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Wednesday, August 11, 2010

NPMT: Advice to a Young Musician

    Here are some thoughts in the form of "advice to a young musician" in honor of the 2010 NPMT.

    Everyone has friends.  Today, those friends take different forms, facebook friends, for example.  But as a young musician, the only friends you should be considering are your real friends, for your success or failure in your chosen endeavor is likely to be shaped by your actual friends.  You can dress up the music business in whatever digital blah blah blah you want, but at it's heart the music business has always been about the collaboration of business men and artists and audience.  Sure, there are other sorts of music, but people who like to sit around a camp fire and sing along with an acoustic guitar are not at the NPMT, and those of you that are here are likely here because you want to understand more about the relationship between artistic endeavor and business.

   When I talk to artists, be they musicians, record label owners or writers, 99% of activity is based on the people they are already friends with.  In fact, making new friends exclusively through your musical output should be a HUGE milestone- since most people never get there.  I would suggest to the young musician that the failure to energize your immediate circle of friends about your musical output suggests one of two things:

 1.   Your music is good and your friends are stupid.
 2.   Your music sucks and your friends are trying to be nice.

  It could be either one.  If you are living in the sticks, or the city, both options are possible because people tend to have friends who knew them before they were musicians.  Here is a good piece of advice for a young musician:  try to make friends with people before they hear your music.

  I went to law school, and there is this anecdote they tell you about what things were like "in the old days."  It goes:

   The Dean of Harvard Law School stood up on the first day of class and said to the assembled first years, "Look to your left, look to your right- one of you is not going to make it."

   I would adapt that for young musicians to, "Look around you- who are your friends right now, because your success and failure is most likely to ride or die on the strength and creativity of your friendship.  If those friends aren't going to get you where you want to go...you  need to work on that immediately.  Just being persistent, by itself is not going to get you there.

  If you decide to make new friends, realize that the more successful an artist or professional is, the more likely they are to be solicited for friendship, and adjust your attitude appropriately.   This is a reason that creative partnerships between amateur artists are so important, be they in the form of artistic collaboration (band) or creating a "scene" etc.  Amateur artists tend to have the time and energy to form new relationships in the hopes of improving their status.

  However the young musician can't let one form of collaboration dominate his or her artistic development.

  For example, the idea of forming a "rock band" is certainly a method by which young artists can become friends, but it is not necessarily the most productive use of a young musician's time right now.  That doesn't mean the young musician is relieved of the function that forming a band serves.  He or she still needs to create interest in their friends.

  Working around the  triangle of popular music you have three groups:  artists, music industry professionals and audience- all three overlap.  A young musician is an artist.  An artist wants to build up friendships with people in their own category and the other categories.  Each specific relationship is going to have general and specific characteristics.  For example, relationships BETWEEN artists are often fraught with envy and jealousy.  Relationships between artists and professionals often carry mistrust.  Relationships between artists and audience members are largely characterized by disinterest.  These negative characteristics are the things that inhibit the formation of friendship, and so the young musician is advised to keep these common characteristics in mind as he or she goes about their craft.

1 comment:

richard said...

great post - i'd also add that for the young musician residing in a large city to STAY PUT. kids that have spent their entire lives in the same place have a unique advantage in that their support network has had 18+ years to develop.

if you move around too much, you

1) have to make new friends
2) it can be hard to get people to listen to your music and come to your shows
3) you will be viewed as an outsider! the competitive nature of artist-to-artist relationships cannot be denied.

any benefits to having had lived in many different places and having small groups of friends all over the world are totally overshadowed by the power an energized and supportive base can have for a young musician (or politician what have you). i speak from experience!

haha that said, im sure as shit glad i got to live all over the world and experience myriad lifestyles and cultures. just hasn't done my music career too good.

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