To The 13-Year Old Girl From Oklahoma Who Wants To Pursue A Singing Career:

Comments are closed, so in response to this: and some of the very bad advice that followed it…

To the 13-year old girl from Oklahoma who wants to pursue a singing career:

If you’d like to become a country music megastar, you should firstly be from Oklahoma (it’s where we got Garth and Reba) and be a girl*;  it looks like you’ve got those covered, so I’ll try to boil down what I’ve learned in my thirty-plus years as a professional musician and sometime singer. Here are my Ten Suggestions:

1.) Don’t expect it to be easy. If music comes easy to you, respect the gift by working hard at the stuff that comes harder, like business; y’know, booking, promoting, licensing; all the non-musical stuff that makes it possible to make money making music. (also, see Suggestion Eight, re spotting the signs)

2.) Take lessons; as much as you can. It takes a long, long time to grow a musician, and nobody is really ‘born this way’, no matter how many fairy tales, Hollywood movies or pop divas say otherwise.

3.) Perform, as much as you can, and especially in ensembles; music is a team sport, though you’ll never learn that from watching American Idol. Ten minutes on stage teaches you more than ten hours of rehearsal, which is better than a hundred hours of practice. And yes, you’ll still need to practice, even when you’re performing every day.

4.) Don’t expect it to pay well. In fact, you should probably go to college, just so you can learn how to survive on ramen noodles like a penniless grad student. If you become a world-class musician AND you’re well-compensated, that’s just gravy, ’cause the real rewards are in the healing power of musical communication; for some folks, applause can be an addictive drug, and you’ll be competing with these addicts, in terms of pay.

5.) Do expect that for the first third of your career, (and maybe all of it) you’ll be changing into your stage clothes in public restrooms and parking lots or in your particular case, behind the cattle barn at a 4-H fair, so invest in a good pair of boots. *By the way, this is the only reason it helps to be a girl; ninety percent of your direct competition will refuse to put up with this, let alone peeing in a bottle or beside a freeway.

6.) Understand that fame is a double-edged sword; it allows you to make exponentially better money, but it exacts a toll on your family, your privacy and your sanity. You may have few secrets at 13, but that will not always be the case.

7.) Learn an instrument; no exceptions. If you’ve learned to play an instrument at a professional level, you can never be accused of having LSD. (that stands for Lead Singer’s Disease; you can google it, it’s a thing)  Learn to harmonize, ’cause it’s most likely you’ll sing backup before you sing lead. Playing a wind instrument teaches you breath control, which is essential for good singing technique; if you can double on a rhythm section instrument like bass or drums, it increases your value in any gigging situation, resulting in more and better opportunities. You want that, right?

8.)  Learn to tell the wheat from the chaff. Sooner or later, everybody in this business gets chaff-ted; if you’re fooled the same way twice, shame on you, but you will, as The Who wrote, ‘get fooled again’, so learn to spot the signs and limit the damage.

9.) If you have a deep-seated need to be the center of attention, try to leave it on the stage. Being a diva should never mean that people have to make excuses for your offstage behavior.

10.) When soliciting career advice from strangers on the internet, always consider the source. Your parents and your teachers care about you; they have a vested interest in your potential, and they want you to be happy and safe. (so they’d rather you end up in Branson than say, Las Vegas, even though to a musician, there’s virtually no difference; when you work in nightclubs, every city is sin city) You should always listen to them and consider what they’re saying, then do what’s right for you. People in your peer group, as soon as they see you having a little success, will turn out to be a bunch of haters and naysayers whom you should mostly not listen to, like critics. Generally, you shouldn’t pay for career advice, but when you do, it’s plenty okay to ask for references, testimonials and a track record. Check your ego, follow your heart and you’ll probably come out okay.


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