When I started making music seriously in my early twenties, I had an idea in my head that once musicians got to a certain level of success, they’d be able to focus purely on their music. Music promotion, finances, booking shows – I thought all the unpleasant grunt work of musical life could one day be handed over to managers, accountants, and record labels if I could just be successful enough. More than a decade later, I’m happier than ever making music and am nowhere near the point of being able to schlep off the non-musical duties of my music career off on someone else. Over the years, my views on what a musician’s role can or should be have changed completely. I now believe that musicians should care about the non-musical aspects of their careers, but not for the reasons you might think.
Let’s start off with finances. Many of us believe that one hit single or lucrative record contract will leave us free to ride off into the sunset and relieved from financial burden or worry. Professional financial managers and accountants are trained to handle money, so why not let someone like that step in and take care of things while you focus on being a great musician? Time and time again, vulnerable young musicians get themselves into terrible money trouble when they don’t take an interest in their finances. One bad contract or shady relationship with a manager can devastate you financially for years. A quick internet search on the subject of musicians with money problems will show you exactly what I’m talking about.
Being engaged and informed about the financial aspects of your career is crucial, but interest in other non-musical parts of being a musician are just as important. How and where your music gets licensed, for example, is something you should be paying attention to. Your music is a reflection of you, and not every licensing opportunity for your music will align with your values and musical vision.
Musicians enjoying a good deal of traction and momentum for their music need to make an effort to care about the non-musical aspects of their work, but unestablished artists have to if they hope to find meaningful success in their careers. Without bringing in consistent money from your music, you won’t be able to enlist outside help to do things like book and manage tours, pitch music to radio stations, and promote your releases. These are crucial parts of sustaining a music career, and you’ll have little chance of being successful without putting time and energy into doing them yourself. If you’re lucky enough to be able to hand off some of these duties to someone else one day, you’ll have a true appreciation for the help you get because you’ll know how hard the work is.
Being fixated on making music isn’t just a good thing. Obsession and uninhibited passion are mandatory for being able to make music seriously in today’s brutally competitive climate. But whether you’re a bonafide superstar or are just starting out, music can’t be all you focus on in your career.
Patrick McGuire is a writer, musician, and human man. He lives nowhere in particular, creates music under the name Straight White Teeth, and has a great affinity for dogs and putting his hands in his pockets.