Why many artists fail at being Music Entrepreneurs and have to go back to work: AVOID THIS!

Firstly I want to acknowledge that there are several reasons someone might have to quit music and get a job. I write this article without judgement. One BIG reason I’ve seen many people fail is that they had a bad work ethic or attitude.

When I talk about your work ethic and attitude. I’m talking about your outlook. I’m talking about Professionalism!

Lack of talent is not why most artists fail to succeed as music entrepreneurs! Your talent is responsible for maybe 33% of your success!

I’ve seen many artists come and go in this business (in Toronto and in Edinburgh). It always sucks to see a colleague (especially when they are talented) “hang up their gloves” because they couldn’t make it work. There are different reasons why someone might quite the music entrepreneur career. One big reason I’ve seen many people have to pack it in is a crappy attitude. For whatever reason, whether it’s ego, lack of awareness, or what, I’ve seen and heard of many artists in need of tuning their attitudes. I say tuning because you can fix it Much like tuning an instrument, it isn’t a permanent problem. It involves opening your mind to different ways of thinking, being professional, and giving people the benefit of the doubt.

We are offering services. People and organizations that hire us are our clients!

I’ll use the example of playing gigs. When we are hired by a venue to play a gig we are being hired to provide a service. The bar has chosen us (or a booking agent they trust-whom we are representing at the gig) to play music and create a vibe consistent with what they expect. Our job is to:

  1. Show up on time and with whatever equipment you need ( by on time I mean with plenty of time to spare to set up and be ready to go right away at the agreed start time),
  2. Be sober (Don’t show up high or drunk to gigs),
  3. Play music that matches the setting (Don’t play gangster rap of heavy metal to a crowd of 60-something year olds),
  4. Play music at whatever volume the venue determines to be reasonable,
  5. Be courteous (if someone asks for a request don’t tell them to “sit their ass down”, generally speaking just don’t be a dick to people-staff or guests),
  6. Not take crazy long breaks,
  7. Not drink as if we were at an open bar wedding,
  8. Be flexible and work with the venue wherever able in order to enhance the guests’ experience,
  9. Be reliable (We work for ourselves so your word means a lot. If you say you’ll be somewhere BE THERE, or people will stop asking you to be anywhere!),
  10. Not expect things we aren’t owed (Getting a free drink or two and a meal is great but if you don’t discuss what’s included for playing gig before performing than don’t expect anything. Anything you receive in that case is a bonus and you are playing in a cool venue my friend. Friendly tip: You can ask “…And are a meal or any beverages usually included as well?” when discussing your pricing),
  11. The most important thing: Our job is to realize that the performance isn’t for us. It is for venues’ guests. If the guests are happy then you are doing a great job. If the manager tells you to turn down the volume or play different materiel, then just do that! It may piss you off but PLEASE…exercise control, be professional. It isn’t about how much fun your having or how loud you like the volume. If people aren’t clapping or listening don’t get all pissy and bent out of shape, IT ISN’T ABOUT YOU! The guests are the star of your show. It doesn’t matter if you play the same songs all the time. You chose to be a performer and thats the job. You should NEVER take that out on the guests or staff.

It may all sound anal but in this business the devil is in the details! It’s the collective of little things you do right that add up to make you a super valuable asset that venues will want to hire again and again. On top of that venues are constantly being approached by musicians selling themselves for gigs so you have a lot to compete against. Having a great work ethic and attitude will set you apart and carry you so far in this business.

Don’t have an attitude problem or be a Diva

It doesn’t matter whether you’re booking agent, music teacher, or performer, or whatever else. You should generally be upbeat, friendly, and respectful to everyone. Being a diva and having an attitude problem gets old REAL soon. I’ve know great artists that I’ve booked in to play rooms that I was told to “never bring back” because they had a bad attitude. Issues that caused a venue to turn on an artist were that they gave the staff attitude when being asked to turn down the volume; they refused to turn down the volume (what’s with people and not turning down? It’s so simple, I really don’t get it); they turned up late habitually and didn’t seem worried about it; they were upset with people not listening or clapping and lashed out at the audience (man, that’s just awkward, never go down that path).

If people aren’t listening then just finish the gig, as annoying as it is, at least you got to play and get paid. I’ll usually experiment with my setlist in these occasions. Funny enough people will often start to pay attention to you because you’re having fun and doing your thing. A desperate person is usually pretty easy to spot (whether it’s dating or performing or whatever). Be chill and do you if they aren’t listening.

Having a backbone is ok (even necessary) but know how and when to show it!

Straight up, I’ve told guests to “fuck off” on a couple of occasions. People can definitely be assholes and I’ll be the first to admit it. Just pick your battles wisely. We are people and should never be subjected to abuse, so stand firm. Don’t be shy to let disorderly people know that if they can’t respect you and your space you will have them kicked out. You can be professional about it.

In one instance, for me, the same drunken costumer fell on me multiple times, knocking my mic stand over and killing the song. I warned him every time he danced into my mic stand to mind himself and then he barrelled right into me. I was so angry (getting a mic in the mouth makes me see red, lol). Just a couple weeks ago I remember this really annoying drunk girl that kept asking for the same song I don’t know and started grabbing my microphone. I told her “Get away from me, if I see you again I’m calling the bouncers and you’re outta here”. These times I snapped were at venues where people can get pretty rowdy and the management knows I have to sort out customers from time to time. I knew I had that “leash”, otherwise I would have called over a bouncer/the staff. I knew that the managers trusted me to use my own judgement because I always act professionally and these weren’t “family places”. That context created the difference in my reactions.

Basically you have to use your judgement, but try to be professional and usually the staff will throw that person out or intervene in some way.

We are pretty damn lucky to do what we do. Please don’t shoot yourself in the foot with unprofessional behaviour!

Being easy to work with and having a friendly personality is soooo very important. Don’t be a doormat and don’t take people’s abuse, but also don’t get into shouting matches with staff or customers. It’s all about your attitude and work ethic. Be a professional. Realize that the guest is the star of your show and give them a great night of music and not only will you have a great time too, but you’ll always get called to come back and will be successful!

12 comments

  1. Actually sound advice and a lot of what you say is outright why I won’t book gigs. I don’t want to make my ideology an issue for guests or a venue. I’m a big kid, I want my music to be fun and I don’t like the grown up component professionalism requires of me… because I know I wouldn’t handle it and someone else can play how and what the guests want better and more consistently than me without feeling crap about it 😉

    You were always well natured and I can see why you do well at what you do =)

    1. Cheers bro, yea we all have to stay true to ourselves and align our actions consistently with our beliefs. Otherwise, you’re setting yourself up for a difficult/shitty situation!

      1. Aye well the professional thing to do for me is either arrange original music gigs, run a venue, attend an open mic or do not put myself in the position I’ll end up with the wrong attitude for the role I have 😉

      2. Yep! Basically don’t do crap you hate! Lol cause you’ll only hate yourself! I miss you guys!

  2. What I learned from this article:

    You can’t make money with freedom of doing what you love. If you are a rapper or a metalhead consider getting a day job instead.

    1. Hi Sammol, this wasn’t meant to be so black and white. Mostly it’s just to show how some talented people may be shooting themselves in the foot with bad practices. I’ve seen a lot of super talented people held back by this and so wanted to share the message. Those two genres in your example are a bit more niche, but there’s ways to make money with it too if you’re a pro and have a great attitude!

      1. Hi Brad. How do you get out to promote yourself/ get gigs when the gigs we do get the agents that have the best opportunity to see the talent you portray won’t come out. 17th HOUR is one heck of a great band with great attitude and presence that you don’t see very often. Hard to showcase as we are from Alliston-Mount Forest area. 4 man band

    2. I love music, and I make a fulltime living with it, instead of still working at an insurance company! Bills gotta be paid so may as well do it with music (and work on passion projects on the side)

      1. This article is clearly targeted on “entertainer-musicians” sadly doesn’t include “artist-musicians”. You can’t just expect Dave Mustaine or Eminem to sing Autumn Leaves in a club. Not all people are born to be jukeboxes. They were lucky that they got big and doesn’t have to work in an office setting.

  3. Good for people who enjoy playing anything. But for others, playing the music you despise every night and having a day job have no difference at all.

    1. Whatever works for you mate, I just want to see musicians succeed which is the motivation for all these articles. Not every article can apply to every musician. If there is something useful that helps people though I’m very happy to try and spread the message of positive vibes, and to discuss what has worked for me and kept me busy at my job/passion of music.

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