I can’t tell you how many times I’ve heard fellow struggling musicians talk about what they’ll settle for with their music career and what they won’t. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve said those things myself! It’s usually a declaration in defense of one’s “art”. They won’t give away copyrights… They won’t give away publishing… They want FULL artistic control. They either want to do it all themselves (good luck) or they want a record deal that hands them the world on a silver platter. They won’t be happy unless the president of the label is personally bringing them bowls of M&M’s with the brown one’s removed.
It’s really easy to tout your principles when no one is knocking at your door. I would give anything to be a fly on the wall for the slim chance they get that knock. If you’re a struggling musician and have to balance work (sometimes several jobs) with your band you might fall pray to desperation. When you’re faced with the choice of working at Starbucks and gigging every other weekend for $80 (if you get anything at all) or a record deal with a nice beefy advance, which looks more appealing? It’s like wandering through the Sahara desert for 10 years and somebody offers you ocean-side property in Hawaii. You just have to forget about the fact that you must agree to sell every child you spawn until the day you die. I’m not making judgement calls here. I just want to look at the situation practically for what it is.
Life is about comprimise and conformity. To what level you’re willing to go is the real question. When I was in junior high I once wore my sisters Corrosion of Conformity t-shirt to church. My Sunday school teacher asked me why I was wearing that shirt. I replied, with as much cockiness a junior highschooler can, that I was a non-conformist. He told me, “We all conform Jeremy, just on different levels.” Silly story, I know, but it really did stick with me. It’s about what you’re willing to give and what you must hold on to.
I have another short story, if I may, to illustrate. We had a weeknight show booked at Rudyards British Pub (one of our favs). Mike over there had me book the other bands for the night so I asked another band to play (who shall remain nameless) whom I really liked their stuff. They were really nice guys and I was excited to play a show with them. We were playing a weeknight show, which is tough for anyone. Even if you have a pretty decent following most people have to work the next day. At Rudz you pay $50 from your cover at the door to pay the soundguy and whoever is working the door. In an effort to get some people there we decided we’d pay the $50 ourselves and make the show free. Wow we sure are nice! When split between band members, and sometimes the other bands, it’s not that bad of a hit and you can usually make it up in merchandise sales. That’s what you call p-r-o-m-o-t-i-o-n. It takes money to make money. Also, it was an effort to get some of the people hanging out downstairs to come up and hear the show. Gosh, we’re so smart.
So I emailed the band-that-shall-remain-nameless to see if they would be willing to go in on it but specified that it wouldn’t be a problem if they didn’t. They replied with something about that idea being and insult to our “art” and it cheapens what we do, blah blah blah. When you make fliers for shows, it’s an expense you eat to try and get people to shows. When you have a business and you have sales or special promotions it’s an expense you eat to improve business!!! You can stand by your values for your “art” all you want but it doesn’t do much good when there’s no one else to hear it.
I’m not saying you have to sell your babies. Like I said, it’s about what you’re willing to give and what you must hold on to. In the 90’s the Smashing Pumpkins were accused of “selling out”. What does that mean? Selling out? They weren’t trying to earn a living before? Oh, but it’s different when you go “corporate”. But that was the 90’s. Now we have Mojave 3 selling Hummers. We have Death Cab for Cutie putting out records on Atlantic. For some reason the sell-out naysayers have gone by the, uh… wayside.