Every summer, music festivals happen all across the country. Lots of these festivals have “song schools” in conjunction with them. Song schools draw a variety of participants — from those who desperately want to be performing artists and successful songwriters, to those who just want to hang out and play music with other people, and maybe learn a few new tricks on the guitar. The schools offer classes all day long for about a week.

A friend of mine just returned home from teaching at one and was telling me about it. He said that a well-known agent was teaching the music biz course. He said there was lots of discouragement throughout the school all week because this agent told the students that most likely they weren’t going to be able to make a living at music. His message was pretty simple: If you don’t have something special to offer, then there’s no hope for you. There’s no harm in throwing in the towel and making music your hobby. But get real about it. (This is why you saw no music business people in “The Secret” DVD.)

Interesting teaching technique, I guess. I laughed and said that the agent was probably just trying to make his flight home easier since every one of those students had their own CD and would probably give it to him at the end of the week. (I’ve flown with suitcases filled with CDs from students after teaching at song schools.)

Then we got into a discussion about this. I named several people who have “made it” in a non-commercial niche way, and I kept saying, “Ha! What about this person?” Each person I named makes a living doing what s/he loves to do, but aren’t the very best with regard to talent or “sell-ability.”

The upshot is this: I don’t agree with the agent.

Yes, I do agree that there are lots of people who aren’t all that great at songwriting who go to these song schools hoping to be “discovered” or “rescued.” But the issue, for me, is not that they aren’t great at songwriting. That can be worked on slowly. The issue is the second part of that. That they are wanting someone to give them permission, or discover them, or rescue them.

If I may be Yoda for a moment — That is why they fail.

If I have accomplished one thing on my path of modest success in music, it’s this: I got a clue. Getting a clue is a highly underrated side-bonus that comes from following your passion in life. I was just like these students. I wanted someone else to tell me I could do it. Preferably someone important who would then do it for me.

Ultimately, you do it for yourself. You’ll definitely get help along the way. But rather than tell you that you could make something your hobby, or that you should get a job, or that you should give up, I’d rather list a few things I’ve learned as a performer and recording artist, not in any particular order.

So, this is me standing behind that agent posting little cartoon bubbles above his head, as he yammers on about how awful and hard it is in the entertainment business today…

Be real

Find your own voice. Be authentic. I know there are so many people who you love, who you admire: Shawn Colvin, The Dixie Chicks, Dave Matthews – the list is endless. (And you can fill it in with people from your own profession if you’re not a musician.) But to quote Arnold Patent, “If you genuinely have something to say, then there is someone who genuinely needs to hear it.” That’s true for songs, for blogs, for novels, for speakers, for paintings, for everything.

On any given night, I have no idea how anyone in the audience has heard of me. Maybe a few from radio. Maybe a few have brought friends. Slowly it adds up. It works organically because you are authentic and you have something to say. Not because you wished you could be like someone else and copied her the best you could.

David Wilcox was a big giant angel to me when I was first getting started. When I was still playing in bars, I asked him about what songs to play. I didn’t want to do cover tunes like everyone else. I wanted to play my own stuff and a few covers by lesser-known artists. David said to only do those songs I wanted to do. He said that the people who didn’t like me would leave the bar. But the ones who stayed would stay fans forever. It was terrifying to imagine people leaving. But he was right. The ones who stayed, really stayed.

The Law of Attraction

Lots of folks talk about the Law of Attraction these days. So, if you’re sitting in a class with an agent who is telling you that most likely you’re not good enough to “make it,” ask yourself, how did I attract this? Do you want to focus on this line of thinking? If not, be strong and get out of there. Work on the parts of you that keep pulling in people who tell you that you can’t live your passion or fulfill your dream. Why do you keep seeking their permission?

When I looked deeply at every “bad” situation in my career, I could almost always see how I created it, attracted it, and what I needed to learn from it. The Law of Attraction is a gift. Use it.

Work at your craft

Write songs, write blogs, write your novel, write whatever it is you want to write. Perform. Sing. Paint. Draw. Work at this stuff. It will make you better. It will make you happier. Looking outside of you for approval makes you unhappy. Writing and creating makes you happy. Deeply happy.

Stop waiting for permission, rescue or discovery.

Give yourself permission. Rescue yourself. Discover yourself. Enough said.

Leap and the net will appear

Yes, this is a line from my own song. But it’s actually an old Zen expression. It makes sense. Take a few chances. Get a little scared. Take some risks. We are such a scared people these days. Everyone wants security. Security is a myth. And your life will be a little more exciting if you get a little insecure.

Some of the best and biggest opportunities that I’ve gotten came from just being out there. Doors open when you take risks. They’re not always the doors you expected. Often they’re even better.

Work at the business

I have become good friends with several promoters, agents, and managers. What I have learned is this: these people are working every bit as hard as you are to make this work. When you see it from their side, you realize that they don’t have “the power.” No one has the power. No one is “the man.”

Only you have the power in your world. Get a little better at your craft. And get a little wiser with the business end of it. Lord knows there are great blogs aplenty on marketing. I recommend Seth Godin for a broad perspective of all marketing issues across the board. Art, music, food, health — it seems like every business is going through the same challenges now. The old music-biz approach of getting a demo recorded and pitching your stuff with a bio and press kit isn’t always going to work now. Open your business mind a little. You don’t need to become obsessed. But it’s a requirement that you get a little wiser.

Overwhelm happens

I was taking a business workshop once, and for the whole first part you know what I felt like? You know how when a beetle or a June bug flies into your screen door and then lands on the deck on his back and then lays there with all 18 of his legs just paddling the air struggling to figure out how he’s gonna roll back over? That’s how I felt. That’s how I feel a lot.

But you can only do one thing at a time. (Well, I suppose you can pee while buying a book on Amazon and talking on your cell phone. But you’re probably a girl if you can do that.) And you can only start where you are. This stuff can be overwhelming. When you get overwhelmed, take a step back. Pet your dog, remember what’s really important in life, and start over again with dog drool on your hands.

Naysayers suck. But they’re there. Deal with it.

A songwriter in one of my classes said that she hadn’t written since she got a bad review in her local paper. She got trashed. (Don’t get me started on critics and how they seem to love to warn the world about the dangers of this new artist’s very first creation. Hello?)

But the truth is this: the decision to stop herself in her tracks was hers and hers alone. Grouchy people abound. Cynics, critics, assholes – they’re just people who are too scared to try it themselves. Or they’re feeling discouraged so they have to discourage everyone else.

What I know about this one particular agent who taught at that song school is that he’s had a rough time in the music world. He’s good, but he’s overwhelmed, busy, and tired of people asking for his advice. That’s not the person who’s going to tell you to go for it. Choose your mentors wisely. Or keep reading my blog.

28 COMMENTS ADD A COMMENT
  • april

    Your words of wisdom were just what I needed in this hour. I have taken up a new instument and started listening to other music I would normaly not listen to. I’m a girl who plays and writes with guitar and sings pop like music. Well I went to keyboard and started learning raps to help me in my time of serious writer’s block. Gosh, I wish I could find a mentor. Thanks for you blog!

  • Cynthia

    Hey Christine –

    I’m doing a little research for a 16-year old friend of mine who is passionate about songwriting and quite good at it in my opinion. Can you give her any specific advice of what her next step is? She has written many complete and whole songs (lyrics only – she doesn’t do the music) and has posted some on her facebook account, but that is it for the most part. What do you think of those “share your stuff” sites? Do you think she should start a blog? This girl has such a great head on her shoulders and will do wonderfully in whatever she chooses as her career, but songwriting is what makes her smile and I want to do whatever I can to support her in it!

    Thanks so much for any advice you can give!

    Cynthia

    P.S. – you mentioned Springfield – as in Illinois?

  • juliana

    Hi Christine,

    Thanks so much for this entry. I’m slowly emerging from “the valley” in my perspective on my music career. I think we all go through peaks and lows and your post (and the vision board guide) has definitely helped me pick myself back up and get back to the writing table.

    Much love,

    Juliana

  • Andrea Love

    I can’t put into words how reading this blog has inspired and encouraged me in this very moment – I literally fought back tears! It was just what I needed to read, as I’m about to “leap and expect the net to appear” (I’m a singer/songwriter, and I’m starting to work on my solo project).

    I’m so grateful to God for your words and I pray that you are blessed beyond all that you could ever expect!!

    Peace, Love and Blessings to you and yours!!!

  • iletitgo

    Thanks-I needed this! I am going to figure out how to helping others to declutter their lives will put money in my pocket. This WILL happen. I don’t know how, but thanks for the encouragement to live my dreams!

  • Rose

    Your post reminded me of something I read. It was about a speaker who was speaking about those who wanted an acting career. Basically he told his audience that they might as well give up that aspiration because few actor make it in the business. Later when he was asked why he gave such advice he said that those that truly wanted to be actors would pursue it no matter what he (or anyone else) said.

    And this also reminds me of the Harrison Ford story of how when he first got started acting some producer or something told him he would never make it in the business…….Of course we know how HIS career turned out!

  • Rori Baron

    Hi Christine,
    A friend of mine introduced me to your site, and I just love it! It’s so inspirational and humorous and warm and it just tickles me in all the right places. I just recently left my job to start my own coaching practice, and when I left a coworker and friend gave me a gift with a card that said, “Leap and the net will appear.” I got goosebumps when I saw that and I realized that I have l by that statement basically all my life and it has never failed me. I did some research on it and found that it’s actually a quote from John Burroughs, a naturalist and writer from the 1800’s. Now, he may have gotten it from some type of Eastern philosophy, but the quote seems to be attributed to him according to what I’ve been able to uncover. I just wanted to share that with you and also wish you continued success. I plan to see you in Ft. Lauderdale in December. Thanks for everything; you can’t even begin to realize how many people you impact and inspire!

  • Christine Kane

    thanks stephen! sorry i took me so long to respond!

    hi annie – i don’t know what the “tribute” circuit is. is that cover tunes? your blog is great too!

  • Annie Walker

    Hi Christine, I’ve just discovered your site through a path I really don’t remember. All the advice tells me that as a blogger I should be networking more widely, so I’ve been link-hopping, looking for interesting stuff and interesting people to widen my worldview a bit.

    Despite the fact that I write a financial blog, most of my income comes from music – I’m a touring muso on the tribute circuit at the moment, whilst I work up a new album of original stuff to promote.

    I had to comment to say that this post REALLY reverberated with me. I’ve been told *so* many times that I should give up and get a “proper job” (obviously said by someone who has no idea of how much work music is). I’m also working with the Law of Attraction myself and am just starting to get a feel for what it means in my life.

    Sorry – this is a bit of a rambling post, but I just wanted to say “hi” and let you know that you really touched a nerve here. I’m subscribing to your blog from today – it’s wonderfully written with great content, I look forwards to hearing more from you in the future!

  • Stephen Hopson

    Hi Christine:

    I simply had to stop and tell you how much I really enjoyed this post. I don’t remember how I found you but it isn’t the first time I saw your blog. Today’s post was very much in line with my philosophy on the importance of discovering your passions and living your life according to your heart’s desires, never mind the naysayers.

    I was so taken by this post that I mentioned it over at my blog. You can see it here: http://adversityuniversity.blogspot.com/2007/08/have-you-heard-of-christine-kane.html

    It was beautifully written and written directly from the heart. Thanks for reminding me how important it is to keep going in the face of obstacles, other people’s opinions and so forth.

    Stephen

  • Christine Kane

    natjm – thanks for your thoughts. I’m glad this posts helps you in your career. And yes, friends (and other musicians on the same path) are hugely important. I agree 100%.

    hi jim – it’s great to meet you. i just spent a week with cliff eberhart. one of the funniest and most authentic people i’ve ever known. and shawn is one of my favorites. what an amazing career you’ve had – and i’m sure you could write a big post about it all too! i’d like to see that! πŸ™‚ i’ll be at the freight and salvage on sept 22 – let me know if you’re around then. i’d be happy to put you on the guest list.

    thanks charlie!

    hi greg – i understand those dips in career where things can just let you down so much. i’m glad this helped perk you back up. i’ve been there!

  • Greg Rollett

    Christine, I read about you this morning from Bob Baker and headed on over to see what you had to say. I must say that you have some very inspiring writing and music. I am looking forward to your teleclass with Bob on Monday night. Being a musician who has been uninspired since our band’s demise, this article has got me thinking of getting back in the studio and the stage, whether by myself or with a new band. I love my newfound marketing business, but the stage is where I feel th most comfortable. Anyway, thanks for th inspiration and Ill be listening Monday!

  • Charlie Gear

    Wow, Christine–I needed to hear all of that… Thanks greatly!

  • Jim Bruno

    Dear Christine,

    Your insights are right on the money. You mention Shawn Colvin in your post. Well I worked with Shawn for a number of years early in her career. I was her guitarist, bass player and songwriter (she recorded two of my songs on Fast Folk Records).

    Shawn was always throwing caution to the wind. I remember she was living in NYC and she was behind in her rent. An attorney wanted to manage her and was willing to give her a substantial advance and she turned him down. She said he had no experience in management and wanted to wait for the right offer. I thought to myself this is one bold woman, risking eviction rather than make the wrong move.

    There are numerous other examples I can give. I have continued to write songs and have had my songs recorded by, in addition to Shawn, Mary Lou Lord, Chuck Prophet, Cliff Eberhardt, Thad Cockrell and Laurie MacAllister.

    I’ve often said there’s no sure path to succcess but there’s one to failure and that’s to quit.

    Take care and keep up the good work!
    Jim Bruno
    http://www.jimbrunomusic.com

  • Nat JM

    Very inspiring and well written. I like your imagery (the June bug) and your sense of humour (peeing while buying a book from Amazon and talking on cell phone).

    As Andrew suggested, i also support the importance of having friends for constructive feedback as they say.

    I am myself on the path of trying to make a living as a full time musician with my own songs, and reading your post is a lot more useful than many other things i have read. So thanks for giving me that extra push πŸ˜‰

  • christine

    Andrew… you are SO right about that. It’s worthy of a post in and of itself. Artists can be so totally insular and isolated (I fall prey to that as well) that we forget how much other people can fill us up. Thanks for the very kind words!

  • Andrew

    … in and out – you are an inspirational and beautiful woman. I have only begun to read things you posted here, but it is great. Only one thing I would comment on as an “addition” is the importance of having friends. It IS important for people have friends (even muggles, haha), but especially for people who pursue your way of life as artist. A good friend is very supportive (not in a codependent way), but also politely honest, forgiving… they are great when the artist’s life goes through dark times (where the root of insecurity gets fed). They will love you in and out. I have to *unglue* myself and get some sleep, hahaha.

  • christine

    Susie, I’ll think of you when I’m dining at Millie’s!

    Jane, thanks for stopping by. I’m glad you found me. Can’t wait to check out your blog — it looks like you’re doing a lot in your career!

  • Jane Carroll

    Christine,

    Talk about Law of Attraction! I found your blog through Jennifer Louden’s blog just tonight. This was exactly the message that I needed as I’m making decisions regarding my writing career. Thanks for the straight-shooting encouragement!

  • Susie

    Don’t worry, I will sooo fly there as soon as I find a free plane ticket πŸ˜‰
    Have fun and make sure SUB takes you to a good restaurant…Millie’s always has my thumbs up!

  • christine

    Hi Susanne! You’re welcome. Now, go write some songs!

    Susie, Well, you know, you could always fly to Springfield! We’ll all miss you!

  • Susie

    Hey Christine, Thanks once again for your thoughts. I have a lot of “big” decisions to make in the next month and I’m already coming across some “naysayers.” When the times come, I’ll keep in mind your wisdom, listen to what I really want and shoot for happiness…like you said, leap and the net will appear.

    I noticed on your tour dates that you are going back to Drury University. I think this will be the first time since you started performing there that I’ll miss it AND you’ll be doing your “Workshop for College Students: Getting a Job is Boring. Get a Life Instead.” I just had to graduate didn’t I? Oh well, I’ll be there in spirit.

  • Susanne

    Thanks for this essay, just the reminder I needed. Even though I keep encouraging my students and telling them that there are more ways to make a living from making music than they can imagine, I need a reminder that belief alone doesn’t make you a musician.

    I’ll have to write songs in order to become a songwriter. Duh. (Okay, off to the piano…)

  • christine

    I will for sure! (My tour dates page is always there too!)

  • Starbucker

    Yes, it’s good to be less of a mystery to people when you are spilling your thoughts out on a page. Do let us know when you are in the Northeast. All the best.

  • christine

    Thanks Starbucker! Yes, it sounds like I need to meet your wife. Maybe I’ll be up there soon! It’s good to hear you (or read you) talk about this issue as it relates to other callings. It’s all the same thing after all. I’m also glad to hear this, as I am a reader of your blog, and it gives me a little background!

  • Starbucker

    Christine, I loved the June bug analogy – gosh, have I been there too! This agent would have been called a “naysayer” by one of my mentors – he absolutely despised naysayers, and he passed that along to me (and the associated optimism). My “calling” was being a leader (not a songwriter, although I do that as simply another fun form of expression, just like blogging), and I had people tell me I shouldn’t do it – “you are a numbers guy, and a too impulsive one at that”. But I kept pushing, knowing that the “net would appear” (love that Zen stuff Christine – you and my wife should hook up). If I can add one thing to this, it’s “ignore the naysayers, and trust your own voice”. And keep reading Christine’s blog πŸ™‚