I turned two decades old on the 11th of this January (11/1 is very easy to remember). To be honest, I’m really excited to grow older, as people will make me even more seriously in the industry if I have more time to experience everything about it. That doesn’t mean I don’t know anything at all, however. Here are 20 pieces music industry advice I’ve learnt in my 20 years:
Your goals may change, but you are still the same at the core.
I’m pretty sure I’ve wanted to be everything since I was a kid. Astronaut, palaeontologist, alpaca farmer, champion figure skater, CEO of my own cosmetics company, environmental lobbyist and writer are a few I can name off the top of my head. Every time I moved on to the next one, I felt lingering guilt – like I had let myself down. But honestly, nothing is linear in life, and my personality never changed the slightest. I’m still the same little girl who looks at the stars or wants to dig up dinosaur bones, and being instilled with a passion for loving the most diverse things over the years is something I am grateful for.
You are a CEO.
Many artists forget this, but they are a brand leader as well. How many regular people will boycott a clothing chain because the head of the company made some offensive remarks? Same holds true with musicians. Don’t be an idiot, or post to public social media like one. Even in the real world, you want to display your brand’s image. The slowpoke you shoved out of your way in the crowded hotel lobby might turn out to be someone who has the power to lift your career to the stratosphere (no, this wasn’t me who did this). Even if you woke up on the wrong side of the bed this morning, don’t bloody act like it.
Don’t be afraid to walk away from a bad deal.
There will be people in this industry who will try to screw you over; don’t let them. My article “The Gift of Walking Away” expands on that, telling the story of when a close friend deliberately tried to screw me over in a business deal.
Please the fans you’ve got first.
When I was about 15, I was looking up local open mic nights online. I came across one that took place at a fish pub downtown in the market. I’m not saying that the market is unsafe, but if anyone ever gets murdered in Ottawa, it’s 2am in that area. Anyways, little Clara didn’t figure out that the family-friendly fishermen’s pub downtown on a Saturday night becomes a bar until she got there. There so happened to be another event taking place there too that evening: free shots night. The following scene took place next:
Little Clara, holding an acoustic guitar with a gentle floral inlay: “This is a song about the boy who sits next to me in class…”
The entire bar, glasses in the air: “FREE SHOTS, YEAH!”
Looking back, it got me thinking about not only matching the mood of people around me, but their headspace too. As long as you are not compromising your image, make those fans happy by being exactly what they need you to be in that moment.
Back up your work.
I was once given free reign of a professional studio. It was so exciting – I had coordinated a drummer and some talented engineer friends; I wanted to look good. We used the three hours I had been given to record drums for my EP. We worked so hard and got really emotional over the final product. I then lost the files.
There will always be someone more technically skilled than you, so don’t compare yourself too much.
It’s so easy to fall into the trap of thinking everything is a competition where you have to be #1. Truthfully, I’ve never met anyone who was as equally amazing in the instrument/voice and songwriting department – there is always a weak spot to improve, and always someone better than you at your best. So, instead of seeking out Youtube videos of eight-year-old prodigies to watch while eating a tub of ice cream, learn to be confident in your ability, especially if it’s a creative one that’s can’t just be taught to a classroom.
Work social media into your everyday.
I read an interview in Follow Magazine the other day, where the artist gave the advice that those who go far their artistic careers are seldom those that whine “why am I on Twitter right now, when I could be practicing instead?” If one works social media into their daily agenda, it becomes less of a chore, and more time to network online and advance your career, while you still have plenty of opportunity throughout the day to hone your craft.
Set goals, not dreams.
Tiny changes in vocabulary do a lot. People who stare at the sky have dreams, those who stand up, go out, make plans and actively work to get them accomplished have goals. You got this, honey.
Don’t be afraid to ask how/when you’re getting paid.
An honest partnership will let you know this upfront. It might be a lot of money, or a reference and press quote, but don’t let anyone be wishy-washy on you because you’re trying to be polite. Yes, being classy is good. However, you need to know what you’re getting into as well.
There will always be money and fulfilment in teaching.
The joke saying of “those who can’t do, teach” needs to stop right now. It’s natural that if you’re passionate about something, you want to share that passion with someone else. I believe that natural leaders are also natural teachers, and not just in the traditional setting.
Big names are people too.
Simple psychological trick: if you act cool around those you admire in the industry, they’re more inclined to take you seriously. Don’t slobber over celebrities to their face. Reach out to them (online or in person), compliment their work, and see what happens from there.
Always carry a pen with you.
You never know who you’re going to meet, or where you are when inspiration strikes. The memo pad on you a cellphone is great and all, but nothing will ever top plain old pen and paper.
Have a side passion.
Sometimes, we get down and out about music. It can be that afternoon while you’re trying to write a song, or last several months with depression, like me this past fall. When the inspiration or the motivation just isn’t there, it’s good to have another skill you can improve or something you can learn while waiting for something that seems out of your control to come back. Whether it’s reading a good book, learning to knit a cable scarf, or taking up jogging, go find yourself something that can bring in a little sunshine until you bounce back.
Learn the business end too.
You can be the greatest audio engineer (for example) in talent, but if you don’t know anything about contracts, marketing or charging fairly for your time and hard work, a career will be very hard. Don’t let yourself be taken advantage of – read my other articles on this website.
Carve out your own niche.
“You need to work on your vocals. Find someone who you want to sound like, and then copy their style, That’s who the labels are signing these days.”
And that folks, is the worst piece of industry advice I’ve ever gotten. For the record, this industry person who told me this isn’t a top dog in music, and therefore shall remain anonymous. For everyone who hates your style, there will be someone else who appreciates what you’re doing. That doesn’t mean you can only surround yourself with yes-men, but it is a push from me to rebel against this advice and be yourself. After all, everyone else is already taken. If you’re meekly riding on the coattails of a trendsetter, you’ll only be relevant for so long, and it’ll be harder to have loyal fans of what you sound like and believe in.
Laugh at yourself.
Bonus points if you beat internet trolls to the punch. Everyone has areas they can improve in, and as long as you’re trying, I admire you.
Haters gonna hate hate hate…
There are some people from my old high school who subscribe to me on YouTube solely to down-vote my videos, and write horrible comments. I once had someone get ahold of my phone number to harass me with mean texts. But honestly, internet trolls live under the bridge (that would be their made-up username) for a reason. You’re putting yourself out there, and that makes people scared and jealous. Keep following your heart and career path.
Dating a songwriter has its (beautiful) consequences.
I dated a professional musician for almost a year. Yeah, breaking up had to be done really delicately, to not end up in each other’s songs. “Hurt an artist, and you’ll see a masterpiece of what you have done.”
You are allowed to cut people out, while still wishing them the best.
No matter how many chances or talks you try to give someone, even looking from their perspective, some people just aren’t a good fit for you. Maybe it’s a bandmate with more ego than work ethic, or a producer who is taking your music in a direction you don’t want to go. It’s never easy to fire someone, especially if you are friends, and part of a tight-knit music community. Wish them the best, and prune your rose garden.
Always go above and beyond for your fans.
Such as adding a 21st piece of advice below this one.
Actually get involved in the music scene!
Don’t only leave the house when you have a gig. Take business cards with you everywhere, and go to industry events and meetings. Network with everyone you meet at concerts, because you never know. Pay for a membership in coalitions with front and back end benefits. Subscribe to mailing lists of interest to you. Write insightful feedback at the end of blog articles, and leave comments on other’s social media that focus on them, as opposed to an out-of-the-blue link to your own work. Be that local band in the front row of an open mic night cheering on every acoustic guitar singer-songwriter loudly. Never lose sight of your goals, or of the joy and emotions that music brings you, and that you then bring to the world.
Thank you all for the birthday wishes. Next decade, here we go!