Making decisions in the music business can be quite confusing and emotionally draining. Having the patience, wisdom and fortitude to weigh options is not always intuitive when you're new to the industry. Since we experience daily having to make decisions about the best path to take, I felt sharing some insights into how we arrive at those decisions would be helpful to someone.
I recently shared a quick story on Facebook about a trip to New Orleans. My son, Spencer Kane, had a performance there over this past Memorial Day weekend and we were blessed with the opportunity to stay with some great friends who lived directly on Lake Pontchartrain. It was about noon and we went for a ride on three jet skis. I was the most experienced of the three of us in the art of motorized water sports due to my extensive one or two hours accumulated time on the water the past 35 years. OK, so maybe I was a novice, but having grey hair has to entitle me to some sort of seniority and experience. Our hosts shared that on occasion they have seen alligators floating around the shores and in the blade grass areas of the lake. So while absorbing the jolts of the waves and revving the engine up to dangerous speeds equal to a school zone street, I decided to take a little detour and explore an island-like area of tall grass. It visually felt like I was entering the Everglades where I'd cruise in and around the winding paths between grassy strips of foliage to spot toucans, spider-monkeys, or man-eating gators waiting for their meal to come along.
It was spine-tingling.
The other two riders went about their way racing one another in the wide open areas of the lake. I came to an idle and just floated further into the grassy maze while squinting to locate a sneaky pair of eyes peeking out of the surface of the water. It was a forgone conclusion that even the slightest splash or movement that indicated a gator was approaching, I'd flip that throttle to full power and hightail it out of there.
Oh the thrill. The hunt for one of natures dreaded predators made me feel like a kid again exploring the woods near my house for wildlife. Gators are in zoos in Indiana. I wanted to see one in the wild.
Then it happened.
The muffled gurgle of the jet ski motor in the water made it obvious that my advancing further into the adventure was not going to happen. I bottomed out in mud.
From this point, let me just summarize the story to say that, bar none, my number one fear in all of life is to have seaweed and muck touch my legs in any body of water. I'm serious. It's like a nightmare to my brain to not know what lurks beneath the surface and may be one inch from ingesting my limb for a snack. Even tiny minnows buffeting against my body at times has sent me into a screaming girl rage while desperately trying to escape the water.
The only choice was to disembark from the jet ski and try to walk it back to the depths of the lake where I could join the other, less curious riders in their frolicking about. Holding my breath, I inserted my right leg into the now black cloudy water in hopes of finding a foothold to help me move. Nope. I went as deep as my thigh in the muck while my trembling voice let out unintelligible noises of disgust mixed with high squeaks of fear. It sucked me in like a vacuum and I had to quickly recover my foot and leg from sinking further and having an even greater mess on my hands.
After consulting with my fellow riders once they noticed my plight, they managed to lasso a tow rope thirty feet to aide in my rescue and pull me out. It was a relief and a huge embarrassment at the same time.
My travel adventures over the years have brought about some helpful life lessons that have forced me to learn how to smile and move on from the most emotional and trying experiences. They make for fun campfire stories or, at least, fun anecdotes to share in blogs like this.
The music industry, at times, has presented Spencer with opportunities to explore possibilities. Even with all the intentional research and planning, sometimes we have been deceived in the setting by not realizing what was just below the surface. Don't get me wrong, it's not like the muck of that tributary had ill-will in mind. It was more the fact that on the surface, it appeared very much like my jet ski could work in that environment. Nothing visually told my mind to be forewarned about the muck. It was settled about one foot below the water level and wasn't something I could spot in the glare of the sun off the water. It wasn't some elaborate trap devised by nature to strand me. It was just an unnatural fit for the vessel I was riding upon. An air boat would have been more appropriate in that scenario.
We are learning that not every opportunity is a right fit for Spencer. Not everything that we hope is golden will have glitter to make it obvious. Sometimes, the landscape or scenery won't reveal all you may encounter if you choose to pursue a course that way.
Making the right choice in the music industry isn't easy. So many times the right choice may not fit your blueprint. The right choice may be temporary or may be longer term. Sometimes the right choice requires compromising your best-case-scenario mindset. Whether it is creative compromise, financial risk, navigating personalities built in to an opportunity, or even passing up what seems to be a quicker route to your goal, there seems to always be a common thread of uncertainty in every decision we've had to make. Some have, however, been very easy to make because we have a firm baseline of our faith that guides us to avoid moral or ethical compromise.
We have our own formula for making the right choices along the way.
Prayer / Peace
Our family makes it a priority to seek direction through prayer and waits until we experience peace among all of us before making a big decision. While faith-based reasonings may not be a one-size-fits-all solution for everyone pursuing a career in music, it has been our standard first step.
Counselors / Mentors
Early on in the process of trying to understand the best way to maneuver the music industry, we sought to align ourselves with experienced professionals who have the advantage of knowing how to avoid the danger areas of the business and how to spot legitimate opportunities from those which could exploit and harm our son's career.
A proven manager is exceedingly important to have before you explore or enter into any deals in the music industry. The commission they earn is well worth the avoiding of bottoming out in the mud.
A clear definition of who Spencer is as an artist
Sometimes it's easy to get caught up into becoming a chameleon so you can fit in or feel like you're making progress. We've had to carefully reinforce the goals and direction Spencer wants for his own career long-term and we weigh each opportunity against that understanding. For example, he's been invited to do a show at a venue where young people wouldn't necessarily be in the audience. If his vision is to reach young people with his music, we shouldn't spend a lot of time pursuing that opportunity. Or in some cases he's been given a song track to consider for recording and it just didn't line up with his vocal style or genre he's trying to create for himself. Although the track may be well made and even (in some cases) come from a high-profile name in the industry, we have to have the baseline of knowing who he is in order to not go down the wrong tributary.
This one can be tricky because of his age and the fact he is still developing his art. However, he will always be evolving as an artist if he desires to have a lifelong career in the business. So we have had to be flexible in this aspect at times because who he is today may not be who he needs to be a year or two from now when bigger opportunities may come along. So we try to avoid dogmatic stubbornness and rely on our counselors and mentors to help us see scenarios beyond the now.
Perhaps a hidden part of making the right choice has been to carefully consider the environment and people you will be working around if that decision was made. The music industry is all about relationships and sometimes decisions need to be made to forge the right relationships that will further advance your career. Having the wisdom to accept that the relationship may be more important than the short-term goal is very hard to do, but well worth it in the long-term.
The music industry is the hotbed for passion and emotion as an artist. A lot of decisions made by artists are from a place of gut level passion or emotion. While the creative process is birthed from that place, sometimes the best decisions should remove emotion and simply let business logic prevail. It has been hard to tell Spencer we can't pursue an opportunity that would be an amazing experience, but wouldn't necessarily benefit his career from a business standpoint. This is where I have to be careful to not build up an opportunity until I fully understand the business side of it. Many artists live to regret signing a deal because they didn't fully digest the business aspect. Again, having a proven and experienced manager can greatly help avoid making a bad decision, but ultimately it is up to the artist to treat their career like a small business and get the advice from business professionals along the way.
Some decisions we've had to make were more about developing Spencer's character and life skills than they were about his career path. This is something my wife points to a lot when my business brain wants to make logical choices based on numbers or strategic marketing ideas. She reminds both of us that we are still his parents and he is still a child needing to learn how to navigate life overall as an adult. So we've chosen, at times, to pursue opportunities that may seem too much for a young teen, but afterward realized he grew spiritually, emotionally, and socially from it. He learned how to take a risk or handle difficult personalities. It has shown great fruit each time and helped him take a greater stand for his vision as an artist.
While this is all common sense, sometimes it helps to have a strategy for making the proverbial list of pros and cons. We try to weigh out each big decision against these and have found that we've not regretted it so far.
Back to the lake.
My son watched me get into the mucky mess that day and sat upright on his jet ski 50 feet away in the safe waters. He observed his old man panic like a little girl at the notion of entering potential gator-filled water beneath the surface to remove my jet ski. I offered him to take my place and trudge his way to me with a rope. He quickly declined. In the end, he witnessed me developing a few different strategies to overcome the situation. One of them actually worked, but the others would have too. While he may catalog the experience as a goofy choice by his dad to get stuck, I can only hope that some day he will recall the problem-solving process I went through to arrive at a safe solution. He will definitely need that skill to survive in the music business.