Music Biz Students – Don’t Let The Sky Fall On You!

031108132259Falling_Sky This week, I had the opportunity to guest lecture in a music business class. Before the event, I had no way of knowing whether I’d do terrible or spectacular. I put my notecards together and rehearsed my speech to my wall. Prior to this, I had only spoken at Next Big Nashville, but that was an interview.

Luckily, public speaking doesn’t make me nervous, but that doesn’t mean I’d be any good at it. You can still do horrible at things that don’t put you in a cold sweat and make you shake. Especially the things that you lack experience in, have not taken classes on, and have never done before. Yet standing in front of the stage – looking into a sea of students – I felt right at home. The presentation went fantastic. I nailed my key points and adapted as the discussion evolved.

Speaking turned out to be an absolute blast. The feeling that I may have actually taught these students something is even better. I’ll admit though, that I may have layered on the doomsday talk a bit heavy. It was not my intent to scare them, but I’m left with the impression that no one has tried to scare them before. Sadly, the music industry is not a cute puppy, it’s a pit-bull. And the sooner that you learn that, the better off you are. It’s one thing if you’ve been given the sky is falling talk before and chose to stay in the music industry regardless, because you’re foolish and crazy – like all of us. It’s quite another if no one has given you that talk and you have no idea what you’re getting yourself into. Then, there’s reason to worry.

Positive Delusion

Humans are capable of rationalizing some wild things, but the music industry isn’t one of those things you shouldn’t leave your mind to justify. Trust me, this is a cold shower that no one wants. A positive delusion is what enables us to love people that are flawed; it’s what helps people in the trenches pursue their dreams despite overwhelming odds. However, if you do actually believe that the music industry is a wonderful place where jobs are abundant and a great GPA will get you one, then you’re just delusional. This job market doesn’t work that way.

Never has.

But when you’re 18 or 19, studying the music industry in college, it’s fairly easy to believe that the music industry does work this way. I know I did. Back when I was still in school, I was convinced that I was one internship away from a career. I was convinced that somehow things would magically work out. The good thing though is that I did have teachers that – while they still all bullshitted us to some degree – were willing to tell us that the music industry is an ugly place… with a few special opportunities. Each of us were all still delusional, as we were young and didn’t know any better, but our expectations were somewhat more grounded.

Chicken Little

This is why it’s important to have an equal mix of the "sky is falling" talk vs. "the revolution is now" talk. Make no mistake, the sky has been falling for a couple decades now and everyone has simply gotten used to Chicken Little showing up every few years to tell them that this time, it’s really over. This time the major labels will buckle. Likewise, everyone is used to the fact that pundits will say, each year, that this is the best time to get in the industry and do what you love.

There’s truth to both, but when you’re in school, most of the time, you’re not told this. It’s a dash of black clouds, but don’t worry, by the time you graduate, the storm will be over. And this is where most students get themselves into trouble.

When you’re in school, looking three years into the future, it’s easy to just deal with that when it comes, to not worry, and pretend that everything will go lovely.

Real life, whatever that is, doesn’t work that way. And if you’ve spent thousands of dollars on an education and have grown convinced the industry is a cute puppy only to find out that it’s a pit-bull, prepare to cry. It sucks that no one told you.

This is why I’m all right with the fact that I may have disheartened a few souls in my talk. I warned them. It’s easy to graduate with a degree in the music business and become a victim – no one told you. Blame the school. Blame the teachers.


But if at some point in your academic career someone did gave you the "sky is falling” talk with a little bit of “the revolution is now” mixed in. Years later, when you’re on your second or third internship, eating cup ramen, and getting bashed by your parents for marking such ill-advised career choices, maybe you’ll realize that the person who gave that talk isn’t as stupid as you thought. Why is that?

They were once you.

Victims & Victors

It’s here when a person decides if they’re foolish and crazy, want to become a student of the music industry, and are prepared to intern or die. Winners quit all the time; it’s why most successful people are successful. They stopped doing things. They pushed through a dip and quit the others. Is this your dip? Do you have an evil plan to make it work? This is what separates victims from victors.

Victims either a) blame their schools for not telling them that the music industry is a pit-bull or b) rationalize that the bearer of bad news must be an idiot. Victors, on the other hand, either a) quit the music industry and do something else or b) listen to all of the doomsday talk and decide to pursue a career in the industry anyways. Why? Because chances are, they’re foolish and crazy – just like us.

And just like you.

Don't let the sky fall on you, the music industry has always had a Chicken Little problem. Every time a new technology comes along, someone screams bloody murder. Someone declares the death of the music industry and everything that's sacred. Similarly, don't believe that the revolution is now either. It's not now, it's more like ongoing and endless. The first digital decade has ended and the next one will be just as disruptive and uncertain. Take in an equal mix of both views, step back, and breathe for a second. The sky will only fall on you if you let it.

So, don't let it fall.

Victims are always waiting for the end to come. They pray for chaos. Victors don't wait for the end to come. They create the chaos. That's a big difference. The sky will fall when it falls. Don't wait for chaos. Create the chaos. Stop waiting.

The revolution is now.


More: Prepare To Intern or Die, Foolish & Crazy, and Become a Student of the Music Business. (Also, thank you to MSUM and Simon for letting me speak.)

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