Last modification: 01/19/08 19:26

So You Want To Be A Star, Or :
Some Musical Career Advice

(From the Metal Archives: Odysseus's son Telemachus seeking old-school metal advice from his mentor)

Dear Bob : (this email was written in response to a young man who was willing to do "whatever it takes!" to succeed in the music biz. Not his real name.)

I’m flattered that you took so much time to write – my website keeps a rather low profile but still gets plenty of hits from people who randomly surf in, most often as the result of looking for something on Google. It’s just a personal homepage, but I'm glad you found some items of value - there’s a lot of recording info to be had in the “Tips And Tricks” and Mix Bookshelf sections which are two of its most useful areas IMHO.

Before I go further, I’d like to ask you to do a little homework. You say you’re willing to do whatever it takes to get your music heard? What if I told you that more than 50% of success in this industry means becoming an expert in music business? What if it meant studying the law, accounting, contracts and management as it relates to artists? Do you know what a Performing Rights organization is? Do you know what Publishing is? Do you think this is all boring, uncreative stuff that you can leave to other people?

If so, you don’t have what it takes. The largest part of a music career is boring, uncreative, unsexy stuff. Did you know that Mick Jagger was a business major? Freddie Mercury, Gene Simmons, Madonna, and many more have significant biz skills. The smart ones learned this stuff up front, the rest learned it from being burned over the course of their careers. Eventually, once you learn the lingo and the – ahem, GREED instinct kicks in, it becomes less of a dry subject because it’s YOUR money and career that you’re playing with. And ultimately, nobody cares more about You than YOU. That’s My Advice #1.

Advice #2 would be to go watch Penelope Spheeris’ 1987 documentary “The Decline of Western Civilization: Part II, The Metal Years”. Quite likely out of print, but good luck. Why? Every one of the bands in that film had the same thing to say: “We’re Going To Make It To The Top, Do Whatever It Takes And We Have No Plan B.” Only Megadeth made it – the other guys are either washing cars, or dead. What made Megadeth special? Dave Mustaine is a leader that understands his business.

Advice #3 would be to read Moses Avalon’s “Confessions of a Record Producer: How to Survive the Scams and Shams of the Music Business”. Eventually you’ll want to read his two other books, but start with this one. Sign up at and subscribe to his free newsletter while you’re at it.

Advice #4 would be to attend at least ONE Taxi Road Rally. If you found me on Musicians’ Junction, then hopefully you know what TAXI is. You’ll get a crash course in the music industry, with lots of break-out panels and free advice. Bring your music with you and submit it to some panels for review. TAXI is expensive, I know – but you’ve gotta do this at least ONCE, and it’s a lot cheaper than most other music biz seminars.

I want you to know, speaking as a friend here, that the path to success in music is murderous! There are no guarantees of success – and for the same amount of effort, think of it – you could be a doctor, a lawyer, or earn a PhD. Really. If it seems like an impossible thing to succeed the “square” way, it’s actually more difficult to succeed the “hip” way. The only reason to take the music path, and I mean the Only reason, is because nothing is dearer to you and you couldn’t imagine doing anything else – Ever. Even if it means you’ll be eating Ramen Noodles for the rest of your life and living out of a tent. The Beatles were at it for 12 years before they had a hit, and they were turned down by everyone except an extremely minor comedy label, Parlophone. And this is the Beatles we’re talking about. Dig?

I listened to your tracks last night, but I want to give them a second listen before commenting on music and production thingies. Note that I haven’t touched on anything creative yet – that’s a whole ‘nuther world, but believe me I understand how much work it is (and how difficult it is!) to self-produce. Fortunately, I love to record too and I’ve been at it for years – always learning, improving. It’s a lifelong gig, this music thing.


-djh aka Cap’n Zilog

[Just for the Curious - the guy who wrote asking for advice? He couldn't be bothered to say "thanks" and I never heard from him again. Not a good sign for future success in any business.]

Copyright © 1996-2020 Rock Island Productions