Thinking Long Term

....The Truth about the Music Industry

When I started voice training back in the early 90s, I was pretty shattered by life. I'd spent years striving to be everything I envisioned everyone else wanted me to be. I was terrified of disapproval and anger. I was a chameleon who changed according to whoever she was with. Nothing wrong with hard work, but when you work hard to stay one step ahead of everyone else so they won't be angry with you and so they will like you or love you, you are focused on living to satisfy the external, the 'others'.

The sad thing is, as much as you might morph yourself into someone who agrees with and likes the same things as everyone around you... even if they do like you, you don't believe it. You don't believe it because you don't feel worthy, which is why you are doing what you are doing. You don't believe it, as well, because you know that the 'you' they like is not the true you. You hide the true you, because you know it isn't good enough. It's very exhausting to live like that. Every time someone is unhappy with you, for whatever reason, it's a major crisis. You spend every waking moment either putting out the fire or dancing around trying to make sure one doesn't start.

I had an epiphany one night after an argument with my husband. We were moving, he went out with his friends all day, while I packed our belongings & cleaned our little bachelor suite. He came home to shining floors and packed boxes. Ignoring the obvious fact that he'd left me to do all the work myself, he tore a strip off me for 'packing wrong'. I lay awake all night. I came to the conclusion that if I took one more step down the "pleasing" path, I would lose myself forever. I took what I had packed for myself and left. I can't tell you how afraid I was to do that, I don't know where I found the strength. But I credit that moment as the beginning of the first day of the rest of my life.

So I came 'home', back to the west coast, back to where I was brought up. My sister kindly put me up for awhile. I started to see how terrified I had been, because I had nightmares. I was like a frightened deer in the headlights, frozen, not knowing what to do.

I looked deep in my soul, and asked myself what I wanted. Since I had never really listened to my own voice, I searched for a while. I realized that I desired to have more creativity in my life. I saw a newspaper ad for an information session on something called 'desktop publishing and graphic design.' I really had no idea what that was. But it sounded creative, so I went to the info session. It was a creative art form. Of course, now we have web design as well, but then it was about designing magazines, newspapers, books, advertisements, forms, etc etc. I managed to get some funding for the 7-month course. I knew I needed something to focus on and something that might help me grow a little confidence in myself as well. It turned out to be a good thing. It was hard, there was lots of homework, but I began to master using the computer as a tool to create designs using text & images. I had two practicums and I did them with the same company, and ended up getting hired by them with the course was over.

Then I was able to begin working on part II of my creative goal. Take singing lessons. I'd wanted to be a singer since I was 6 years old, but had let that dream die. Although it had been years since I sang, or even played my guitar, somewhere deep inside of me I was sure it would only take a few months for me to take the singing world by storm. A funny thought from someone so sure of her own unworthiness. I worked very hard at my lessons and practice, waiting for my teacher to say how wonderfully talented I was. "Give me six months," I told myself. Well, at the end of six months, I was more confused than ever.

Bear in mind, although I had had an epiphany about being on the wrong path, I had only taken a couple of faltering steps down the right path, and was still, in a every major way, asleep. I kept working on voice. I shared an apartment so that I could afford to take two lessons a week with my maestro & also have a coaching session with a pianist. I was often frustrated with my lack of progress, but every time I thought of giving up, the memory of the black place without music & creativity, helped motivate me to stay on course. And also, anytime I seriously thought of quitting, I would feel such a sense of despair in my soul, I just couldn't go there. In the midst of my voice training, I read Luciano Pavarotti's biography and it said it took him seven years to train his voice. I said, well, likely it will take Vikki Flawith seven years plus.

I had many ups and downs... but after about eight years of weekly private training and daily practice, I woke up. I began to see that the things that held me back in singing were also the things that held me back in life. As I woke up to the limitations that I placed on myself in voice, I woke up to the limitations that I placed on myself in life. The armor that I had built to protect myself had been hemming me in. The work that I did with my teacher twice a week slowly helped me chip away at that armor. It took time for it to disappear. And rightly so. It simply can't be immediate or instant, if it was, you would be like a turtle without a shell. My teacher often (very annoyingly) would say "there is no substitute for time and experience," and "it takes as long as it takes."

So when was I finally able to sing without fear, without protection, open, authentic? Twelve years after that first lesson. Strangely enough, I see correlations with this in the journey of other artists. I note, for example, that hit songwriter Dianne Warren took about 12 years to make the big time. And hit songwriter, author & motivational speaker Jason Blume? Also 12 years.

Which brings me to the topic of music, songwriting, and success in the music industry. Perhaps because I am a trained singer, I understand the dichotomy of, being a student during the day, and performing for an audience at night. In one place, you are being coached & getting critique, in the other place, you are the expert. As a student, you have to be able to emotionally detach from your work, examine it with awareness (not judgment), and be willing to listen, and learn. As a performer, you have to be able to trust in yourself and know what you do is good.

I began writing songs about 5 years ago. At the beginning, I was excited about everything I wrote and was absolutely sure everything I wrote was new, fresh, amazing, and all the world needed to do was listen and I'd be on my way. I was shocked and angry when I got critiques back from different places that pretty much ripped my songs to shreds. I posted instrumental pieces I had designed with free plug-ins I had downloaded and was upset when other musicians pointed out the flaws. Slowly, I began to awaken to the idea that there was a craft involved in songwriting. But I thought that making my songs commercially viable meant selling out my artistry and creativity.

I couldn't see that there was a correlation between technique in singing, and craft in songwriting. The purpose of technique in singing, is to practice it until it becomes integrated and is natural... thereby freeing you to express the song beautifully. It took me a couple of years to wake up to the fact that craft in songwriting is just the same. It's a frame, a support, for the creativity and artistry. It makes the music sing effectively.

So here I am now, walking my path as a songwriter, starting to have little successes like... at least getting a listen from music publishers and music libraries, and having some signed deals for several pieces of music. However, I have come to know that financial success as a songwriter requires 3 things. One, craft. Two, volume. Three, time. Craft good songs/instrumentals, get them placed, repeat, repeat, repeat. Let's add number Four: thinking long term.

Understand that, getting a listen is always our first goal. If a listen leads to a deal, that's awesome. The time between the listen and the deal could be anything up to 2 years. Once the deal is signed, then that music publisher or music library pitches your music to opportunities. Meaning, they are trying to get you a listen. If a listen leads to a placement, that's awesome. The time between that listen and the placement could be anything... 2 years... I even heard 5 years in one case. Once the music is placed, you will get your share of licencing (if any), and a cheque in the mail. After placement, when the song is played, then royalties will be payable to you. And the PROs usually pay out 6 to 9 months after the play.

So calculate that out. After submitting a solicited demo to a music publisher, it could take up to two years for them to contact you for a deal. It could take another year or two for them to place the piece. That's why volume is important. If you have 100 or 200 piece signed, then you have 100 or 200 pieces being pitched to appropriate opportunities over the course of a year, and chances are you are going to get some placements. In addition, that's why long term thinking is important. If it could take up to 4 years for one piece of music to pay off for you, then you need to be crafting & submitting good pieces for 4 to 8 years before you start to see a steady stream of income from music. If you also spend that time learning as much as you can about the craft of songwriting/composing/producing, and if you also spend that time building relationships within the industry, and enjoying the journey, then your investment in time and perseverance will pay off.



Jannie Sue "Funster" said...

Hi Vikki, it is so inspring to read about your musical journey and how you've kept going. Thank you.

I too wanted to be a singer/ performer when I was a young child but never followed up on it. Then when I was 30 my neighbor showed me how to play the A and E chords on her old Martin and I wrote my first song that day. (Lyric, "I'm learnin' to play guitar, learnin' to play guitar and I'm doing a pretty good job so far...") Really.

It has taken me that long to learn to sing too, 14 years. I think that just this morning out on the jasmined deck as with ease my voice harmonized like silk on satin with Kalyani's, (and she's a good singer,) I realized that maybe I was a singer finally. I think it's really happened! I've had more than my share of tears and wanting to quit along the way but I think because songs just kept finding their way out of me, I kept on towards having it sound right.

I've recorded 12 of my songs and each and every drive to The Studio I was a pile of nerves. About 3 of the vocals are very good and the rest are acceptable. Next songs won't be as much about worrying about my tone as relaxing and really telling the story in the song. (That's my plan, anyway.)

I really like what you said about getting your songs placed. I am going to look into what it would take to get played on the CBC as I am a born-and-raised Canuck and still a citizen. (Greencard Girl.) I think my "I Need A Man," is just weird enough to appeal to the wonderful Canadian sense of humor. So I'm going to look into it. It's for darn sure they're not going to call me out of the blue and say "Hey, Jannie, ya got any songs for us to play on our shows?"

Make it happen, Baby!

All the little pieces add up to parts.


Oh, sure sounds like you're better off without that husband.

Flying Tadpole said...

Hi Vikki. My epiphany wasn't as bad or difficult as yours, but it was bad enough. If I seem to be following your lead into and through the industry, it's probably because I am! Some good enws today, so this is a sort of public THank You for making the path!