One thing I’ve noticed in my 10 years of trying to ‘make it in music’ is that I’ve found I do not have a choice, so to speak, in whether or not I want to continue to making music in some form or another. Sure I can look at it as a career and decide whether or not this is profitable right now and decide to try something else for the sake of economic gain, but that doesn’t not mean I can or even should try to stop making music. The journey makes us ask some important questions though.
Why do we make music?
Is it really a job choice or career choice if you will?
What happens if we decide that it’s not working out as one of those two things?
Should we decide to just drop it and do something else?
Is that even possible?
Trying to be successful in music can become very frustrating and despairing at times, and make us feel like we are going crazy! But what I’ve found is that If I were to try and put it aside and not create anymore then that would drive me even more insane. This type of revelation has led me to the realization that I can’t solely make music for the sake of becoming a star or hit songwriter. I have to make music because it’s inside of me and needs to be expressed. This gift we have and have worked so hard at creating simply can’t be denied because it may not have any monetary gains from it right now. What we decide to do with the gift of music is up to us, what the world decides to do with it is not, so we can’t base our dedication and love for it on whether or not the world rewards us with what we think we deserve.
There are many people who would just LOVE to be able to express themselves musically. As artists, we are able to do that. That is enough for me to be happy and fulfilled in doing this and going on this journey. Sure we all would love to be able to earn a living just creating music and even make it famous in some capacity. But this does not mean that if those things don’t come along that one should then just quit music all together. I really don’t think one would be able to do that in the long term without suffering from it on some level. Sometimes we can feel bitter about it all because our situation is not favorable or as we would have wanted it or feel we deserve. That to me is natural, but don’t call it quits for that reason.
Find it within yourself to keep doing what you love for the sake of that love. It doesn’t have to be ideal right now for you to keep pursuing your dreams and creating music, it just needs to come out and be expressed, and that is the best any of us can do.
My name is JJ McGuigan and I am a songwriter located in Wichita KS. I am moving to Austin TX this summer. I have been writing songs for 10 years and was a finalist on a VH1 songwriting contest for their ‘Save the Music’ campaign.
The decline in album craft within the changing nature of the music industry…
The music industry has changed. We all know that. With the arrival of the digital age, the music industry has been all but completely redesigned. I’m not complaining (really) – I appreciate the freedom digital downloading gives us, and I’m not here to analyse the pros and cons of the current landscape. It is what it is, so let’s get on with it.
That being said I’m a bit of a chronological anomaly. Because I grew up listening to vinyl, buried in my parents record collections through my formative years, I developed an appreciation of the album as a complete experience. When all my friends were listening to Radio 1 and the singles chart, I was lying on the living room carpet with my head buried between the speakers listening to Simon and Garfunkel and Joni Mitchel LPs. I have always felt a little out of step with the general population because of that (and possibly other oddities of my personality!:).
Coming back to the present day, one aspect of music making that I mourn, is the creation of album art. As a little girl, I dreamed of what album covers would be on my music when I grew up (and of being on Top Of The Pops), and by the time I had an album that needed album art, it was all but defunct. I enjoy going to the photo shoot for my new single release as much as the next girl, being primped by makeup artists, and leaving with my gorgeous new headshots, but the image now is to make a statement about the artist rather than the music itself. Through the necessity of social media, we have to become the pioneers of our own songs, and therefore the image has to enhance the personality rather than the music itself. I’m sure there are exceptions to this, (including my own artwork for my last album) but that`s how the general trend seems to me in any case. I’m not saying it’s wrong, it’s just the way things are at the moment.
However, being a vinyl enthusiast, I always loved it when the album art made a statement about the music as well as the band or artist. Joni Mitchell apparently hand painted all of her own album covers, Carole King embroidered the Tapestry, whereas The Beatles album cover for Revolver, designed by Klaus Voorman won a Grammy, and paved the way for the foursome to create the psychedelic Sergeant Pepper`s Lonely Heart Club Band era of music. Undeniably, the Sergeant Pepper album cover gives you a heads-up as to what to expect hear. An LP cover is large – 12″x 12″ – so to not use that space to make a statement about your music would be a wasted opportunity. There’s enough space for artwork to be much more detailed. Compare that with a thumbnail displayed on a downloads site of 150×150 pixels or smaller – the artwork clearly doesn’t perform the same function; there just isn’t room for it.
I suppose one could argue that the image of the artist nowadays is what gives you a heads-up – we can all probably tell the difference between a folk and a Hip-Hop artist from sight. Perhaps the onus is on us now to look like our sound; perhaps that thread has always been there to a greater or lesser extent. Yet if you google ‘live performance of I Feel The Earth Move’ you will find Carole King giving a full on rock and roll performance dressed like the ‘old Jewish housewife’ she claims she always felt like, even in her prime.
Whatever the reasons, consumers cannot deny that album artwork in its own right, has much less window space now. It’s even optional to download it with your purchase.
Some great artwork…
Here are some of my favourite album covers. I believe the thought-provoking nature of each of the images enhances our experience of the music as a whole.
1) The Moody Blues – ‘In Search Of The Lost Chord’ – Whilst some might argue this is not an altogether pleasant image, it is disturbing, comforting and thought-provoking all at once, leading me to believe I will hear something rich and consuming.
2) Joni Mitchell – ‘Ladies Of The Canyon’ – This simple image gives an impression of Joni’s face and upper torso in outline, holding what looks like canvas painted brightly with everyday objects, trees and a bright blue sky. This suggested to me breathability in production and songs about everyday life.
3) The Beatles – ‘Revolver’ – as mentioned earlier, this was designed by Klaus Voorman, and is a combination of photographs and hand drawn portraits in collage. My impression of this as a bit of a Beatle-maniac, was that the complexity of the image compared to earlier albums reflected a development in the complexity of the songs. Tracks on Revolver delve into more topics touching on social issues like ‘Taxman’, ‘Doctor Robert’ and ‘Eleanor Rigby’, braver and riskier than the earlier sing alongs ‘Love, Love Me Do’ and ‘I Wanna Hold Your Hand’ we all know and love.
4) Dire Straights – ‘Brothers In Arms’ – The resonator guitar floating up in the clouds always seemed to me to be a bit heavenly, almost worshipping it like a god. I concluded that the guitar would feature quite prominently on this album. I was not disappointed.
5) Bon Jovi – ‘Keep The Faith’ – whilst I did not have this on vinyl, I immediately liked the image of several male hands of different creeds and colours overlaid in a gesture of brotherhood. it gave me the impression of overcoming hardships, and potentially friction. The title track ‘Keep The Faith’ opens the second verse with the lyric ‘Father, father, please believe me, I am laying down my guns’, the chorus carrying the message ‘don’t let your love turn to hate’. I don’t believe the song itself is as political or explicit as preaching racial acceptance, but the album cover alludes to it in my view.
6) DiElle – ‘Fearless’ – I felt I had to include my own, most recent, interpretation of what the album art adds to an album, and what it says about the music. In this instance, I can only tell you what my intentions were – you can be the judge as to whether it says this or something else. The word ‘Fearless’ can be quite harsh, and conjure images of war and external conflict. By the use of a simple charcoal of a nude lady, lying peacefully, I hoped to make a statement that softened those edges, and also gave an impression of emotional rawness and simplicity of production. If you’re interested to hear, the US store link is here.
I have a special picture frame for displaying album art, so we can hang it on the wall in our living room and admire it all the time. There used to be a booming trade in all kids of CD racks, because we used to love to have them on display.
Vinyl is making a bit of a retro comeback, and perhaps this is why. I do not believe it is because people prefer to listen to their music on a turntable over an iPod. Even the fuddiest of duddies have to admit it’s more convenient to listen to digitally, but we’re missing that lost experience of the physical connection between us and our music that means a lot to us. Having something to hold and look at is a huge part of that identity.
So the industry has changed, bringing new and exciting ways to make music that didn’t exist before. Some of us are just celebrating (and maybe clinging to) what once was 🙂
What are your favourite album covers? Please comment below.
Finally found the time to write a blog again! It’s been a while since I’ve been trying to find ways of making an income from my music. London is very expensive and it doesn’t forgive mistakes. Definitely one of the hardest cities to live in. People run like crazy all day including me and it takes (in average) about 3 hours to go to work and back…plus don’t let me even get started with how expensive the underground is..if you visited London..I’m sure you noticed.. 🙂
Anyway it’s me babbling again!!! heheh Got to stop this and get to the point! So…
I’ve been living in London for more than 3 and a half years now, I changed several jobs, worked everywhere (restaurants mostly) and I’ve been a part time Sales assistant in a jewelry shop too since 2012. Needless to say that as an Artist I hated the job and it killed my creativity. There was nothing wrong with the job itself..but it wasn’t for me. I was literally coming back home from work and there was no life in my eyes.
If you hate your job…you know what I’m talking about. Anyway…this thing couldn’t go on and on anymore. I’ve been there for too long…almost 3 years. So I started pushing myself to think of new ways to improve my life.
If you know me, then you know I am present on my social networks and I interact with all my fans…a lot. I appreciate these people. These people care about me..and I care about them. We established a wonderful relationship. Ahhh the magic of the internet! So I thought…well the best way of making an income from my art is to give the opportunity to my fans to support me financially and thanks to the universe that works in mysterious ways.. a friend of mine introduced me Patreon. Patreon is a platform that gives the chance to people to support their fav artist! AMAZING, RIGHT? He has one himself by the way…his name is Tommy Darker and this is his Patreon page if you want to support him!
I started working on my Patreon page in the end of January 2015…and I took the risk to quit the Sales Assistant job hoping that my fans will be there holding the net to catch me as I fall. And guess what! THEY DID! I love these people so much!!!! I started contacting people about my Patreon on the 7th of March and just a week later I raised $482 from 25 patrons so far! It’s going great! I believe more people will jump in in the future and that probably means I will be making at least a basic living from my art.
The Way Patreon Works:
You choose one of the rewards…there are several amounts…you go with what you want. Even $1 is appreciated! You DO NOT get charged right away. You get charged ONLY when I post a creation (new song, cover song, lyrics, video etc). So for example if I don’t post anything for 3 months…you do not get charged. If I post a creation once a month (which is my goal) then you get charged once a month. You can edit/cancel your pledge anytime you want! I love Patreon already and here’s to a great new beginning with more Art from me that I hope will enrich your lives and make you feel good when you listen to it!
Pledging on Patreon is a Win Win situation! You support an artist financially..and you get exclusive rewards back!
Support your favourite artists. It’s the only way for you to keep getting more of the Art you enjoy/like!! This is my Patreon page by the way if you want to support:
Many many thanks for reading this! I appreciate each and every one of you showing support.
With love and positivity,
Héllena is a Greek independent artist, currently residing in London, trying to make a sustainable living from her Art without having to sell out. If you want to contact her and exchange ideas here are few links where you can find her. Say hi, she won’t bite 😀
“We were a band of white boys from Ohio that hitch-hiked our way to New York to try and make it big. Needless to say, by the time we arrived we were completely broke. We had nothing but the gear we hadn’t pawned yet and the clothes on our back. So when it came to finding a place to stay we were limited by the budget of what we were able to scrape together by busking in front of Yankee Stadium and ‘donating’ plasma.
Our first stroke of luck came in the form of a cab driver that was inspired by our tenacity and offered us the spare room in his townhouse in Queens. So we found ourselves the proverbial ‘fish out of water’ in a neighborhood that was racially, culturally, and financially worlds away from anything we had ever known.
Honestly, we were scared and intimidated. We really weren’t sure we were in a position to find any success in such unfamiliar territory. What we discovered was that music is a bond that builds bridges across unknown expanses. Beyond the differences separating us from the community that had taken us in, we realized that we were all blue-collared Americans looking to blow off steam after a hard day’s work.
We quickly established a reputation as the neighborhood good-time band by playing house parties and getting paid with fried chicken and cheap liquor. And from there it snowballed into steady gigs at the hottest clubs in the city and a national touring circuit that took us places we never imagined. We became more than just a band of musicians. We became cross-cultural ambassadors for sonic manipulation!”
It’s true that there are bands out there whose music is so compelling and instantly connects with such a mass audience that the story doesn’t matter. But that’s a one-in-a-million shot. You would be better off buying a lottery ticket. But then you’d have a story to tell.
The truth of the matter is that if you want to take a proactive approach to getting attention for your music you have to think about that kind of stuff. Whether you are looking for some press or simply to connect on a deeper level with your fans, your story matters.
That’s right. Not only do you have to write and record the songs, but you also have to tell an engaging story.
What stories are people looking for?
Press and fans alike want to know what makes you stand out, what makes you unique. Your awesome voice and catchy melodies simply aren’t enough to make you stand out from the rest. That’s not to say that skills don’t matter. Your musical ability is the first thing you must master on your way to becoming a professional musician. However, it is the context with which your present your music that will give you the edge when it comes to getting the gigs, fans, and attention you will need in order to sustain your career.
The good news is that the stories are already there. All you have to do is develop the narrative. Think about that throughout your creation process so that it doesn’t sneak up on you. What you will discover is that you have a way to present your music with context.
Did your crazy producer help you develop your sound by locking you in a basement full of vinyl and throwing hammers at you? Did your neighbor call the cops on you because of your noisy rehearsals, thus inspiring you to steal his girlfriend and write a song about it? Was growing up next to the airport the catalyst for your love of tube screamers? Did a spiritual journey to the homeland shape your vision of the world? The key is that you have to dig deeper than, “We showed up in New York and paid our dues.”
The stories are imbedded in your life, your music, your career, your lyrics, and your inspiration. All you have to do is apply a simple process to formalize the narrative. Then you can string a thread from all of those pieces that illustrates an overview of your entire career and creates a philosophy that resonates deeply with your fans.
Go though every song you have ever written or played and ponder the most interesting thing about each one. It could be something you are doing musically, a technique you are using, your inspiration, or an idea you are trying to articulate with the song. It could have something to do with the instrumentation, the lyrics, the arrangements, the context of the music, or the band dynamics when you recorded the song. It could be about the traditions that you are drawing from, adapting, or changing. It could be an experience from your tour or feedback from a fan. Well, I think you get the idea.
For each song, write that singular element on a post-it note and stick it on your wall. Then rearrange, expand, and rearticulate the narrative as your catalogue grows and your music matures.
That is your story: A living, breathing, evolving, aspect of the art that you have been creating the whole time.
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