10 years on from my first release…  has the industry really changed?

It has just ticked over 10 years since we released ‘Half Of It’, our first record as YesYou. The song went on to become the 11th Most Played record on triple j in 2011, landing us some amazing opportunities and setting our lives on a completely unpredictable path.

Over the journey we had some incredibly tough moments followed by some incredibly exciting moments but what started out as no more than two friends having fun, and it got really serious very quickly. Looking back I still remember that amount of emails we were receiving every day from managers, labels and lawyers. 

For two friends in their early twenties who knew little of the industry—other than what they observed from other acts and read in music publications—we thought we were well on our way to building a career in the industry.

This was, as so many of you reading this will know, very far from the truth.  

As the years passed I continued to release music alongside working in artist management, A&R, publishing and finally education. For many of those years I worked jobs outside of the industry. The one thing over that time that has become very clear is that as an industry we have an incredible amount of knowledge and experience floating around that isn’t collected and freely shared.

Check out the clip for ‘Half Of It’ from YesYou:

Never miss industry news

Get the latest music industry news, insights, and updates straight to your inbox. Learn more

So in October last year I spent $1,000 to build a platform called Your Favourite Team. The idea was to give artists direct access to the knowledge and experience that for so many new artists is out of reach. We did this through ‘One on Ones’, lessons and courses that were recorded and able to be streamed from the platform.

Over the next nine months we went on to deliver 50 hours of paid sessions with local and international guests. We grew our site members to just under 450, and have 75 artists paying a monthly membership. We built an online community of close to 100 artists, who every week ask questions, share their experiences, begin friendships and offer opportunities from co-writing to support slots at shows.

I meet with the first 75 artists to hear about their projects, their struggles and their goals. Through each of these conversations I felt like I had been transported back to 2011 when I was saying the exact same thing to the managers and labels we were speaking with.

What hit me in the face like a tonne of bricks was that over the last decade there had been literally no change in mindset for emerging artists, no great leap forward with knowledge, and artists still had little understanding of what they need to know to achieve their goals in the industry. They’re diving head first (just like I did) into the industry without an appreciation of exactly how and what it takes to build a career in the industry.

But why….

One…

The industry itself is incredibly complicated, which is no different than so many others but what makes the music industry unique is that music plays such an important part in everyone’s lives. To the general population who are just amazed that artists can even write and release music you can appreciate that when they hear that an artist has had a song added to radio or that they’re playing support spots for an international artist, they think ‘wow they must be killing it’.

Two…

Add to this the amazing stories that fill the media of artists who blow up. Before you know it they’re travelling the world playing sold out shows, signing record deals and living what looks like an incredible life and career.  

These stories feed the industry and encourage more and more people to start releasing music which is not a bad thing. Although what it does do is create a false reality, one where artists aim towards something that less than 1% ever obtain.  

According to the Media, Entertainment & Arts Alliance there’s 6,000 full time career musicians in Australia and looking back to the 2007 survey of Work in Selected Culture and Leisure Activities, there were 328,800 involved in music.  As a percentage that’s 1.8% of all musicians in Australia who were classified as full time career artists. 

Three…

In an industry that already has no clearly defined pathway, we’re seeing millions of artists across the world start new projects with no way to gauge where they are in the journey. The result is artists tying so much of their self worth to achievements like landing a manager, a booking agent, a label… and feeling like if they aren’t on Spotify playlists, receiving media coverage or being played on the radio they’re failing.

The truth is that even if you had all of those things fall into place you still aren’t guaranteed a full time living from music.  

Unfortunately for artists who find themselves in a situation where they have all these things but aren’t making a living they can feel like failures and publicly don’t want to be painting that picture. And so the cycle continues…

According to music business consultant Moses Avalon, the success rate while signed with a major label is 1 in 2149 or 0.0465%.

Why is this a problem?

So many artists feel they need to be committing 100% to their careers with no consideration for a Plan B. I mean of course it makes an amazing story when things work out but we rarely get to hear the other side of the equation when things don’t.

They’ll work part-time in an industry that they may not love because it provides them with flexibility to pursue their career in music. They’re taking a huge gamble on something we can’t get more of, their time.

Is there a solution?

I have a few ideas.

One…

There needs to be a drastic change in mindset across the industry, one that normalises the real stories of artists. Artists should feel comfortable sharing their stories to help new artists that are considering entering the industry to have a greater understanding of the path they’re choosing and to go in fully prepared for the life that may lay ahead.  

A good example is becoming a doctor. People may want to be a doctor but they know what’s required and how hard it is so they choose other professions. The success rate for students to have a career as a doctor is 65%. Way better than our 1-2% (source: ABS).

Two…

When artists sign to a label, publisher or even a manager they’re given opportunities to learn roles within the industry. I’m definitely not saying we should cut all entries to the industry unless you’re an artist but a system that gives priority to artists who have already given so much of themselves to the industry makes so much sense.  

The more artists we keep in the industry long term will only go on to strengthen the ecosystem and in the process help them find Plan Bs that are still in an industry they love.

We 100% do not want to be putting up barriers to stop artists being part of the industry but we do want them to be coming in prepared for what may lay ahead. Music is a creative outlet, and as such, as many people as possible should have access to it, but the truth is not everyone that wants to be an artist can be a career artist who is able to live off of their art. This is no different to any other industry.  

The world can’t support an endless amount of tradies, doctors, lawyers, teachers, scientists, really any profession. To cap the numbers on these professions so we don’t have thousands of graduates out of work Uni’s place higher entry scores to limit student numbers, which changes from year to year depending on job opportunities. We don’t have that mechanism in the industry or do we want it.

The focus needs to be creating music for the love of it. Artists should be enjoying the journey, the process and being proud of what they create, no matter the outcome. Tying your self worth and the value of your music to what others think won’t lead you down a happy path, I know, I’ve been there and it’s something I’m still working on.

We need a healthier industry and one where not only our favourite artists can be releasing music for many years to come but where anyone, anywhere, can make music just for the hell of it without pressure and without expectations on where it might lead.