Why I Tried To Quit The Music Industry
I’ve been thinking of writing this post for quite some time, but after seeing a few friends’ Facebook statuses recently I thought I’d finally get round to it so I can share my story. Maybe it’ll help some of you, maybe not. I don’t know, but it should at least give a few people some insights to what it’s really like working as a full time music producer.
Anyway… About 3 years ago, I tried to quit the music industry altogether. I felt completely uninspired, pissed off, bored, and if I’m totally honest, let down by the entire industry. Trends were changing beyond my control, everything seemed to be collapsing, and I didn’t want to be a part of any of it any more.
Before I tell you how and why, let me just explain a little more about me… I wanted to be in the music industry from the age of about 4 years old. At that age and upwards, my older sisters apparently used to test me on my knowledge of classical music by playing the first 3 seconds of various pieces of music, and I could name the composer and the score, and often details about their life/death/etc. Both my parents were very musical, so I had music running through my veins from birth. By the age of about 8, I remember hearing my first ever synthesiser, and being baffled as to what could have made that sound. I now know it was what we all call the classic “Rave Hoover”, but at the time all I knew were acoustic instruments, and I knew it wasn’t a piano/trumpet/violin, but couldn’t figure it out. It blew my mind and I developed an obsession to discover more… This, was the birth of my love for sound-design. By age 10, I’d cleaned enough cars and trimmed enough hedges around my neighbourhood to be able to afford the £100 for my first pair of [second hand] decks (SoundLab RT12D’s if you must know). They were shit, and were screwed into a plank of wood with a crossfader for mixing, with a big “DISCO 2000” sticker on the veneer. At the time, (mid 90s) DJing still wasn’t seen as a very cool thing to do, at least not where I lived, and was generally considered the anorak at the back of a nightclub, but I didn’t care, I was in love with Hardcore and Techno, and then House music quickly took over. By age 12, I scored my first ever gig; New Years Eve, at the local rugby club playing to the local teams, where the most requested track of the night was Tina Turner’s “Simply The Best” (yeah I played it several times, and rugby guys literally swung from the roof beams). This gig lead on to more gigs for local rugby clubs, kayaking clubs, and eventually the venues themselves started booking me, and my mum drove me to each and every one, waiting in the car, like the legend she is. I played mostly music I hated, and got bullied and scammed by landlords, but I didn’t care, it was all about the party for me, and that’s what sealed the deal in my heart. I loved music of all kinds and I loved being able to show people new sounds that they perhaps wouldn’t have otherwise heard. That’s what it was all about for me. Still is really.
By age 14, I had gone through some crap and been expelled from a school (that’s a story for another day), and now went to one in a bigger town when DJing was actually considered a cool thing to do. The English teacher in that school oddly, had a love for electronic music; I remember him lending me a Laurent Garnier cassette, and he then started some electronic music stuff at lunch breaks in the music room, and introduced me to an Atari ST and some simple MIDI Keyboards and a 4-track recorder (John Davies, Q.E. Cambria, if you’re out there, get in touch!). This, of course, changed my life, and from then on I knew that I wanted to be a music producer. I found some MIDI tracker software on a floppy disk and used it on the family computer, and started to teach myself the basics. Fast forward to my early twenties, and having moved around the UK a fair bit and set up parties around the place, the internet was becoming a real thing, Beatport had just launched, and i’d scored a couple of regular “gigs” with some online radio stations, and being on that front wave gave me a lot of luck to be able to score some international DJ bookings. Fast forward a little more, and I’d managed to produce a few fairly successful records with support from some big names, and then things like a residency at Ministry Of Sound (London) and Space (Ibiza) and things were looking good. Finally, fast forward to 2008 when the global recession hit, and I’d been bitten by the sound-design bug, was in university doing an Audio Engineering BSc degree, and still doing OK with gigs, and now running my own sample library label. Times were tough, but I managed to keep my head above water… Just. I managed to become an official composer for Universal Music Group (UPPM), and was doing studio engineering sessions for other artists, and keeping fingers in pies to keep myself busy.
Now, from 2008-2013, the music industry had changed so drastically that I found myself being somewhat lost in it all. As I mentioned earlier, I’ve always loved most genres of music, so never really tied myself to just one, and was happy to move from one to another if it meant more “job security” (ha! “job security” in this industry). But it wasn’t just musical tastes that had changed, they always change and that’s fine, but it was also the fact that vinyl sales were long gone (albeit coming back, but not significantly for me to care about), digital sales were slumping, gigs had slumped with the recession and I wasn’t making “hit records” to score paying gigs, and in a world where every man and his dog is a DJ, why would anyone book me for money when they could have local talent for free (sure, claiming it’s great “exposure” for them, but I’ve been there and know it leads to nothing, so I’m unwilling to settle for that). I always considered myself predominantly a Progressive House artist, but that term had been bastardised by the American market to become generic commercial nonsense, and in the UK things weren’t any better with what’s currently labelled as “Deep House” becoming the only thing anyone will touch. In fact, so much so, that in 2014 I made a last ditched effort to score some gigs by contacting every single contact in my database of UK promoters (thousands of them) to see what was out there, and literally every single response I got back was “sorry, we only do Deep House now”. It wasn’t that I didn’t want these two genres to exist, but neither of them appealed to me since there didn’t seem to be any production or sound-design skills required for them, and my love for music production stems from learning new things and experimenting with synths, not just copy-paste copy-paste on a bunch of drum loops. It was more down to the fact that everyone I spoke to seemed to be one or the other. It was as though there was no other option for someone wanting a career in dance music.
So there I was, completely baffled by everything around me, watching idiots shoot to fame and fortune through PR campaigns and deceptive management teams, while witnessing real talent disappear completely. Totally uninspired by everything, I started to wonder if the music industry was really for me, or if I was even for the music industry. I actually pondered this for several weeks, perhaps even months, and at one stage felt it was the right choice to find a career elsewhere… But where? Well that, my friends, is where I was truly fucked. Sure, I’d had some office jobs when I was younger, and I did very well at them too, but that wasn’t where I wanted to end up, so I tried to find a new path. I’m a geek with an engineering degree, and a passion for all things science and art related, but could I find a new career path? No, in reality this was all I knew now, and I was kinda stuck.
It took me months and months of self-reflection to come to terms with the fact that I was too old, too ugly, and too boring to ever become famous (not that fame was what I wanted), and therefore being an artist was essentially an unsustainable career in the current industry. With nowhere else to go, it was at this point that I decided to focus my energy on the sample library label, and slowly began to focus on more background work like writing/composing for publishers, while engineering for other artists, and pretty much giving up on my own name as an artist.
This is where things started to change… From 2013, I’d completely unfollowed everyone in the industry (in terms of big-name DJs, producers, social media fan-pages/feeds, magazines etc), switched off to all the musical trends, and basically cut myself away from all the hype and bullshit. I’d started to set more focus on my studio, developing the Kane Audio brand and services, and was finally starting to feel musically liberated. Over the following couple of years, I’d started to open up little music production projects for myself that weren’t for public listening and had no intentions whatsoever. They were purely for my own enjoyment and learning, allowing me to experiment with various hardware synths and software packages, and just geek out in the studio in my own time. Knowing that my bread and butter came from other studio work, I was finally free to not give a fuck. Through the year of 2015, I’d slowly started to enjoy making music again, with a new approach to production techniques (for example, none of my automations are done by mouse clicks now, I do it all by hand, recording them in realtime… because fuckit, why not). The whole production process become a fun experiment for me, and I’d started to develop some sounds that I liked and, by chance, seemed to work in various surroundings. I love having the restrictions of hardware synths, and having to make a sound and record it in manually, and then not bother saving the preset so the only evidence I have is that recording. It’s totally liberating to know that you can’t go back and you’re forced to keep moving forward. Of course, it’s not easy, but that’s the whole point, creating art shouldn’t be easy. Otherwise, you’re not creating, you’re manufacturing.
So it’s taken me a lot of time, and I’ve done a lot of thinking, but I feel like I’m finally in a good place musically as an artist, and this helps me take a new approach to the sound-design and engineering I do for other clients too, as I can totally separate the two jobs mentally.
Anyway… I guess my point is that I see so many people getting deflated these days by their surroundings, and sometimes it pays to completely switch off from that. I also hear far too many people trying to sound like “someone else”… Well I’m sorry to say but if you do that you’ll always suck, because that “someone else” already beat you to it so they’ll always be ahead of you.