So You Wanna Break into the Industry?
Secret’s out: I work in the music industry. I’m just a graphic designer, so I don’t make or break people or anything crazy like that. But I am around this insane industry almost 24/7 and it’s taught some very valuable lessons that I use to navigate the publishing industry.
There are a lot of talented people. A LOT. Sometimes that talent gets noticed; sometimes it gets passed up for a slimmer, taller, blonder, tone-deaf version of you. It’s important to be talented. But it’s more important to work hard and be patient.
There are a lot of talented people. Don’t expect instant gratification if you’re one of them. Being talented doesn’t make you special, it just puts you in the game.
On Making It
Did you know that Lana Del Ray and Lady Gaga tried to break into the industry at the same time? In 2009, I couldn’t name you a single Lana Del Ray song, but I could sing you all the words to Gaga’s “Just Dance.” Of course, nowadays “Summertime Sadness” is constantly on the radio and everyone thinks Lana is so wonderful and so talented. Funny, isn’t it? Everyone likes to think success stories happen overnight, but often they take years of development.
Kacey Musgraves, who just became a hit within the past year, has been in development for YEARS. That’s right, people. She was on Nashville Star in her teens, she released several albums on her own (which have since big taken down since her Major Label Record Deal) and even spent sometime just kind of sitting on a shelf waiting to have the opportunity to record her debut album.
Here’s the thing, just because you don’t break into the industry right off the bat, doesn’t mean you’re not talented or not working hard. Making it is all about timing and getting your work in front of the right people. That’s it.
Making it is crazy and there’s no right way or wrong way to do it. People like Stephanie Meyer and Nicholas Sparks make “making it” look EASY. Maybe making it was easier for them that it is for you (or me), that’s neither good nor bad, it’s just how it is. Don’t get focused on how other people have made or are making it, just be focused on what you’re doing. That’s what matters.
And if you have had a successful project, don’t get comfortable. If you’ve impressed people once, you better be able to do it again with a second album or a second book.
On Being Dropped
What do Katy Perry, Taylor Swift and Lady Gaga all have in common? They were dropped from a label or walked away from one. Katy was actually dropped TWICE. TSwift walked away from RCA when they told her they didn’t want to release her debut album for another several years and thought that she should never sing her own songs. Artists get dropped from labels. Sometimes it just doesn’t work out.
Same goes for authors. Agents and writers part ways. It happens. Not every partnership works out in the long run. BUT that doesn’t mean it was a waste of time. And it certainly doesn’t mean that either party involved in the split was stupid, wrong or mean. It just wasn’t the right fit. Can you imagine if Taylor Swift had stayed at RCA? She wouldn’t have been singing her own songs, which has pretty much been the key to her success. She needed a new partnership. And that’s okay.
So if you find yourself parting ways with an agent or anyone else, be gracious, be grateful and know that it’s fine. Keep calm and write on? No, seriously. Do that.
[And, gentle reminder, if you do part with someone and isn’t mutual, do NOT mouth off about that person. This goes for music artists too. The music and publishing industries are very, very small circles. It’s unwise to bite the hand that feeds you.]
On Your Life Story
Nobody cares. I don’t care if you learned how to play the guitar when you were five. Or if you’ve been writing stories since age seven. It doesn’t make you special. Sorry. I can tell you all about my first writing attempts. I have cutesy anecdotes about my dad illustrating my stories for me when I was little and it took me a while to figure out that the re-telling of these childhood memories bored people to death. You know why? Every singer, every writer has a story like that. Unless you’re JK Rowling, no one cares that you’ve wanted to be creative since you were little. You know what they care about? That you make good art. Just make good art.
When I meet someone who tells me they can sing, I don’t want to listen to them talk about it; I just want to hear the song. I just want to read your book.
On Selling Out
On the subject of making good art, it’s important that you evolve and learn how to improve. What you must never do is chase a trend. Can I use Katy Perry here as an example? Let me preface this by saying, I love Katy’s story. I love her and her first album. It was a college staple for me. But Katy, oh Katy, instead of evolving she’s gone the pop route and seems to have started chasing what she THINKS will be popular (ie. “Roar”). I miss when she was more of songwriter with original sounding melodies that weren’t dripping with recycled busy pop beats. I might even say the same thing about Taylor Swift’s “We Are Never Ever Getting Back Together” (though Lord knows, I dance around my living room to that).
My point is evolve; but don’t change your sound just because you think it’ll make you more popular or you’ll have a No. 1 hit.
In writing, chasing trends looks like something like this: “You know what’s popular right now? Zombie books. I should write a zombie book. People will love that!” If that’s your thought process, write a different book. Write the one that you WANT to write. Write the thing that feels right to you. If it feels good to write it, you’re probably onto something.
Please, please, PLEASE be gracious. People will notice. Be thankful when people take interest in your work. Be excited when people edit it and review it. Be hungry for feedback. Never be above someone else’s critique. Be good to people in your industry and outside of it.
Awards are awesome. Creating great work is better.