Are you determined to fulfill your potential as a musician and build a successful music career? If so, it is likely that you continually hear various “words of wisdom” from the people you know on how to make it in the music business. These people often wish you the best, but the fact is: People who have not already had extensive success as a pro musician, likely do not really understand how the music industry works. On top of that, their advice may be detrimental to your music career dreams.
That said, I would like to give you the insight of a man who HAS succeeded in the music industry at a very high level so you can better understand what makes for good and bad music career advice. Recently, I contacted Tom Hess, professional musician and guitarist in metal band Rhapsody Of Fire in order to get his thoughts. The end result was a Tom Hess review of the top three most discussed music career advice amongst friends, family and other non-musicians. After the interview ended, it was obvious that the advice you get from people outside of the music industry is highly inaccurate. Check out the full Tom Hess interview / review:
Tom Hess Music Career Review Topic Number One:
Ryan Buckner: “Before you can become a professional musician, it is essential to go to a university and get a degree to fall back on. Once you have done that, only THEN you can try to make it in music.” What do you think of this advice Tom?
Tom Hess: Perhaps this piece of music career “advice” is the most common. The idea that you need to pursue a job, career or degree outside of the music industry BEFORE working on becoming a professional musician is 100% backwards. When people tell you this, it is likely because they have heard somewhere that the music industry is highly risky and it will be nearly impossible to earn a stable income. Their logic is that you should go to a university to get a “real job” before you try your luck with the music industry. Once you have a secure job in place, you won’t have to worry about it if your music career doesn’t work out (…so they say).
In response to this, I have 2 things to say:
1. The music business is NOT hectic, unstable or risky.
Fact is, the majority of people working as professionals in the music business are neither rock stars nor starving street performers. Actually, the music business consists of a large middle class filled with musicians who earn a stable and secure living. Additionally, the music industry is more stable than other non-music industries in many ways.
When you are working as a professional musician, you have various opportunities to build and sustain music-related income to come in from many different sources at once. Some examples include money you make from touring, releasing instructional music products, selling your own music, and doing session work…just to name a few.
This gives you much more financial stability than simply making all your money in the form of a single check that you pick up from work each pay period (…like in most non-music jobs).
2. By pursuing a job in a field outside of the music business, you are only taking time away from what you truly want to do with your life (music).
Whenever someone has told you not to pursue your dreams as a musician, or told you about how you probably won’t make it because it is “too risky”, did you notice something?…These people were in fact not trying to help you understand how to reach your musical dreams (because they don’t really ‘know’ about the music industry). Instead, they were trying to get you to do something else that they ‘approved’ of while totally ignoring what you want to do! This does not make them “bad” people, but this happens very often when non-musicians give advice about the music business. Now, imagine a different scenario: For example, let’s say you wanted to become the mayor in your city. Do you think that these people would still say that you should pursue a job in a totally different field before you even think about pursuing your dream of becoming the mayor? Not very likely…And since this line of thinking would not make sense for a job like becoming the mayor, why would it make any sense for a job such as becoming a professional musician? Either way, it is up to you to decide on what you prefer to do, and no one can tell you what you ‘should’ prefer.
So to sum it up:
a) You DO want to become a professional in the music industry –and-
b) It IS possible for you to earn a living as a professional musician.
With these two points in mind, you absolutely do NOT need to give up on your music career in order to pursue something else. Live your life based on YOUR desires, not based on what others want you to do!
Additionally, developing a backup plan until you reach your highest goals in music is actually not a bad idea. However, you must make sure while planning that you align your back up plans with your greatest goals. This will ensure that you do not get off track, and continue to work toward what you truly desire at all times.
Tom Hess Music Career Review Topic Number Two:
Ryan: “If you want to make money as a musician, you need to write pop music so that you can get it to play on the radio.”
Tom: When someone gives this advice, they are confusing a couple of fundamental concepts. Fact is, simply having music that plays on the radio is NOT how to make a lot of money as a professional musician.
Having the goal to write great music and have it played on the radio is certainly not a bad thing; however, you must not mix up your GOALS with ACTIONS. Writing music that gets played on the radio is an example of a goal that you can reach by performing certain actions. However, earning a living as a musician is a totally separate goal that is reached by different actions. All the things you do in your music career begin with you becoming clear on what steps you must take to achieve the specific results you want. You may think to yourself, “That is stupid…of course I need to do that”; but this is actually a very common occurrence that causes A LOT of musicians to go years without reaching their music career dreams.
On top of that, earning money by having your music played on the radio is only ONE of the countless ways that you can earn a living in the music industry. The key to making good money in a stable and secure manner is to accumulate many sources of passive music-related income. By doing this, you eliminate your reliance on a single income. In order to learn how to develop multiple sources of income, I recommend finding a mentor who can help you understand how this works in the music industry.
Tom Hess Music Career Review Topic Number Three:
Ryan: “In order to get into the music business, you’ve got to be in the right situation at the right time” Your thoughts Tom?
Tom: Whenever I encounter someone who believes that becoming successful merely amounts to “you must bump into the right person at the right moment”, I immediately know two things that this person thinks:
1. Becoming a professional musician requires a good amount of ‘luck’.
When people strongly believe that they must become lucky to make it in the music business, they often expect that their musical dreams will simply fall down into their lap. As a result, they do not work as hard as they would otherwise. Plain and simple, this is not how the music industry runs, and if you want to achieve great things as a musician; you will need to take action every day to work hard and ‘create’ your own “luck”!
2. Making it in the music business is a simple as “knowing” someone on the inside. You just need to “run into” the right person.
Everyone has heard the same story about the struggling musician who one day runs into the big time record producer in a club while playing with his band, handing out his music, etc. Of course, in this story the producer instantly likes the “style” or “attitude” of the musician and signs him to a record contract right there in the club! Now, this certainly makes for a great movie idea in Hollywood; however, in the actual music industry, situations like this occur very rarely (if at all). The people of the music industry are really just businessmen and women as with any other industry. These people are ONLY looking for musicians who are not a major risk to their company, and are an obvious choice of someone who will help create a major profit.
The reality is that most music industry people already have 1000’s of people knocking on their door looking to win them over so they can get signed or begin playing in a band, working for a label, etc. To really make it in the music industry by building connections, you must do much more than merely “know” someone, you must work to build a long term and trusting relationship where both sides exchange equal value. In order to do this, you will need to become “the right musician” with all the correct pieces in place. This means both becoming a great musician AND a person with social and business skills. On top of all the value that comes with increasing your skills in these areas, you will also put yourself in a totally different category than most other musicians. Once you have ALL the pieces in place as a professional musician, you will be on the very top of the list when someone is looking for a new partner, musical artist or band mate!
Ryan: I appreciate you sitting down to talk with me about these things Tom. It’s been very insightful and I’m sure the people who read this will think so as well. To everyone who reads this Tom Hess music career advice review, it should be clear now that most of what you hear from people outside of the music business is worth a second thought. To more fully understand what it takes to develop a career as a professional musician , check out Tom’s music career mentoring program.
About the author:
Ryan Buckner is a professional musician, guitarist and songwriter. He has written many instructional articles on guitar, songwriting and music theory.