HOME ARTICLES INDEX ARTICLE
How to Overcome Age Discrimination in the Music Business: Are You Getting Too Old to Rock & Roll?
AGE DISCRIMINATION is a sensitive and real issue in our society. After a certain age you can't become a police officer, join the military, or become a flight attendant. In the music business, artists often find it difficult to get a record deal after age 25and after that big break, it's even difficult for the established artist to sustain a career into their later years. As ridiculous as these rules may or may not be, you can always find success in the industry as long as you're open minded, proactive, and creative in finding new ways to survive and thrive.
Sign With A Major?
"It's a young man's game," said one A&R representative who wishes to remain anonymous. "We look for artists from age 15 to 25. It may seen harsh, but it doesn't makes sense to invest an older race horse when you can get the younger thoroughbred crossing the winner's line for years to come."
Unless a dramatic shift takes place in the industry in the next few years (which is very possiblemore on this later), then seeking a major label deal may obviously not be the wisest focus for more adult artists: plan and simple.
Said one indie rep in a recent music connection A&R poll conducted in 2003, "We tend to stay away from age discrimination. I look to the music first and people who have maturity and a strong business sense. Of course they must still have a marketable image even when they're olderbut it's the professional performers who keep their health and image a priority and can convince the masses they're younger than their years. If they have talent and look the part, then who cares how old they are."
Indies may not just be more open to signing more adult artists, but also older "brands" or "genres" of music. Indies are known to be the sanctuary (literally) for veteran artists are were once successful and no longer can find a home on a the majors. Case in point, Sanctuary records (formerly CMJ) made a name for themselves by signing several of the hard rock bands that were once very popular in the 1980s. Surely, labels like Sanctuary aren't trying to market to the masses nor do they have the budgets, but by signing artists who still have a modest (albeit dwindling) fan base and who are still willing to get out on the road and tour, a potential profit can be made for all parties involved.
Do It Yourself (DIY)
Singer/songwriter Ani DiFranco is the classic example of someone who bypassed the record companies altogether by starting her own label out of her parent's garage in 1990. She was only twenty years old then when she launched Righteous Babe Records. And at the time of this writingat age 34sales of her albums are still known to reach up to 30,000 copies per month. This brings to mind the old saying "You ever notice how fast firewood burns when you cut and then chop it yourself?" Though DiFranco is a rare example, it shows what you can accomplish over time when you take the initiative yourself. So get busy!
Show Them You're Unstoppable
Said James-Foster-Levy A&R 143/Warner Bros. Records. "I've definitely seen more successful DIY acts today than at any other time, and that promotes label attention. The problems the industry experienced [with the illegal downloading] opened the door for more mature artistsacts that may have been making records and selling a fair amount, but weren't on a major label."
Taking this development one step further, older artistswhose compositions target an older demographic audiencemay become even more attractive to record labels in the not too distant future. Adds Virginie L. Parant, attorney with Artist Law Group, "I think labels are beginning to realize that the 'over thirty crowd' is a desirable market: Not only do they have higher levels of disposable income, but they also are less likely to participate in unauthorized file sharing over the Internet. One can only hope A&R departments will come to recognize older artists and more mature forms of music as viable alternatives to teen pop and other teen-oriented genres." So rejoicethe music industry may not be in as bad shape as you thought.
Sting's career is stronger than ever after trading in his punk hairdo and new wave songs with the Police for a more sophisticated look and jazz influenced style on his solo albums. Eric Clapton transformed his career from the raw electric sounding style of Cream over 25 years ago, to his mature bifocal look and elegant musical style today. Madonnathe mother of reinvention herselfhas unarguably sustained a long-term career by reinventing herself over againfrom the boy-toy look and bubble gum pop in the early part of her career to a more spiritual goth look and evolved sound of Ray of Light. Surely, these artists have the resources to make the transformation process easier for them than for the rest of usbut the truth is there are no lifetime guarantees for any artist in this business. To paraphrase theorist Charles Darwin, it's not necessarily the strongest of species that survive, it's those most adaptable to change.
Danny Elfman of Oingo Boingo diversified his life from touring rock star to movie composer finding success on recent films like Big Fish. Aimee Mann, best Known for her work with Till Tuesday, became more involved with film music with her acclaimed work in Magnolia. Mark Mothersbaugh of Devo found much success scoring music for film and TV with projects such as Pee-Wee's Playhouse and Rugrats.
Korn, with two platinum records to their credit and no sign of their careers slowing down, took precautionary steps to ensure longevity in their careers by starting their own record label, called Elementree Records, distributed by Reprise/Warner, in 1997. According to author Leah Furman's book Korn: Life In The Pit, the majority of the group members now had families to support and could not risk relying solely on the success of their next CD. They also didn't want to spend as much time out on the road and away from their families as they had in the pastpeople grow up and their lives and responsibilities changeand so do dreams.
The band Orgy, Elementree's first signing, sold over 500,000 copies with their release Candyass. Though Korn's musical career is still going as strong as ever, they certainly have the mind-set for long-term success in the music business. Niccolo Machiavelli in his famous book The Prince said it this way: "One who adapts his policy to times prospers."
Derek Sivers, founder and president of CD Baby; one of the largest music-related companies on the Web, once said, "As a Berklee graduate and devoted musician first and foremost, who ever thought I would be spending my days in the music distribution business? But I love it." R&B singer Pebbles stepped into the more business side of the music industry when she went on to form Savvy records and created the Atlanta Georgia group TLC. She also guided the group as their personal manager for many years.
These examples are nothing to sneeze at. Sure, side-stepping or changing gears may not be what you originally set out to do with your musical career, but let's face itif you can be successful and still in the entertainment businessmore power to you!
Find Your Fountain Of Youth
Singer Kylie Monogue, who had a hit in 1987 with the Little Eva's song " The Locomotion," only to disappear for several years, recently made a comeback in 2002 as an older woman looking fitter and trimmer than ever with her hit song "Can't Get You Outta' My Head"she even was the spokesperson for Bally's Fitness Gyms and ran a series of sexy commercials.
In an interview on Carson Daily's show in 2003, singer Sheryl Crow expressed her good fortune and gratitude that people were still interested in her career being that she had just turned age 40the audience responded with cheers and whistles of lustful approval.
Motown legend Tina Turner got away with showing off her legs and looking and acting sexy into her 50s with her video "Private Dancer," which aired all over MTV years back.
And finally, long-timer Cher, from her scantly clad video "Turn Back Time" to her present day appearances on TV and films, is the ultimate example of an artist who never seems to age.
Surely these stars have the money to care for their looks with the most extreme measures available today. However, why not try a simple gym membership and healthy diet for starters?
Ohand don't forget, "Lying about one's age is a time honored tradition in Hollywood," jokes producer Sam Brown. "From theater, movie and TV to records, remember, birth certificates are not a prerequisite to getting signed to any record label."
Build A Loyal Fan Base
Artists such as Journey, Styx, Poison, Warrant, Great White, Vince Neil, Slaughter, and Quiet Riot are all artists who have stuck with the "very same formula" as they did back in their heydayand, interestingly, are all still touring and making a modest living doing so to this day. Surely, these bands have shown very little development over the years and are somewhat living in the past (perhaps you've even denounced these bands with a chuckle wishing they'd all just throw in the towel along with the tight pants and eye liner). But don't be so quick to judge. From a purely business perspective, these bands have actually done something incredibly right! By relentlessly hitting the road and performing live before audiences around the country, interviewing with radio stations and the press, visiting record stores, and making a special effort to connect with their fans, these bands were all able to successfully built a grass roots following and "brand" name in their day that was so powerful they are able to continue their careers today far beyond current trends and the support of their major record labels.
Personal manager and booking agent Chris Arnstein, who has worked with Bad English, Bret Michaels and Journey confirms, "If you're smart and lucky enough to develop a substantial customer base by making every effort to connect with your audience one fan at a time, you can almost bet on a career in music through touring for several years to come. Loyal fans will grow old with you; that's long after you're label drops you and the next generation of consumers is brainwashed to believe you're no longer cool."
Hang With The In-Crowd
Singer/songwriter Liz Phair, who was regularly mentioned in the industry alongside more adult artists such as Sarah McLachlan, recently aligned herself with the hit producer team The Matrix on her latest release self titled Liz Phair and is now mentioned alongside younger artists such as Michele Branch, Avril Lavigne and Hilary Duff. Veteran guitarist Carlos Santana collaborated with the modern sounds of singer Rob Thomas on Santana's Super Natural album, earning Santana a Grammy nomination and award for the first time in his career. Burt Bacharach, who turned 70 years old in 1998, received rave reviews when he teamed up with the much younger Elvis Costello and wrote and recorded the album Painted By Memorymusic critic Stephen Thomas called the resulting collaboration "timeless." And finally, it can be argued that the Queen of pop herselfMadonnacleverly choose to partner with pop princess Britney Spears on the song "Me Against The Music" on Britney's In The Zone album in order to keep in touch with a new and younger generation of pop listeners that's not to mention the infamous kiss between the two artists on the MTV awards in 2003; creating a great deal of publicity.
Cover The Recent Hits
Case in pointlong time show singer Tom Jones had a hit collaboration with the Art of Noise a while back when covering the hit song "Kiss," written by PrinceJones received the attention of a completely new and younger audience. Country legend Johnny Cash recently covered the industrial hero Trent Reznor's song "Hurt," earning him a great deal of notorietycash's video for "Hurt" was nominated in 2003 for best video of the year, male video of the year, best direction in a video, best art direction, best editing, and winner best cinematography in a video. Not bad! And noteit works in reverseyounger to middle aging artists can look to covering the classic hits in effort to win a more sophisticated audience.
Be Honest With Yourself?
Rock Till Your Drop
Says front man Steven Tyler, "I don't buy into the idea that you're not supposed to rock & roll after a certain date. Maybe I should be in Bellevue, but I'm just having a good time."
Stones Guitarist Keith Richards puts it this way, "This business isn't just for teenage kidsthis is a man's job, and it's a life-long job. And if there's a sucker to ever prove it, I hope to be that sucker."
Remember Why You Started
Regardless of your age or career position, it's important for musicians to understand that their passion for music is already their success. They've found something that gives them true meaning; and that's something that many people don't find till late in life or sometimes not all. Make sure to hold on to this emotion. Don't let your love for music be contingent upon getting a deal, being wealthy, or selling millions of records that's only the icing on the cake. Always remember that you choose music for your life because you loved it first and foremost. This waywhether you're performing before 5 people in a coffee house, or 30,000 in a stadium you'll feel blessed by the gift of music forever.