The world of music for an artist can be a scary place. While we all have daydreams of rocking out to thousands of people at sold-out arenas, the road to this kind of success is often brutally demanding. Anytime you watch a Metallica show and see the thousands of people in the sold-out show screaming along to Enter Sandman you can’t help but feel the goosebumps. It’s a feeling that only good music can give you. The euphoria of an excellent performance is something unexplainable. No one can blame you for dreaming of the life of a rock star.
In this series, we are going to dive into the different stages of a music career in the rock and metal genres locally. We will look at making a career as an artist individually and as a band; the diverse challenges associated with each career path and different realizations that come along the way.
A great deal of these conversations will apply across the different genres of music as well. The interesting thing about music in Kenya is we all general deal with the same triumphs and trials. The only variance is on what levels we experience them.
Choosing A Genre of Music
For instance, because of its prevalence in Kenya, reggae musicians will have an automatic edge over rock and metal artists who perform a lesser-known art form. Gengetone musicians have the largest share of the pie at the moment so getting into that genre of music would be a lot easier than starting a catholic psychedelic synth folk band. Now even if you did make a successful local act, you still have to contend with the East African region and breaking into that market. The obsession East Africans have with Tanzanian Bongo music will have you struggling to make it into any charts if you aren’t making that type of music or collaborating with Diamond Platnumz. If you somehow manage to hit in East Africa that then you have to fight Burnaboy, Tsho Madjozi and Wizkid to get recognized in this continent. Then of course, the ultimate boss fight is breaking into the global music scene. There are enough mainstream artists in circulation right now. There are millions of great indie artists just waiting for a slither of a breakthrough.
Then there are tens of millions more worldwide making unbelievable music in their homes just like you. Some will make it to the big leagues while some will end up taking unlike career paths.
And so your entry into music has to be wisely premeditated. Cautious optimism is what we call it. Can you imagine how many good musicians that could have been who ended up taking their incredible talent to the grave because they didn’t get exposure? Or how many good songs are just sitting unheard in a remote part of the world in some lost tape? Another way to look at it is what would happen if all the good musicians we enjoy today didn’t catch their big break. Without some form of a game plan, a lot of your creativity will be stifled into hard drives never to be listened to. A plan helps you meet your goals and solve any obstacles you meet in your career path. Why? Because you’ll know what to do to get where you want to go.
Mind over Matter
Above all else, the most salient element of all of this that we cannot emphasize enough is the need to keep your mental health sound. Like everything in this world, frustration or unexpected disappointments have a way to knock the wind out of your sails. Manage your expectations when making the decision to start a career in music. Unlike the few social media exceptions who hit with their first few songs, most musicians struggle for years before they get any recognition.
Nickelback’s first real breakthrough with How You Remind Me came ten years after they started off as a cover band called “Village Idiot”. They made a record called Hesher and I can bet my lifesavings most of their fans have never had a song off of this album. I would understand if they chose to quit after year two. Can you imagine the many nights they must have spent questioning their decision to make music a main hustle when no one was willing to give them an opportunity?
Always value your mental health above the anxieties of the business.
The most important thing though in your decision to enter the music industry has to be actually making the choice to become a musician. There is figuratively nothing harder you can do in Kenya than to choose a career path that is hinged on art and creativity. You will be munificently criticized by parents, friends and foes alike. You will need to be industrious in seeking opportunities to create, record, perform and live off of your music. You will always feel the need to prove yourself to everyone you meet. Even when you succeed and become popular enough not to need justification, you will still feel the chip on your shoulder. Make sure the decision you make to join this industry is one that is salubrious for you. It takes a lot of gallantry to put out your content for people to love, hate and critique in equal measure.
So if you are sure this is the path you want to take, welcome to the club.