Am I too old to have a career in music?
I have a message of hope to all those who want a career in music.
I invited Damian Keyes (author of the ‘Rule Breakers Guide to Social Media’) into WaterBear HQ to discuss whether there is ever a good time to hang up the guitar and say “I’m too old for a career in music”. If you think this applies to you, don’t despair, we believe that you are never too old! In this blog, I want to share the reasons why you should never give up.
It’s a question we are always asked and surprisingly by younger musicians who feel they have somehow missed the boat. If this sounds familiar, you are not alone! I remember feeling this way when I was 23. We had released a hit record and wondered how long can this last? Can we transition to the level of the Stones or have we already missed the boat?
It’s really a psychological problem based on an understanding of the traditional music industry. Historically there were gatekeepers in the form of the labels and A&R who would only sign young talent. This was due to the market place being dominated by youth looking for identity through music, meaning that the industry was geared up to sell to 13-17 years olds.
With the DIY model being so prevalent the gatekeeper is of less important and your potential audience is literally at your fingertips. You can communicate online with an audience no matter your age. Although the old industry exists, the new landscape is full of older DIY artists taking control of their career and engaging with fans. In light of that, here are a few considerations which will help you take advantage of this.
On the subject of fear
There is a fear that is perpetuated by the conventional notions of the industry and further mitigated by the responsibilities of being an adult. Having children, a mortgage coupled with the increasing difficulty of sleeping in a van are issues that present increasing challenges as we mature. These challenges can make a life in music difficult, however, they are not insurmountable.
These concerns are compounded by having a digital window that allows us to see all manner of the musical competition. No matter the benefits, it’s ever more apparent that there is incredibly young talent out there. It’s easy to see these young musical gymnasts and think “I can’t perform at that level, maybe I’m too old for this”.
However don’t despair, there is a niche for you, you have to realise you are in control of your career. If you understand the value you bring to the market and your audience you can create a sustainable path through the industry. That being said, you need to be objective, if you are trying to appeal to people in their early teens when you are post 30, it will be a struggle. Still, if you understand your audience you can succeed.
Understanding your audience
Ok, we need to break this down. I’m not going to pretend it’s easy, if it was everyone would be doing it! The first thing you need to understand is your audience. I was told that “Age entertains age”. There is a strong market for music with a tinge of nostalgia and this is an important consideration.
It’s a positive that older audiences spend more money and have more disposable income. Just look at the difference in ticket prices between Ed Sheehan and the Rolling Stones. This curve keeps going and is a testament to the fact that people buy into nostalgia.
As you get older the competition drops away and this reduction opens up new opportunities. If you understand that a big part of the music industry is the sale of personality you can take advantage of different avenues to reach your audience.
When you are 18 you can get away with blind naivety, however, as you get older blind faith can be problematic. It’s a lot less romantic the older you get and you need to be objective enough to look at yourself and critically reflect on your career.
If you are working in a scene that has limited scope you may only get a few pub gigs over the year. With a bit of research, you work out how to increase your reach and create a sustainable audience as opposed to a pipe dream. We know a lot of older semi-professional artists who have had their fair share of wobbles. The advice we always give is to assess what you can really excel at.
The most pertinent thing is to take the heat of the situation and quell the thoughts that are contributing to your stress. If you are in the pressure cooker and thinking I need to make it by the end of the year, it will kill your vibe and make you miserable. Organise a variety of income streams, if it’s in music great, however, if you need to get a day job it’s not failure but a stepping stone. You need to be in a position where you afford yourself some patience and time. With this, you can raise your objectivity and consequently raise your standards.
During the process of making a record, I always think it’s the best thing I’ve ever created, then three weeks after recording, I think it’s terrible. It’s not until two years later that I have some objectivity and realise there is some good stuff in there, and some other stuff that didn’t really work. I’m telling you this because the more objective you are, the better! Surround yourself with people who know their stuff and from this define what success looks like to you.
What is success to you? Is it maintaining a career in music for thirty years? Is it releasing an album and touring it once a year? If it’s an ongoing process of development, you are likely to keep going and not throw the towel in. Your definition of success at any age is important and the achievement of your process goals will keep you motivated.
However, having an attitude of insatiable development is a form of madness. You play a pub gig, then you’ll want to play a club, then a sports hall and so on. I’ve had experience with this, the day after getting a number one album we just wanted to break America. This achievement didn’t resolve the unsustainable need to do one better.
You have to grow out of all that sort of stuff, if you’ve made the decision that your life will be in music, you need to construct a career that is sustainable. Think of it sequentially, take the pressure off, practice patience, you have all the time in the world and remember it only takes one GREAT song to change everything overnight. Enjoy the process whether it takes five months or five years.
We believe that YOU ARE NEVER TOO OLD TO HAVE A CAREER IN MUSIC!
If you are interested in knowing more, we offer an MA that is work-based and will help you achieve your goals no matter your age. If you are a semi-pro in the industry you can take all that real-world experience and apply it to academia, get industry advice and a piece of paper that gives you kudos.