Stop comparing your career to outdated music business models
Earlier this year I traveled to Detroit in order to interview an Leo Bautista, a young man who is better known to the world as Rival Summers. Leo’s fans had requested I feature him on my podcast several times in the months prior through emails and tweets, which in itself wasn’t entirely usual, but the volume of requests far exceeded any other artist week after week. Anyone in entertainment will tell you that is the kind of thing you need to pay attention to, so – I did.
I was largely unfamiliar with Rival Summers before scheduling the conversation, but the ten hour drive from Minneapolis to Detroit provided ample time for me to become immersed in Leo’s discography. He’s single-handedly creating (and recording – Leo often plays most, if not all the instruments on his albums) a style of pop rock that takes just enough cues from the soundtracks of John Hughes film to feel timeless in their own way. It is immediately accessible and undeniably catchy music that people of all ages can relate to, but there are layers to the material that provides a depth many in his genre struggle to achieve. There is also an ever so slight edge to it all, making Rival Summers a project that could just as well be found on Warped Tour as it could opening for bigger radio rock artists in arenas. In short, it’s something special:
After realizing all of this over the course of my drive you can probably understand how surprised I was to hear Leo tell me, on record, that was a bit disappointed with how his last EP, Undeniable, had performed. The album was the product of nearly five years’ work, and Leo’s fans had contributed money through a crowdfunding campaign to allow him a full month of recording time in California alongside one of his music idols, My American Heart frontman turned producer Jesse Barrera. It was a month that Leo says changed his life and career. For the first time he was able to fully focus on music in a place that inspired him in a way his home in the midwest could not replicate. He was more or less on his own and doing the thing he loved because people who believed in his art cared enough to support his continued development without knowing what would come from doing so.
Undeniable, a name Leo chose because it is what he inspires to be in music, was released in April of 2016. Leo did his best to promote the record online, receiving several mentions on blogs and a few positive reviews, which his fans then promoted through their networks with retweets, likes, and shares. Everyone who heard the record seemed to enjoy it, if not love it, and that made Leo happy. Still, in the back of his mind something was missing. Despite all the love and support from his fans Leo was not seeing the opportunity to take the next big step in his career that he believed the album could create. Add to this the fact he parted ways with his creative partner at the time, which hindered touring as a full band, and it is easy to understand why there seemed to be a negative for every positive.
Leo eventually came to realize he was wrong all along. Like anyone striving to turn their passion into a career he unknowingly allowed himself to get caught up with the business of art, which has a nasty habit of making people undervalue their creativity based on how they believe the world outside their audience feels about their work. Leo’s fans had told him Undeniable was a record they needed and were willing to support before it was even created. He was empowered by an audience he built through his own hard work to further chase his dreams and build a career. The record may not have brought a label deal his way or provided a management contact with a massive network of powerful influencers, but it reaffirmed his relationship with his audience and brought numerous new believers to his craft. Touring may hurt in the short term, but we are quickly approaching an age where digitally-inclined talent can build thriving careers without going broke on the road to play for 30 kids a night. Leo has the ability to try alternative paths because his fans are already dedicated to seeing him flourish.
You probably realize this by now, but Leo is not alone when it comes to this problem. Entertainment as a whole has changed very quickly in the last ten years. The ways we tell people to think about careers in entertainment however, have not. In today’s industry anyone with an engaged audience can build a meaningful, financially stable career as long as they are willing to work hard and constantly give back to those who support them. Today’s artists can create Patreon pages that allow fans all over the world to give as little as $2 a month to see their continued success, which can very quickly turn into hundreds or even thousands of a dollars per month total, all without an artist having to leave their home. Today’s artists can use StageIt and similar platforms to host concerts from their living rooms. As long as an artist has a fan base that wants to hear more from them it is possible to completely circumvent the traditional music industry model and find major success, including platinum records and sold out shows around the globe.