Many aspiring musicians, myself included, find themselves fixating on when and how their idols 'made it' to stardom. In such a competitive business, with passions (and egos) running high, there is a certain inquisitive desperation that inhabits our ilk. Constantly searching for connections and trying to find that illusive big break can get tiring and leave you feeling pretty dejected sometimes. At times like this you look to the people who inspire you, the people who have already done everything you hope to do. You study their lives and try to make the same choices, copy their trajectory in the hope you might find yourself catapulted into that very same spot. It helps sometimes to remember that your idols started somewhere, that they were once just like you.

Ironically, in this searching I think something is often lost - reality. There are many routes to success and relatively few of them are the ‘rags to riches’ stories that tend to capture the attention of aspiring artists. Among these various stories behind the stars are many who were simply well-connected showbiz types, some who grafted and eventually got there, and some who, as the cliché goes, were simply 'in the right place at the right time'. There are of course countless others who never made it, or only gained success and notoriety posthumously. Just as the cherished painter Van Gough, great musicians such as Nick Drake, Eva Cassidy and even George Gershwin, never knew the extent of their musical legacy. Despite the wide variety of ways that people gain their success, people tend to focus on what appears to be the path of least resistance - the ‘right place, right time’ route. They invest their hope in Lady Luck and the imagined future approval of an industry gatekeeper, simultaneously renouncing their agency and responsibility for their own lives and dreams.

It is this false air of mysticism and mythology that creates the perfect environment for jobsworth promoters and exploitative practices like ‘pay to play’ to thrive. Hopeful bands and artists are told to play whenever and wherever they can, not from a musical practice-based perspective, but almost as an exercise in betting odds - the idea that if you play enough and push yourself enough, you will inevitably be ‘discovered’ by someone. It’s not completely without merit because on the one hand it encourages hard work and determination- two things that are pretty much prerequisites for a career as a musician. On the other, it also engenders an unfocused, unscrupulous and desperate approach to playing that devalues both music and musicians - get the gig, any gig, at any cost. If you truly believe that there may be a hallowed A&R representative lurking at the back of any and every gig you do, you’ll do anything, and you’ll keep doing anything until you burn out all together. At times it reminds me of a pack of hungry yet docile dogs, pathetically howling at the Masters’ heels for a scrap of something, from a shitty non-paid gig to a record deal.

Nevertheless, the mythology remains and pipe dreams abound. And so it goes... One night, you’ll finish a gig and a mysterious looking man in a sharp suit will slip you his card and promise to make you a star. Or you’ll be busking in the street one day, and a mysterious looking man in a sharp suit will slip you his card and promise to make you a star. Maybe you’ll be singing at the top of your lungs in a hotel room shower and the bell boy, who has magically overheard you from the corridor and been struck dumb with awe, will know a guy who knows a guy who knows...a mysterious looking man in a sharp suit who will promise to make you a star! These are the kind of fantasies that go through people’s minds- I speak from experience here. It’s a nice dream, but more often than not it’s a dis-empowering and counter-productive hope that makes many people unhappy, eventually grinding down their genuine love of music with the relentless and misguided direction of their energy.

In reality these fairy tales of the music industry are rare, even more so nowadays. There is no prince charming destined to find you and raise you up from the musical gutter, and even if there were, you’d do best to just get on with your life regardless. Do what you do best. Do what you love. Make things happen yourself because you CAN do it alone. If something amazing does happen, great, but don’t wait for it. If I found the right label, agent, manager and they were interested then fantastic, but I am done with trying so hard to orchestrate it and with believing it's not in my power to make it so.

The boundaries are blurring now, the gatekeepers are becoming more and more obsolete because the very walls they guard are crumbling. Fiercely independent artist Amanda Palmer this year raised over one million dollars on Kickstarter
to fund the production, promotion, distribution and tour of her new album. Kickstarter is a website open to anyone. Sure, Palmer already had some notoriety and has previously had support from a label and all that comes with that, but she’s never been this big. She’s gone supersonic and, with her war cry of “WE ARE THE MEDIA”, is now the poster girl for an independent music revolution. Big labels and distributors are going bust all the time, the market is transforming and has been for a long time. The industry as we know it is a sinking ship and we can either go down with it or build new one. Self-determinism is the new way to sail.

Letting go of the ‘otherness’ that has surrounded the industry for such a long time is a great step to take. If you believe in what you do, treat yourself as a valuable commodity and create your own marketplace. This may sound very cold and business-like. People who are passionate about music and creativity quite often hate the idea of its commodification but, strangely enough, they all want record deals and sell-out tours! Selling yourself does not have to mean selling yourself out. Do a certain amount of things for free if you want to but always make sure you are gaining something, be it sheer enjoyment or free publicity. When asked to sing for free, I always ask myself if the same people would ask their plumber or electrician to fix their house for nothing, on the promise of repeat work or a crate of beer. I think not.

If you give all the power to someone else, either by literally signing away your artistic rights or, more indirectly, by entertaining the fantasy that an undisclosed ‘someone’ will find you, make you, take you and give you the big break you desire, you will likely not be ‘discovered’ but lost with all the other flotsam and jetsam.