How to Start Your Career as a Musician
As a music student and aspiring musician myself, I personally know a lot of aspiring musicians hoping for glory but unsure quite how to reach it. As I have yet to follow my own advice and achieve any sort of success there is no reason to take this article as gospel, but I hope someone might find this useful.
Musicians that have reached the height of success are frequently asked what advice they have for aspiring musicians. Often the same response is given as Catfish and the Bottlemen’s: Gig! Gig! Gig! Play every gig you possibly can. Play to the one man and his dog down the pub, play on the streets, play at your mate’s wedding, and play at a charity event that no one turns up to. Each new person that hears your music can make a difference and you’ll become a well-practiced musician who’s comfortable in front of an audience.
Being a “well-practiced” musician does not only mean being able to play your songs to the highest standard. It also means cutting the sh*t. Before Oasis reached fame, Johnny Marr made the observation that Noel Gallagher’s guitar was so bad that he spent half a gig tuning it between songs. Noel explained he couldn’t afford a new guitar so Marr gifted him one. We are not all so lucky to have Johnny Marr gift us a guitar, but it helps to have good equipment, and know how to use it, in order to cut the sh*t and get on with performing.
Unfortunately, as I’m sure you’re aware, the music business is not entirely based around talent. Ed Sheeran, who owns the record label Gingerbread Man Records, has said that the three most important components record labels look for in a musician are: firstly, ambition/drive; secondly, likability; and thirdly, talent.
Drive, in my opinion, is often the hardest component. You may be ambitious, but are you prepared to throw yourself into your music? Often we are encouraged to have a back-up plan that ultimately takes over because of fear of failing. Student musicians will be first and foremost students because a degree is a safer option and therefore more important. This is probably why the bands that “make it” are often from working class backgrounds, especially in previous decades when further education wasn’t so accessible and employment opportunities more scarce. If you feel like you have nothing to loose by dedicating all your time and effort into being a full time musician you are more likely to take that step. To really give yourself a chance, become a full-time musician and see where you are in 12 months.
Likability might mean having an edge, or just natural charisma. This is probably something that you yourself can’t control. If you try to be liked or make yourself edgy its likely people will see straight through it.
Talent is most in your control, though unfortunately the least important component. Heard of the 10,000 Hours Theory? You CAN be the best.
Noel Gallagher is of the opinion that in this day and age, with the internet allowing global reach from your own bedroom, if the greatest songwriter/performer is out there they WILL get noticed. I would argue that the internet is all too cluttered with bedroom cover artists and should not be solely relied upon to get your music out into the world, but there are plenty of other avenues…
BBC Introducing has churned out countless artists that have gone on to become headline, front-page acts. If you have a few well-polished recorded tracks I would highly recommend sending them into BBC introducing. A course mate of mine, who goes by the stage name FLOAD, sent in a track expecting it to be put at the bottom of the pile and never listened to. His track was sent to the local station, BBC Radio Stoke, and within a few weeks it was being played and he was invited in for an interview.
I’ve also had the pleasure of interviewing Joel Baker when he came to Keele to play at a Coffee House Session. In the interview (which can be found on the KUBE Radio website) he revealed to me that he used to work as a Labour speechwriter. In order to be recognised, as a musician, he sent a demo to BBC Introducing in an official government envelope he had pinched from work. He went on to play on the BBC Introducing stage in Reading Festival. What this told me was: if you can – CHEAT!
Speaking of the Coffee House Sessions, there are touring labels that take on unknown artists and throw them in at the deep end playing several small gigs a day up and down the country. Coffee House Sessions has been a great platform for up and coming musicians like Seafret and The Wandering Hearts, so a few enthusiastic emails their way can’t hurt.
Personally, I would discourage anyone from auditioning for the X Factor or other talent shows. It can be incredibly damaging to reach the peak of your success so quickly only to be forgotten forever after the semi-final. Those who do go on to have a successful career are often tainted as “not a real musician”. Although, on the other hand, they’re rich and famous, and I’m not.
You may find that other avenues are available to you. For example, a family member of mine is well acquainted with Alan McGee, the founder of Creation Records, producer of Oasis, Primal Scream and Happy Mondays, and ex-manager of The Libertines. If I were a braver man I’d shamelessly pester him with demos and invitations to gigs. I am yet to work up the courage, but I’m sure shameless persistence will get you further than idleness.
If you’ve taken anything away from this article I hope it is:
- Master your craft.
- Take the leap of faith and go full-time.
- Take advantage of any avenue available to you. Have no shame (except when it comes to the X Factor).