If you’re 37 and not yet a music superstar, you’ve probably missed the mania. The entertainment stratosphere is fueled by the hormones of teenage girls. They either want to BE you (Taylor Swift, Miley Cyrus, etc) or they want to be WITH you (Justin Beiber, The Beatles, etc). You get it. There’s a window for musicians to become larger than life. And it doesn’t always have all that much to do with music.
But after a certain point, and you’ve reached a certain age, the MUSIC is all that matters. And you’re left with a nagging question: How do I keep doing this?
When I’m asked “how do I make it in music?” by young, aspiring talent. I always give the same answer. And I think it applies to anyone, of any age:
“You live in a time with more amazing technology at your disposal than ever before. Put your guitar or keyboard in a car or van or whatever, and start driving west. Stop everywhere people are – set up – and start playing. Set up in front of a Wendy’s or a Kroger or a park. Shoot it all on you iPhone and upload it every night. One of three things will happen: you’ll either give up somewhere around Dallas and realize this isn’t for you, and go home. Or you’ll limp in to LA realizing you’re not all that good and re-group or pack it in. OR you might build a following and one of your clips might go viral. And by the time you get to LA …you might be on Kimmel. Either way, THAT’S how I would do it if I were 22. And the good news about the crumbling of the old music business structure is …now you’ve got nothing to lose. Literally.”
At 50, I’m taking my own advice and doing a “Pass-The-Hat” tour. I’m showing up and playing wherever I’m asked to come …for no minimum guarantee. All I ask is that you drop some cash in the hat if you like what you hear. There’s something about not having a check waiting at the end of the night that keeps you sharp. And I think every musician – at every strata – should do this on occasion. I loved watching U2 go into the subway (in disguise) and see if they could still pull a crowd.
These days entertainment is everywhere. And people sing, write and better perform better than they ever have. A 13-year-old girl who can mimic Christina Aguilera isn’t as uncommon as it used to be. We’ve all stood on the shoulders of giants and achieved an amazing baseline of quality. Being a great singer or a great performer almost isn’t good enough anymore. What’s the rest of your story? Where’s your risk? What are the stakes when you take the stage? Are you just singing nice words to me or are you testifying? Where are your scars?
I’ll take a kid who can barely sing but who’s laying it all bare on stage, over a coifed, chiseled songbird with nothing to say …any day. And you only have something to say if you’ve gotten out there and slugged it out like a drunk prize fighter more than a few times.
So, set up on a street corner (WITHOUT permission) and start playing. Stream it live. Get reprimanded by a store owner. Get some boos. Get some cheers. Heck, get arrested. But mix it up and tell us some truth. And stop trying to catch your “big break.” Make it catch you.