December 9, 2014 by Robb Powell
Well, I’m James Kirby, Kirby James and now “just” Jim Kirby. In short I’m the struggling musician with a day job who writes for Rob.
So I’m going to lay the “low down” of my experiences through the year in the business. Raise some red flags and advise by the means that I wish I had been.
But here’s a back story…
I started life with nothing.
Poor family, raised in a caravan (imagine walk the line meets 8 mile.)
Raised by numerous families due to my parents working both day and night shifts (yes, families do this!)
Fell in “love” with the wrong people a few times as they wanted a guy with intellect and money rather than someone with heart and soul.
Lost my daughter to the visa system.
And I WORK and have a pension… Because no musician has ever made ANYTHING without having to pay their dues to society… I pay mine by wiping backsides for a living.
Point: No matter my story. I am just like everyone else rather than a ghost hiding behind six strings and a finely curved box.
So there’s lesson one:
Musicians are NO better than anyone else! They should pay their taxes and make their way without hand-outs. Do the hard graft and THEN be aided.
Note: hard graft is as much about the 9-5 as it is the craft and trade.
Lesson 2: single set trajectory.
Vary the pace of music and theme. Musicians can (as I have) get too caught up with their own metaphors and wordplay. What they understand may seem good to them but it can seem incredibly pretentious.
Music can be/is meant to be an escape. People have enough of their own sh*t to deal with so for the love of god, if you do have a song, make it relatable!
And before I hit the point of this mini article I will highlight the above 2 points.
Why do we pay a good musician?
We pay for the time striving to craft something written for us within the time limits of the working man/woman.
We pay for the relief, distraction and familiarity of those who put what we know in way we could never express. We pay for the shared experiences.
The farfetched friend behind the notes and lyrics and we pay for the pristine imperfections of life played by different hands.
But we pay the money that they, themselves put in over lifetimes of work and effort just to share their original melodies with us.
6 years of music school, external to regular school.
Petrol (there and back.)
Pens, paper and books.
Time in social media.
More Petrol (to and from open mic nights to share what I do in an attempt to be known for what I do and to reach other people)
… the list goes on.
All this around my 12.5 hour shifts to contribute to society.
I’m no musician, I’m just a working guy with a dream and a guitar…
Point 3: other “music professionals”
There is a saying: “the music industry is full of gangsters, thugs, abusers, rapists, liars and cheats… and then there’s the dark side.”
And oh boy this is true!
2 years ago I met a guy before my daughter was born. He said I had nothing but remained in touch as guidance. Really lovely (at the time.)
My daughter was born and my need to be something in music (due to the UKBA) grew to desperation to provide for my family. This guy milked this for all its worth and demanded song after song from me stating he would be my manager and aid my fight for my family. He even began emailing (so he told me) the mother of my daughter.
At the time I thought this was great as I had been told he had once been a part of a major label. His contacts and history checked out on the Web so I ploughed myself into the music.
Note: a year previous this guy said I had and was worth nothing.
So a year passes and I meet a lass who I form a duo with and I fall for her and she with me. It’s quite lovely actually. And this guy uses her dreams as well as supporting my family to push me further and further into music. The music is no longer a passion and becomes a perpetual Hell. He never contacts the other member of the duo/my other half to discuss music and uses me as the middle man. At one point (I’m ashamed to admit) I was encouraged to dissuade her from a management contract as “without her mate, you and yours are f*cked.” He did also offer to put his own solicitor up to look over the management contract but empty words hold great power when there is a strong need behind the cause.
The duo becomes a struggle due to the relationship and the relationship becomes a struggle due to my need and want to be the best for my family as well as my other half.
The relationship breaks up (mutual at the time) but this guy involves himself on both angles. I’m encouraged to be cold and trick her into coming back to me and to play “the long game.” And he tells her I’m a f*ck up and to remain distant.
My need for my family, my missing her and my own self-worth get catapulted out the window due to this “manager” meddling in the personal factors unless the songs were wrist slitting and of being hung up on her. My music was stated to be the better (to which I disagree) but “without her mate, you and yours are f*cked.”
Break ups are stressful but time has shown that together or not I was behind her. What broke me was the being played off against her for Facebook likes and the fact “whilst she’s making 30k a year you’ll be picking up extra shifts in your day job.”
A day later: “I’m the only one who believes in you.”
Another day later: “you’re a worthless c***, I wash my hands of you.”
ANOTHER day later: “I’ll never give up on you like she did…”
Another-damn-day later: emails my mother as well as the mother of my daughter.
It was a very tiring 2 years.
But it isn’t always business and on so many occasions (from what I have been told) ex music professionals may often manipulate to get their gains without their having to repay the hard work.
At one point this “manager” told me and the “then” other half he had 50 million in a hedge fund that he could help us with after no progress the story changed to his new company receiving a £500,000 investment. But, according to Company house (after all this time) the said business has a registered equity of £1.
A term of eggs and a basket come to mind as well as “ma’ where’s the shotgun?!” I remember on one such occasion he had slandered my other half and myself so harshly that I replied with my address and an invitation of coffee so it could be said face to face… Sadly this was declined.
The entire scenario has led to a reboot of my own music 3 times and it is only on this 3rd time (after council from family, friends, fans and other professionals) that i have finally drawn a line and regained the love of music, rather than the desperation. I even enjoy the day job too.
But there is a minor tale now too:
A local indie label offered a prize of a record deal, ep, video and website, along with cash prize of £1000 for an open mic competition. I entered and was taken on before all other acts. Before the semi-finals (as I was drawn into the judging panel) it was revealed to me that the long haul of the competition was to gain revenue from the punters and venues for the director himself and also as the £1000 prize didn’t actually exist at the point of the competitions conception and launch. Also the fact that no solo artist who entered (no matter how good) would win. Only a band would win (initially it was to be a female acoustic artist but I guess there was a change in the business tide…)
An open mic competition…
Where the majority of applicants were solo artists and yet it was predetermined that no solo/duo act could win… They could get to the finals and have their hopes built upon but would already be set up to lose.
Excuse me for a moment but if I hear “Open mic” I assume acoustic artists and songwriters. I hear “Jam night” or “battle of the bands” and I assume both but focused on group work and larger sounds.
Charming (is a word that i would not use.)
And even though the latter point IS more business minded and so I can’t entirely judge the fella, my advice is to always keep labels and management purely business. One’s personal life (no matter how hard it gets) is not a tool to be used against them especially by a manager who asks to be involved and states that they are “a friend, brother and as much as family to you.” If they betray that for profit well, break out the banjos as “Piggy, you just squealed.”
Keep the dream alive guys but remember a musician is no more than their cells, atoms and all the space in between. To management and labels you are simply a product, revenue and a bank statement. It is when such businesses propose you to be more than just this… well, then let the alarm bells ring.
“The music industry is full of gangsters, thugs, abusers, rapists, liars and cheats… and then there’s the dark side.”