How anyone can ‘make it’ in the music business

Making It, How To Make It, Music, Music Business, Music Industry

“How do I make it in the business?” This is the number one question any aspiring professional in any field asks their peers. If you want to tour the country full time you look to someone who is currently performing 200 shows a year for advice. If you want to write the next great novel you talk to an author or two who knows what it takes to finish a book. If you want to be run a record label you look at how your favorite labels operate and build off what they have found to be a proven method for success.

Some might call this an act of imitation, but most would call it research. You have to ask questions in order to learn what you do not already know, and if you’re someone looking to work in entertainment then your first question to any peer is probably some variation of what I wrote above. How do you make it? How do you do this full time? Who pays you? Where did you find a job? Who do I talk to about a job? How do you keep a roof over your head? And so on.

The most frustrating, yet entirely accurate response to any version of the question of how one ‘makes it’ is one that has been around long before the internet:

Find something you love to do, pour everything you can into doing it, and — eventually — it will be what you do.

Maddening, right? But it is absolutely true.

I wrote about music for more than half a decade before I met anyone willing to pay me for my words. The years before that had been spent writing in between class and shifts at whatever miserable job I could find. I woke up early and stayed up late, often splitting my nights between covering concerts and writing about what I had seen so that I could go out and cover something else the following evening. Everything in my life took a backseat to my passion for writing, and even though I wasn’t making much, if anything, through doing it my continued efforts to improve gave me an immense sense of personal satisfaction. I wrote with hopes of becoming a writer just as much as I wrote to make myself happy.

By the time anyone other than PPC (pay per click) vendors were willing to pay me for my work I had already established a presence and personal brand in the world of music. I knew the people I once wanted to be, and they knew me. I posted about securing a paid gig, and several of those same people congratulated me, but within hours they — and I — had moved on. The news that money was coming in soon was nice, but I had to focus on the present to reach that point where someone paid me. I had established a routine for writing that remained largely unchanged by the presence of paid work because in my mind I was going to be writing either way. My passion for writing was never tied to money, so the fact it was starting to come in was — to me— no excuse to act in any manner than the way I was behaving when it felt like no one cared at all.

Years later and I am now a full-time professional doing what I love in the field I love. The journey to this place was filled with ups and downs, but in hindsight, I am able to understand every step of the way was necessary in order to handle the demands, challenges, opportunities that working full time in entertainment can present. I have a thick skin, and I know that in order to be my best self creatively I have to care for my mental and physical well being. I understand how to network and I know how to write.

There is still plenty left for me to learn, but every morning when I wake up, I know I am able to handle whatever life throws at me because of the time I have invested in my craft. Others recognize this as well, which is why I am able to have a job and continue building my connection. People know I can handle the work, and they know it is ultimately not money that motivates me, but passion. This industry runs on passion.

Once you harness your passion and set to becoming the best you can be at whatever it is you want to do the rest will begin to fall into place. It won’t happen today, tomorrow, or even next week, but if you stick with something and constantly work at improving yourself the day will come when you finally lift your head and realize you’re where you always wanted to be. It sounds foolish and maybe even a little delusional, but I am telling you it is the truth because it happened to me in spite of the fact I believed such ideas to be nonsense.

No one wants to tell young minds how few of them will actually grow up and do the work needed to reach their goals, but it is the absolute truth. Most people are not willing to do the work, and of those that are many will only work for so long before they demand the world give them something in return. The world owes you nothing. If you want to be something you have to make something out of yourself. Do the work, and you will succeed. It’s that easy and that hard.

James Shotwell

James Shotwell is the Director of Customer Engagement at Haulix and host of the company's podcast, Inside Music. He is also a public speaker known for promoting careers in the entertainment industry, as well as an entertainment journalist with over a decade of experience. His bylines include Rolling Stone, Alternative Press, Substream Magazine, Nu Sound, and Under The Gun Review, among other popular outlets.