Rule number one: don’t work with anyone you’d feel sheepish about introducing to your friends and family. If they seem shifty, or like they are selling things to you, than they are likely shifty and selling things to you. Trust your gut. Seriously. You know the whole time if something feels right or not, regardless of how you rationalize in your head that consorting with people who seem more connected than you are can help your career. Nothing will help your career more than being totally fucking amazing and trusting your gut and staying positive and inspired and being honest with yourself (and others, obviously). And the truth is that if you are those things and if you’re doing those things, then the industry will come to you. It’s their job to find you, and you’ll be in a position of leverage to actually choose who you want to work with. It might take a long time, but then that’s your path and that’s how it’s supposed to happen and it couldn’t happen any other way. Don’t waste time in the cancer of envy – both of your peers who get a sweet break or of your idols just out of reach who seemingly just are better than you and it drives you crazy.
We all thought that the internet would democratize the music industry because now everyone has access to everyone else. In a sense, that’s true – you can record something on your laptop and have it heard immediately by the world (in theory). In practice, what it means is that there is SO MUCH MUSIC ALL THE TIME EVERYWHERE because everyone who is as good as you are is already doing what you’re doing. So the people who manage to have a career are the ones who stick around and keep growing and improving… The people who interview well because they are actually interesting individuals with thoughtful things to say about the world because they’re good thinkers and they’ve found a way to relate that thinking into their art… The people who aren’t assholes to sound techs because they’re not feeling defensive that the twelve people who showed up to the gig don’t understand their genius… The people who can’t afford to hire a professional to build their website so they figure out how to do it themselves… The people who are magnetic because they make other people feel like things are possible… The people who build communities… The people who put their armour down and are willing to be be vulnerable on stage and in life… The people who understand that “social media” is not a super secret ticket to being famous, but just another extension of yourself, and that if something feels corny and manipulative, it’s corny and manipulative… The people who realize that being famous isn’t actually that cool, but that being respected for having a long-standing body of work is very fucking cool.
When young bands go to music conferences like SXSW or CMW, the thing they want is a manager. They want a manager and they want a label and they want an agent and a publicist. Wanting a manager is like wanting a spouse. It’s a nice idea, but what you really want more than a spouse is to be with someone who truly understands and loves you enough to BE your spouse. Working with a manager is like having a spouse. You talk to them every day. You handle money together. You yin, they yang. The hope is that combined, your dynamic forces keep the boat afloat. You create things together, make plans and then reap the benefits (or heartache) of success (or failure). You wouldn’t go walking down the street asking every passer-by to be your spouse, so don’t go just blindly looking for “a manager”.
Be your own manager for a while. It’s like being single and realizing that it’s not so bad. It’s better to be in a couple, but you’re going to be a shitty partner if you can’t handle life alone. Plus, by the time you have enough steam to attract a manager, you’ll have been doing it for long enough that you’ll actually know if they’re doing a good job or not. Same goes with an agent. Book a few hundred shows, and realize how easy/hard it is. Then when you have an agent, you can hold them to task because you actually know what it takes to book a great tour. It’s your career, so think about how you want it to feel, how long you want it to last, and take control. If all you want is to be famous, buy a lottery ticket. If, alternatively, you want to have a life in art because it seems more interesting to you than some other kind of life, then buy a van and write a few hundred songs.