Top Things I ’ ve Learned After 25 Amazing Years in the Music Biz !
By Tara MacLean
Drop all expectations
In life there are so few sure things , but of all the unsure things , being a musician has to be number one . Fun , right ? With the music business having changed so dramatically since streaming , making a living in music is a challenge . We don ’ t know if we ’ ll write a hit song , or get a record deal , or an agent , or go viral on TikTok . In fact , everything is a giant mystery , a game of chance . So much is out of our control . We dream of writing the songs that make the whole world sing , and we might do that ! Or we might just make ourselves sing , or our moms , or our pets . If we expect to have everyone ’ s attention and the red carpet rolled out , and for awards to pile up on the mantle , we will have fear of failure , and then become disillusioned , which can lead to bitterness , and then I bet the music that comes out after that won ’ t be super awesome . If we drop expectations , we ’ ll be more open to enjoying everything as it happens , appreciating all the little victories , joys , and triumphs . It also makes us less blamey of other people when things don ’ t go the way we so desperately want them to . With all expectations surrendered , we are free to dream bigger .
Work hard If you are a touring musician , you will spend most of your day preparing for and traveling to the show . It ’ s exhilarating , but also exhausting . You ’ ll have shows that must go on , no matter what . You may need to travel far and under grueling circumstances , through the night , in vans , red eye flights , eating crap food , people may or may not show up , but you have to push through . Once you are finally on the stage , you have to give every single ounce of energy you have to the performance . I ’ m tired just writing this . If you ’ re recording , you have to dig deep to bring the best of yourself when that record button turns on . You may work long hours , get no exercise , and eat a lot of cheese . Recording is expensive , so you may be draining your bank account to do it , which is stressful . Rent or Record ? So , you have to work in that studio like your life depends on it . Between social media , press , writing , collaborating , rehearsing , recording , travel , you will be giving so much of yourself to music , so you have to love it . If you don ’ t , that is your cue to take a break until you love it again . Also , in this environment , show up like a pro . Be on time , respect other people ’ s time , and treat everyone well . ( P . S .: When Canadian musicians export to other countries , we have the reputation of being friendly and hardworking , so please uphold that reputation for all of us , merci .)
Be kind This is of course just a central tenet of life , but at the end of the day , kindness can go a long way . Just don ’ t be a jerk to people , ever . Not to fans , other musicians , journalists , or those you are working with in the music business . It ’ s one of the hardest businesses to be in and most people are there because , like you , they love music . Also , chances are the assistant at the label will one day be running the place . It just feels better to be known as someone people love working with , because word of mouth travels quickly in a business that specializes in amplifying voices . Don ’ t be a doormat either . There is a way to lead with kindness and everyone around you will be better for it so that even when you have to relay hard information , it is done with integrity and respect .
Trust your gut There are a lot of people around who will try to tell you that they know better than you about your music . Actually , some people really do know about a lot of things surrounding your music , so trust your gut on who to trust . But when it comes to your music – your lyrics , your sound – in the end , you have to be the judge and jury . You have to be thrilled and moved by your own sound and there is no one who can tell you it ’ s right when your gut tells you it isn ’ t . Don ’ t be afraid to speak up for your songs . I don ’ t care who your producer is . You have the final say every time .
Be curious One of the worst things that can happen if you begin to get notoriety as a musician is that everything starts revolving around you , and this can be terrible for your mental health . It can make you have a distorted sense of your own self-importance . Besides having an excellent therapist to shake us out of this awful side effect , be curious about others and their knowledge , their experiences , their dreams . Be the person who doesn ’ t self-reference constantly . Trust me , if you ask others about themselves and listen , they will feel seen , respected , and will want to support you .
Canadian singer-songwriter Tara MacLean has been an internationally-renowned and awardwinning recording and touring artist for over 25 years . She ’ s released six solo albums and two with her band Shaye . A playwright , author , poet , and a mother , Tara resides in her home province of PEI as well as Salt Spring Island , BC . She considers herself Bi-Coastal . Tara is preparing to release her first book , Song of the Sparrow , with HarperCollins Canada and a brand-new album , Sparrow , with turtlemusik in the spring of 2023 . www . taramacleanmusic . com .
PHOTO : JEN SQUIRES
CANADIAN MUSICIAN 59