For Love Or Money

The question that often bothers musicians is that it all comes down to a question of what sells instead of what you like personally and what you're capable of doing in terms of composition and technicality.

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"Hey Tom, I wanted/needed to e-mail you because I have some frustrating questions in terms of music and the mainstream music business and I just wanted to get some insight from you. Here it goes! Well for years now, besides practicing until my fingers bleed, all I could think about is how do I establish myself as a respectable guitarist and a musician. The thing that bothers me is that someday I would love to release me own neoclassical album, but these days I realize that in the United States that high tech guitarists are not as admired as much here unless the music genre magically changes or if it was the 1980's again. But it bothers me that it all comes down to a question of what sells instead of what you like personally and what you're capable of doing in terms of composition and technicality. That ticks me off! I want to make sure that I keep my own musical integrity and show my full musical abilities that have taken me years to perfect, instead of holding back playing re-arranged power chords just to please the audience. For most people, if the music is not played on the radio, they don't want to hear it. I have my very own expectations in what I could do to make a killer song, but because if it's not like Blink 182 material or something like Disturbed it wont be respected. But I just wanted your point of view what you think about what to do in these case scenarios. I mean I am stuck between personal passion and simply what sells and this really sucks." Your points are excellent and many musicians that want to make music at a very high level (or want to make music in style that is not popular) ask these sorts of questions. Just because your style of music is not very popular in your country does not mean it is not more popular somewhere else in the world. It's true, we don't live in 1986 anymore, but some countries still do (I'm referring only to the fact that music styles that were popular in the US during the 1980s are popular in other countries). Speaking from my own experience, I sell about 300% more CDs in Japan than I have in the United States. I sell more of my CDs in Europe than in the US also (I have been there several times though). This trend of American high caliber guitarists selling more CDs overseas is widespread and very common now. We could all just get discouraged about the severe lack of popularity of great guitar music here in the US but that would probably lead most people to give up trying to make a living at what they really want to do. The best advice I can give you on this is: If people in your area can't/won't appreciate what you do then don't try to force them. Move on and find where your potential fans are. If that means that you need to focus your efforts in Europe or Asia or anywhere else, then that's what you need to do. Of course it would be great to have a lot of fans here in the US because that is the country that a lot of live in and it is also the richest country in the world, but when it really comes down to it, who cares where your fans are going to be from. A fan is a fan. And besides, its really really cool to get CD orders, fan mail, fan e-mail, etc. write ups in guitar magazines and web sites from all over the world every day. The world is a very very big place, so even if a tiny percentage of the population would like cool guitar music, that translates into potentially hundreds of thousands (if not millions) of people. Marty Freidman now lives in Tokyo, Yngwie's huge mansion estate is largely funded by his platinum album sales in Japan. Mr. Big (who became almost forgotten here in the US) were mega huge in Japan. Look how big classic heavy metal is in Germany (Manowar sells out stadiums there - they are bigger than Metallica!)! In China, I've read, disco is extremely popular (disco!) The point here is no matter what you want to do there will always be people somewhere that are going to think it's cool. Let's get back to talking about the USA. In recent years bands like The Beatles, Led Zeppelin, Black Sabbath, etc. have been selling a lot of CDs. Do you think its because people in their mid-30s to early 40s are buying these CDs now? Well that's part of it, but a lot of the new popularity is driven by kids (teenagers). Why is this happening you ask? Because their parents grew up listening to that music and have turned their kids onto these bands. So what might that mean for us? Well think about what was the next generation in rock/metal music after these mid-late '70s bands. Yes, it's the 1980s. Back in the '80s a lot of people started playing guitar and listened to cool players like Van Halen, Randy Rhoades, Yngwie Malmsteen, etc. That generation is older now and most have their own kids who are 5-12 years old, but it won't be long before these kids get into their teenage years and start getting into music. My guess is that a lot of these kids will be influenced by what their parents listened to (the 1980s) and the ones that did play guitar may encourage their kids to play. All of this could translate into a new interest in great guitar players, not only for the older players like Yngwie and Van Halen but for great guitar playing in general. The new generation of guitar virtuosos may have a built in fan base in a few years that just needs a few more years to blossom. But the real issue here is how deeply is what you want to do in your heart? When it comes down to it, a true artist must follow his/her heart always. So in the end, it doesn't matter what will sell or not, all that matters is that you follow your own desires and manifest those into reality on an artistic level. There are other ways to do this on an economic/career level, but whether that part is successful is not nearly as relevant to a true artists as the art itself. Having said all of that, the next issue for most artists is the practicality of paying to make your artistic music. Let's face it, making good quality recordings and music is expensive, so unless you have a lot of extra money to spend on your art, you are going to need some money coming in to pay for it all. If you are looking for this money to come from your musical abilities, then you may need to do other things (separate from your art) to generate the money. Most excellent players end up teaching guitar eventually, but many resort to playing other kinds of music that will bring in money such as playing in a cover band, wedding band or another band that is already generating money that is popular. On a more professional level, getting on someone's tour or album who is at least mid-level in the business (mid-level = means hundreds of thousands of CDs sold and on a label) or with an independent that is selling at least 40,000 CDs and doing some touring in specialized markets. There are, of course, many other ways in which money can be made in this business. Tom Hess is a professional virtuoso guitarist and teacher. He has toured in many countries through out the world. To find out more check out the official Tom Hess web site. See Tom Hess on the HolyHell world tour in 2006. Tour dates posted here. Copyright 2005 by Tom Hess. All rights reserved. Used by permission.

79 comments sorted by best / new / date

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    Pulsoni
    Ordinary people who do not understand music like simple songs because they are easy to remember and because they have programed to like them by the music industry. If all of the sudden, Radio station and Music video stations switched to playing talented and original guitar songs , so that that was the only thing people could listen to, people would end up liking it once it was pounded into there heads enough times. The music industry has the power to make people like whatever they want.
    savy11
    Isn't the whole point of being a musician entertaining people? Shouldn't you strive to give the audience what they want rather than jack your guitar off for your own pleasure? You should think of what the audience wants first, then beef up the guitar part with what you know (but if you have a 6 minute guitar duel the entire audience will leave, or throw beer bottles at you). It's selfish to just want to show off - music is not a sport. It doesn't matter how good you are; you're not competing with anyone. Your goal is to entertain and enlighten, and you won't do either if you only care about showing off your guitar skills. I give this one the dreaded score of 1.
    well said
    Stryker_66
    I hate to rain on the persons frustration, but the real world works in a way that is not gonna mold to the way you want. Goals have to be specific when it comes to music. I get irrated at the jack offs who say "oh, I play for the love of it" and yet they are out there trying to ENTERTAIN a crowd. Call spade a spade here. If you love music that much, there are many musicians out there who are just as happy playing without the recogonition and money. My point is, have specifics goals and go after them, but also understand that the world can be a tough place to thrive. If you are looking to fame and fortune, the first avenue to success in this regard is that you have to understand demographics, money and the business side to it. You cannot just be a musician alone.
    lprophetsN8
    i aggree totally with Pulsoni. another point to consider: why do you think the major labels are taking less and less risks with new bands these days?? they know what sells right now because what what they're selling now is selling like CRAZY. its all about money for the labels, nothing else. They're a business, just like anything else. it would be nice to see the radio stations switch over to talented musicians with original, non-mainstream music though! Another thing: i've noticed that the people who are posting in this particular forum have been arguing between playing what you want to play for the love of it, or for selling out and playing only what audiences want to hear (essentially, right?) well, here's a possible solution: DO WHAT YOU WANT TO DO. you want to play what you want to play for the love of it? go ahead. you want to sell out and play what audiences want to hear?? be my guest. my personal opinion though: america is growing more politically correct and similar by the day. you'd have a lot of respect in my book if you dared to be different (NON-mainstream).
    lprophetsN8
    i think it does that by accident if you dont log in before you click Post a comment! if you click it when youre not logged in, it has you log in first, and then it just processes it twice, i guess
    Irenic Retral
    If someone thinks they need to play what the audience wants them to play, then so be it. Others play what they want, in the end, we're doing what we want.
    Letterbomb11
    Honestly, it's a balance of both love and money, really. Just like 19th century marriage.
    mondomania
    like I always say "in music you can do whatever you want" thats what makes music so varied and rich$$$$ and to be able to make money off of it. TITS. BY the way i believe people should listen to more classical stuff,andes segovia rocks
    Midnight 260
    Lets Look at the morons and retarded kids we have on this fine web lets take it line by line....
    Isn't the whole point of being a musician entertaining people?
    I always the part about being a musician was making MUSIC, i know its a daring concept but seeing as people who make music are called MUSICians and not Entertainers (most the time), you whole theory bout the only reason they are there is to entertain other people is total crap.
    Shouldn't you strive to give the audience what they want rather than jack your guitar off for your own pleasure?
    I don't remember the article saying anything about jacking off your guitar for someones own pleasure. I think your an ignorant fool who doesn't understand one thing about music or theory. Or the fact that most shredders or fast gutiarists in general are not just wanking around not knowing what they are doing.
    You should think of what the audience wants first, then beef up the guitar part with what you know (but if you have a 6 minute guitar duel the entire audience will leave, or throw beer bottles at you). I guarentee you that if you have two good guitarists in a band, and at one point in the set, the solo portion, they duel, the audience will cheer. [quote] It's selfish to just want to show off - music is not a sport.
    To go back to your theory about entertaining people. People who go up there and bash out power chords, that virtually anyone could do, and take zero effort is not very entertaining. You have to understand that showing off when you're playing live is understandable...
    It doesn't matter how good you are; you're not competing with anyone. Your goal is to entertain and enlighten, and you won't do either if you only care about showing off your guitar skills. I give this one the dreaded score of 1.
    Wait wait wait. Music is in fact somewhat of a competetion. Your competing for fan bases and money. If your a shitty apathetic band you won't get anywhere. I give you a score of 1. Dumbass
    Adamus9
    I don't think the title is misleading it says some play because they love to play and some play for the money. It also says that your genre might not be around you but the title is not misleading
    aldude
    idealistically its all about the music, but the fact is, you need money to survive. and to besides, its kind of self centered to only make music you are happy with, while not caring about what the audience wants. in fact why would you play the guitar just for the music when you can just listen to awesome music. obviously people usually have dreams of world fame and rocking out for millions. if you actually like music more than quality of life than something must be wrong. its best to balance the 2 out. whatever im just ranting
    JkHalen
    Ramco wrote: instead of holding back playing re-arranged power chords just to please the audience. Isn't the whole point of being a musician entertaining people?
    No, the point of being a muscician is to entertain yourself and do what you love the most, not what everybody demands even if it's not what you like. The point of a concert is to expand your music AND entertain people.
    Fargalas
    I know Hess isn't reading this, considering is says "used with permission" up there.... But still. Great. I have more confidence in truly pursuing the music I like, instead of the stuff on MTV. Classically blessed metal for ALL!!!
    costa94
    so many mainstream bands have some of the worst guiatr playing ever, but people like their music. it doesnt matter how good you are at playing an instrument, in todays society most of it is about lyrics. most of the greatest guitar players in the world never get big because no one needs them, people only care about flashy power chords and singing. almost anyone can be in a band like greenday, but it takes alot more effort and time to be able to create music that isnt jsut power chords and mindsless singing, and that people will actualy listen to.
    ex-****ing-actl y people dont get it its easy to create catchy music with lyrics and poppy sort of stuff but a prime example of john petrucci! i jsut got the g3 dvd and its ****in incredible but i dont liek vai too much hes too much of a jerkoff showoff kind of guy but petruci is modest and dosent show off but its truly amazing at his intrument and makes awesome music
    jklsadj;sadjfak
    it sucks, but its just the way it is. you cant make money out of entertaining yourself. id have to do a type of music i like, but i would definatly compromise it if it meant never having to sit in a cubicle 9 hours a day or working in construction all my life. i just love playing guitar, if i could do it for a living it would be the greatest thing ever.....so yes, id sell out faster you can say ****.
    Punk as atticus
    for me, i just write what i feel. sometimes its a ballad and it sounds a lot like gnr/ozzy and could prbly be on the radio, other times i'm angry and i write a completely aggressive and hostile metal song which wouldn't be on the radio. for me i'm a versatile writer, and w/e i feel can come out. other times i'll be writing a classical-influenced song or a blues or jazz song. i just do w/e the **** i feel like. i definitely am not in it for writing mainstream stuff like emo and stuff on mtv, i want to write what i like but sometimes it comes out something that could be on the radio its just not mainstream right now.
    damnation
    To me, technically proficient guitarists make me want to play even more. I can play stuff now that three years ago I was like "that's ****ing impossible". But now, I look at it and 5 mintues later I've got it nailed. I mean, I guess it just comes down to what gets your dick hard when you listen to music. Everyone's saying "people don't like technical guitarists like Vai & Satriani" and "no, people like simple guitar songs with great lyrics" but MOST albums sales these days are from "artists" that don't even have GUITARS in their friggin songs. Does that mean we're all supposed to sell our guitars so we can buy turntables? I dunno, I'm no expert, I just like what I like. I like the bands Murderdolls and Rage Against the Machine, but they don't have the most technical songs ever written. Murderdolls have got some pretty tech solo's and RATM have a few tricky riffs, but nothing mind bendingly impossible like Kirk Hammett or Vai or whoever else. But I love Led Zeppelin, Metallica, Opeth, Slayer, Black Sabbath, Hendrix and all those bands have crazy guitar playing, some bands more than others. But just because I like Murderdolls and RATM doesn't mean I like all simple music, such as anything emo or core, because they're really simple and it just seems like a poser trend in music that will die off. The lyrics part of it just seems to be appealling to a "niche" in the market. That would be our generation filled with "pain" *cough*. But stuff like Linkin Park is like that, it's not emo, but it's all pain and sadness lyrics, with very little to say as to the technical aspect of it. Green Day has turned into one of those bands I reckon too... Ah well. I think this is one of those things where it comes down to who you are, everyone will have an individual response to this.
    damnation
    Oh and if you want to play for the crowds, and not the artistry, admit it, be proud. If you're in it for the money... then shame on you. But i don't think there's anything specifically wrong with wanting to entertain people. Don't be some friggin poser that's like "I'm just in it because I'm an artist and want to express myself" because it's obvious to the audience, and especially the musical community that you're not just in it for the music. I'm more of an artist myself, when I write my songs. But when I'm on stage I love crowd feedback, I try to get the crowd into it. I want people to be touched by what I write, I want it to be appealling to them on an emotional level, not just lyrically, and not in the "emo/core" sense of emotion, I try to express myself in a way people can relate to, because the big artists who inspire me (Zeppelin, Sabbath, Opeth, Metallica) do that. I want people to feel the same way about my music as the way I feel about the music I listen to. That would be the greatest honour.
    wmax351
    My friend's dad is a great guitarist. He has many connections(He is a lifelong friend of sammy hagar), but he refuses to play for money. Instead, my friend's mom worked at a rount table, and they ran a gardening buisness, until they got evicted for the noise from the guitar. Luckily, Sammy hagar offered them a job as groundskeepers, and he gets to jam with sammy whenever he is at the house. He hasn't made a buck off of his guitar playing, but he has gotten to live out his life's dream; to play with sammy hagar at a concert. Also; black_sabbath85: No w look at them yo-yo?s that?s the way you do it You play the guitar on the mtv That ain?t workin? that?s the way you do it Money for nothin? and chicks for free -Dire Straits- Money for Nothing
    black_sabbath85
    "Money, get away Get a good job with more pay and your O.K. Money it's a gas Grab that cash with both hands and make a stash New car, caviar, four star daydream, Think I'll buy me a football team" Pink Floyd - Money
    fox69
    i understand what this dude was saying. im no tom hess fan, but its tru that u hafta sound a certain way to get big in 2day's industry. in my opinion, if you wanna make it big doing ur onw thing, try to sign with a label that supports ur type o music. a label ran by a band of the same genre is always a good call in my opinion.
    kermitclein
    I think success comes from finding a sound that is individual but can be related to. If you play music that only appeals to a handful of people you have to expect that success will take a lot longer and be far harder to achieve than if you play 're-arranged power chords just to please the audience' you just have to live with that.
    bigshoes=
    Walternativo wrote: Isn't it a little bit of both? Without the audience, there wouldn't be a professional musician. Without the professional musician's inspiration, there'd be no inspired music to listen to. They need eachother if there's gonna be shows and cds.
    this man is sooooo true sport isnt about showing off either. look at the world cup. sure weve had some great goals but its about the passion and doin what u love which is the same as pplaying guitar
    the.iron.maiden
    man, my friends parents always tell me i remind them of the metalheads at their school when they were kids. hair and a big mouth. i wish i could bring that back in my music, because i cant stand the depressing ' i hate the world ' music of today. ug. im depressed enough as it is. Do you know how hard it is to find anyone willing to support your music when you dont fit in? Just because im the only girl in the school that listens to iron maiden? Van Halen? Just let them make a stereotype about me. they never heard my music. and to think that i am the smart one at our school.and although some of the biggest 80's rock bands have tried to conform to a new society, theyll always belong to the 80's. what i wouldnt ive to trade places with my moms generation. i cant find anyone to talk to whose favorite band isnt greenday. they could use a good guitar solo. no joke. a band without a Good hand on guitar solos needs help. i wish someone would do me a favor and help me and other aspiring rock artists start a wave of 80s rock. if it ever happens, ill be there, you can bet on it.
    hepzibahbaptist
    breaknahabit wrote: That generation is older now and most have their own kids who are 5-12 years old, but it won't be long before these kids get into their teenage years and start getting into music. lol just like me, i missed the 80's by like a year i hope it all comes back
    me too man i missed it by 10 years i get made fun of at school for dressin like i am then i just say screw you all what i would give to me in the 80's
    Pulsoni
    Every guitarist should go technical and force the mass's to like it.
    druz15_UG
    Great I'm screwed. I'm trapped in New Zealand, where people either like hip-hop and rap, or all the gay new pop\rock bands (Blink 182, Greenday etc) there is about 1.5 % of the population who appreciate good guitar skills
    druz15_UG
    If you want someone who is incredibly talented but doesn't show off. Look at Frusciantes solo work and his live performances with RHCP
    breaknahabit
    That generation is older now and most have their own kids who are 5-12 years old, but it won't be long before these kids get into their teenage years and start getting into music.
    lol just like me, i missed the 80's by like a year i hope it all comes back
    Pulsoni
    Check out bands like queens of the stone age and eagles of death metal. They do have some songs that sound mainstream but i think do a good job of blending it with creative stuff most of the time.
    breaknahabit
    oh and druz, is right , in nz we usually get all the music ages after it comes out (usually from usa) but these days over here everyone is crying out for fallout boy and greenday , not that their bad, i just dont like them lol (sorry double post)
    G-Sage
    this is a great article, I think to have a career in music you need to - to a degree- play what an audience wants, but you need to find a good balance of playing a catchy tune which the audience wants and your artistical talents. The ultimate dream is to play what you love and gettin paid for it.
    zeta5
    good article. we all should play what we want, but the lyrics can be more on the "Pop 40" level. Sing about freedom, love, and working while playing in-your-face-all-day-long . Metal guitars with peace/love lyrics. I'm sure that'll sell.
    Phoenix364
    Hmmm yeah. Nice article. But I don't necessarily think that technical skills and entertainment value are directly linked. Some of the technically simplest bands I've seen have put on the most entertaining shows. For me it's all about the energy and adrenaline of a live performance. I think one of the reasons players who are so technically advanced like Malmsteen or Satriani are not popular is simply because they are too good. Personally I find their music very inaccessible especially as a young guitarist who has been playing little over a year. I prefer to listen to bands whose music I actually have a chance of playing. Sure I'm not afraid of a challenge to learn a song, but I know there's no hope of me ever learning to play like that anytime soon. I have also found that some of the most technically simplest songs have the most powerful, meaningful lyrics.
    acdc101
    THIS JUST IN: You can play powerchords without 5 mins solos and still be a good band!
    Read carefully again and decide what it says: "I want to make sure that I keep my own musical integrity and show my full musical abilities that have taken me years to perfect, instead of holding back playing re-arranged power chords just to please the audience. For most people, if the music is not played on the radio, they don't want to hear it. I have my very own expectations in what I could do to make a killer song, but because if it's not like Blink 182 material or something like Disturbed it wont be respected." Here, I'll help you: The person is saying that they dont want to have to hold back and just play power chords just so they can make a few bucks. It does not say that any band that plays power chords is bad.
    thefinalcut
    Weird article (though it would be about money) but he definitely on about it. Popularity Vs. Being an true Artist. It's hard to just go out there and play your music if the scene is metal and you're playing an Swedish folk music. You have to find a scene, or work you ass of to play where/how you want. I tend to dislike the technical players and hate the show off, BS many put on but there are people ywho like it so fine. THIS JUST IN: You can play powerchords without 5 mins solos and still be a good band!
    THC
    Im stuck with this questino to id love to be a pro musican but i dont know i'd be able to make a living, i believe in my skills but its the buzz im worried about its really hard so i hear i dunno if i should just give up and look antoher path or just keep at it.
    Guitar_Dude777
    Ramco wrote: instead of holding back playing re-arranged power chords just to please the audience. Isn't the whole point of being a musician entertaining people? Shouldn't you strive to give the audience what they want rather than jack your guitar off for your own pleasure? You should think of what the audience wants first, then beef up the guitar part with what you know (but if you have a 6 minute guitar duel the entire audience will leave, or throw beer bottles at you). It's selfish to just want to show off - music is not a sport. It doesn't matter how good you are; you're not competing with anyone. Your goal is to entertain and enlighten, and you won't do either if you only care about showing off your guitar skills. I give this one the dreaded score of 1.
    I agree, the average person doesnt care about extremely difficult guitar solos, they just want to listen to you play a song well...
    Guitar_Dude777
    I hate show-offs, i know this guy who plays guitar and whenever he plays he just stares at me when he plays like hes trying to say something, and i just want to punch him in the face and tell him that he sucks(cause its true)
    dmcphedran
    I hate show-offs. Period. Its the conceitedness that turns people off of your music.