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Where is “There”?

Where is “There”?

In this latest instalment of Viznomics, Marc Brown tackles some Artist myth-busting, breaking down some of the assumptions around how to artists break into the music business.

Byta is run as a distributed team which means I work by myself a lot (think self-isolating but in a good way). Back when I was a radio plugger in the UK I had an office in central London and used to listen to music 10 hours a day. Now I prefer peace and quiet, it gives me time to think.

I think about the same things we all do. Do we live in a computer simulation? Why do people think Kanye West is crazy or a genius or both? Why does Sweden have the best candy in the world?

There’s a theme here. The questions I have (or anyone else for that matter, we all have them) revolve around WHY: “why do we think something”, “why is a certain thing a certain way”, and “why don’t I know?” “Why is that piece of the puzzle missing?” Why why why. Thing is, these are just thought experiments, ways to look at problems from different perspectives, to self-reflect.

In music, we don’t often give ourselves the time to self-reflect, especially about our own work. Everyone is simply trying to get shit done. That’s what it’s like working in music – action action action… with varying degrees of success. That is why the questions I ask myself about music and Byta are a little different.

I think most Artists, be they visual artists or musicians, are asking themselves multiple questions at the same time. They ask the big philosophical questions, while also working out how to find big success. Artists are asking ”who am I?” while needing to know “what do I need to do to get “there”.

I can’t answer the first question “who am I?” and nor should I – you are you and that is yours to own, define and evolve. 

I can however talk about “there”.

Ultimately when talking about “there” we most likely mean successful. Like you, I too have always wanted to get “there”. I’ve even probably been there more than once but I left “there” behind to get to another different (better?) “there”. What does all this really mean? Everyone defines success differently. My “there” might not be your “there”.

I think (actually I am pretty sure) it is this abstract “there” which is the root of the problem for so many artists, especially musicians. Not because I don’t think getting “there” is real or possible, moreover it is in the approach, how artists and musicians think it works vs. how they are told it works.

When one is new to anything one looks for advice which leads almost certainly to the internet’s insights – “Do X and Y will happen” or “10 steps to Z”, or “never do A, B and especially C”. The music business is no different, lots of advice, but how reliable is it really?

So if there is a “there” and the music business is full of “great” advice on how to get “there” why aren’t we all “there”?

That is because there is no “there”, in the physical sense of the word, no ideal point to get to. That also means no single piece of advice that will insure you will get from A to B.

I’ve been travelling a lot (or at least I was travelling a lot) and I read a lot. I see false narratives wherever I go. These are the three worst tips I see on how to get “there”:

1. Streaming, Playlists (insert quick fix) is the “key”

This is the worst one by far. Spotify (other streaming platforms are available) is great, it is the only way I listen to music these days. That being said, the narrative that streaming platforms are all you need to get “there” is just a sales tactic. Look around and the evidence is there, check out Jeff Moskow’s “a playlist is not a marketing plan” or Patrick Ross’ “Dry Streams Paradox”.

Another example. Last year I moderated one of hour #HowWeListen panels at the Halifax Pop Explosion. We had a music marketing expert, an indie record label owner and Canada’s last full-time music writer talking about how they find, listen and experience new music. Halfway through I remember thinking that we hadn’t even mentioned a single streaming service, let alone as a source of music discovery.

Playlists DO help with music discovery but the idea that it’s the epicentre of music discovery is ultimately an out-and-out lie.

2. “Do X and Y will happen” or “Hire me to get Y”

This quick-fix approach to an artist’s career is nothing new yet it’s still a huge problem. Do this, and that will happen. Could work but it’s oversimplifying a very very complex world.

The worst offenders, the ones that really piss me off, are the “hire me to get Y” people. I see this at conferences all the time. This is especially poisonous when combined with the quick-fix: “Do X and Y then pay me Z and you will definitely get “there”. Hard no to that offer.

Consultants are the worst offenders. I know, I used to be one. I heard people try it on all the time.

3. Gatekeepers

It’s natural for us to fixate on those who we feel are holding us back or look for that one person to rush in and solve what we are looking to have solved. I guess there are gatekeepers in music but those people are there to be worked.

All you really need to know is that anyone who has real influence in the music business (and not some bullshit title) actually likes music. Watch out though, the person at the top might seem like they have influence but they actually don’t know anything and only follow the people who actually like music, so follow my original point. If your band, record, or voice is good and they hear it, they will like it and they will want to support you.

Everyone, even these people, long to feel the energy of something new and exciting, remember that.

Now for the good/bad news.

The first part is the easiest to articulate and hardest to execute – your music needs to be good. “Good” is like “there”, it is hard to define but you know it when you feel it. And that feeling is real. Search it out, question it, and work with it.

The bad news is no matter what anyone tells you there is no button to press no switch to flick. Creativity is a big lumpy mass, not a thin sleek dart (yes, anyways exceptions). It’s about the process of “learning by doing”.

The road and the destination are how you define them. Don’t let anyone tell you anything different.

MB / Stockholm April 10, 2020