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ADAPT OR DIE (The Clock Only Goes Forward)

Gooding playing guitar

“What’s on the other side of fear? Nothing.” —Jamie Foxx

Well, it was a long time coming, but it’s here. CDs will be off the shelves in Best Buy this summer, and iTunes plans to stop selling downloads sometime next year. (Downloads fell another 27 percent in sales in the first half of this year alone.) Streaming runs the record business. The days of people paying for songs they don’t want to hear are over. Vinyl has made a return, but it doesn’t make up for the old numbers.

Does that mean you can’t make it as a musician or can’t make a living at it? Of course not. Touring numbers are off the charts; there is licensing, sponsorships/branding ops, subscription services, etc. But the days of people paying us to make art and stay ignorant of the business are long gone. The days of someone else promoting us without us letting the world into our day-to-day are gone, except for a select few at the top. And the days of being able to give the public a couple of solid songs and surround them with a bunch of half-baked garbage—that’s long gone, too.

I grew up worshipping stars from major labels who sold millions upon millions of records. They did not spend any percentage of their days coming up with “content” or talking to their fans on nine different social media sites. In my mind, these rock stars came down from Mars. They didn’t document their day-to-day activities unless it was for some tightly controlled film they were putting out. This lack of content (outside of mind-blowing records) made for a lot of mystery and romanticism. Bowie, Prince, U2, Dolly, Cash, James Brown, Zeppelin, Stones, Hendrix, Waits, and Dylan … shoot a picture of their cereal bowl? ARE YOU KIDDING ME? They were too busy rearranging the stars, pulling down the sky, and telling my soul what to feel. Telling me there was fire so bright somewhere in the world that nothing else mattered but music.

Must have been nice, right? The curtain was not pulled back. Oz was real. The price of admission to be in a band or make a record was more than ordering some gear online or opening GarageBand on your laptop and after an hour of work, pressing Bounce—to upload your music right next to your heroes. (I was told there are 150,000 singles added to Spotify every week). Your single looks just the same as Beyoncé’s, just the same as ACME ARTIST X (that’s actually not a bad name for a band). We can all live the same fantasy until the royalty check comes.

I’m gonna get the hate mail on this one, but if you aren’t getting paid for your music or shows, you are not a musician yet. You might be an ARTIST (a high calling, indeed, my friends), but you are not a “working” musician. And I know what some of you are thinking: “Oh, what a sellout. Music and money don’t have anything to do with each other,” etc., etc. I understand. I used to cry that same story. But unless someone else is paying your bills, you better figure out a way to make your art mean something to someone else or you are not gonna be making music when you get older. And the sad truth is, generally, people pay for what they like and skip what they don’t. Believe me, it hurts to write this as much as it does to hear it because the songs I have written that I love the most don’t even show up on my BMI statements. But hundreds that I cranked out, having fun and not taking myself so damn seriously, are doing just fine. Now would I like to see all royalty rates stay high and everyone PAY FULL PRICE for music? Of course, and I happily speak right alongside my friends at BMI, ASCAP, SESAC, the PMA, SCL, AIMP and more on these issues. But in the meantime we as artists must ask ourselves what we are doing to deserve someone else’s hard earned money?

When I was a little dude, you could not record an entire record on your phone. It took saving up forever, recording other bands on a four-track to get an eight-track, using an eight-track to get a 16-track, and so on. Things are much, much cooler (quicker and easier) now, but we better be ready to compete because everyone—and I mean EVERYONE—is in the game. 🙂 The old-school rock stars made it all look over the top, and now everyone wants a shot at the belt. Your dog’s cousin’s brother’s sister’s babysitter has a band and wants you to hear their new demo and come to their gig. They have sold exactly four copies, but in their minds, it’s still the greatest thing since sliced bread. And they should think that. To stay alive in this business requires an inordinate amount of faith and courage and, frankly, a little bit of insanity. The excitement of your first recording is a joy like no other—and it’s wonderful that so many more people get to feel that. But if you aren’t ready to promote the living hell out of what you have come up with—in new ways that we don’t even know about yet—just call this a hobby right now. Enjoy it and save yourself the aggravation.

I would venture to say if you are under, say, 24, you may not be worried about much of this. You are used to getting 100,000 videos on YouTube and making enough to buy a pizza, working a day job, maybe having your parents or another loved one help finance your life. You might be going, “What is this dude talking about labels for?” If you are over 35, you may be spinning out a little, wondering how the hell you learn a new social media site every three months and why no labels want to give out cash until you have proven to them YOU DON’T NEED THEM (and, of course, depending on your goals, you may not). I don’t have heavy-duty social media numbers (go to @goodingmusic on all sites and help me change that right now). 🙂 But I gig all the time and I have hundreds of tunes in a whole bunch of films and TV shows. Touring, licensing, and recording/producing has afforded me a life that most people with tons of hits on social media sites don’t have. But if you don’t have people watching your moves, you can’t communicate with them directly. Very few labels will do it for you, and the labels that do want to SEE THOSE NUMBERS—NOT YOUR INCOME. I should have been spending MORE time on social media myself all those years.

No matter what age you are or genre you are in, every artist except those in the last 1 percent of the business are fighting for a smaller and smaller piece of the label pie. It’s sad that only this last 1 percent is making an incredible living because of course I believe there is a much, much bigger percentage of artists making music that someone would enjoy listening to. But what a surprise, the market ebbs and flows, and things are not fair.

I am very, very grateful to have been in a place for years now where I make my entire living from music. But this took a ton of years and a ton of getting up early and going to bed late to do. I’m not patting myself on the back. I’m saying the system now requires that you work double overtime if you want to stay alive, and especially if you want to pay other people to help you keep it all rolling. It took me running a recording studio for years and recording/producing 200 other bands, putting out my own records every year, recording tons of songs for film and TV and frankly almost anyone who pay me to work. It took me driving every person I ever met crazy talking about my dream of playing full time and touring six months a year to the point we thought our bones might break (some did) before we got home and rested and did it all again. We made peanuts on the road for years—barely enough to eat on. You stay on couches, and you push the van to get it started again. You cook ramen in coffeepots, and you eat the leftover pizza at the club. You borrow, beg, and steal gigs, and you start tours having no idea where they might wind up.

Sound wonderful? Then you are gonna be just fine as an artist. Doesn’t sound great even when you are young? Good God, man, then do something easier that you really want to do! Get out of the road so us lifers can roll by and get to the gig. 🙂 That’s cold, but it’s true. No one but a handful of artists really has it that easy anymore. I have talked to artists I thought had it MADE who have day jobs because streaming ain’t gonna pay the bills and they don’t have tour or licensing income. We still have days where we play for a thousand students and a great club and the next night is two bar backs and a cricket. It takes years and years to build something sustainable, even for those acts with the big-label money behind them.

The MUSIC BUSINESS is a couple of hours of MUSIC a day and about 16 hours of BUSINESS. Does booking, fundraising, promoting, handling social media require a tremendous amount of extra time and energy that has NOTHING to do with writing, recording, and touring? YES. Is it as cool as the feeling of actually creating or playing music? NO, not at all. Too bad/so sad/no one cares.

I complained about it for a few years myself, and guess where it got me? Perfectly nowhere.

We exist in a world that is not kind (not a newsflash, I know). It doesn’t care what we want or think is fair. You solve problems for the market or forget it. The catch-22 is that the most creative people are often the most sensitive and also the dreamers (thank God). Creative types are folks that like to imagine how things COULD BE, not how THEY ARE. But trying to have a career without social media and wrapping your head around at least some of the day-to-day business is just not realistic.

The toothpaste is out of the tube, and if you want to exist in the music business in 2018 and beyond, you have to wear about 57 other hats. I will cover all these in this blog series and in a new podcast I’m starting soon on Patreon, but what I hope to address here are three rules I’m trying to follow to stay sane in this new music biz still finding it’s footing from sales falling apart over the last decade and a half.

1. This is capitalism. It happened to the printing press, and it’s happening to newspapers, photographers, etc.

Remember the magician who pulls one scarf out of a tiny box and then 15 more? Our tiny iPhones have inside of them a boombox, a calculator, a DVD player, a REALLY GREAT film camera, a scanner, a flashlight, AND THE HISTORY OF ALL RECORDED MUSIC AND VIDEO IN THE PALM OF YOUR HAND. The only way to break out of this is to put our best foot forward. Adapt or die. We cannot control the entire market. There is a TON more supply than there is demand. The only way to separate from the pack is to know that if you are true to yourself, someone else will feel it, too. We are just not as different as we are led to believe. We can only do our best work and be our most authentic selves. After you have bled and sweated and thought there was no end to it, the market might—MIGHT—just come to you BECAUSE YOU GAVE IT ENOUGH VALUE. That is my goal. Learn to strip away the layers and all the fear and bullshit and wrong things I’ve filled my brain with, get down to the core, tell the truth, play like the room is on fire, and hope that you will come back and we will share this space together—music and words, dreams and ideas—from time to time.

The market doesn’t care what our excuses are. Nature tore us apart for the first few million years we were here and still tears apart many other countries (most of us, including myself, have forgotten how damn lucky we are to have what we have). The market doesn’t care what your past is. You either bring your best self and your gifts to the fight or you go home. You either solve a problem or no one pays you or pays attention to you.

Fair or not, this is the way the machine rolls. We can make the decision every day to try to burn bright, become our best selves, and take over the machinery, or we can complain and whine and let it roll right over us.

2. This is a chance to GROW. Something even better might be around the corner.

A little faith and hope are always in order. There have been many times when the music business thought it was over. (With the advent of radio, the music industry figured it was the end of recorded music, then the market for recorded music grew exponentially.) When the marketplace changes, will we learn new skills or wish for a bygone era and hold fast to our old ways of thinking? God knows it took me long enough to realize the music business is never going back to what it was, and that’s OK. Something new always arrives, and I am learning a hell of a lot about myself, having to find new ways of reaching you fine folks. Yes, CDs used to sell for $16.99. Yes, people used to pay $100 an hour for the recording studio I get to record in, in my basement, every day. My business is only one of many that is completely reinventing itself. NO MORE WHINING. Here’s to getting on the leading edge of what’s coming and not getting swept behind with excuses, victimhood, or whining—the same things I write about it in these blogs so often because, believe me, I’m trying to change, too.

3. Look at where you are getting DAY BY DAY, not just where you are compared to the biggest dream possible that you feel is light years away.

I wish I had learned this earlier and enjoyed more of the journey. So many nights of endless clubs felt unbearable, but now that I look back, I miss many of those nights, even though I’m much more “successful” than I was then. You will see that strange truth in every rock ’n’ roll bio you ever read. I used to make fun of arena rock stars saying they miss clubs—it seemed impossible. But you miss the simplicity. You miss when it was about nothing but the music and do or die for the song. You miss being young and having no responsibility. So, embrace it. Have a blast with it, and don’t complain. Someone is roofing a house in the sun while you play your guitar, for Christ’s sake. As long as you are learning something every day, you are still in the fight. The struggles you are having are probably more interesting to your fans than seeing you sit on a golden throne anyway. How many movies are about someone who starts at the top and stays at the top? NONE OF THEM. People like to see you work your way up, or they like to see you lose it all and start over.

The good news is the questions I am asking this year are much better than the questions I was asking one, five, 10 years ago. And that’s that main thing we have to do—GROW. Be kind, ask good questions, and grow.

This one got long because I’m trying to get to the bottom of my own resistance to change here. I spent years avoiding social media and just focusing on the songs, the shows, the face-to-face, and, frankly, that was at my own peril and, therefore, the peril of the crew around me. (And that hurts the most. If you are a front person, those people’s lives are in your hands.) I knew what I was doing writing and fronting the band and playing guitar, and I could talk to someone when I could look into their eyes and make my case, but not so much on revealing my every thought on social media. I have also hidden behind “imposter syndrome.” Despite standing up on stage in the lights, most artists have a pretty good-sized hole in their hearts. Some of us may have total confidence while making music and still feel like you wouldn’t care what we had to say once we are off the stage and not hiding behind our instruments.

Obviously, as you read this, I am getting over that craziness. 🙂 And one of the things that has helped me the most is realizing, and this is the final point…


I have already gotten hate mail, already seen the trolls make fun of any attempt to get at something heavier than a selfie. There will always be bullies and dummies. Ain’t never gonna change. J. R. Cash said it best in just two words: “Drive on.”

Pressure makes diamonds. The old gatekeepers are coming down. Become YOU and tell your story and don’t let anyone tell you what your limits are.

Let’s learn, let’s adapt, and let’s not look back. The clock only goes forward. Stop your whining and GET ON WITH IT! (I am saying this to myself, believe me.) We could be making something right now instead of complaining or looking in the past. Let’s go!

Thanks, all! Hope these rants are helpful, and I look forward to hearing from you!


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PS I put myself through boot camp to change my way of thinking about social media. Here are my notes (some of the words are theirs and some are mine) from one of Gary Vaynerchuk’s speeches. I read his last couple of books. Derek Sivers and Seth Godin are all perfectly laying this out, too. See Godin’s Linchpin and Sivers’s Anything You Want. I hope this helps any of you fellow artists who are avoiding diving fully into social media.

Gary V. Overall

How you make your money is more important than how much you make.

Everything that runs our society now—smartphone, Uber, social media—none of it existed 12 years ago.

There is more media (all songs, books, photos, etc.) created every 48 hours than between the beginning of humans and 2003.

Clouds and dirt—SCREW THE MIDDLE. Either take care of the details or dream big. Get out of the middle and don’t play it safe,

You have to know you are THE GREATEST OF ALL TIME and also A PIECE OF SHIT AND NO ONE CARES—that’s the game. Humility and total faith. Overcoming fear by trying over and over again.

Go into the boardroom and get the CONCEPT, and then when it is emotion, go down and DO THE WORK! Create the business, and then go downstairs and sweep the floor. “PULL FROM BOTH SIDES AND YOU BECOME THE BRIDGE TO YOUR OWN SUCCESS.” Highs and lows—it’s all there. How do you want to be remembered? and equally—EXECUTE! Eat dirt! Let ’em boo. Nothing in between.

Try different stuff and test. Don’t whiteboard and debate. Just TRY. Action is the only way—stay in motion—change everything—keep going.

Learn how to love losing. Don’t be afraid to test—FKN LAUGH AT ME, I don’t care.

All this does is reveal who you are. You have to be you or it will eat you up—this will weed people out. That’s good.

You don’t have to do everything. You have to figure out what you are GOOD at, triple down on it, and get resources for everything you suck at. I wrote four books, and I can’t put two sentences together (God, this guy is transparent).

If you are in the excuse business, f**k that.

If your foundation is off, you won’t get there. The details don’t matter as much. GET ON OFFENSE—get confidence.

You’ve been trained, and story told to, and positioned as to what your limits are. what the rules are.

Focus on your seven p.m. to two a.m.

If you can get every voice out of your mind, your whole life will change.

Every L is your L—screw what people think of you. Once you realize how to get quiet up here (mind), everything is different, man.

Insecurity leads to ALL the bad shit. The gold standard is garbage ’cause it doesn’t exist. For everything I won on in social media, I lost on 18 others, but it all got forgotten.

Don’t care what everyone thinks—it will cripple you.

Don’t focus on anybody’s else’s stuff—it’s what YOU DO.

Be DOING, not dwelling (that’s so good).

What works is OPTIMISM in MINDSET.

You are either offense/defense. You come up with reasons why not or reasons WHY YES. It’s binary.



The higher up you go, the more crap you eat. Being nice will get you everything.

Get on offense. When you are on offense, when you are optimistic, when you bet on intangibles, YOU START SUFFOCATING EXCUSES.

Vaynerchuk said number one thing I thank my parents for is I never saw either of them complain about anything.

Everything that happens to me IS MY FAULT. (Say this 100 times.)

You need to go back 80 years and see how good you have it.

I want to build an empire by being a good person along the way. Build the building while everyone else is trying to tear things down.

It’s not grades or the school that makes a good kid.

Intent—I want to do good at no one else’s expense.

Life is complaining and NOT. You are gonna die. ACT.

If you want to be an anomaly, you have to act like one.

If you see the world as an optimistic place, you have winning DNA.

Put your flag in the ground. The world is gonna come to you. Whatever you believe and you are interested in.

JUST BE YOU—for every one you lose, you will get three others.

Stop trying to boil the ocean and go narrow.

Immigrants figured it out: work like hell, save every bit, buy no dumb shit, 13 years later buy an ASSET—American dream.

If you are under 31. you haven’t been punched in the mouth—’90s, 2000, 2009—get ready, it is coming again.

If you are doing things right now and it’s this easy and you aren’t winning, you better rethink NOW. This was the easiest time to make money in the last 100 years.

When you game the truth, you become vulnerable.

The only thing stopping you from reaching the consumer now is the narrative in your own head.

Do not dwell and look backward—be optimistic and look forward.

The lottery really is who’s your mom. They either put you on the defense or the offense.

Who is your best friend? Are they positive?

It’s all self-awareness. Don’t chase fame—figure yourself out and be that person, and then fame is your currency.

Document, don’t create! Show what you learn AS you learn it! Be yourself and they will watch that ALL NIGHT.

I see you out there overthinking your content and agonizing over your decision and taking forever to make up your mind. Your confidence is low, and you are worried people will call you a loser if you make the wrong call. GET OVER THAT QUICK. I love losing because I learn so much from it.

You will have to go slower than you want. You will have to say NO. You are only crushing it if you are living on your own terms.

NICHE. BE YOU. Go deep, not wide. Analytics DON’T TELL THE WHOLE STORY.

DELEGATE whatever you don’t LOVE.

Don’t show off. The customer is right. CONVINCE THEM.

Just hit ’em day after day. Blinders on. Doing you. Putting yourself out there and it will grow.

Submerse yourself in positive people! Whatever you consume is what you get!

The more authentic you are, the more people will forgive your mistakes and stumbles.

Respect your audience. They just want something real.

It’s gonna take a TON of time, and you’re gonna eat shit for a while, but then the brand—YOU will transcend any of the platforms.

Be optimistic, exhibit patience, stop bitching and execute.

This is not a backup to the main event—THIS IS THE MAIN EVENT.

You must EXPERIMENT and pay attention to what the results TELL YOU.

Content for the sake of content is POINTLESS.


Stop trying to be great at all of it. Figure out what YOU are great at (GUITAR) and surround yourself with everything else!

NO fear. It’s AT BAT, SWING. 100 at bats and you’ll hit it out of park. There’s no right or wrong answer—just DOING IT and consistency. I bled from the eyeballs for 10 years building this.

The only thing breaking through is truth.

Just start talking about the things most important to you. Because in the end, the creative (or how “beautiful” someone thinks your content is) is going to be subjective. What’s not subjective is the fact that you need to start putting yourself out there and keep swinging.

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