Industry Insider: Diversify: Life Beyond the Strings Print
Thursday, 24 January 2008 06:51
ImageBy John McGlasson - GJD Contributor
As guitarists, we know how all consuming the instrument can be. One could spend a lifetime and never learn all there is to know about playing them, making them, about tone, wood, amps, strings, and all the boxes and gadgets we put in between these components, not to mention the art of recording, and the business of marketing their music to the people. But I meet way too many guitarists who can only play guitar, and know nothing about any other aspect of their craft.

For way too long, I was one of them. I had no interest in anything but playing, I looked at the other aspects as "not my department"; meaning I couldn't work on my own guitars and amps, I couldn't book my own shows, I couldn't record my own music, I couldn't promote my band, I was literally sitting at home playing guitar and waiting for others to do things for me while others were out making things happen. I didn't realize how arrogant this attitude was at the time.

While the ongoing demise of the music biz continues as far as the old model that involved the public going to a store and paying money for albums, there's a new purity in the biz in that when a great album is recorded today, chances are it was for the love of music rather than for money. Making a living strictly from your recorded music is largely a thing of the past, unless you tour constantly and have a great following to play for. Once the hope of making a living playing your guitar begins to fade, you may start to look around and find other aspects of the guitar/music industry you can excel in to make a living and continue the dream of almost every guitarist; never to get a real job.

But why wait? Mom always said to "have something to fall back on". She likely meant a plumbers' license or another trade, but there's plenty to fall back on inside the world of guitar. I didn't get to this year's NAMM show, but if you want to see all the guitarists out there who've found ways to make a living outside just playing, that's the place.

I've tried about everything I could do to make money with a guitar short of using it as a weapon-for-hire; I've played them on tour, assembled them, sold them in both wholesale and retail, bought and sold vintage collectible guitars and amps, produced music, and started a label just so I could put out my, and my friends' stuff for the world to hear, but I was still frustrated because I wanted to have an affect on the music business and stand out somehow, something that's hard to do in a sea of thousands of labels carrying thousands of artists and bands from across the globe.

It's impossible not to notice the affect the media has on the world around us. They tell us what to buy, who to vote for, who's a "star", who's not, what's cool, what's not, what's safe to eat, they can propel a cause like global warming from an obscure idea to Global Scare within a year, they sway public policy, and if you have any kind of public identity or fame, they probably even have an obituary conveniently pre-written for you. I may resent this hold the media has on society, but it's there, and it reaches into every aspect of life, each niche holding it's own media. The world of music is no different.

So I was lucky to find another love in my life; writing about the business. While it started out as a much more casual thing for me, it's become more and more important in my everyday life, I'm always looking around for something interesting to write about, and try to pick subjects that, at the very least, can prevent a young guitarist today from making some of the mistakes I made, one of which being my failure to diversify myself as part of my early career plans, not as a Plan B. The more you know, the further you go. And while I have no delusions about how much what I write affects anything or anyone, having the outlet for my thoughts is just as important to me, and I found yet another avenue to pursue as a career in the music biz outside of playing my guitar.

Look at your guitars, your gear, your CD collection, all make up the tips of huge pyramids of engineers, artists, manufacturers, technicians, marketing experts, salespeople, promoters, producers, the list of careers in the music biz is a long one, and if people who genuinely love guitar and music don't fill those jobs...well we know what happens then, look at the major labels.

Thanks for reading!