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Renowned Australian musician
and music educator, Andy Firth
answers the following question...

Andy Firth

September 2010

The Question:
Does a musician also have to be a business person?

by Andy Firth share this - email, favourites, social bookmarks and more

I guess that what is self-evident is that after my 30 years in the music business is that I no longer believe that those that work hard, have talent and help others to become better musicians, will be rewarded for this. This won’t stop me from doing these things where I can, but the business of being a musician is a very different reality to actually being just a musician. Is there a difference? Well, for me, yes there is a very big difference! I never wanted to be a business man, merely a musician but as the reality of a musician’s existence and place in society became clear to me, I quickly realized that I was not going to be successful in the music business.

I love music but I don’t like the music business. Nor do I like most of the type of people that I’ve met that represent and trade on musician’s skills and talents. For the most part they don’t understand the way I think about my music and nor do they care. All that seems important to them is how much can we sell it for and how do we sensationalize what you can do so that it becomes “cutting edge and new”. What the hell does that mean? “Cutting edge?” I’m playing music that I’ve developed from over 300 years of music history. I’m not interested in making it “cutting edge”, just great. This type of thinking for the most part is not appreciated or encouraged in today’s music business. In my world, the things that matter to me are re-creating, developing and perpetuating the music I love and value. This is not necessarily “cutting edge” or “new”, just as good as I can make it.

So how do I become a musical business person?

The only way I have been able to reconcile my cruel fate as a musician in a world that values influence, mediocracy, the “cutting edge” and sensationalistic trends, is to come to the conclusion that I am a trades person, nothing more and nothing less. I’m very good at what I do and I’m always trying to improve upon this in an effort to give a better service than my last gig. Any trades person that values these qualities is one that I find myself always ready to book to do a job,
regardless of the cost of the service needed. Why should Andy the musical trades person be any different?

Basically it comes down to one main problem. I care about the music I play and the quality that I play it at too much. I want to record and write the most
amazing and high quality music that I can and that doesn’t necessarily translate into money and sales. The people that I’m dealing with that are trying to sell me don’t value or care about any of this and I can’t bring myself to think like they do. Checkmate! Game Over!

So what does a musician that’s played a concert at Carnegie recital hall, worked with nearly every major jazz name in Australia and quite a few OS as well, with numerous awards for services to music do to succeed in today’s music business? Get management? Pretend to love music that they detest? Work with people that can lift their profile? Hire a publicist? Get a flashy, expensive website and fill it with exaggerated claims and fabricated reviews?

After all of this, will any of this make any difference to my happiness, self-worth and life as a musician? I doubt it. So why bother? What does it all come down to in the end? Fame, money, an over inflated ego, people clambering to sound and play like me? Do I really want any of this?

Nope! That’s not what makes me happy in life.

I guess, at the end of all of this, every musician has to ask the same question eventually I think. Perhaps as musicians in a highly competitive industry, we just accept that we need to be the next “big thing”, or a highly successful and in demand commodity. Is this something that we are right in believing or do we need to re-think all of this perception?

Are the rewards and benefits of being successful in the music business really worth the sacrifices and stress of it all? Do we really need to keep striving for the “big time” just to make ourselves more successful?

Can’t we be successful by the standards and expectations that we impose on ourselves other than those that we invite society to place on us instead?

There’s no easy way to reconcile the last thought that I want to raise in this discussion, but I do think that it’s an important one for our own peace of mind in times of a “checkmate” situation.

“What matters the most to you? Being a successful business person or a successful musician?” “Both” would be nice, but that’s not a choice I want you to select. Boil it all down, I want you to think about what really is more important to you-the one or the other and then to further understand why?.

I look forward to your individual thoughts on this.



© 2010 Andy Firth

Have Your Say
Scroll down to the bottom of the page to post your comments.

Well put Andy, I hope to contribute in more depth at a later date.

Posted by Alex Hutchinson on Sunday 5 September 2010

Hey Andy, thanks for a realistic, if not overly optimistic article. Also for reminding me why I am happy to play for anyone who can appreciate my 'trademanlike' skills, even the Police Band. It seems necessary to me to add that I do appreciate being able to tag along occasionally with some of the musicians out there who have also developed an interest and ability (or can support an interested management) with skill in the business/promotion side. And the converse question could be asked: Does a business person have to be a musician? Shrug shoulders and repeat after me "It couldn't hurt..."

Posted by Glenn Henrich on Wednesday 1 September 2010

Wow , what a nerve this question has hit , I deal with this everyday of my life , in some way or other , I actually have been forced to split myself into several different personalities , firstly there is 'The Musician' who judges success not on a monetary level , not even on an audience appreciation level , but rather on my own satisfaction level ..eg am I whoring myself here or am I being true to my beliefs and own standards.Then there is the 'promoter/producer' who , really is ALL business , that is not say that I leave my taste or standards behind but the idea is to make money for myself and for an artist/venue.This is important and it's a dirty job but someone has to do it , there has to be a glimmer of hope that one can financially sustain themselves in the music industry without having to be in the top 5% echelon.Thirdly there is the 'Good Samaritan' and here's where it gets messy , do I help someone for free and thus lull them into a false sense of security , rendering them unprepared for their dismal penniless future. Ok, that was bleak , fact is I do more work for free than I probably should but I am passionate about music , and young musicians are obviously our future . The clear cut decision here is do you want to make money from music therefore becoming a carreer musician , or do you want to play music on the side while you earn money in some other way , I mean we all need money , instruments and musical gear is not cheap.If you want to pay the bills by playing music then you have to have a business plan , or be prepared to live a bohemian lifestyle crashing on other peoples lounges , which I can tell you is great fun !!!!...until you grow up ..... 

Posted by Darren Bridge on Wednesday 1 September 2010

Being a 'musician' (vocalist) for me, is something I just love to do. It's a need, and has been all my life. That I don't get enough work is frustrating because I enjoy it so much. I continually strive to improve by learning and listening to many genres of music and feel I have come a long way since I began in 2003.   Agents/managers are not an option for me as I am of 'a certain age' and am, therefore, at a disadvantage immediately in their eyes. It doesn't help that the people involved in hiring live music may discriminate against me because of the same thing, but not necessarily my band, who can also be 'older', but male. Often these people expect musicians to work for peanuts, and some musicians do. This damages the rights of all musicians to a level of payment commensurate with their expertise. I expect reasonable pay for services rendered and quote accordingly.  I agree entirely with Bill that nobody wants to see the same person/band over and over again. However, travelling and touring is not an option for many. Smaller venues could put bands on a rotation system. That way everyone would get a chance to perform regularly and the audience would get variety. They would eventually be the judge anyway. I seem to have strayed from the question somewhat. Oh well.. I'm a girl. The vast majority of musicians don't do it for fame or money. So its not the commercial recognition and God knows it certainly isn't the money that keeps us at it, it's the love of music. I'm just grateful that I can still do it and will continue as long as I feel I am growing and learning. 

Posted by Tina Delandre on Wednesday 1 September 2010

Thanks for the reply Bill. I agree with a lot of what you say! I guess what I'm driving at is does our conscience decision to be either a musician or business person affect how we create and develop our musical ideals and standards? Then further to this, what's more important to each individual? Are we able to take a good, hard look at ourselves and make a determination on whether we are essentially tradespeople, artists or self-developed brands that we try to sell to the highest bidder regardless of the quality and integrity of that music?  My article was not intended to be an answer to any of these questions, merely to act a catalyst to provoke thought and comment on this subject. Could it be that our conceptions and creative energies are shaping our jazz and classical music composition and performances in a certain direction because of the pressure of commercial music market trends? Is this how it has always been? Should this be of concern to us? What's more important to you as an individual-the commercial viability of our art or the artistic integrity of what we do?  Your comments were insightful and beautifully stated and I thank you for them. You are a consummate musician and I admire your ability to "cast your fate to the wind" and worry only about playing the music you love to as many people you can find that want to hear it these days. Indeed, we are very like minded on this point I feel. May you have many "next day" gigs ahead. All the best mate and thanks! 

Posted by Andy Firth on Wednesday 1 September 2010

Well said Andy, very best wishes to you and for your music-making. (And thanks Greg for this channel)

Posted by Mark Isaacs on Wednesday 1 September 2010

It depends on your definition of success. If you include one day doing a concert at Carnegie Hall as a success then you, Andy, are a success. If reaching a certain physical technical proficiency on the clarinet is success, then you've achieved it. I think the idea of being a musical businessman is irrelevant. There are those who are good at that and love it (the managers of some of the people I play with) and they in turn do the work that you and I loathe in order to make their "artists" successful. I often have to remind myself that I AM playing music I love, and for a living, and I'm probably playing to as many people as want to hear it. If I were more entertaining then I would be playing to people who want to be entertained by things other than the music, and a manager would consider me a marketable commodity, but alas I am boring to watch and barely pleasant to listen to, so I enjoy playing my music to small very appreciative crowds, and playing other people's music that I enjoy and choose to play. I've found that being thankful for that has got me far. I don't even consider the business side of music, and in fact have never hustled for a gig or called an agent. I don't network, I don't have facebook, and I don't care. I do consider that NOBODY wants to hear the same person/band play over and over again, so I think the only way to succeed musically is to constantly take your music to a new audience by travelling and touring. The only way to do this is to get someone to organise it for you who knows how. Just show up and play, then get your itinerary for the next day slid under your hotel room door after the gig.

Posted by Bill Risby on Wednesday 1 September 2010
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