Understand that sometimes you’re going to have to be uncomfortable…
Almost fifteen years ago (hey, Ron here), I started writing the songs that would end up becoming my first album with The District (holy shit, it was that long ago? Yeah. Wow!). Of the (many) people in my social circle who were fronting bands at that time, I certainly wasn’t the most talented songwriter or guitar player, I wasn’t the most engaging performer, I wasn’t the best looking or best dressed and I didn’t come from a family with industry connections or money to help me get going. Very few of the markers that point towards possible music industry success were there, but somehow, in 2017, I’m the only one from that incredibly talented group of friends who makes the whole of his/her living writing, recording, and performing my original music.
How did we get here? Lots of things came together to make my career happen, but today I wanted to focus on one that I think was especially important: I was willing to be uncomfortable (and you should be, too).
After college, my friends were starting careers in advertising, teaching, finance, etc etc etc, and making music at night and on the weekends. I worked as a waiter (quit), security guard (fired), clothing salesman (quit during an argument that I would’ve gotten fired for), guitar teacher at a school (fired, I think), until I eventually settled into playing music in the subway (where you can’t get fired). Why didn’t I just go out and get an office job? I had a college degree and probably would’ve been much more comfortable sitting in the air conditioning for eight hours every day as opposed to breathing fumes down on that subway platform. I could’ve had health insurance. I could’ve lived in a (much, much, much) nicer neighborhood. When I ran out of groceries, I could’ve BOUGHT MORE GROCERIES! Why was I willing to do what amounted to odd jobs for a few years while I got my music career going? Glad you asked; I did that SO THAT I HAD TIME TO WORK ON MY MUSIC CAREER! I got fired from my job as a security guard because I was writing a song, hadn’t finished, and was supposed to go in for a shift. When I called to tell them I couldn’t make it in right then, they were all “This is a job” and I was like “I know how you feel. This is my job. Sorry about that. See you never” then I finished writing my song. I went out the next day and got another bullshit job and continued with business as usual. I kept my lifestyle as close to free as humanly possible, sometimes I paid my rent in rolled change (not a joke), but I was free to work on my music and my (nearly non-existent) career with the majority of my time.
For multiple years, I spent hours each day sending people personal messages on social media platforms asking them what they thought of my music. Lots of them wrote me back and told me to drop dead/that my music was terrible/that I was ugly/that I should quit...but I kept sending out those messages, trying to spread the music. I went through all kinds of other uncomfortable situations like that, where people or circumstances were actively telling me to quit but I kept pressing on. When other people stopped, I just kept going. When it would’ve been easier to fall back, I pressed on.
When you’re starting out, while you’re busy creating a fallback plan, there’s someone scrappier and hungrier who’s out there burning the candle at both ends and hustling all day, every day with zero regard for anything else but making it. When you’re asleep, that person is writing, practicing, promoting their music and doing everything they can to get five steps farther from you and closer to Beyoncé.
If you don’t want it more than everyone around you, then you don’t want it enough. If you’re not willing to go broke and miss a few meals, you should take that job at the bank, because the music business is not for you. Being a career artist is like using hard drugs; there is no such thing as “dabbling.” You’re either in, or you’re out. Very few people are out there shooting dope recreationally (and they’re the exception that proves the rule). This is that shit; it’s your wife, not a mistress. If you want it, you have to want it to the exclusion of all else and you have to be willing to bleed for it, because every time it gets harder to survive, other people are going to drop off. You have to keep going when they quit. I’ll race you to the top!
REASON TO IGNORE THIS ADVICE: hmmm... you just can't. sorry.
What am I reading? Advice by the Slice is a weekly blog giving independent/growing artists small pieces of advice throughout the year. Through growing Ron Pope’s career from baby-sized part time gig to (what most consider) a successful independent full-time thing with millions of streams, sold out tours, and living as a mostly full grown adult, we get questions all the time about how to “make it.” Full disclosure: We are not experts and there is no formula. However, these are things we’ve tried along the way and have proven to be positive for an artist. Why one piece weekly? Well, we often feel like throwing a whole lot of advice/opinions at someone makes them want to crawl in a hole and say goodbye to the music industry forever, so this feels a little more manageable. Also, by the slice pizza joints are the best spots on earth, so this is also our tribute to those guys. So, here’s to a year’s worth of tricks to try and slices of pie. Cheers!
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