A tale of two musicians – one moved to the big city, signed a record deal, lost the rights to all of her songs, became disillusioned with the business, ended up in a day job and struggled to live her dreams for 20 years. The other stayed in his hometown, did lots of local gigs, turned out more than 100 albums, networked with his fans daily online and made enough income to earn a good living and pay his mortgage. True story.
It’s common when you first get into music that your dream is to get signed, have a chart hit, be on TV, tour the world, trash hotel rooms and have millions of adoring fans. The music industry as most people know it is the one we see on the TV, hear on the radio and whose artists appear in the media daily for their latest antics, reality show appearances, sell out stadium tours, etc.
But what about the other side of the industry, the one that folks don’t get to hear about but where it’s perfectly possible to make a good living? This starts in your local music community – with local musicians, labels, promoters, studios, venues and fans. This is where the musical ‘movements’ are created that shape the industry as a whole and where you are part of a great, supportive network. Even if you want to join the more ‘visible’ side of the industry at some point in the future, it’s easier to get noticed by developing yourself as an artist or band in your local community first. If you make enough of a wave in your local scene and start getting good music press, the industry will come knocking, even if you’re already signed to a local Indie label. In fact they would probably prefer that you are already signed – these days big labels like to have all of the work done for them in advance so that they know they’re making a good investment, so being signed already is often not an obstacle, especially if you’re on a one album contract.
One of the obvious benefits of staying put and developing your music career in your local music community is living costs – they will be much lower than if you moved to the big city, where you will probably end up sharing a small flat with multiple occupants. This also means that you likely won’t get any time alone to practise, write or record, another downside to being in the city. Another thing is that competition is tough and gigs are hard to get – you’re not only competing against everyone in your home country that has travelled to the city to ‘make it’ but also against people coming from overseas with that same dream. There’s also a lot more entertainment of different types available so making a living from gigs is a lot harder than it would be in more rural areas, where you can travel more quickly between nearby towns and cities and don’t have to ‘pay to play’. I’ve encountered multiple musicians over the years who arrived in town with big dreams only to find themselves working ‘day jobs’ for the next few years.
Of course since I came to sign my first deal, the internet has improved massively and it’s possible to have a global reach from your own living room. This is why, were I to do this again, I would choose to live in a cheaper area where I could cover my cost of living from either music alone or at worst, a part-time job. Any spare cash would go into getting the best quality recordings that I possibly could – there’s nothing wrong with travelling to the big city for this if you find the right producer to meet your needs.
Local Indie labels are vital to building a great music scene in your area and I would definitely seek one out for the release rather than doing all of the work alone. This way you share the workload, get to be on a roster of bands that you can work alongside and there’s a much higher chance that you’ll be able to make a comfortable living from your music career. Build a strong following and then gradually start to extend your reach into neighbouring communities by teaming up with good bands in those areas and offering support slots to one another.
So get to it, start developing and engaging with your local music community today.