A Conversation: Publishing & Music

I have a friend who is a musician. We met wayyyyy back and sometimes run into one another- which is obviously pretty common in Boston. He’s been in some successful indie bands.

Since I started writing a few years back (which he had been heavily in the, it’s about time you got your ass in gear contingency) we’ve had several conversations of quick coffees about the two industries we’ve found ourselves in.

His take always surprised me. It was refreshing because it wasn’t what I expected.

I expected the Woe Is Me, Music Is So Hard. You’ll Never Understand What It’s Like To Be A Struggling Artist line.

That’s not what I got. So, to protect the innocent (I’m sure he was innocent at some point in his life, maybe around 3-years-old) I’m keeping his name out of this, but sharing a bit about our conversation.

Music Guy and I have often discussed that there’s a lot the two industries have in common:

  • You have to be driven to do it…even if you’re a total slacker in the rest of your life
  • It’s a lot of hard work
  • You have to keep a focus on staying creative
  • People don’t like to admit it, but you need to have a bit of luck
  • You must keep evolving
  • The “gatekeepers” aren’t always right
  • Trends die
  • Trends are reborn
  • Trends suck…oh, wait… ignore that one… um, yeah.

But, as the years have brought on  epublishing in a larger capacity, our conversations have been even more interesting. As he’s learned from me (and out of his own curiosity) about the industry, he’s been just as surprised as the rest of us to watch publishing not keep up with technology.

He’s admitted that we’ve already seen this in the music world, but unlike others, he hasn’t jumped on the, “You need to learn from music” bandwagon since he believes the two industries are as much fundamentally the same as they are different.

So, there’s the conversation’s backstory.

One place I’ve always been jealous of musicians is the ability to stand up in front of an audience…whether it’s on a street corner, in a bar or even at a high school dance… and get to put their work out there to non-industry people. To the people who they want to get their music to.

There’s something intrinsically valuable in that — beyond an occasional paycheck. You learn at that moment what works, what doesn’t. You learn to shift and move your craft on the spot. You’re in front of the audience building your name, your product, your craft and your brand.

Writers don’t have anything like that. Writer’s are pushed to build all this without ever having the chance to stand in front of an audience and get that feedback. Writer’s have to face the gatekeepers again and again — with only the feedback of “not at this time” or “while I loved your voice and story, I don’t have a place on my list for something like this” or “loved the book, but this GENRE is a tough sell right now.”

Instead, musicians get to bring it out and public over and over and over…with wonderful opportunities to improve if they’re smart enough to learn from their experiences and audiences…even if that audience is just a group of drunk college kids in Harvard Square on a hot summer night.

This last time I ran into him, I said something I’d been mulling, but hadn’t really discussed with anyone.

“Hey, so I’m thinking that writer’s have that stage now — Self Publishing.”

I hear you all getting not-to-happy with me. I mean, saying that self-publishing is a training ground is a dangerous thing to say.

But wait, before you shoot off those angry emails.

If you compare it to the training grounds of music, there’s a lot of respect there. Playing live is huge, scary, and a great achievement. Learning from it is the training part.

Plus, how many writers do you know that talk old-school about their first book and refer to it as a training? So, first books anywhere can be a training ground… The only difference (and the similarity with music) is this is done without the big gatekeepers… this is done as an all around labor of love from the ground up.

He pushed on some questions, gave on others and brought up some similarities I hadn’t thought through yet, but when it was done, he was left encouraging me to get my butt in gear and learn as much from this experience as I could.

Yes, I have other projects burning elsewhere, but right now, I’m having a creative ball learning everything I can learn in this part of the publishing playground.

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