singles under their belt. In fact the entire 80's despite being a period of shredding masters also involved most heavy rock bands releasing a ballad just to stay financially afloat. An entire decade proving that technical prowess is more of a hindrance than a help. While learning your craft and learning it well is an amazing thing to do, the belief that it will help you in music is just plain wrong. Lie 4. You can't make it Contrary to every other point in this list, I believe it is possible to make it. I've known plenty of people who've had the big record deal, people who have made a living as working musicians and have generally got the career they wanted. Whatever music you make, with 7 billion people in the world all you need to do is find 0.001 percent of the world population who flip their burgers over it and you'll make enough money to make a career from music. Truth. I see this like best friends. I make weird jokes, weird music and generally weird statements a lot and no one ever got it, but one day I met someone who went on to be my best friend. He understood every joke I made, even the ones that I'd forgotten were jokes. He understood not only what I was doing, but why I was doing things, and I guarantee with so many people in the world, there are people somewhere who will. Here's the deal though, you might make it, but it may not necessarily be on your terms. The people that I've known who've made it, for the most part had to compromise on their music. Sometimes they had to go the digital route when all they really wanted was to play live, sometimes they had to tame their music a little, sometimes they became session musicians and played with just about everyone whether they liked it or not. It is possible to make it, but that doesn't necessarily mean that's what you want. The best way to achieve your goal is to work out what you want and why. If you want to play to stadiums full of people then your instinct may be to find a band and try and make it huge, but the best idea to achieve this goal may actually become a session musician and play the stadiums for someone else. If you are set on making your own music and being successful with it though then the best advice I can give is to work out who it appeals to because it will appeal to someone. For example, 80's style heavy metal pretty much died here in the UK at the end of the 80's (though I'm keeping the candle burning) and we pretty much figure that's it, however, in a lot of countries in Asia such as India and Pakistan, bands like Iron Maiden are gaining a huge following. Believe it or not it's true. Motorhead when playing in the UK play to about 2000 people usually, but when they go to Sweden and finland they play stadiums as headliners. They have a following they can capitalise on with Vikings. Vikings dig the Ace of Spades, it's good for drinking mead to. See the thing is, music that's not as popular in one place may make people insane with lust in another because of culture and/ or social constructs. If you're a shredder, your spiritual home is probably Japan right now (See Paul Gilbert and Marty Friedman.) For you though, that may not help. You're stuck in Delaware and everyone hates your music, so what do you do? Well there's the Internet. Find sites where your target market hang out and talk and get it linked to them, make sure they know all about your musical tastes. I have a friend who makes video game music and he's picking up a following by hanging out in sonic forums and posting covers of sonic the hedgehog songs and then linking his own music. What if you want to play live? Well think outside the box. Where would my friend play? Where do people seriously into games hang out? Conventions. He's trying to get on the bill for a few Sonic Conventions in the next year and the great thing about it? The people who go to them support the games with everything they have, his music is similar in style and since it's been linked a group of people given to a hardcore following of something are probably going to follow him. The traditional method of making it is insanely difficult simply because you are competing with so many people, but the truth is, you will be able to get a following or achieve what you want to achieve if you're honest about what it is you're looking to get from your music and you are willing to do what it takes to achieve that. I personally found that my opinion of making it in music is very different to anyone else's. I don't want people to buy my music, I don't want to have to spend ages convincing people who don't want to come to my gigs to come and have a lousy time. I just want to play and once I realized that the answer became quite simple I busk. It's not traditional success, but it hits everything I wanted it to. If you hate the article enough to complain to me personally then feel free to visit my website at or my blog and leave hate filled rants.
More CobenBlack columns:
+ Why Music Doesn't Exist Junkyard 01/09/2012
+ Your Misunderstanding Of Image Explained Junkyard 01/06/2012
+ Tales From The Road Junkyard 12/08/2011
+ The Argument For Music Junkyard 11/30/2011
+ Writing Much Better Songs Junkyard 11/09/2011
+ Issues With Local Music Business General Music 10/21/2011
+ view all
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