“The music business is a cruel and shallow money trench, a long plastic hallway where thieves and pimps run free, and good men die like dogs. There’s also a negative side.”
―Hunter S. Thompson
I don’t feel this way, but it sure is a great quote. 🙂
Trying to convince someone to take a chance on you is never easy. Making a pitch as an entrepreneur is literally like applying for the job you need every single time. There is no one to blame but yourself if it fails, and if you don’t land the gig and don’t have a day job, somewhere deep inside you know that you cannot keep living this life and you will have to make some major changes. I have now done hundreds of these types of meetings/calls, and while it gets a little easier every time, you still have days where you feel like you just didn’t hit anywhere near the mark.
You might drive over wondering should I have taken a little longer to get dressed? (especially me, as I tend to get dressed in about 30 seconds with dog hair everywhere and the same two black jackets I would wear to your wedding and your funeral). You might wonder, did I check that file on the key? Does that playlist make any sense? Is this traffic gonna make me late? Did I do enough homework for this person or prepare enough to be taking up their time or mine?
I have 100 percent confidence in this band and charity and what I’m trying to accomplish—WHY I’m there and WHY I’ll always be doing this—and yet these thoughts still sneak through. I haven’t missed a meeting or a show. We don’t go on late. Even if a piece of gear breaks or someone is sick, the show must go on, None of those fever dreams of screwing something up royally or showing up in public naked ever materialize. But every once in a while the ghosts are just there, hiding in the back of your mind. I heard B. B. King, Jeff Tweedy, and others still throw up before shows—even after seasoned careers, they care enough to get nervous sometimes. There is something wonderful in that.
Well, here are some of the most embarrassing things that have happened on the way to my finding some success in the music business.
I once called a booking agent a successful friend of mine gave me the lead for. It was a big agency and something the band really needed at the time. I was too excited when they answered. The guy immediately cut me off and said, “Are you a musician? You sound like a musician.”
I said,“Yes, I sure am, but…”
“WELL THEN, HAVE YOUR MANAGER CALL BACK—XxxX!”
BAAM. He hung up. I didn’t have a chance to tell him that of course I didn’t have a manager at the time. (Later on, I faked my own manager’s name a few times—the alias Frank Penderhausen appeared as an engineer on several of the band’s early CDs. That was me, folks. Thanks to Chief Justice for the moniker.
I once hung out for hours with a theater owner in the Midwest. He bought me endless rounds of Jack Daniels. We told each other how we hung the moon. He said I would always be welcome to play. (This happened to also be the second date with my wife 11 years ago—why my wife married me when her second date was me networking and knowing she would have to drive me home is another story entirely.)
Anyway, I called this club owner back a year later when I needed a spot for the band to play, and he didn’t remember me WHATSOEVER. He asked quickly and fully annoyed, “Well, how many can you draw?” I said I could draw 50 at least. He shouts back, “Fifty? I could get 50 people in my damn basement tonight!” BAAM. He hung up. Dead silence before I could finish my sentence. How quickly he had forgotten our little love affair.
A friend set up a meeting—it was not a cold call. It wasn’t even a pitch. I was at a place in my career where I had enough going that I didn’t “need” this meeting, but as any entrepreneur knows, a couple good years mean nothing—you say yes all you can, and you keep planting seeds. And if it’s going well, you better put some aside to get you and the crew through a possible rough patch.
I had a horrible morning getting to the meet. The drive over was pure traffic, ice, lots of phone calls, so I had no time to check email, and the woman I was meeting with had canceled the meeting on email while I was en route. I walked in, and she was on the phone in another room, but I could hear every word she was saying as I waited downstairs.
She tells whoever is on the line, completely annoyed, “I know, I’m here. I’m handling it, but I just tried to cancel this damn guy, and he just showed up.”
Literally right at that moment, her partner came out of another room to greet me. I was in a bit of shock, and despite running an office similar to this one in LA for many years, I felt like a TOTAL LOSER. 🙂 Turns out she was dealing with a bunch of stress, a legal battle, and artists’ needs (being a manager is a job I wouldn’t want in a million years—we artists tend to forget how it takes 100 phone calls to come up with one win).
So, I made friends with the assistant—he was wonderful. She came in and apologized, and turns out she was wonderful, too. We ended up talking life, death, and everything in between, and we are staying in touch.
Everyone is fighting some kind of a battle. The decision for me not to mouth off or leave thinking I was TOO COOL was absolutely the right one—and I try to remind young people asking me about the music business that it’s gonna take more patience than you can imagine. Like any business where you are making the pitch and you are selling yourself (and in almost every business, they are buying YOU, not what you are “selling”).
Rough meetings or brutal hang ups are gonna destroy our confidence for a little bit. And really—you put yourself out there, and you know the risk. You gotta push past it.
We all have to start somewhere, so I’m not judging; I used to be a cold-calling FOOL. But in reality, once we get up the ladder a bit, we SHOULDN’T COLD-CALL ANYONE ANYWAY. We have to create real relationships with whoever we know and work out from there. That’s a lot easier to do if you live around music people in a bigger city or have a family that has some connections. People do business with people they like and trust and already KNOW. This gives some people an unfair advantage—but by putting together your own career path from scratch, you will learn a heck of a lot more than if it is all given to you. Whoever is close to you and knows a little more than you, do them a favor: Put your ego down, provide them value, and work your way up from there. Very few good things happen overnight anyway.
This is also why it irks me when people say someone should PAY to work for them— people who treat interns like garbage, having them get coffee without teaching them anything or helping them make connections. Kids who have nothing cannot afford to do that, and the merits of your hard work (even more than talent) should be the deciding factor, not how much you start with in the bank.
But as Kristofferson says, “Don’t let the bastards get you down.” I get cold calls/emails now for help with publishing, and I always remember how hard that call was to make when I was in their shoes. I politely say I’m sorry but I’m swamped and I can’t help you—but check out X, Y, and Z. I try to refer them to some books, blogs, etc. I don’t always do this, but I try to—I have learned my lesson and try to hit the like button or write something back to anyone that checks in online. We are asking for eyeballs, so when we finally get them, why waste the opportunity to be thankful. Easier said than done, but do it.
They will remember. If they don’t, that’s OK, too. Again, we are all dealing with our own battles. If someone is truly rude or you know you can’t trust them, then DRIVE ON. You went through another no to get to a yes. Climb back on the horse. Keep pitching and keep punching. Make another pot of coffee and, as my friend Bob Frymire from APM says, start “DIALING FOR DOLLARS!”
My former manager and great friend Joe Preckajlo summed all this up perfectly years back… “The success of your life is based on the amount of uncomfortable phone calls you are willing to make.”
It sure helps if you love what you do. And it helps if you can call someone because you truly care about THEM and not what you are selling. Or (THE BEST) selling something that might actually HELP OTHERS AND PROVIDE REAL VALUE TO OTHERS. We all want to work with people we trust and love—and most of us want to do something that matters. Money only takes you so far.
Would love to hear your embarrassing stories. When we put it out there, hopefully we can laugh at it a bit. If it gets too hard, just remember one of my favorite Willie Nelson lines—screw ’em, that’s what they get for moving next door to a star. 🙂
Next up—the three most brutal shows we’ve ever played. 🙂 Thanks for reading!
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