Connect With Us

Add Hypebot To Circleson

Enter your email address:

Delivered by FeedBurner

« Shifting the needle on new digital music services | Main | The story of limbo after Graduation »

The Wearing of Hats

by Michael Shoup
singer/songwriter :: creative individual :: from Nashville, TN

Many conversations with friends and fellow musicians have sparked this idea lately. I'll put it out there in hopes of husling up some more discussion and possibly opinions on the matter.

It seems for most musicians, or people of any field, for that matter, there comes a time where you make a decision to follow a broad range of focus, or a small range of focus. To be specific with the Music Industry, I have friends who have, since they day I've known them, focused on one aspect of themselves; worn only one hat. Whether it was playing country guitar licks, running live sound, or writing catchy songs, most of these people have come to excel at the field they've focused on, and rather quickly. However, most of them are also in their late 20's with little to no assets, no time at all, and less than stable personal relationships.

On the other hand, I have friends that have gone the way of "wearing many hats." These people soaked up anything about everything when it was time for them to learn, but don't really see themselves as a superior expert at any one particular knack. In the music industry, these folks seem to excel as well, but differently. Their progress seems to be a slower climb, but it's usually filled with a more step-wise goal oriented path, and little victories along the way.

My question is, with the status of the Music Industry as it stands, is there a middle ground between these two? I've been wrestling with a quote that Derek Sivers, founder of CD Baby, said at the opening ceremonies for the Berklee School of Music this year. Urging the new students to spend their time there wisely, he said:

"You’re surrounded by cool tempting people, hanging out casually, telling you to relax. But the casual ones end up having casual talent and merely casual lives."

Is the middle ground between these two mindsets just a casual style of living, irresponsibly bouncing from moments extreme focus to days or weeks of broader scoped work? Or is this the new model; an independent, entrepreneurial creative who is able to organize, create, and mold to the quickly changing industry?

Is this the best of paths? Or the worst of paths? Which one are you on? Let the comments begin.

~ Michael Shoup

I'm a singer/songwriter and web designer out of Nashville, TN. "Professional Person" or "Creative Individual" works too. Like most people I know, I live life with the greatest of intentions. Sometimes the fruit of action falls far from the tree. Sometimes you eat it for breakfast. I write about my life and that of others around me. I hope they don't mind, and I hope it makes you think.

References (1)

References allow you to track sources for this article, as well as articles that were written in response to this article.

Reader Comments (9)

Hi Micheal,

Two things:

I don't think artists are going to have to continue to become business people. Right now, that's the popular advice that's given by everyone. However, based upon what I see, artists are going to be able to go back to being artists. In the near future, great songs are going to find an audience - far easier than ever in the past.

That brings me to my next point. Great songs. Over the last 5 to 10 years, artists have been pushed deep down the promotion and now the entrepreneurial road. So much focus was put on promotion and business that (would it be safe to say?) corner-cutting has been the norm when it comes to song creation, as there is only so much time in the day. I mean, look how much is done in the box, and without the benefit of fan feedback or professional input...

Those that throw caution to the wind and ditch the business hat and focus on making phenomenal songs, and many of them; never paying an ounce of attention to business, will probably come out ahead of those that wear both hats.

That's my two cents, and usually I get burned at the stake for saying it..


September 22 | Registered CommenterBruce Warila

Great post & food for thought!

I see your question as addressing two different axes: the "casual" attitude being how you spend your time (working on music vs. surfing the internet), and the "hats" axis being the diversity of what you work on when you spend your time working on music.

As a wearer of many hats (this past week included *not much sleep*, a jazz piano/vocalist duo, Italian ariettas, beatmaking, writing funk tunes and recording an all-improv EP), I can say that it's *fun*, but progress is slower and more scattered.

One benefit of wearing different hats is that it exposes you to many many more people in a greater diversity of fields. And in a business with such an emphasis on "who you know" (and who can endorse you as not just talented but also reliable and easy to work with), knowing a great array of people is a definite advantage.

One drawback In terms of music biz marketing speak, wearing many hats makes it much harder to come up with a "brand". So when it's time to stop working behind the scenes and be an "artist" with an "image," you have to narrow down your public presence to a few bullet points.

Or so I would imagine - I've never been able to do it ;)

September 22 | Unregistered CommenterTrierMusic


I agree with you about great songs, but completely disagree that artists won't have to be business people much longer. True, we are getting to a point where reaching an audience is becoming easier and easier via the internet, but that's also creating so much saturation that it's becoming pretty hard for the casual listener to find "their music" among the babble. Perhaps this is because of some artists "cutting corners" on their artistry as you say, but at least with the artists I'm surrounded with here in Nashville, that doesn't seem to be the case.

I think you're right in saying that great artistry and having a killer song are pretty much keys to the kingdom, but with the advent of digital distribution and digital recording, the kingdom's becoming pretty crowded. From a Nashville point of view, I talk to songwriters and artists daily that have some amazing, should-be-hit-making songs... but here, that's kind of a dime a dozen. [and trust me, I'm not talking about cookie-cutter Pop/Country... there is an amazing influx of great independent Rock and Pop that has started here in the last 10 years] Great artistry or a great song these days are really only your ticket to play the game. It's a requirement. But beyond that, unless you're quite lucky, nobody's gonna do the rest of the work for you. There's a somewhat artistic romance about the idea of just booking and playing as many shows as possible with your "great songs" knowing that somehow, somewhere, people will listen... but in this market, I think it's a bit naive. For now.

Guess that makes if obvious which path I tend to lean towards :)

~ michael

September 22 | Registered CommenterMichael Shoup

Hey Micheal,

Here's why I say what I say...

Music Information Retrieval Science is going to change the way music is discovered. We are really at year one of what's possible. Machine-based recommendation coupled to social data (data derived from any of the following activities: purchasing, sharing, playlisting, commenting, streaming, etc.) will enable every decent song to find it's audience. This stuff is just hitting the streets now; it works; it's powerful; and it's only going to get better. (This is not Pandora or Genius from iTunes; it's much more.)

New digital music products (interactive albums for example) will restore financial health to the industry. The MP3 may become free, but there are a lot of good reasons why the new (coming soon) digital products will not be stolen or shared (and it's not DRM).

If you take easy-simple-discovery and you combine that with profit-generating-products, you get incentive.

The reason fewer and fewer people are standing in line to help artists (financially and otherwise), is due to diminished incentive. The last five years have been tough.

When incentive goes back into the marketplace, it will enable people to specialize. Lack of incentive forces people to wear multiple hats. New incentives will enable a variety of "help" to take over the business chores that occupy the minds of many music-makers now.

Here's a rough analogy: when the housing market slumps, builders try to do everything they can on their own. When the housing market improves, specialties are subbed out to the specialists. Now, which house is better, the house that was built by the builder trying to do everything on his own, or the house built by the foundation guy, the framer, the mason, the finish guy, the roofer, etc..

I will take the house built by specialists, and the songs created by artists that don't do promotion :).



September 22 | Registered CommenterBruce Warila

As interfaces get more intuitive and costs get less expensive, I think artists can indeed get back to being artists -- and also have a much larger canvas to work with. The business model can be automated and streamlined, and the music creation and graphic design programs keep getting more efficient and powerful. Overall, trends point towards the same thing military theorists are worried about in other discussion circles right now: the Super-Empowered Individual. With dedication and open-source knowledge, you can compete with anyone you can research.

September 22 | Unregistered CommenterJustin Boland

Thanks Michael,

An interesting post and I felt the same way as you about Dereks comment - I have seen (and lived it myself) the lifestyles of the work-obsessed in all fields and these days I say 'no thanks'.

I get the impression from Derek that he is the sort to have fun along the way, but I think for some people reading self-help/motiovational blogs/books gets them too 'outcome focused' and they stress about not devoting enough time to their craft/marketing whatever.

One of my favourite posts by Derek was the 'Do what energises you, avoid what drains you' (probably not exactly those words). Adherence to this basic philosphy will determine how many 'hats' you wear.

I wear a million hats and I love it and I will never change that. Others I know wear one and will live or die by it. Hey if you love country licks THAT MUCH be my guest. I'll play some metal and program some beats as well so I don't go insane (but then when someone wants the best country guitar player for their record I won't be getting the call)

And 'TrierMusic' you are absolutely right that when it comes to marketing, promotion, PR etc nobody wants to know about EVERYTHING you do. It's not like the renaissance anymore where you could be a singer,painter, dancer, engineer etc. If you sing country these days, surely you can't rap as well blah blah this is the impression I get.

The answer is to make one of your 'hats' the guru-marketing hat. Psudonyms work well for making sure you don't come across as someone who does a hundred things (therefore how can he/she be any good at any one of them).

People (and press) like the mystery of the totally consumed artist, they want to see them, to feel they are seeing someone totally different to themselves.

Bruce I think you are on the right track - essentially as far as music goes we have a supply outstripping demand scenario. You can try to create demand but ultimately if you are an artist - make art and make it as good as you can. I follow the 80/20 rule myself 80% time making awesome tracks that I love, 20% of the time finding people who identify with my sounds. I reckon that's about right.

A bit longer than I intended but hopefully some thoughts for all to digest and enjoy.

September 24 | Unregistered CommenterWillie McRae

Since 2004 I've made 5 studio recordings, two my own releases, two as guest artist on other releases. All are well-received indie projects, but the last 3 have international distribution via KOCH. I feel like 2008 has been a big question mark. What to do next? I've been gigging a lot more. Just haven't had the strength, financially or otherwise, to do another complete recording. However, I have been shedding, and songwriting, a lot. And I take great hope in the comments that say that ultimately your passionate, prolific and professional songs and performances are the most important thing. Because I'm exhausted from all the multitasking. When I sit down at the piano for a few hours to practice and write and play beautiful music by great composers, that's my daily island of sanity. I hope that the focus I have given to music craft this year is wise. I mean, I think it's always wise -- yet others will pass you by. Others who are great marketers, or perhaps brilliant backstabbers, or seemingly insatiable studio rats, will seem to be getting ahead while you're just gestating. But that's OK. I'm telling myself: That's OK.

I think that playing in a variety of styles in important, or at least an appriaction for other music. I think that is important for ANY musician. There's great professional examples too: Henry Rollins has praised James Brown as much has he has talked about doom acts like Sleep and Electric Wizard. Bjork has worked with the likes of Mike Patton and Thom Yorke talks about influences from Sonic Youth and Autechre. That said, an album is exactly what you want it to be, your own canvas, maybe its personal maybe its not, but if you have been paying attention, then it will always be an expansion into something you have always wanted to do.

October 7 | Unregistered CommenterAustin

Micheal, as a fellow singer/songwriter/web-person living in Nashville (Murfreesboro, actually) I have felt the same struggles to do many things or one. I have to agree with Willie's abstract of one of Derek's other ideas "Do what energizes you and avoid what drains you." I think it depends on what your goals are. I would say that it depends less on how many different fields you attempt your hand at and more on how much of your life you invest in these attempts. If you are like some of my friends and give, as the saying goes, 110% then I think you will make the connections that you need to. If you are giving any less then it will take more time.

But I also personally took issue with the subtext of Derek's message - that you need to be super successful to be happy. Personally, I'm married. I have a life outside doing anything and everything I can to become a superstar. And while the reality of one of Derek's other points from that talk "When you are not practicing, someone else is. When you meet him, he will win" makes me recognize that there are plenty of single, passionate people out there who have no life and sleep a lot less than I do, I'm not going ignore all of the people and things that I enjoy about my life RIGHT NOW in the hopes that if I sacrifice them all I will one day be rewarded (officially the longest sentence ever). The reward is not a given. You don't even know what the reward might be.

But those are my thoughts : ) Let me know if you're ever playing shows down here in the 'Boro!

November 4 | Unregistered CommenterCollin

PostPost a New Comment

Enter your information below to add a new comment.
Author Email (optional):
Author URL (optional):
Some HTML allowed: <a href="" title=""> <abbr title=""> <acronym title=""> <b> <blockquote cite=""> <code> <em> <i> <strike> <strong>