Tech Tip:Deal With Age Discrimination in the Commercial Marketplace By Learning to be Musically Mature
As If there weren't enough obstacles to overcome in the commercial recording industry, add age as yet another. Record companies heavily rely on youth, vitality, and sex-appeal to sell albums! But you don't have to let the record companies dictate what you can and cannot Ado, nor how old you can be to do it!
Age can be a sensitive subject for most musicians, but understand there's a real prejudice that exists in the commercial music industry that views music as a youth-oriented business! The feeling is that a musician's life expectancy in the pop, rock, R & B, and rap genres parallels that of an athlete's life span in the sports world. As you approach 35, your chances of succeeding are significantly diminished. This is somewhat of a paradox since musician's skills only tend to improve with age and experience, but record companies heavily rely on youth, vitality, and sex-appeal to sell albums! Additionally, record labels prefer signing younger acts that, if successful, can bring them a return on their initial investment for several years to come. Record companies are a business just like any other and they view their business from the bottom line first and foremost. Like it not!
So does all this mean that unsigned artists nearing their mid-thirties should throw in the towel and abandoned their life dreams if they still haven't found major label success in the "MTV generation?" If this is truly your aspiration, of course not! It's the professional artist who cares of his health and image who looks, acts, and feels better in their later life than in their teens. And of course, there's always the rare exception to the rule where a more adult artist breaks all barriers and is signed strictly on his musical talent and songwriting abilities-bravo! But understand that even when you're one of the lucky artists who gets his "big break" in the business, it's only the rare, creative, and business-minded artist who can continue to appeal to younger audiences (both musically, and physically) as they approach their 50th and 60th birthdays. Do I agree with this type of thinking? NO! But, this is what history has shown us repeatedly.
So what's the whole point of this discussion? Though age in the entertainment business is not something you think about when you're in your teens or twenties, age and image in the commercial marketplace is a very real issue for musicians in their later years—but is doesn't have to be! If your career seems to be at a standstill and you've been banging your head against the same stone wall trying to get a major label deal (or trying to make a come-back in your career), perhaps it's advisable to take a few moments and reevaluate your goals. For instance, considering your career status, your age, and your image, perhaps it's a more prudent approach to focus on a genre of music with a more sophisticated demographic audience or to seek a recording deal with a smaller, less commercial independent record label or to simply resort to a DIY (do it yourself) approach; a situation where you can make all of your own business decisions and you don't have to let the record companies dictate what you can and cannot do nor how old you can be to do it! Taking this one step further, some musicians may even find more purpose in more "behind the scenes" work composing for other artists, writing for film and television, and even writing for video games—there's big money here! Stewart Copeland of the Police made this transition. There are many more examples.
To be sure, the point of this discussion is not about abandoning your original dreams or succumbing to age prejudice, it's about looking at your career and the business realistically, and learning how to continually re-invent and brand yourself over time to find new audiences and new opportunities in the music industry. As Charles Darwin once said, "It's not the strongest of species that tend to survive, it's those most adaptable to change."
Bobby Borg is the author of "The Musician's Handbook: A Practical Guide To Understanding The Music Business," published by Billboard Books. For more information:www.bobbyborg.com or firstname.lastname@example.org.