A career in the entertainment business takes enormous dedication.
You are competing against the best in the world and you need to bring your absolute best to the table.
Dedication and hard work are essential. Without them, your chances of success are almost nonexistent.
In this episode, John gives his best advice about what it takes to have a career in music.
Highly recommended listening for anyone who aspires to sing professionally.
Episode 34 – Are You Doing the Work?
Hey there, this is John Henny. Welcome to another episode of the Intelligent Vocalist.
So, I’ve been travelling a bit more recently, and I just got back from lecturing and attending the International Voice Teachers of Mix Conference in Atlanta. One of the co-presenters there was a gentleman named Rob Stevenson, a very well-known celebrity voice coach in the Atlanta area. And he also brought along some colleagues of his – very successful songwriter Kirsty MacColl, and a gentleman named Stone Stafford who owns a major recording studio there, and his work and all aspects of the music business. Stone also is an athlete. I believe he played college ball, I’m not sure if he went to the NFL at all, but a big guy, very intense. They had allowed, not just voice teachers to attend their lecture, but a number of young aspiring artists, to give them their wisdom and advice, etc.
At a certain point, Stone went on this amazing rant, basically lit into these young artists in a stern but loving way about what it takes to make it in this business. What I love about this is he was articulating so many things that I have seen and that I have thought. All the teachers are nodding their heads so hard that I think there might have been neck injuries because it was like, “Yes, absolutely right!” And so, I want to give my version of this rant today. If you are a voice teacher, you may want to have your students listen to this. I will be the bad cop to your good cop. I will give the lecture and the reality check so that you can be the supporting teacher that you need to be. And if you are an aspiring singer, you should listen to this. You need to have a little bit of a wake-up call. Hopefully you don’t, but likely, you do.
In my years of teaching, not just my private studio but also in my music academy, I see a number of just wonderfully gifted singers. Many of them want to have a career. But unfortunately, the work that needs to be done just isn’t done. They will practice their lesson, they will do an assignment if you give it to them, they may put a song here or there on Youtube, but the absolute fire in the belly is not there. And I have to tell you, if you want to have a career in music, you need to have that fire in the belly. The fact is, the world doesn’t owe you a career and the world doesn’t care.
We have the recorded works of the Beatles, Michael Jackson, Beyonce, Drake, Bruno Mars, and anyone else you care to think of. We have streaming to millions of songs that are done by very focused, highly gifted professionals for you to enter into their ring. And their world is a huge step-up. It is not just getting on a reality show. In fact, if you are thinking that you are going to get famous from a reality show, you need to stop.
As of this podcast, as I’m recording this, American Idol is coming back, The Voice is currently a huge show on TV. They’ve gone to many seasons, they’ve brought many singers across there – the ones that really have impacted the music business. I can count them on my fingers. It’s not a large number of people. These shows do not break artists the way that you think they will. They are not the stepping stone, nor they should be. You are giving your power over to a TV show, over to a casting process that is so capricious. They’re not looking for the best singer. You have to know this. What they’re looking for is somebody who’s going to be interesting to the audience for a TV show. The casting types, if you don’t fit that type, they’ve already got enough 21-year old blond guys who kind of sing like Bruno Mars. You’re not going to get on. That’s not where your power is.
Your power is in your focus and your work ethic, in your commitment to learning how to process works, to your commitment to not only becoming a better singer, alright, but also a better sales person. That’s right. You need to learn Marketing. As a matter of fact, if you don’t understand the process of becoming a marketable artist, of being able to market yourself on Social Media, being able to market yourself to the right people, you’re not going to have this career. You can’t wait for someone else to come along and do it. You have to do it. You have to start creating your own music. You have to start creating your own exposure. You have to start creating your own tribe of fans. You cannot give this to someone else. They’re not going to do it for you anymore. The days of record labels having all this money to develop artists, they’re gone. They don’t have the time, they don’t have the patience.
Elton John’s first album didn’t sell. Billie Joe’s first album didn’t sell. These major major artists, their fist album didn’t sell. The record labels had the patience and had the money to keep going because they believed in them. They don’t have that anymore, alright? You need to do this yourself. You need to develop yourself. You can’t sit there in your bedroom and sing a song on Youtube once every few months, and think you’re going to develop any type of following. You can’t sit there and just – and this drives me crazy – Yes, you can learn to compose songs over tracks and over beats, and there are successful songwriters who do it. But they worked like crazy to do it. If you’re just moaning some little trite obvious melody over beat that people in the industry have heard a million times before, it’s not going to work.
The thing that will expose you as not being ready is if you tell people you write songs. And you’re just writing lousy songs. Writing good songs take commitment. You have to write hundreds and hundreds of songs foor every rule of thumb. But for every ten songs you write, you might get one good one. And you don’t throw them away. You shelved them. You may pull out bits and pieces of a song that didn’t quite work but maybe the bridge will work for something else. You need to be constantly writing on a nearly daily basis. You need to be working on your voice on a nearly daily basis. You should be learning things like production and how recording equipment works.
Right now, you have access on your phone to a more powerful recording studio than the Beatles ever had. Just what’s in your pocket, alright? You need to learn how this technology works. You need to master this. You need to start figuring out, not only you as an artist, but who’s going to listen to you, who your audience is. You cannot sell to this audience if you do not know who they are.
And the other thing is you have to be willing. And this is hard. Trust me, it’s hard for me. I put this stuff out there, and I’ll get criticism. You have to be willing to accept the slings and arrows of the trolls. And you also have to look at criticism in an open way. You can dismiss the trolls, yes of course you should, but some of this criticism may be valid. And you need to be willing to look at yourself and improve, and keep going everyday. No one is going to do this for you, alright?
I take that back. There are certain people where it gets done for them, alright? And there are certain people that maybe they’ll get on some reality show and it’ll happen, or they’ll get a career from American Idol. It really hasn’t happen to The Voice yet, which is pretty amazing, which should be rather sobering for you. But sure, it can happen. But the chances of that are so small. Your strength is in your ability to work, to focus, and to get better, to research.
You know, I’ll tell you something that drives me crazy. There comes in my Facebook feed, because I have obviously been targeted by this person. I believe her name is Leah McHenry. And she has a program for artists to help develop themselves and sell their music online. And she has committed apparently the unpardonable sin of charging for this. I’ve looked through the comments, and you have these artists that just railing on her for daring to charge, saying that “you’re exploiting musicians.” I looked at that and go, “Why should this woman take what she has learned, put it together for you in a way where you can learn and benefit from this, and not charge? And where do you get off thinking that all of this information should be free for you? Where do you think that this career is owed for you?”
You are going to need to not only invest your time and your hassle, you are going to need to invest money. You know, you wouldn’t think of opening a restaurant without having some financial backing, would you? But you want to have a major career? You want to launch your brand and music career with no investment or capital? I’m sorry. That’s not going to happen.
So if you think that you can just sit in there, not learn your craft properly, not invest in yourself, throw some occasional videos on Youtube, and some white knight from the recording industry is going to come and throw this career at you, that they’re going to take the hundreds of thousands if not million dollars that it takes to launch a major career, that they’re going to come and do it all for you, you need to just stop now. Okay?
You can enjoy singing. I have people who are hobbyist. And you know what, I think it’s a wonderful gift. As a matter of fact, one of the greatest things that can happen in your life is when you realized what music really means for you. And if music is just something that you really love and really enjoy, and you wanted to just do some songs here and there, and you wanted to just do it for your family and friends, more power to you. This frees you to go do something else with your life. I really encourage you to do that. Because if you don’t really have what it takes to do this, and by what it takes I mean the commitment and the hassle in both time and money, you need to stop now. You need to just take this dream, because that’s all it is. It’s like I had a dream where I could fly. I’ve also had dreams where I’m naked in public – we won’t count that dream. But that’s all it is, a dream. It’s nothing, okay?
This is incredibly competitive hard business to get into. And if you are thinking about that you want to be on Broadway, there are kids that are working so hard and who are so focused. And do you know what they are not doing? They’re not in cheerleading. They’re not spending hours and hours on Facebook. They are focused on their craft. You are up against people your age, absolutely focused. And you know what, they may not have your God-given talent, whatever that may be, but they’ll beat you 99 times out of 100. They will beat you because they put in the work.
So I want you to really look at what it is that you want and what you’re willing to do for it. And if you’re not truly truly willing to do what it takes and to invest what it takes, then move on. Still enjoy music. Still sing. Still take lessons, maybe you’re in a music school. That’s fine. But the big big thing might not be for you.
But if it is, if you can look deep within yourself, and this is for you, then you need to recommit, and work, work, work. Invest and work. You should be working with a really good teacher. You should be writing. You should be learning how to write. You should be learning how to play an instrument. If you’re young and you have the time, this is the time. Okay? Here I am. I’m an older guy spouting clichés. That’s fine. But you’ll never have this day back. You’ll never have the next one back. It’ll be gone before you know it.
So, as I’m getting fired up here, I’m going to calm this down. I’m going to bring it to close. Listen, if you’re giving me the time to listen to me, I appreciate you. I want what’s best for you. And if career music is best for you, I want to push you for that. And if it’s not, and trust me it’s not for most people, it’s okay. I want you to not be wasting your time. Okay? I just want you to go through life clear-eyed. I want you to see it as it clearly is. I want you to experience it as it really is. I don’t want you caught up in silly dreams. And I don’t want you giving your power away to imaginary people that are going to come and help you. The power is yours, and you need to take it.
Hey, if you want to find out more about me, maybe get some lessons, etc. you can just go to johnhenny.com. If you have comments on the podcast or any ideas for topics, you can just email me [email protected].
Until next time. To better singing! Thank you so much. Bye.