According to John C. Maxwell there are three tenants that all cultures hinge upon: behavior, symbols, and systems. So allow me to quickly walk you through my thoughts on the notion of culture before sharing my thoughts on how our country’s culture has shaped our music’s past and present.
I believe mankind’s first successful enterprise was the creation and maintenance of the nuclear family. And what allowed this to flourish was the innate understanding that “teamwork makes the dream work,” as no organization or culture can exist if its members aren’t unified in their vision for the future. But before we can even broach the subject of unification, we need to start by fostering a safe enough environment (whether personally or economically) for people to even operate in. After all, when our sense of security feels compromised, our fight, flight, or freeze responses will cause us to either withdraw our sense of connectedness to others or make our connectedness more adversarial. And since systems breed symptoms, let’s look at the makeup of the system that permeates the culture of the music industry to gain insight into why the symbols and subsequent behavioral patterns musicians tend to exhibit are what they are.
As a fan of the literature of author and businessman Robert Kiyosaki, he brilliantly explains how money is only made in four different ways. So let’s take a look at what symptoms might be produced from these four cash-flow systems.
This is a fixed income earning system that contractually binds the number of hours you work to a specific pay rate. In short, you work more, you make more. You work less, you make less. Also, because most employees aren’t given equity in the businesses that pay them, their continued employment will always be at the sole discretion of their employer.
Small Business Owner
This system causes you to trade more time for the money you make because depending upon what the demands are for your product or service, as well as overhead, you’ll quite possibly lack both the man power and working capital to operate your business to where you’d have surpluses of free capital and time on your hands within the first 5 years if you last that long. And even then, lots of businesses only break even at the 5-year mark. This system, just like the prior one, is akin to what could be construed as a bucket-carrying income earning system, which is to say that you can only really make what you have the physical stamina to earn. And even if you can generate enough sales to either hire a few employees or subcontractors along the way, there will always be a ceiling that you won’t scale past without graduating onto big business ownership.
Big Business Ownership
Kiyosaki defines this in the traditional sense as someone who owns a company that can afford to hire roughly 500 or more employees and is operating well north of several million dollars in sales. Now obviously we live in a different dispensation of time from when this criterion could be considered a universal standard (i.e. 500+ employees). But for illustrative purposes, lets just stick with this number. What this means is that the owner has learned how to multiply their production efforts over enough people to meet market demands, and in a way that’s designed to prevent employee burnout. And because the owner wouldn’t have to be involved with the minutia of day to day operations, it affords the owner more control over their time and profit potential.
This is where your money compounds. Simply put, your money is making you money. But to make the types of quick gains that the big boys and girls make, I’ve heard it said that you’re going to want to have at least $500k to play with, and in a less than conservative manner.
Now that we’ve covered the landscape (system) that undergirds all industrialized civilizations, let’s use this framework to enhance our view of the symptomatic behaviors and decision making patterns of musicians, both past and present, so we can get a feel for what’s to come, as it’s very much true that while history doesn’t repeat itself, it always rhymes.
I like to say that if you’re not fighting for financial independence, you’re settling for financial dependency, as no other option exists. So what independence implies is ownership and agency to entertain more options than obligations. However, due to most musicians having never really been schooled in the area of wealth creation, most of us have only known what life is like as an employee or independent contractor (small business owner). And as such, our inability to scale our income independent of our physical activity has left many with a scarcity mindset that makes us very protective of the opportunities that we’ve garnered for ourselves.
This is where you’re receiving a salary as a result of being on a retainer. Usually you’re on one of these because you’re working for an artist that has a large enough “machine” behind them that affords them the ability to keep you on their books. However, just like most jobs, your time is more obligated than it is flexible, and your earning potential is more fixed than it is flexible. And let’s not forget that you’re always replaceable, as there are thousands of other people who would vie for your spot and are more than capable of performing at your level and above if the opportunity was presented.
Bandleader (small business owner)
While this garners you more attention, it also garners you more responsibility, as you are your own “machine.” This is where no matter what happens on your watch, you’re ultimately responsible for having to respond to everything related to your band, such as payroll, booking gigs, marketing, possibly composing and charting music for your band, networking, and all other manner of managerial duties. The upside is that you work when you want to and have more flexibility with your earning potential. Also, you have a brand that you get to leverage to create more opportunities for yourself. So you at least get to have a little more control over how you steer the direction of your ship.
Bandleader (big business owner)
Very few musicians ever attain this status because they lack ownership over the means of mass production and distribution, as one artist can’t mass produce a performance in any other fashion than to make a recording that can be duplicated. And if you don’t own the rights to your own duplication and distributive processes, then you can’t ascend past the ranks of small business ownership. But for the ones that have, you’ll notice that they also own their own record labels and distributive channels, in addition to having branched out into other lifestyle-oriented lanes like clothing, food and beverage, tech, etc., such as Jay Z, P Diddy, Dr. Dre, etc.
There are several high-profile performers who have branched out into this area to have amassed a sizable fortune for themselves, such as Jay Z, Diddy, Nas, 50 Cent, Jessica Simpson, and Bono to name a few.
So as you can see, with most musicians having only been taught how to trade their hours for a paycheck, it shouldn’t be surprising that we tend to live with chronic bouts of anxiety due to the constant uncertainty about our financial futures. Especially when the occasional and inevitable setbacks occur. And whereas some musicians will go on the offensive by displaying monopolistic strategies when opportunities come their way, others may secede to a space of apathy for even trying to improve their lot in life if they believe it’s not in the cards for them to win in life. And when we’re relegated to having to contend with loving what we do, while not loving the life it’s providing us, many have been known to numb-out with vices that steal their attention from having to look at their dilemma. Also, because you’re only as good as your last gig, there’s also a tendency for people to turn to certain drugs as performance enhancers to help maintain their competitive edge. So if people do what people see, then we need to be mindful of the examples that we’re following. And it all starts with becoming intentional with the company we keep, and learning what we can from those that have already accomplished what we’re trying to accomplish, as they can give us the cliff notes to expedite our learning curve. Success always leaves clues, but we have to be able to see them. And how we learn to identify the symbols of success is by allowing ourselves to be conditioned by the types of successful people that are willing to resource us with the organizational and strategic systems that they use for their own success.
I sincerely hope this gives some clarity to those of you that may be at an impasse in your music career, and are uncertain as to how to adequately interpret the landscape that’s under all of our feet, so as to make the best informed decisions you can about your future.