d.b.a. Songwriters: What’s Not Fair About The Music Business?

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(Singer-Songwriter Randi Russo. Photo: Derek Richmond)

I hear a lot of people grumble in this business and much of that grumbling revolves around the issue of fairness, or a lack thereof, in the music business. Before I go any further I must ask a question: Who said life was fair? I think it would be hard to find anyone who says life is an equitable undertaking. Personally speaking, I’m actually quite relieved that life isn’t fair. After all, if it was I’d be in real trouble.

But is the music business less fair than other businesses? People talk about the politics, the insider deals, the fact that most of us mere mortals are locked out of radio, that signed and successful artists don’t have to play by the rules the rest of us have to, and the list goes on and on. While there’s probably some truth in the above statements I would argue that the music business is actually fairer than most. I personally believe that the music business is one of the fairest of all. Sure, we all have to work within (or around) the politics, and yes, it certainly helps if you have an industry insider that you know who can help you out, and yes, the beautiful people do have an advantage in certain career paths. But are there any businesses out there where politics, looks, and knowing the right people aren’t an advantage? I’d say there are fewer cards stacked against you in the music business than in just about any other business. How can I put forth such a preposterous idea? Read on.

The music business is one of the few business that offers a shot at the brass ring to everyone and anyone who enters. A 9 year old singer with no previous experience is offered the exact same shot at success that is offered to a Julliard honors grad with 30 years of experience. In fact the 9 year old will probably have the advantage…at least in Nashville anyway.

As we all know anyone can get an audition on American Idol. And if they’re good enough (or bad enough) they’ll be singing to a worldwide television audience within the next 3 months. If they’re good enough to place they’re almost guaranteed a record contract. In fact, the runner ups sometimes find more success than the prize winners! Talk about fair! Heck, anyone in the world can get in line, regardless of….talent…or so it would appear from watching the auditions anyway.

In the music business there is no certification required, no licenses to be obtained, and there are no educational requirements. There’s no internal review board monitoring ethics and it is truly unique in being one of the few business in which being a high school drop out can actually benefit you by giving you a head start. I’ve never heard someone say, “I’m going back to school and taking night classes so I can get into the music business.”

In the music business there is absolute equality with regard to sex, age, race, religion and sexual orientation. You don’t have to fit in, play by the rules, or be a company man. You can take vacation whenever and as often as you’d like and there’s unlimited sick leave.

You don’t have to be a traditionalist. In fact, the more odd one is the more one is apt to be noticed. It doesn’t seem to me that it’s Lady Gaga’s music that’s attracting all the attention.

You can apply for a job in the music business without any concern that you’ll be asked to pee in a jar. Heck you can’t deliver pizzas in some towns without having to provide urine as evidence that you’re drug free. Now that’s fair!

There are no background checks in the music business. I volunteer at a local prison and the music business is one of the few careers that convicted felons can seriously consider embarking on when they’re released from the hooskow.

You don’t have to speak English. You don’t have to have a Social Security number. You can come and go as you please. You don’t have to be a naturalized citizen. You can be just about anyone and you can enter the main race without meeting any qualifications standards of any kind. What other business can you say that about?

So…exactly what is it that’s not fair about the music business?

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Bill Renfrew has an extensive background in teaching songwriting and evaluating songs, and has years of professional experience consulting on songwriting and song rewriting, which he does through his website. He owns and operates Write THIS Music, an independent music publishing company, and Bombshelter Recording Studio, both of which are located in Nashville, TN. For more Renfrew, check out Writethismusic.com.






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  1. I love this post! This should serve as motivation to any songwriter trying to make an honest career out of music. Being a musician is just like anything else, if you want to be great, you have to practice, learn, innovate, and aspire to be better than your competitors.

    I will admit that it’s an industry extremely saturated with competition, but since technology has helped take down many barriers, we are faced with this obstacle.

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