Ego - Your best friend or your worst enemy
by Mark E. Waterbury
Everyone has an ego. Ego has a lot to do with how we live our everyday lives as it helps drive our passions to succeed in both professional and personal aspects. Any type of artist seems to have a bit more ego, and for them, it helps stoke creative fires and build the even greater level of commitment it takes to get your art out to the masses, whatever medium it may be. For musicians, a certain amount of ego is necessary. You need it to create, record and perform music at the highest creative and entertainment level possible. Ego also has a down side that can manifest itself in many forms. For musicians, especially those in the early stages of their careers, channeling ego in the wrong direction can be deadly to your drive to success. I'm sure many of you can point out famous musicians who are known to be huge egotists, yet they have made a huge success of themselves so many feel they can get away with it to a certain extent. You just can't afford to get labeled as having too huge an ego in your fledgling years.
When you are trying to get your music career off the ground, the only ego you really need is the creative side, and even that needs to be controlled. It's necessary to think you have created great music, but you have to realize that great music in today's business climate does not necessarily translate into widespread success. While you think you may have written the greatest songs ever recorded, you can't just rely on their quality and then merely send them out to labels, sit back and wait for the offers to roll in. On the contrary - major and even many indie labels look for a lot more in an act before they are going to even think about signing them. You need a fan base built, a solid touring history and some good CD sales on your own, as well as other aspects. One way that your ego can help you in these areas is how you present your music to your fans, whether you are trying to get them to buy your CDs or merchandise, sign up for your mailing lists or come to your shows. You should talk enthusiastically about your music to them in a way that conveys your passion so they feel it as well, but don't be overly pushy about it and try not to use a "used car salesman" approach. This all goes back to what we have written about before in reference to the grassroots way of building your fan base and CD sales while cultivating the buzz. This will create some of the qualities the labels are looking for. So if you approach them with good music you are enthusiastic about and you also have all that extra ammo, they are more likely to consider you.
Egos can create personality clashes within bands as well and that may be one of the top reason for bands breaking up. If you all think hard enough, I'm sure you could name several famous bands who have been torn apart due to ego conflicts. Once again, it is healthy to have a certain amount of ego in regard to your musical talents and abilities, but you need a touch of humility as well. For those who think they are going to be the next Joe Satriani or Mike Portnoy or Geddy Lee, it's OK to believe in yourself, but don't let that belittle the members of your band, the professionals that are working to help your career or, even worse - your fans. People with huge egos who think their excrement has no aroma and flaunt that attitude around to their bandmates and others are going to get a bad rep, and news about people with bad reps in the music industry tends to get around faster and to more important ears than positive accolades. This is one of the worst things an ego can do to you, and if you strap on an ego the size of a 747, chances are you aren't going to find anyone to stay in a band with you long enough to try making a climb to success. You need to learn to work with your bandmates and develop friendships with them if they are not already friends. Most bands I have known or interviewed that remained with the same or nearly the same lineup for nearly their whole careers keep it together because they stay friends with each other. Of course there are going to be some differences between band members, but if you are friends and keep your egos reigned in, you can work together to get through any rough spots.
In reference to working with music business professionals, one common mistake musicians make when their egos get the best of them is thinking that everyone is going to want to throw money and deals at them and do everything for them for free. These professionals are also trying to make a living, and while they may be trying to do it by promoting your labor of love, they often share the passion with your creation. Their promotional agenda to help take your career to the next level costs them money. Very, very few music business professionals are philanthropists with money to invest in your career, either directly or by incurring expenses working for you. Realize that you are going must pay certain professionals such as publicists and booking agents to work for you. You get what you pay for, so if you are only paying a small amount a month to your publicist or agent, don't expect them to put in eighty hour work weeks for you just because you think your music deserves that treatment from them. Remember that even when you are working with business professionals, you still have to work hard yourselves to augment what they are doing.
Managers often have an even stronger belief in your music and are a bit different because they usually take a percentage of your music income instead of a straight upfront fee. That also means that they are spending time and effort to help get your career in a zone where you can make money for yourself, and that is how they make their money. As a result managers have little tolerance for overinflated egos. If they suggest that you do something, they are doing that because their experience tells them that it is something that will help your career. If you don't do what they ask you to because you think you are too good or too big to do certain tasks that you feel are erroneous or beneath you, you can really create animosity between you and your manager. You need to heed their advice because they are trying to help you, and a cardinal sin is thinking that you know more about the business side of music then they do, which is even another offshoot of a letting your ego get too big. You need to worry about the music and let the professionals worry about the business aspects..
Whether you have a manager or not, you cannot think that any task is beneath you when you are growing your band. Bands that have sold millions of records in the past are now touring in their own cars or rented vans just to keep their names out among the masses. Believe it and know it. Those who used to play in ten thousand seat arenas are hitting clubs with capacities in the low hundreds. Touring - as we cannot stress enough - is necessary for your career, and unless you are signed to a label and they give you tour support and book you in arenas and amphitheaters and send you out in a tour bus with your own road crew, you are probably going to have to load everything in vans or cars, sleep in cheap motels with all of you in one room, play in one hundred capacity dives in the middle of nowhere and haul your own gear around. If you think you are too good to do that and you only want to play at big clubs who are going to give you everything and treat you like rockstars, you're going to hear a lot of "clicks" on the other end of the phone. In your early days, it's important that you take any gig you can get and make sure you do what you can to get on the road to build that fan base. Don't disavow doing all the extra tasks to promote your music either, such as hanging up your own flyers or doing in-store appearances at music stores. Also remember not to turn down an interview from that writer for the weekly four page rag in the boondocks or a small scale webzine because you think you're too big for that. You need all the press you can get, and that writer that you turn down because you thought his publication was too small may write for Rolling Stone someday. Even if he doesn't, if your press kit has numerous clips from publications, even if they are mostly small indies, that may help a writer at a major publication take notice as well. You just can't afford to burn any bridges when you are starting out, and acting like you are too big to do anything is a good way to strike that match.
So now you have some ideas of how your ego can help your career surge in the right direction or tear it asunder. It's all about channeling it in the proper directions to keep your creative juices flowing and turning your pride in your music into enthusiasm that you can convey to others rather than being pompous about it. You need to also keep doing what is right to take your career to the next level and avoid alienating those who are trying to help you.