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Life In The Fast Lane (or how to 'make it' doing music)

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Author: Mindspawn
Date: 06-Aug-99

[dancetech database recompiled in 1999 - some articles listed April '99 are older]


Life in the Fast Lane (or how to 'make it' doing music)

First off, I'd like to say what you'll be reading here relates to my own personal experience trying to make a living doing music. There are many other methods, and many other paths one can trod. This one's mine. I also use the term 'make it' very, very loosely. You be the judge.

A brief bit of background is in order. I was born in the same year that the Beatles came to the US (that'd be 1964 for those unfamiliar with Beatles esoterica). I grew up on a farm in the Ozarks region of the Midwest. My earliest exposure to music was bluegrass, folk, and rockabilly. I banged about at doing music all my early life, finally seriously learning to play the guitar at fifteen. Co-founded my first band the same year. At the time we played rock, rockabilly, a bit of country, and the occasional metal tune. This went on for about 12 years evolving into prog rock and heavy metal. I ended up playing as lead guitarist in several bands. Did some regional touring, played loads of sleazy bars, and gradually became fed up with the scene, the sound, and the shit.

Hiatus. Thought about giving up music completely and just humping the nine to five. This lasted about six months.

New plan: Get a good job that makes good money, buy/build my own studio, record what I want, the way I want it, irregardless of its commercial potential. Went to college and studied Archaeology as an undergraduate. Planned to become professor type and make my cash for the studio. It was about this time (early 90s), that I was introduced to the 'new' electronic scene. By 'new' I mean different from the one I had discovered in my younger years. My early exposure had been through Tangerine Dream (pre 1980), the Eclectic Electrics of the Moog Orchestra, Pink Floyd (not actually 'electronic' but a similar vibe), Kraftwerk, Nurse With Wound, etc. Now I was being turned on to 808 State, Voodoo Warriors of Love, The Shamen, Paul Oakenfeld, Axis Mundi, etc.

Bought a used D50 to play around with as I had owned one back in the mid 80s. Shortly after that got an XP50 and Cakewalk 2.0 (or around that) that I installed on a then top of the line 486 PC with a whopping 8mb of ram! Decided I would make some of this simple 'techno' music as it's all just simple patterns and whatnot, right? After spending nearly 6 weeks composing and sequencing my first meager track, my respect for the 'new' electronic artists skyrocketed. After the completion of the track, I suddenly rediscovered that fire for music that had burned so bright a few years before. Needless to say, over the next three years or so, I was quite diligent at school, going along right on track. Then, after spending much time among graduate students and PhDs, I realized that it would be years before I would be far enough along the academic path to afford much in the way of a studio, and it would be even more years before I would actually have the time to make any music.

Enter 'Secret Weapon': At about the time I was beginning to realize my plight, my mate, being much more aware of my own moodiness than I, suggested I go after the music thing full time. Having her support and encouragement was the turning point for me, and I went from hobbyist to seeker. If YOU have a secret weapon, treat it with care and respect. It will save you. Properly, here is where the rest of the story begins.

Now I'm not gonna go through kit lists and equipment changes, nor is this about the 'making' of the music, rather this is the making of the money from music. Let it suffice to say that I tried making my sound on soft synths, hardware bits, little proggies for sequencing, loop based sampling, etc. and found I could get 'my style' to come out regardless of the approach, and I started applying the idea of learning my equipment inside and out, practicing, learning, practicing, ad infinitum. Eventually I started letting other folks hear what I was doing. More encouragement. Decided it was time to sell it.

Now I canvassed the WWW for record labels, in particular the independent dance labels. From me prog rock days I knew it was pointless to send your stuff to labels that didn't put out your kind of music (at least that's generally true), thus I spent a lot of time checking out the catalogs of various labels, seeing if I might fit in amongst their artists. I had weeded out about 35 or so labels that looked prospective. I sent out contact letters to touch base with the A&R people at the labels. I asked all of them if it was okay to send in a demo, even if they claimed to take unsolicited demos. This was another bit I learned the hard way from me prog rock days. Back then I had spent a few hundred dollars on postage and received not a single response due, for the most part, to sending prog rock demos to labels that didn't want them, or who didn't take unsolicited demos.

So off me demos went, in DATs, CDs, and cassette tapes. I waited. After a couple of weeks I got back a couple of responses. The responses were of the order of "We like your material, but we've no way to market what you're doing." Undaunted, I waited. Over the next four weeks or so, a few more response came back, basically similar to the first ones. Then I contacted the labels that I had not received a response from. If I remember correctly, all but two returned my inquiry with basic "You're not our kind of music" or some actual bits of encouraging props and occasional advice. None were willing to 'sign me.'

A couple of offers to appear on compilations came my way. Both of the projects fell through without any tracks ever being released. Fortunately, no one had asked for exclusive rights to any of the tracks so I started shopping them elsewhere. It was around that time that I got an email from a guy who had heard one of my demo RA tracks up on Dancetech. We found out we lived a couple of hours apart and he dropped in one day when he was in my area.

This gent was interested in starting up a management company, and he had a good dozen or so DJs already in his stable. He was wanting a live PA to sort of use as a show piece for his first big push into the biz. I became that live PA.

If I remember correctly that was in April of '98. By mid July, Xcentric records had been formed and several of his Djs and myself were signed to the label. Now this wasn't no big corporate label. Every artist had to do a lot of their own production, footwork, etc. There was no real budget. It was more like an artist's union than a label. Anyway, a Mindspawn album was to be the first release. I went into deep seclusion mixing and mastering a dozen of my more dancey tracks. By mid September the master was off to the plant. My manager was promoting the album by that point, sending pre release stuff to radio stations, record shops, etc. A CD release party was planned for Oct.31st, Halloween. A fitting date for Mindspawn's first commercial release. This was also to be my first live performance in over seven years, and my very first live electronic show. I was somewhat nervous being the headliner (serious understatement here). The show turned out 1300 people and a very positive response.

Over the next few months I worked the kinks out of the live stuff and did performances that ranged from ambient improv to playing live versions of the stuff from the CD. A small handful of the 1000 shiny new CDs began to filter out the door. My manager kept pushing promotions, nailing magazines and radio shows focusing on the scene. We got excellent reviews all around and would eventually get into regular rotation on some of the electronic radio shows in the region. Nevertheless, the momentum began to falter. My manager had just took on running a club (decent sized 1200+ capacity) and promoting raves. Between that (which was making him some very needed cash), and us (the artists and DJs who weren't making him much cash), it was easy to see that managing was becoming secondary for him. We all had a long talk and decided to head in our own directions (my contact with my now ex-manager didn't cease, however, and he actually had us to play at a couple of his events this year).

I was a bit in the funk. I had tasted playing live again and wanted to continue to do that, but I had little knowledge of who I needed to talk to. I kept things going by taking on a few jobs doing audio restoration and mastering. Throughout this entire episode (from around April of '98) I was also working with a vocalist on some electro pop kind of tunes. More on that later... Eventually, I decided to try and manage myself, at least for awhile. Basically, I had to recover a lot of the momentum that was lost when I lost my management. I got signed up on MP3.COM. I browsed the newsgroups, I sent out more demos and lots of promotional packages. I got a few more shows. Yet every time I'd take the time off to practice for a show, the business side of things would falter. I'd restart again after a show, but inevitably I was not gaining much ground.

Then, after a few months, the tracks on MP3 began to get noticed. I sold a few more CDs. I started selling my CDs through Amazon.com. A trickle more... A couple of independent labels asked to add a small amount of my stuff to their catalog... Another trickle. I put up some DAM CDs on MP3. Another trickle...

Now sales aren't exactly booming (I've actually moved about 300 units out of a 1000 CDs over the last 7 or 8 months - plus around 75 more total from MP3 DAM CDs). They're finally starting to move in a little quantity.

So where is Mindspawn now? Well I've essentially became a music whore. I'll play anytime, anywhere, with anyone, as long as I get paid. The pay from the live sets generates much more cash flow than CD sales at this point. I take on mix and master projects when they come my way, I do some audio restoration, I produce trax of my own and those of a small handful of other electronic minded folk. We now control Xcentric Records (for what it's worth - it is at least a label I can publish on anytime I want). I'm integrating new elements into the live set all the time. I practice incessantly alone and with Mindspawn's major collaborators B. Brissette, B. Carey, A. Hirschfeld, Robert Howard, and E. McCulloch. Additionally, I'm half of the CIA (the electro pop project I mentioned above). By the by, the CIA project is focused on a much more potentially commercial path. G. Mathias, the other half of the CIA, has an old school chum who is a VP of one of the big corporate labels (it's actually one of the bigger sub labels of Warner Bros)... all of a sudden we're being turned onto major management and publishing possibilities. It's a foot in the door....

All said, the one bit of advice I have to offer is to stay in the game. Don't quit. It certainly helps to have friends who support what you're doing, and having a 'secret weapon' is a tremendous advantage for a score of reasons that range from emotional to financial support. This isn't a game for the meek or the lazy. I heartily advise one to try and secure good management as you can spend more of your time doing your 'job' and less doing the manager's job. This isn't a big money thing, especially not in the early stages. You'll go hungry if you think otherwise. It can support you, BUT you have to be willing to work, think smart, stay on top of things, and be ready to take on most any project that comes your way. Keep your network of contacts expanding. Always look for new contacts to fill in your network and stay in touch with everyone you already have. If you're not going to promote your music, how the hell can people even get the chance to hear it (and thus support it through getting you shows, buying your tracks, etc.). You don't have to exploit people, but exploit your network. If you have an old school chum that's in the biz, give him/her a call and ask to send a demo. You're not exploiting the person, but are offering them a chance to hear your music, maybe cut a deal, and both of you can make some dosh.

It ain't all about dosh, either. The dosh pays the rent, keeps yer gear from being exposed to the elements, etc. I'd be doing music anyway, I just couldn't do it all the time like I do now. That's not everyone's cup of tea anyway. Many people are far happier paying the rent with a nine to five and making music in their free time, their way. However, if music is what your about, damn the torpedoes laddy and full steam ahead, you gotta get up and do it. Now, forget all about that macho shit and learn how to play... yer synth?

Have I made it? Yes and no. I've not reached the financial success I'd like to have, but I do get to do music 24-7 (and believe me, it IS 24-7). Things are gradually improving. Money is still tight, but the horizon isn't exactly bleak. Above all, I still have a long way to go, a lot more music to make, and a secret weapon that keeps me frosty.

Peace Out

Mindspawn


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COMMENTS FOR:

'Life In The Fast Lane (or how to 'make it' doing music)'


There are a total:  8  comments posted to this page.


Name:  Tony
Email: 
Activity:  part-timer
Date:  12-Aug-99

I really enjoyed your literature. Reminds me of myself and my eventual blast into the techno scene. I just need to learn what to buy, I already have the tunes

Tony

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Name:  ~*~
Email: 
Activity:  Professional,part-timer,Hobby-ist
Date:  24-Aug-99

Granted you had to do a lot of work, but can I be you?

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Name:  influx
Email: 
Activity:  part-timer
Date:  30-Aug-99

Great article! Props to Mr.Mindspawn! You deserve all that you can get, amigo...in a good way. Im working on pushing your stuff a little over here, too...making some friends that might matter..

Ill be sending you a demo soon:)

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Name:  ian
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Activity:  part-timer
Date:  08-Jan-00

its banging man, thanx for the advice

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Name:  cosmosuave
Email: 
Activity:  part-timer
Date:  23-Nov-01

Have you try'd shopping your stuff to ad agencies? I have a few contacts in the business and have made some decent money on the side afrom my full time job. Usually your clips are no more than 30 secs for a website.

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Name:  Jon
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Activity:  Hobby-ist
Date:  09-Dec-01

Great article! Thanks

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Name:  christopher bonin
Email: 
Activity:  part-timer
Date:  11-Aug-06

Yeah, i had several websites that "violated rulez" (i was white lettering DL links. But anyways, i really agree with what U say and have gone thru, my uncle invented the wa-wa pedal and knows all the ceo's of all those major labels, boy can they be snippy! but i am starting it on me own, i do the 9 to 5 gig, but i built me own little studio and i am tryin to get me own stuff out, me own way, cause the Corporate American way is to Commercial i cant make that kinda elektronika musik, i am into Infected mushroom stuff, psytrance and i just moved to the midwest-Chicago from bein a resident DJ in florida, but they're gone now thanx to the white snow on their noses, so i cant really use them as contacts anymore. but man i agree 100% with what U have here, and very finely written i might add, i have a tendancy to give out my opinions and stick to them, or just be a devils advocate for the fun of it, which works backwards for me... But i can make tracks far more superior in my mind at least only because i own every single peice of computer application for music possible, and i am learning only have of each app, but now i am using half of each app to rewire into another half of an app, and so on. but it all gets remastered in the end...
check out me page, i am not sure how this all works i will be posting my licks up asap, i just signed up today..
thanx for reading my ranting, and thanx for your article....
Sincerely,
christopher

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Last added comment

Name:  woods101
Email: 
Website?:  n/a
Activity:  part-timer
Date:  13-Nov-06

What a nice piece. I'm in a similiar boat (tho with less money!) but am finally doing what I've always wanted- making music. Been off work(m/c crash) and making music fulltime for six months now. Prob gonna have to do the rat race grind again in the new year but for now it's good. Your right tho. Follow your soul. Give everything you can to those 'secret weapons'( if your lucky enuf to have one!), and above all, don't let the bar stewards grind ya down.
Big Love man.

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