It isn’t what we know that gets us into trouble. It’s what we know for sure that just ain’t so.
~ Mark Twain
A cliché is an expression or idea which has become overused to the point of losing its original meaning and is now trite or irritating. [Source]
There are 5 clichés we musicians use everyday. These clichés alter the way we “see” the music industry.
And they have us all jacked up. Because either we assume they’re true and relevant…
…OR they’ve changed to the point that they look totally different than what we expect.
Your big break could bite you right in the armpit and you wouldn’t even recognize it.
If you’re having trouble getting your music heard, your problem is likely rooted in believing in one of these 5 clichés.
Today, we’re going to bust them wide open.
Let’s look at the top 5 music industry clichés musicians believe (that just ain’t true anymore).
1. I Need A Manager
Of all the clichés on the list, this one is my favorite.
One of the more famous figures in today’s music biz education scene is Taylor Swift’s former manager, Rick Barker.
Many artists approach him about being their manager.
The first thing he asks is “why do you need one?”
The answer is usually the same…We don’t really know.
Rick and I have had many conversations about this. He doesn’t get why, on top of all he does to show us exactly what to do, we still “chase” a manager.
He doesn’t know…
…But I do.
We think about our schedules. Money. Booking shows. Interviews. Dealing with venue owners and promoters. Merchandise.
You know. “Business stuff”.
These things most of us are not great at, we think a manager will handle them.
But this cliché is cunning.
We think of the iconic old school bands or artists that made it big with the help of a manager. Bands like The Beatles, Led Zeppelin, even Taylor Swift had the help of Rick—we think of these artists and assume a manager is the missing link.
If we want what they had we better get one.
Unfortunately, all this waiting for a manager causes us to not make the decision to make things happen ourselves.
Instead, we focus on the music, claim our results are because we suck at business and we “need a manager” to fix it.
Before, managers would partner with us because there would be a big payout when they sign us to a label, and as you’ll discover in a moment. Deals don’t happen like that anymore.
And that’s why thinking we need a manager has become so damn cliché.
2. I Need A Distribution Deal
Picture walking into a store and seeing your music for sale. You approach the rack, pick up your album, walk over to the cashier and buy it.
Now, when was the last time you went through that process? Not with your own music necessarily, but in general—buying a CD in a store.
It’s probably been awhile.
When we think of a “distribution deal”, we picture thousands of copies of our album being shipped to stores around the world. We’ll sign a few papers and somebody with the right connections will make some calls and, boom. Worldwide distribution of our music.
I’ll explain why in a moment, but the danger of this cliché is that it tricks us to believe that distributing music is out of our reach. We assume we need a deal with a company that has the means to do it.
And we don’t know how easy it actually is.
So, what’s a “distribution deal” look like now?
For $10 a year, TuneCore.com will distribute your song to all the major online music platforms.
Places Spotify, iTunes, Google Play Music, Amazon Music, etc.
In a single breath, you can have a worldwide distribution deal. And to places where people actually buy it. Without signing papers, lawyers and record executives. You can distribute your music around the world.
And, as I’ll explain in a minute, every time someone buys your music on one of those platforms, they collect the money and deposit it right into your bank account.
RIP: The second cliché.
3. I Need A Publishing Deal
These contracts typically entail getting paid upfront in exchange for the publisher owning the rights to all our written work. They’ll publish it, collect whatever they make from it, and give us a flat amount.
These deals vary, but in short, the job of a publisher is to collect money whenever someone plays or uses one of your songs.
Call me cynical, but I don’t trust deals like these. And I hate waiting on someone else to give me permission to get what I want.
And that’s why believing in this cliché is so dangerous.
Because we use not having one to explain why our music isn’t getting heard. We’re waiting for something that looks very different than what we expect.
What does a “publishing deal” look like today? And how can you get one?
I’m a big fan of doing two things at once. So much that I explain in detail how to DISTRIBUTE your music and PUBLISH it, in this video RIGHT HERE:
If you want to know how to get a “publishing deal” and a “distribution deal” in less than five minutes, for the love of god, watch that video.
4. I Need A Record Deal
Ohh, the infamous “record deal”. The nirvana of our world. It’s the gold standard for our success as artists. When you get a record deal, you know you’ve arrived.
You could be like Peter Hollens, who told me he fired his record label because “they didn’t know what the hell they were doing.”
This topic has been beaten to death recently. And I don’t have much to add to the conversation. Instead, I’ll quote an excellent article written by my friend Bree Noble from femusician.com:
In the old music business, inking a record deal was the holy grail. In fact, it was almost exclusively the only way to make it as an artist. This was a huge barrier to entry for unknown Indies.
Nowadays, that barrier has been removed. There are loads of successful unsigned artists making a living from music, hitting the radio and records charts and touring the world. The playing field has rapidly expanded, and with it, come massive opportunities for artists.
And how do the labels fit into this new music economy?
In the new music business, the record labels don’t have budgets like they used to have for developing new talent. They are looking for artists who have already honed their craft and built a sizable following online and offline.
So, whether you decide to eventually get signed to a label or not, you’ll still have to do the hard work to build a fanbase, which is why this 5 stage blueprint is so valuable.
In short, record deals are still viable. But not like we think they are. Labels don’t take risks. Meaning, you already have to have a business built (fanbase, income, product to sell, etc) and they’ll help you scale that up. Labels are looking for partners.
What does that even look like?
Well, I can go into any venue, play a set and earn income. It wasn’t always like that. I played my originals for FREE live for 10+ years. But I decided to figure out how to do it.
If you want to know what I do, checkout my “Success With Live Music Blueprint”. It’s a FREE PDF. You can get it right here: https://musicianmonster.com/blueprint
So, could You get a record deal?
If you’re like me, you like doing what you want, when you want, how you want. And I’m not anti label. I am anti waiting around for the silver spoon. And if that’s what you’ve been doing, it’s time you consider all your options.
And you’ll need a fanbase.
Steve Palfreyman and I have had many great conversations about creating a fanbase that grows itself. Steve has a proven track record of doing that himself—and showing other musicians how to do it. He’s the founder of the Music Launch Hub. If you’re not a member of the group, I recommend you join, HERE.
Now that that’s over with. Let’s move on the the fifth and final music industry cliché.
5. The “Rockstar”
Grammys. Press releases. Album parties. Interviews. Magazine covers. Private planes.
This cliché is iconic.
When I dreamt of becoming a full-time musician, I thought about being on stage, playing my drums—the lights are on me, people are watching, chicks are screaming…
Now, when I reflect on what I thought “success” looked like…I was one self-absorbed arse-hole.
Chances are, the picture you hold of success as a musician isn’t quite as vain as my own. But the Rockstar cliché is rooted in that idea. Focusing on what you get out of being a musician, not on what you give through it.
It’s this aura we project when we’re focused on only getting what we want. What people owe us something. Whether that’s their time, their attention, their loyalty or their money.
We get ignored. And we feel that everyone has it in for us. And that nobody cares. In truth, all of this is rooted in the I-want-to-be-a-rockstar cliché.
In truth, success is all about getting paid to do what you love through rendering useful service to others.
This simple shift in mindset has propelled artists from suffering to success.
Stated another way, when you change the way you see yourself, you act differently and people also perceive you differently.
Your ability to inspire increases because your internal focus shifts from what you can get to what you can give. Totally different from the sex, drugs, and rock and roll persona so many musicians are still stuck in.
And much more inspiring.
If you’re struggling to get the results you’re looking for, you’re problem is likely rooted in believing in one of these 5 clichés.
All of which come together to form, what I call, a false paradigm. It’s a way of “seeing” the world of music that isn’t reality.
I estimate roughly 85% of musicians are stuck in that paradigm.
Discouragement. Frustration. Exhaustion. Even resentment toward the thing that we love most.
The biggest tragedy is that we don’t realize and appreciate how big a role our individual creativity plays in our success. Just ask Simon Tam from “The Slants”.
Only by recognizing and reframing these clichés can we begin to see the opportunity all around us. We start to realize that it truly is possible to not only survive but also thrive as a modern music maker.
At the beginning of this article you might have been part of the 85%.
You didn’t know any better.
That excuse is no longer valid.
The world deserves to hear your music. And you have the power to make it happen.
Go do it!