If there’s one piece of advice for musicians (or artists) that we strongly believe in, it’s this: Learn to say no.
When you’re still a newbie and you want to enter the music scene, it is expected (in fact, quite wise) to say YES to a lot of things— free gigs, some favors here and there, lots and lots of invites. You have to be a YES (WO)MAN in order to get in. What’s good about this is that you are still at a stage in your career wherein any favor you give, you’d get something more from it in return whether it’s exposure, knowledge, or friendship with people that can help you later on. But if you’re already in that stage where you want to level up, then you have to say no to many things.
NO TO PLAYING FOR FREE
Making music requires dedication and lots of energy so every hour you spend playing for free— from choosing what to wear to hanging out just a few hours more with other bands after the show– takes away precious time from your life. You’ve done this for years already and unless it’s for a good cause or a very important person, you should say no to playing for free. Besides, it’s about time you get paid. By now, you’ve released an album and you have confidence in your talent. Enough with “exposure” and one-sided collabs already. It’s time you respect yourself and your worth as a musician. In that way, they would respect you and your time, too.
Check out this musician’s retort to a restaurant asking musicians to play for free:
NO TO LATE NIGHT BINGE DRINKING
I know, I know. But having the rockstar lifestyle when you’re not yet the kind of rockstar that you really want to be is pitiful. Work more on your music than on the musician lifestyle. Every night you spend out drinking until the wee hours of the morning takes away the energy and time you need to make really good music. Have fun from time to time, it’s important. But it’s equally important to say NO more often now that you have a lot of work to do. To level up, you need lots of self-discipline. If you really want to hang out, drink juice…drink water…you have a lot of options! You just can’t be your best self when you drink alcohol every night.
And of course, you know what’s next…
NO TO DRUGS
Sorry if I sound like your grandpa but you know drugs can do more harm than good. Try to stay away from it. Do not even try once. Or if you did already, try to avoid triggers. It’s hard to quit but it’s necessary that you stay clean because although many musicians and artists say it enhances their art, but the reality is that, we are just romanticizing drugs…the way we romanticize mental disorders. This doesn’t make anyone cooler. In fact, it can just wear you out. Some of the great artists produce great art DESPITE their use of drugs, and not mainly because of it.
NO TO MORE GIGS
Yep, you read that right. Musicians are not machines and although it is indeed a blessing to have lots of gigs, you have to say NO if your schedule is too loaded. Your physical and mental wellbeing matters much more than your gigs. What’s important is that you say no earlier. Do not commit or give a vague yes if you feel like you’ll say no later on. Do not give the organizers a headache. As long as you say NO the right way and the right time, you are fine. Your career won’t suffer.
NO TO THE “STRUGGLING ARTIST” MYTH
Yes, the struggle is real but it will get better. You will earn money from doing something you love. No ifs and buts and sad faces. This will happen and it will happen soon. YOU WILL MAKE IT HAPPEN. If you want to have a career in music, you have to ditch the idea of a struggling artist. Do not romanticize poverty and suffering, for the love of god. These things get in the way of actual creation. These things do not make you cool. You know what makes you cool? Getting into the mindset that you can make good art without having a sad life…and actually getting there. Monetize, learn to sell more merch, diversify, do not quit your day job yet, get sponsorship from your rich Aunt. Don’t surrender, figure it out even if you have to make a deal with the devil (just kidding, or maybe not).
These are just five things to say NO to but it will dramatically change your life. It will not only make you respect yourself as an artist and a person, it will also give you more time to make music more seriously. Don’t worry. By this time, you already established connections, you’ve already learnt many lessons. It’s time to say No and GROW.
James Hill is a veteran of the music industry. He first worked at Warner Reprise Records then later joined Interscope/ Geffen Records where he managed producers and songwriters and got his first platinum record for Keyshia Cole’s The Way It Is. He is now helping indie artists with branding and manufacturing through his company Unified Manufacturing, a CD/DVD/vinyl and merch company in LA.