The truth about the business

So many people in the music business will want to “use” you. They will use you for your talents, understanding, and skills to bring them more “prestige” and “clout” rather than for the genuine pursuit of artistic, professional, and human excellence that culminates into the creation of a project focused on imprinting the heart of humanity for the better.

I have found that many people in this small but powerful industry do not care to invest in a genuine, healthy, and honest relationship with others in the business. Communication only occurs when it’s beneficial only for them, and mutual benefit is disregarded. This music business I speak of includes all facets of the music business: music production, entertainment, performance, education systems, nonprofit, corporate joint ventures, film and television, social media, and so forth.

Learning the hard way

Over time, people reveal their true colors. On a personal note, I try to be as kind as possible with inquirers, current and past collaborators, and even veterans and contemporaries with whom I’ve worked. (I try to keep this posture even with those whom I have personally deemed to be sketchy, cunning, overstating-positive/grandiose, unusually savvy (questionable), and irritable.) Sometimes I play dumb and naïve just to find out people’s true intentions because honestly, this industry is highly selfish and often negatively competitive, forcing [ethics] to look the other way). Hence, Law #21 is required.

For this reason, I have removed myself from many circles. I will continue to do so slowly while preserving those relationships and professional networks that have shown themselves to be of good soil over time. I’ve also eliminated thousands of “friends on social media” who just want my vote for international-level peer-reviewed competitions or who aim to try to hustle me into doing something I don’t want to do (PS, you can’t hustle a hustler of hustlers). Those who actually know me know that when I do not want to be a part of something, I always aim to tell that person the truth with love. Contrarily, many people will agree to embark on something with you and then not following through. Then, they disappear for a short or long time and return out of the blue to tell you how much they’ve missed you and provide you with old-age excuses as if you have never heard them before—the oldest con-artist trick in the book. Hence, transparency is something that I crave and exude as much as possible in the music business.

Then, there is also the fear of ruining relationships. There are colleagues whom I respect ever so dearly that I would love to collaborate on a professional project with, and yet, I’ve become almost overtly protective of the treasured professional collegiality. This hesitancy makes me choose to engage in collaborative work to preserve some form of normalcy in an abnormal music business. I love cheering people on, facilitating new platforms for people to thrive, and celebrating their victories, regardless of whether it gets a prize, a trophy, or a certificate.

You see, art is art. Business is business. Both are beautiful and essential. But without trust, art is fleeting, and business is deceitful. Life has a way of revealing to you who people are and what role they should and should not play within your identity, purpose, and position. Believe me. I’ve tried to initiate visionary projects that aim to be of tremendous social benefit for various populaces in society and projects that will celebrate all who contribute. Still, I’ve learned that you or I cannot force people to share the same mission or ministry. You cannot expect people to care as much, and the care barometer must reach a certain threshold for them to be willing to collaborate.

Searching for community over personal gain

The farther you go in the industry (not higher but farther, because life is a journey), the lonelier it gets. It’s true. That is why it is crucial never to let go or abandon friends and family, who are more precious than gold itself. It is vital to constantly acknowledge those who were there initially because your victories are their victories. Collaborations are seasonal. Professional relationships tend to become seasonal. Career descriptions are seasonal. Even the industry itself is seasonal and constantly fighting for a new transition. In this case, the transition is happening faster, continuously, and chronologically. It gets lonelier because people can develop a discrete level of animosity and envy as you reach more of your goals. If you want to know whether or not somebody ethically got to where they are at, observe the longevity and viability of their vocation and observe the trickling impact on other peoples’ growth or projects (this is very evident of great teachers).

Those who really know me know how much I celebrate them ever so frequently and know that I live my dream vicariously through theirs. Winning a Grammy or an Emmy award is special and meaningful, and at the end of the day do very little to change who I am. However, those awards pale compared to the degree of satisfaction I get every time my family members, friends, students, colleagues, and heroes reach another goal, dream, milestones, and platform. The greatest satisfaction is when a person experiences whatever targeted goal “together” because then the many stories to get to the destination become that much more cherished. You see, it’s not about you. It’s not about me. It’s about “we” and for “whom we are doing this.” Together, we are stronger.

A sustainable path forward

Quick tips I’ve learned from the veterans of the business:

Now, I am by no means trying to depress you! Instead, I hope this post can serve to encourage you as you embark on a career in the music industry. The following words of wisdom will help you know who you are and pursue a career with pride and humility.

Make sure you are:

  1. Secure who you are.
  2. Have established a purpose that is not self-seeking but aiming to empower individuals, communities, and people groups.
  3. Striving to express all facets of your skills, strengths, competencies, expertise, and artistry through various roles without letting other people define or determine which roles you should be limited to.

Aim to pursue the real “artist verification” or “prize,” which is the pursuit of genuine relationships, for [relationships are the currency of the kingdom] and [generosity is the spirit of entrepreneurship].

Be extra cautious about how you maneuver the following tasks within what has been opened to you. Many people are working behind closed doors to sabotage an opportunity for you the farther you go. Hence, be wise as a serpent and sweet as a dove. Develop a team that earned your trust. Weed out those people who have discredited their trust and who aim to discredit your work and achievements in their not-so-savvy ways.

Beware of many prophets and prophetesses of the music industry who are steering hundreds and thousands of people to believe their understanding of the industry’s current model is the end-all-be-all. Some of these online music business gurus are actually at war with each other. They are at war with you and are concerned about satisfying their narcissistic craving while discrediting other peoples’ work. Do not make decisions based on emotion, nostalgic value, or an unhealthy mindset that somehow you are exclusively tied to people just because you experienced a great professional victory together in the past.

People change. Dreams change. The road traveled changes for many of us. Instead, be grateful for the experiences that you have obtained, whether positive or negative. Those experiences shape you to become who you are today and who you can be tomorrow. Continue to exude gratitude and appreciation for what has been given to you.

Putting people over product and profit

(Music Business) is interesting. As a music business and entrepreneurship professor, I am in constant learning, re-learning, pragmatism, research, service, and teaching within this meta-paradigm of a cultural architectural industry. I don’t claim to know it all. I repeat: I don’t claim to know it all. That being said, if you choose to pursue it, you will come across a lot of fake people. Please do not become one. There are many. Many who are just after your likes, follows, votes, social media engagements, and affirmations. So, put a strong focus on caring for people. PEOPLE MATTER. If we can’t change this industry, at the very least, let’s preserve this quality of practice within it.