You’ve been doing this for years. You go out 2.5 times a month, play when you can and have been known to produce a note or two. But as the months turn into years and it seems things are in a state of inertia or that perceived victories are few and far between, sometimes you question what it’s all about. Why your love of the music industry is one you can’t shake. Why you keep hammering on, even though you practically work for free and can’t help but keep doing it. Like a moth to the flame, you’re in love with what you do and sometimes, love hurts. What do you do? Do you give up? Do you get fired up and keep going?
What’s the key to longevity in the music industry?
A few months back, I found myself in this very place. Stressed out with deadlines, juggling a million things and questioning why I took on so much. After a bit of a disappointing gig, I was left exhausted and questioning what the hell I was doing. Probably sleep deprived, I reached out to the one person I’ve always admired when it comes to longevity in the scene, Hernan Cattaneo. Like a blubbering fool, I asked him how he kept going after all these years, keeping poise, and muscling through exhaustion and still being so welcoming to fans all over the world.
These big guys, I mean like Hernan and Nick Warren, they are veterans and have been doing this for decades. All great things have humble beginnings so I have to admire how these artists we love keep it real, despite being world-renowned. And over the years, not everything would have been roses and sunshine.
Hernan got back to me, humouring my obviously fragile state, and told me the story of where it all began for him and how he is motivated it each day by it. In 1978, he was DJing for his sisters in his living room, in a world that wanted rock and roll. He just wanted to bring the funk and Argentina wanted to rock. For 2 decades he played pretty much for free. Now every time he has long flights and late nights, he remembers where it all began and feels blessed to be where he is today.
“Anytime I’m tired of flying, or feel homesick, or don’t want to check new tracks, I ALWAYS remember how it was not that long ago when I used to pay 20 USD for a vinyl, or dreamed to play on a good mixer one day, so I’m instantly reminded how privileged I am now” – Hernan Cattaneo
After receiving his message, I had to check my head a bit and felt really spoiled with the good graces I’ve been bestowed in such a relatively short time. He was totally right. And this is Hernan Cattaneo! There are pioneers like him who were bitten by the love of DJing when it wasn’t as easy as downloading a program and pressing synch. It was a learned art that you needed the tools to practice with. Expensive, complicated, hard to come by… And here we are whining in 2016, about anything.
Nick Warren. Everyone knows his name. He has been everywhere and done everything, it seems. From playing with Massive Attack to forming Way Out West with Jody Wisternoff to his Global Underground releases and now owning Hope Recordings, Nick Warren is still touring the world and selling out shows. Since 1988, this guy has been completely following his love of music to all ends of the globe.
Hernan’s response was so encouraging, I had to reach out to Nick and ask him the same thing. When having dinner with him in Toronto once, Nick really encouraged pushing boundaries and thinking outside the box in music creation. He said he was always looking for new flavour in tracks he received. After so many years being a purveyor of music, he’s heard so much, but he still gets excited when something catches his attention. What’s Nick Warren’s motivation to keep going?
“Motivation is easy to be honest; it is still the same as when I started. New music excites me as much as it did back then, and going out to play it to people around the world is just a joy!” – Nick Warren
You know the feeling, right? You’re going through oodles of promos or tracks on Beatport and it’s the same thing over and over then you land on a track that is a bit different or has a sound that tickles you. It’s like finding gold. Nick Warren has been digging and finding gold his whole life. It wouldn’t have been as easy for him in the early 90s to just drop a long set without first having made a massive investment. No pun intended.
So what are the keys to longevity nowadays?
1) Realizing and accepting, guilt-free, that this is what you do, that music is in your DNA. And there will be good and bad times but over a long time, the fact remains, we do it for the love of music.
2) Being appreciative. It’s a lot easier to be a DJ or producer nowadays and can be much cheaper. Social media has expanded horizons of communication and exposure. We are spoiled. When we feel hard done by, remember this. We can buy music for a whole set and still have it cost less than one record would have, years ago. We can connect and network online with promoters, clubs, labels worldwide when years ago, there was no Internet. We can wire transfer money for flights in minutes. We can plug a laptop into a 900 through USB because it has a built-in sound card… We have it easy. Simply being appreciative of where technology is can be motivator enough to keep going, not that a new free plugin doesn’t help the inspiration along.
3) Don’t give up. It’s easy to get discouraged or jaded when things don’t seem fair or get hard. But why did you start music in the first place? You love it. You can’t get enough of it. So when hard times come, know too they will pass. Because nothing worth it will be easy and if it’s easy, it isn’t worth it. A lot of people will get disenchanted and give up. Music isn’t for the faint of heart and yet filled with sensitive souls. You’re not alone when you feel like you want to give up. It’s natural to feel that way, just don’t give in.
4) Be nice. No matter what, in life, just be nice. We are one big musical family. We each have our stories and situations. Our lives are intertwined by our love of music. So in all we do, let’s try and be nice. You don’t have to be best friends with everyone but as you move through the years, you’ll always be connected to members of your musical family – you’re not the only one in it for the long haul.
5) Take care of yourself. When music seems too stressful, step back, take a moment to collect yourself and accept that stuff happens. Recognize it and move forward. Remember, the music is in you, it’s going to come out, some how, some way, so don’t worry, music will take care of itself if you take care of yourself.
Feel secure knowing music isn’t going anywhere.
Being an artist is a way of life. It’s not something you pick up like a cooking class on Saturday afternoon. It’s a lifelong carving out of your talent. It’s a road with bumps and blips along the way where sometimes you go 100mph and sometimes you go 2. Sometimes it’s hard to find the line where human and artist meet because it’s so blurred. Maybe the main key to longevity in music is remembering we ARE human first and our art is an extension of that. We have it in us just as much as we have our liver and our lungs. It’s not going anywhere but out, and now more than ever are we able to do this.
Confucius said, “It does not matter how slowly you go as long as you do not stop.” and no quote is more suited to conclude this article. When you’re 80 years old and look back over your life, you won’t regret the ‘oh wells’ of living a life of music, only a huge ‘what if?’ if you let it go.