I know the concept I’m going to dive in to isn’t new or specific to music in general, but I don’t think it’s really thought about and explored in-depth specifically to our scene; so here it goes…
There is nothing as valuable as experience in the music scene; whether that’s in the industry, or as a musician. Having the knowledge of certain situations, how to deal with people, what to watch out for, what a good opportunity looks like, and how to build relationships with different types of people, are no doubt keys to success and longevity. Unfortunately, experience is something you can only get first-hand; however that doesn’t mean you can’t learn from others. Study the history of the scene, talk to veterans of the industry, talk with musicians that have been on the road for multiple decades. Pick their brains, ask them questions, possibly develop a mentor/mentee connection. Don’t discount what someone did, just because they’re not doing it anymore at the same level. Don’t underestimate the value of knowledge from those that came before you. There is a lot that can be learned by knowing how things were, and have been, done. You should always keep one foot behind you. One foot rooted in the past. One foot that remembers where you were, and how things used to be; for not only you, but others too. One foot to remind you that not every part of you needs to be current or ahead. Something that holds on to the knowledge of where you and others were at one point.
However, as our music scene continues to evolve in the digital age, it seems like the changes are happening quicker and quicker. Changes used to happen in decades, but now what’s true about Facebook, Instagram, YouTube, Spotify, Twitter, Apple Music, Amazon Echo’s, SnapChat Pandora, XM, iPhones, tablets etc… one year, isn’t true the next.
I’m not saying you have to be an expert, but you really need to be at least generally aware of what’s going on and how things are changing. For example, if you haven’t been planning a way to mitigate the diminishing returns of Facebook by building your followings on Instagram, Twitter, Spotify, and email, then you’re behind. If you haven’t realized that music streaming has changed the game, then you’re behind. If you haven’t been using all the powerful data available to you in this day and age, then you’re behind. If you haven’t realized that the new generation of music fans discover and consume music differently, engage on social media differently, and are experts at ignoring/tuning out ads, then you’re behind. If you haven’t realized that our scene in both the size of fandom and physical geography has 1) never been bigger and 2) has never had more potential, then you’re behind. The bottom line is: if you haven’t realized that things have changed, will continue to change, and it will never go back to the way it used to be, then it’s time to come to grips with that reality. Not only is the music scene in general much different from what it was 10, or hell even 5, years ago, our scene specifically has been transformed even more than most. All of the these changes represent one of two things: opportunity or threat. Which one it is comes down to your ability to adapt and move forward. I’m not saying you have to like it, just know that there’s nothing you can do about it except embrace it and implement it in your gameplan. In other words, you always need to have one foot in front. Something putting out a feeler in to new territory. Something directed towards the future. Something that’s making sure you’re headed forward and not being left behind.
The problem is, there are a lot of people who have both feet behind themselves, or both feet in front of themselves. Either way you’re off balance and likely to fall. You cannot have the same management, touring and marketing mentality you had 20 years ago, but you’re also assuredly setting yourself up for failure if you dive head first into the future without knowing what’s happened in the past. Having one foot behind you and one foot in front of you, gives you the best sense of balance and puts you in the best position to brace for impact and/or make a move. For example:
A couple of years ago, you could sense the demise of Facebook slowly starting to happen. The foot behind you, would have said “hey remember the mass exodus of MySpace” and the foot in front would have said “hey Instagram looks like it’s on the rise”.
We’ve gone from landscape where you could slowly and methodically move step by step in to relatively well-known territory, to a landscape that’s more of a brisk walk in a fog. You’re not quite sure what’s ahead until you’re close — the trick is figuring out what those things are, and game planning for them; but you can’t do that without a foot in both places.