The Fire That Burns

I grew up in Chilanko Forks - a rural community nestled in the heart of the Chilcotin region of British Columbia, Canada. It was a lonely place for a dreamer, but a perfect place to feed the fire that burned brightly inside of me.

I remember hopping on my three wheeler many times as a young girl, and heading out to the back forty to be alone, think, write, and dream about my future. There was a meadow not far from my childhood home. That’s where I would go to connect, write and enjoy the quiet.

To get to the meadow, I’d travel along a backwoods trail to a watering hole called Hourglass Lake. I’d then follow along the tops of the rolling hills around the lake, to a dirt road that led to the meadow, singing all the way.

Dry and rugged, the thick alpine surrounded me for miles on that dirt road. The blazing hot sun beaming on my skin and the billowing dust behind me, knotting up my hair - I was free, and safe - wrapped in pure joy and feeling untouchable. 

As the dirt road approached the meadow, a golden hue welcomed me with open arms. With music whirling around in my head, I’d find a spot in the meadow, grab my notebook and pen, and begin writing down all the words that were flowing through me. The moment I got home, I’d pull out my guitar and finish writing the song.

This story is unique to me, but I’m guessing it’s similar to yours, in that you too knew at some point in your life that music was your calling. The power of this, cannot be denied. 

“It’s the fire that burns inside of me, that fuels my will - the fire, and only the fire.”

The music industry is the most difficult industry to build a career in for a plethora of reasons, but for the sake of this first issue of ‘music matters’, I’m going to look through the lens of an independent artist or band just stepping in, and will start at the beginning.

The moment an artist decides they’re going to promote and sell their music, charge a fee to perform, and build a fanbase, is the same exact moment the artist steps into entrepreneurialism. The business aspects of being an entrepreneur puts things into a whole other perspective, which can often play havoc with the spirit of why you made music in the first place. Herein lies the first major challenge and is where the fire comes in. 

As you release your music into the market and begin developing your music career, everyone you do business with will have a different opinion about your music and will offer suggestions on how you can become successful. They will most often spell out the ‘name of the game’ as they see it, offer you all kinds of advice on what you should, or shouldn’t do to ‘make it’, and even suggest that you consider changing your name, style and/or sound in order to become more marketable and saleable. While all of this is likely coming from a genuine place, and probably worth listening to from a business point of view, it can be overwhelming and confusing. Then comes the flood of insecurities which will have you comparing yourself to other artists, and questioning the quality of your music, not to mention the societal pressures to ‘get a real job’. You’ll go on to notice that your album sales, streams and/or ticket sales aren’t doing as well as you thought they would, and how other artists are doing better than you. You’ll throw everything into question, become completely paralyzed and want to quit. It’s a terrible feeling, I know, I’ve been there many times, but remember the fire that I mentioned earlier? It’s the fire that fuels the will, and it’s the will that pushes you through. You’ll have to want this with every fibre of your being to get through this part.

There’s a lot to unpack here, which we will look at in the upcoming issues of ‘music matters’ but for now, here’s some food for thought for this week.

“Music is art.
Business is money. 
Each brings value to your music career.
Work together.
Bend a little if it suits you. 
And always stay in your lane.”

The fundamentals of music and business are very different. Trying to mix them together just complicates things. It’s like water and oil in an engine. You need both for the engine to run, but if you pour oil in with the water, or water in with the oil, well, let’s just say it’s a good way to destroy the engine. To build a healthy and sustainable music career as an independent artist in today’s day and age, gaining a basic understanding of the music business is the best first step so that you can direct your career accordingly. From here, it would be good to look into how to get your music ready for the market, and create a plan. The internet is full of free information about this. I’ll be going into this further, step by step, for paid subscribers starting next week. 

Once you have a plan and budget, you’ll be ready to hire your team to see it through. They are there to handle the marketing and business side of things, while you create and perform the music, and build your fanbase. Be sure to review your reports, ask questions and work together, but (pardon my bluntness here) it’s best to not get in one another’s way. They won’t appreciate you in their world telling them how to run a marketing campaign, any more than you would appreciate them in your world telling you how to sing your song; unless of course you’re a marketing expert, and they’re a world class vocal coach, then it’s a whole other deal. 

“This is a marathon, not a race.”

You’ll have to work very, very hard, and struggle on your own for a bit while you build, but you aren’t alone. Every single artist has to go through this; even ones who are midway and established move in and out of these stages. The good news is, if you take baby steps and approach your development realistically, you will make progress. Stay focused on your music and fans. That’s all that matters. As your career grows, so will your team. It takes time. Be good to people and do good business. Relationships are everything in the music industry.

“Authenticity is your golden ticket to success.”

Your innate ability to create beautiful and original music is your gift. Not everyone is going to like your style and sound, and you don’t have to change anything about yourself, or your music, unless you truly feel you should. Hone in on your craft, yes. Be an objective observer of your music career, of course, but for the love of music, and yourself, never allow anyone, or anything, to get in your way of making music from your very soul, freely and proudly. Your fans will love you for it. 

“Don’t go down the rabbit hole. It’s a waste of precious time and energy."

You are your own person. Everything about you and your music is unique, as are the factors in your life. There is no benefit to comparing yourself to others. Just stay your course, remain focused on your music, fans and business relations, and build a career that you can be proud of. 

Let go of your inhibitions and unrealistic expectations, and when you’re down, look to the fire that burns within.