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How to Fail in the Music Business: Or Succeed If You'd Rather

How to Fail in the Music Business: Or Succeed If You'd Rather

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How to Fail in the Music Business: Or Succeed If You'd Rather

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Lançado em:
Mar 24, 2013


Every year thousands of talented people take the leap of faith into the music business. What makes some of them millionaires, while some go down in flames? Hit maker Joe Johnston shares his decades of experience on how to succeed and how to fail. It's part practical advice about the softer side, the psychology, and the emotional roller coaster of the business. The how-to of relating to peers, decision-makers, and newcomers. And how to maintain a positive, healthy life in the face of an unforgiving and difficult career. As Johnston points out, it's almost always a matter of choice: do the things that lead to failure or do the things that lead to success.

Lançado em:
Mar 24, 2013

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How to Fail in the Music Business - Joe Johnston



Or Succeed If You’d Rather

Joe Johnston

Illustrated by

Joe Johnston

Copyright 2003, 2013 Joe Johnston

Published by Rhythm Rascal Publishing at Smashwords

All quotes are from published interviews or personal conversation.

This ebook is licensed for your personal enjoyment only. This ebook may not be re-sold or given away to other people. If you would like to share this book with another person, please purchase an additional copy for each recipient. If you’re reading this book and did not purchase it, or it was not purchased for your use only, then please return to Smashwords.com and purchase your own copy. Thank you for respecting the hard work of this author.

Dedicated to Carl Barnett,

who loved living,

loved music

and the people who make it,

and who keeled over dead

while conducting Bach’s

"Kom susser Tod.

Table Of Contents











Chapter 11. BE A GURM

Chapter 12. GIVE UP


Other Books by Joe Johnston


This book was originally published under the title How to Fail in the Music Business: A Guide to Hitting All the Right Pitfalls, and was used in conjunction with a series of seminars I presented for Nashville Songwriters Association International. This new 2013 e-book edition is longer, more soulful, and is loaded with new stories and personalities, along with the perspective of several more years of failure and success for me.

1.If I Can Do It, Anyone Can

Do ya believe in destiny?

How about dreams coming true? Prayers answered?

Are you convinced that talent will translate to commercial success?

OK, do ya believe in goal setting, hard work, and devotion?

Do ya put your faith in education, training, and practice?

How to succeed? That’s a piece of cake. Ever since Robert Morley starred in the 1960’s Broadway musical How To Succeed In Business Without Really Trying, we’ve been deluged with advice on success. Popular culture is awash with authors, speakers, documentaries, blogs, texts, and tweets about getting richer and more powerful quicker and easier.

Ah, but how to fail…that’s the real question. Why do thousands of people enter the music business every year destined to leave on a stretcher? What is it they do that guarantees they’ll succeed at failing?

Finally, here is the book that dares to answer those questions.

There are other books that’ll tell you how to practice, how to read charts and write musical notation. They’ll teach you about harmonics, what a suspended chord is, and how much tension should be applied to guitar strings. But this is about the soft stuff, the people stuff, the heart and soul of the business. This is about the way you handle yourself and the people around you. Those two aspects of your music business life will make you and break you as surely as your ability to write a decent lyric or play a diatonic scale.

It should be obvious that we can fail at any business by doing it badly. But we’re not talking about writing bad songs, playing poorly, or singing off key. We’re talking about good people, talented, hard-working people, being very successful at failing. It can be done, no matter how good you are at the craft of playing, singing, writing, or producing.

Please be inspired. The history of music in America is the history of people more or less like you. Some had more of this going for them. Some had more of that. They made mistakes and achieved goals. They succeeded and they failed, some of them over and over. Nobody gets it all right all the time. No matter how much someone’s musical career looks like a wonderland fairytale, it’s not really like that. It’s tough, up and down, anxiety-producing, exhausting, and infinitely satisfying.

Show business is art for some of us. It’s dollars and cents for others. Those two forces, the creative and the business, operating on every entertainment project, foster conflicts on many levels. There’s no escaping the fact that the artists, the creators, the music makers, and the accountants, managers, promoters, and technicians all need each other. The more we understand and appreciate and encourage each other, the better it is for all of us.

You’re doing the right thing, reading and seeking. Learn where the loose floor boards are. Know the trail. This book can’t make sure you don’t skin your knee, but it can help you avoid plunging into the abyss. We can’t predict every danger that’s going to cross our path, but we can make smart choices about which road we’ll travel. We’ll teach you how to slay the dragons and ride the chargers. Or in pianist terms, find which keys on the old piano don’t play so you can play around them.

This first chapter is sprinkled with stories about folks in the business. This isn’t gossip, and it’s not name dropping. In fact, I left most of the names out. Every story is here because it contains a lesson. But you know, knowing the lessons doesn’t mean we’re going to use them. The thing that makes all the difference in our success or failure is what we make of the stories within our story. It’s all about whether we choose to consider them a passing parade that has nothing to do with us, or choose to learn and grow from our experiences and the experiences of people around us. It pays to pay attention. The stories in this book are here to help you. What you make of the information is entirely up to you.

You’ll find that I write as a songwriter, producer, and publisher, because that’s how I’ve spent most of my musical career, and I write a lot about Nashville, because that’s mostly where I wrote songs, produced, and published. But this book is for everybody, from guitar techs to label execs to wardrobe stylists, from L.A. to New York and points in between. Though the dynamics in each city and each job are different, the lessons are the same.

By way of an introduction to musical success and the lack thereof, a good bit of this first chapter is about me. There’s no better illustration of how to do it and how not to do it. This kid was bound for success in the music business. And I didn’t know it when I started, but I was also ready to fail with the best of them.

My story isn’t here to amaze you. It ain’t all that amazing. It’s simply one story. You’ll probably agree that I chose the right career, that I was equipped and experienced and ready to rock with the best of ‘em. Most important, I hope you’ll see yourself in my story. You’ll read about things that you’ve done, preparations you’ve made, successes and failures just like yours, and you’ll say, Yeah, that’s me. I’m like that.

So here we go, talking about me, except we’re really talking about you.

And then we’ll spend the rest of the book talking about other folks, most of whom are also like you and me.

I come from a musical family. There were piano lessons, competitions, and awards. Saxophone lessons, competitions, and awards. There was playing in church since the age of 8, and singing on stage, practically from birth. This story is set against the backdrop of Tulsa, Oklahoma, home of music mecca Cain’s Ballroom. Home of Johnny Lee Wills, whose Texas Swing band was second only to that of his brother Bob Wills. I went to the same high school and worked at the same grocery store as Leon Russell, so that meant I could follow in his musical footsteps too, right? David Gates, the voice of the band Bread went to our school. J. J. Cale, groove master of the Tulsa sound, and songbird Patti Page lived there. Heck, I was a fish swimming in music.

When I was 11 years old I put together a band for a school talent show, then kicked one kid out because he wasn’t good enough. His mom called my mom crying, because her son was crying, and my mom told me what a horrible thing I’d done, and how this kid was scarred for life ‘cause I kicked him out of the band. But I didn’t get it. I saw nothing wrong in what I did, and told mom I wasn’t going to play with people who weren’t good enough.

I got sent to my room. Which of course, was only one more indication to me that I belonged to music, and not to the world most people walk in. Fifth grade, for cryin’ out loud, and I was already surrounding myself with musical excellence, and distancing myself from the unworthy. Okay, so we were awfully young, and the band really wasn’t very good, with or without that kid. But the point is that I knew early on that we can’t have a career by playing music with people who aren’t very good. We get better by playing with people who are better than we are. By the way, the kid I kicked out of the band continued to play music all the way through high school, so maybe my critique was a motivator. Maybe it made him a better person or a better musician. It sure inspired me.

Moving on, I played in a couple of rock bands, and a jazz trio that was sometimes a quartet and sometimes a duo. We started performing professionally when we were 16. Okay, we played for our supper, but it wasn’t long before we got supper plus a little cash. I sat in with the legendary Modern Jazz Quartet. I made arrangements for my school’s 21-piece jazz band, directed it, and was featured on sax. Was an officer in the marching band and first chair in the concert band. Taught myself guitar and clarinet. Then bought a Webcor reel-to-reel tape machine and started making recordings. Read books on microphones and electronics.

I played in a piano bar and did stand-up comedy with funny songs that I wrote. I wrote arts reviews for newspapers. I played in more rock bands, played in community theater, wrote and directed college musical reviews, gave piano lessons, and played piano and organ in a couple of churches. Playing for the Unitarians was great because no matter what I played, they loved it. I really enjoyed those mornings of Jesus, Einstein, Mozart, and Gershwin.

Was there any question that music called me?

The real question was, what was music calling me to? My destruction? Was music the muse beckoning me to wreck myself on a rocky shore?

Premarital sax

What did you spend your money on when you were a teenager? I saved money from mowing lawns to buy a good sax when I was 16. I was out there with

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