The Music Business is Strange

Back when I jumped into the business with both feet 5 years ago I had an idea that I'd hit goal after goal after goal and climb until I made my way into the upper tiers of the Texas music business. What was crazy was that every time I started making moves to get to the next goal, I would find that the goal was a bit of a Wizard of Oz. What I mean is that, time after time, I would show up to find that reaching that goal was either not as big a deal as it initially seemed, or that it was orchestrated by circumstances different than simply working hard and making good music. It was political, strategic, even manipulative. I don't use those words judgmentally, but simply in their literal dictionary definitions. 

For example, when I released my first album I thought I knew that the industry-standard thing to do was to push a couple of singles off the album into radio and streaming to gain some audience traction. So I researched and found that the common method here is to hire a promoter. Now I have to tell you, after I found out what promoters charge for their services I almost considered swapping careers. But that's okay, I know how to save money. What does paying for this service get me? Well, most radio promoters who are worth their weight can pretty much promise you chart placement on the Texas radio charts. How do they do it? I have a brother who worked in radio for years so he can testify to this truth...they bug the shit out of radio people until they agree to play the damn song. Yes, they try to do it with charm and tact and buy them drinks and lunches and act like big shots, but ultimately it's about being the "don't take no for an answer" salesman who will eventually twist the radio stations arm to play a single. They do this enough with the supposed relationships they have and your song gets played, and you hit the charts. Then I noticed how many names were on the charts that I had never hears of, and how many I'd probably never hear of again after. So I quit trying to get on the charts. All it would've taken is about $1,600-$4,000 of my personal money and I could sit here and tell you I've charted a song on Texas Regional Radio. But guess what, when I found the Wizard of Oz behind the curtain I decided to hold onto my cash and do something better with it. 

That's what I mean. 

Numerous "goals" of mine have turned out with similar results. Now, I have heroes who are big names in the regional music scene, and who are probably making some cash doing it. So I'm not disparaging that success. But even these guys, you come to find out that the bottom line is not as good as it seems. As income rises so do expenses. It takes a lot of cash-flow to support a 5-band touring around on a diesel 40 foot charter and staying in hotels and setting up arena-like sound systems every weekend. A LOT of cash! Musicians who are smart learn to strike when the iron's hot, and when they hit something of a peak in their career they start putting their money into passive income streams to provide for them in the long haul (examples of this in Pat Green and Robert Earl Keen among many others). 

I know most of you aren't interested in the business side of music, but here's the reason I mention it... 

More and more, my goal becomes to stay small. I even feel a little sheepish saying it here because I feel like it comes across as a statement like, "I couldn't get big so I just made an excuse for myself". And maybe that's true. But if it is, it's only a half-truth. The full truth is that I've become no longer interested in sacrificing what would need to be sacrificed in order to get big. It's not worth it. I'd rather save my creative energy, passion, and bank account for the long-haul. So what is my goal these days... 

A consistent climbing curve. 

That's it. As long as my audience is climbing, my catalog is growing, my fan-base is dedicated, I'm accomplishing exactly what I need to accomplish today. I may be the slowest guy to merge onto the scene, but I even like that idea. And maybe I'll even pull an Emily Dickenson kind of life and get noticed more after I croak.  But, I don't want to lose heart. And it matters too much to me to keep doing this to waste my money on smoke and mirrors.

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