English · This & That

Myth #1: Selling Out!


We’ve all heard it before. Don’t be a sell out! Be true to the art form, be true to yourself. Don’t sacrifice that for fame and fortune. Bla bla bla. Noble words coming from people who usually (a) aren’t in the music business or (b) are in the music business but need to hold another 2 jobs to stay afloat. Good for them! Let them make the “noble” choice but don’t let their choices influence you. Selling out is not copping out and I will explain exactly why in a minute.

The music industry is like any other industry, right? Your music is a business. You are a brand. But too often we don’t treat it like that. For some reason we think it should abide by its own laws – that those that have a true love for the artform, those that are the most gifted/talented, those that have the best songs should come out top, and those that approach it as a business should not. Wrong. Music is like any other industry, and the reason we make it so hard for ourselves, the reason we think the industry is inherently “tough” is because we don’t approach it this way.

Anything in life is about supply and demand. If there is no demand, there is no exchange. Feel free to follow the art-form and make music that you love, just remember that that does not necessarily mean that everyone else will love it or that it will be popular. If you are happy with writing, recording or performing music that is not well received commercially just remember that from a label/promoter’s point of view you’re not marketable and don’t expect to get rid of your day job.

Please note this is not coming from a place of greed, it’s simply the reality. If anyone wants to make music a career you have to treat it like a business, and with a business comes much needed research and product/service customisation to meet a need/want in the market. If you’re looking at earning your wage through being an artist, i.e. through record sales, performances and related merchandise, you might have to do what some people refer to as “selling out”. All that it means is that you’ve listened to the world’s music-taste and you’ve adapted your art to meet it so that an exchange can happen.

I say selling out is not copping out because its simply understanding the industry and giving it the respect it deserves. The music industry is far from saturated. Music listeners do not select their favourite artist and simply move on with their lives like they would with a brand of toothpaste or their favourite soft drink. There is always space to invite a new artist into their collection. The thing that makes the industry so fresh is that music gets old. Isn’t that ironic! Sure its great to listen to the classics but you can’t spend your whole life listening to the same CD over and over. You need to make room for the new, i.e. there is always demand.

Finding that demand is key to staying alive in the industry and to be able to do what you love for a living. Yes, “what you love”! Sure I write soft-rock because it comes naturally to me, but if you told me that if I had to make orchestral music or pop music in order to have a profitable music business therefore negate the need for the potentially unfulfilling day-job, hell yeah I’d do it! You mean that I’d be able to spend my working days creatively, pursuing something that has my name directly attached to it! Sign me up!

You see for me, and I’m sure for a lot of you, being creative is number one. Take away my guitar and I’ll make the best piano-ballads this year. Take away the piano and I’ll play drums in the most brilliant accompanying rhythm section to come out this summer. Whatever I have, I’ll pour my soul into it. I’ll give my all. Why? Because I LOVE music. I truly love the art-form and appreciate all aspects of it. Restrictions don’t stunt creativity, they stimulate it! A good musician can express him/herself with any instrument/any genre. Isn’t that the music ethos. The code?

Selling out is an excuse that unsuccessful people use. We are all scared of putting our heart and soul into something only for it to fail. It’s natural to use excuses to prevent us from getting hurt, to maintain that comfort zone. Please just don’t impart that disease in someone else’s head because you were too afraid to follow your own dreams. And please please don’t look at them with regret when they’re getting all the attention and living the life you’ve always wanted playing music that you could play in your sleep!

Remove the “Sell out” myth from your vocabulary. Love the artform, love all aspects of it.

Sean David is a singer/songwriter, music entrepreneur and journalist from Port Elizabeth, South Africa. For more info on what he’s been up to click here.

English · This & That

Confession #3: Perfectionism Is For Underachievers


Perfectionism is a funny word. You’d expect it to be black and white, hard and fast – it’s either perfect or it’s not, right? But the concept is so subjective it’s really become a gray area.

Okay, let’s take a step back here. First, before starting anything I think it’s important to identify what you’re trying to do and what’s important to you. If you’re making a song/album, is the public perception of you and your music important to you, or is your own personal perception of the song more important? Which brings me to the ultimate question – what will bring you the most happiness?

Seriously ask yourself that question. For me, it’s the enjoyment on other people’s faces when they hear the track for the first time. That uninhibited joy, the pure excitement. Face beaming kind of stuff! :)

Sure, I want to be happy with a track, but not to the point that it costs me the above goal. If, in my aim to make the perfect track (from my point of view) I am unable to complete and distribute 2 or 3 other good songs that people would enjoy, I have effectively lost.

The funny thing is, when those same people tell me what a great song it is, I believe it too. Not because I get brainwashed into thinking so, but because it’s simply the truth. If you are constantly looking at things from your perspective you are only getting a portion of the truth. As much as you thinkyou know better, it is actually your perspective that is the least objective and the least true.

Think about it. You are your own worst enemy. You constantly criticise your own work where others don’t. Now switch roles – think of a time when you had to give feedback on another friend’s song, art, design, cooking, or whatever. For this exercise, let’s think of a close friend, i.e. someone where you wouldn’t feel the need to “sugar-coat” things. Did you genuinely like the song, art, design or cooking? Did you speak the truth? If that person is a perfectionist more often than not they “considered” your opinion but did their own thing anyway – maybe they continued re-working the song or maybe they simply left it as is but looked upon this creation with less-than-satisfied eyes and failed to do anything with it. Sound like you sometimes? Me too.

This was a biig wake-up call for me and I am by no means free of this sin yet. I have spent many days/months/years either re-working something that was already good to start with and never releasing the song at all because it just wasn’t perfect in my eyes. Well guess what, I simply wasted all that time where I could’ve gained some exposure with the song that I had whilst having the time to continue to work on another couple good songs.

What’s more, if it’s a good product people will speak the truth. We all need affirmation. Affirmation breeds positivity, keeps us motivated and keeps us moving forward. (for my article on “How to stay motivated” click here).

On the contrary, I could work on a song until its “perfect” in my books, but I may have destroyed the very thing that actually made the song perfect to everyone else (Remember music is not all about the instruments and you can overwork it).

So in the best case, perfectionism will delay the finalisation and release of your artwork, delay your exposure and delay the enjoyment on receiving positive feedback. It will also drive you mad!

In the absolute worst case, you will end up over-working something that was already perfect, not get the affirmation you so eagerly thirst for and end up defeated and unmotivated.

Perfectionism is not efficient! Strive for excellence, not perfectionism. And if your friends tell you its good, its good. Cash that cheque and move on!

Sean David is a self-established music entrepreneur, singer/songwriter and journalist.