By Kat Hamilton
I grew up surrounded by voices. Friends and relatives who would tell me, “You really have what it takes to make it.” Then there were the classmates, audition judges, and one music teacher in particular who told me, “you will never EVER make it.” These voices had a picture in their minds of what Making It meant. These days, I’m pretty sure that each picture was different. My senior year in high school, my music teacher told me I didn’t have what it takes to have a music career. He sat me down and told me I shouldn’t apply to music school because it would be a waste of my time. When I reflect on this meeting, I wonder why I never asked, “takes to what?” Become Beyoncé or Taylor Swift? Pay my rent as a touring rock musician? Have all of my combined musical ventures pay my bills? Or something else I haven’t thought of?
After I graduated from Berklee, I started to see so many flaws in grandiose concepts like “getting discovered” or “hitting it big.” It’s a recipe for unquestioningly pouring all your energy into a dream that may not be right for you. I don’t want to be Beyonce. I don’t want to be Britney Spears. Having goals is important. If I hadn’t been chasing mine, I wouldn’t have formed Manic Pixi and I wouldn’t have found Punk Out. But there’s something dangerous in a one size fits all American dream.
This is the inherent problem - If making it is defined as being famous, the reach of that fame drastically changes by the job performed. Seth Goden discusses this subject in his book, “The Dip.” His theory is that you want to be the best in the world but in your market. “Best in the World,” is relative. Let’s say, “Making It,” is defined as the richest. Not all of the richest in a given industry are the most famous. The richest plumber may be the plumber whose business operates out of the highest income neighborhood. But someone in a low income neighborhood has never heard of them. More on the nose, the richest musician isn’t always the most famous. You wouldn’t believe how much country musicians make and Garth Brooks is not as universally known as Rihanna. There was a long time at which most definitions of making it were “Become a famous, rich band who tours the world, and plays their own music.” Now these can all be completely separate paths…There is no one way to make it.
“Making It,” infers that there is one top and anything below it is less. It’s one size fits all. I’m not saying your band won’t play stadiums. I’m saying your market may be smaller than that and that’s totally okay. In the universe where you get to the top, you might have changed your music to get there or the stadium might be in Russia. You may argue, “Big rock bands play stadiums all the time.” I’m going to make a crazy statement that may get me in trouble: If the Rolling Stones or Led Zeppelin were a band that just formed last year, I don’t think they would be famous: at least not in the U.S. They would be the most famous plumber in their community.
Take the market my band inhabits: punk rock. Being the richest in punk rock may not be the most famous and visa versa. The people who buy Beyonce tickets may have not heard of The Dead Kennedys or even more mainstream rock acts like the Foo Fighters. Ultimately, I want to make it in music, but I think at some point making it became a meaningless phrase.
I was on the phone with a friend from one of my favorite New York bands. His band rocks and they couldn’t be nicer people. I lamented about the pressure to make enough money to tour and still pay bills. We spoke of trying to get bigger bands to take you on tour, EPK’s, booking agent’s and how–the-fuck we cope with all the pressure of not being 18 anymore. He said something to me that really hit home. “Once we stopped obsessing over the idea of making it, we realized that we had stopped having fun at shows. We got past our egos and our band was better for it.”
I grew up firmly believing that I would make it. I imagined Madison Square Garden, world tours, and adoring fans. But as I started writing the music I loved and believed in, something started to misalign. The music that makes millions isn’t the music I want to make. My dream is a logical fallacy.
My friends stress over not making it, but they create great music. I think it’s important to chase your goals unapologetically. Chase the dream. Don’t take no for an answer. Just make sure it’s your dream. Not the American dream. Create your own “making it.” I have friends signed to major labels who are broke or have albums collecting dust because the label doesn’t think the market is right. I also have friends who you’ve never heard of but are collecting hefty royalty checks off of their music. There isn’t one way to the top because there isn’t one top. We all have our own mountains to scale. How we get to the top, what it looks like when we do, is entirely our own to discover.
Editor's Note: The views and opinions expressed on our Artist Corner and Blog are exclusively of the author and do not reflect the views and opinions of Punk Out as an organization.