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How To Phase Out Your Day Job and Start Working On Your Music Career Full Time (Part 2)

Part 2 of this series on how to start working full-time on your music career focuses on why you must treat music as your day job, various types of carriers, and why you may need to do a little bit of everything before you find exactly what you want to do long term.

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Brett Manning  00:09
Hey, everyone! Welcome to the Singing Success Show Podcast. I am your host, Brett Manning. This is my co-host. 

Dustin Small  00:17
Hey, guys. Dustin Small here again. 

Brett Manning  00:19
And what’s the title of our show today?

Dustin Small  00:21
I think we’re just doing part two on how to phase out your day job.

Brett Manning  00:25
Ah. And move into your music career. 

Dustin Small  00:28

Brett Manning  00:28
It’s funny because we were really jumping into part two right then and there. We knew it was going to be a longer podcast because the things that we had to say were pretty intense. You’re talking about changing your whole life. That’s a pretty big decision. 

I’ve got to tell you, there’s a place that you and I know that’s one of my favorite little spots called Urban Market. The owner said: “I’m thinking about knocking out this wall” and taking out this great, big, huge loan. It’s online so you can see what people are paying to open up a new restaurant. You had to take out a million-dollar loan for that. I said, “Yes, dude, do it!” It’s really irresponsible of me to tell him that. “Here, take the risk! Oh, I love it. It’s a great restaurant. Go ahead. You’ll make it.” And boy, what did he bite off? A lot. And he’s doing it, and it’s doing well.

Dustin Small  01:24
It’s incredible what they did with the space. 

Brett Manning  01:25
Oh, it’s incredible. It’s two and a half times the size of the restaurant. It went from 2,500 square feet to 7,000. It’s almost triple the size. It’s an amazing health food restaurant-café store. 

So when we’re telling you things, it reminds me of talking to that guy and telling him: “Yes! Take the risk! Take the chance.” Well, it’s easy for you to say. You have no risk of telling somebody. When we’re telling you to take a risk and have a music career—man, I don’t want to ruin anybody’s life. 

Dustin Small  01:59
Sure. You gauge it against your own experience, of course. 

Brett Manning  02:02
Yes. You’ve heard people say: “Don’t go to college. Just do this.” Wow. Telling a person not to go to college is pretty hefty. 

Dustin Small  02:09
It’s a terrible generalization.

Brett Manning  02:10
It is. At the same time, some people are better off not going to college. And some people are like: “You should have went to college because you don’t have a skill set and you’re kind of lost in this industry.” And there is a time to tap out when you realize nobody gives a crap about your singing. If you have good enough friends, good enough connections in the industry, and a good enough coach—you can see the before and after—and you start singing The greatest love of all is easy to achieve ♪ [sings in mocking voice] three years later, you haven’t gotten any better. 

And if your ears are so deceived that you can’t hear the difference between good singing and bad singing, self-deception is horrible. And you’ve heard of people who’ve gone from “Man, this person can’t sing” to “What happened? You’re awesome!” And then you’ve also heard of people who [you feel like saying this to]: “You have been at this for a long time, man. Just sing karaoke. It’s okay to realize you don’t have any gift.”

Dustin Small  03:27
Yes. Sometimes the industry is not where an artist is supposed to be.

Brett Manning  03:31
It’s true. You can still enjoy music. You don’t have to have a career. So that’s important. And this leads us to what we’re talking about today in this part two. 

Dustin Small  03:44
Various types of careers, essentially. What you’re saying is that we’re giving options based on our experience, like you mentioned earlier, of various things you can do to keep the inspiration alive and to keep yourself in front of the right people. But also knowing when it might be the right time to tap out. So we’re going to go into that a little bit.

Brett Manning  04:10
If you realize that “man, nothing’s really happening,” you make some covers on YouTube. You have to start with covers, because people don’t know you. They don’t know your songs.

Dustin Small  04:19
Unfortunately, that’s kind of where we are right now. You have to play the game to be noticed sometimes.

Brett Manning  04:25
Yes. You get noticed because somebody else has already been noticed. It’s basically advertising yourself with somebody else’s song, and they see a cover. Hopefully, you do a really good job of it. And people comment. Some people are really mean-spirited, no matter how good you are. Pavarotti got 1.2 million thumbs up on one of his versions of “Nessun Dorma” and 46,000 thumbs down. How do you do that to Pavarotti? That’s 46,000 rotten, horrible, ignorant, belligerent people to ever give him a thumbs down! So realize that when some people hate you, it ain’t real. 

And then realize that if nobody loves your music and nobody’s paying attention to you, you can listen to see how far they’ve gone. There are analytics that show you how far they’ve listened to your song. If they only listen to the first line, and you’ve gotten so many plays… I think it doesn’t register plays unless they get close to the end of the song, if I’m correct. I know they have changed it up through the years. But if you have that, and people are just not listening to it, you end up buying some ad space. You’ve spent $30. You go through some company that says, “We’re going to do $30 every couple weeks,” and you can’t get 1,000 views still, then just nobody cares. And that’s a horrible thing to face. 

We will talk about that a little bit. No, we’ll talk about that in the next one: “No Guts, No Glory”. So make sure you tune into episode 6 as we talk about no guts, no glory, because there are people who have been rejected over and over and over who still made it. So that’s that X-factor situation where you think, “This person shouldn’t have made it,” and they still do. So there is always that perspective. 

But this leads us back to different careers. You’re a YouTube artist. Fine. You’ve got a little bit of attention. People like you. That’s great. You’re not making any money, but you’re having fun. And it’s not all about making money. You play in local coffee shops. That’s great. Local restaurants. That’s great. Singing for weddings. That’s fine. You have some kind of career. You’re doing it, not making it. You’re doing it.

Dustin Small  06:43
You’re out there connecting, at least. 

Brett Manning  06:45
Yes. Experiencing it. Let’s talk about those various levels of careers a little bit.

Dustin Small  06:53
I think starting with the connection is the most important thing. Is your music connecting? Chances are, if nobody cares about it, as you mentioned earlier, it’s because you haven’t found your individual voice and you haven’t found a way to connect with your audience. Isn’t that really why we’re all here anyway? 

Brett Manning  07:16
Right. People just want relationships. 

Dustin Small  07:18
Sure. In your experience, you could probably speak at some length about how to translate simple songs, whether they’re just covers or something you’ve written, into meaningful performances and connections.

Brett Manning  07:35
This leads me to another thing: What if you’re just a good songwriter and somebody else sings your songs better than you?

Dustin Small  07:41
Well, there is this town… 

Brett Manning  07:44
Called, um, “NashVegas” or something like that? Yes. Someplace in middle Tennessee. 

Dustin Small  07:49
Music City, USA. We just happen to be here right now. This town was built on people just like you who decided to lend their hand and allow artists to take their music somewhere else. There’s nothing wrong with that. In fact, those people are generally prospering more than the artists these days.

Brett Manning  08:08
It’s true. It’s true. There are people who are supporting the artists. Launching one artist takes so many moving parts. And if you do it yourself… And we’re going to talk about that. We’ll have her on as a guest, she talks about doing it yourself. We’re going to have Rick Barker on, and we’re going to have Leah McHenry—these people who understand how to show others how to build their own careers. And we’re also going to talk with Leah McHenry, who was able to make $200,000 a year while being a homeschooling mother of five kids.

Dustin Small  08:40
And talk about a success story—if you want to define your own version of success—which is a huge topic in and of itself.

Brett Manning  08:48
Right. Hence the reason why we did a whole other part two on this—”How to Phase Out Your Day Job”—is that there are various types of careers. Let me ask you this right now. I’ve never asked you this. If your life and music career could resemble anybody… If I were a genie…  You rub the lamp and I pop out, “Yes, what do you want?” You say, “I would like this.” What would that career look like?

Dustin Small  09:23
I guess the first person that comes to mind, being that I’m generally known as a drummer in town, would have to be Dave Grohl. Obviously, I didn’t come up in a lot of the rock and roll stuff, even though I played in rock bands in high school and stuff like that. I’m generally a rock music fan. But just how his career has played out since the early Nirvana days and stuff like that. If I could be associated with one or two mainstream iterations and then just be the guy who sits back and kind of jumps in: “Oh, I like what you’re doing. I’d like to be a part of that if that’s okay.” Or “I’d like to produce.” Or “I’d like to help you guys in the writing process” or something like that. I don’t necessarily need to be the name or face of anything in that regard. But it would be nice to have something hefty to hang your hat on to give people a chance to really care and dig into your body of work, as we were talking about previously. They don’t care until you make them care.

Brett Manning  10:34
That’s right. And look at how definitive you are. People have asked me, “What would you do if you knew you couldn’t fail?” I said, “Man, I’d write film scores.” And I’ve said this for a long time. You and I were talking about it. That would be part of my career.

Dustin Small  10:50
Yes. It’s a good example of something very lucrative and fulfilling. Do you know who scored the last movie that you watched? 

Brett Manning  11:00
I don’t know. 

Dustin Small  11:01
Does it really matter? 

Brett Manning  11:02

Dustin Small  11:03
They’re doing what they love and they’re reaping the benefits of it. 

Brett Manning  11:06
Yes. Sometimes we know when we see James Horner. We’re like, “Oh, that guy,” or John Williams, “Oh, that guy.” You understand that there are certain styles that are very identifiable, and then you can pick up little clues from them and adapt your career to that. This is when I say: “What kind of career do you want? Who does it resemble?” You’re going to build on the backs of people who’ve done it before you. 

Bach had two sons who were composers—one influenced Mozart and one influenced Beethoven. Without Bach, you don’t get Mozart and you don’t get Beethoven. Arguably, without Bach having two sons who were composers… I think he only had 10 kids or something like that. Lots of kids. Lots of kids. Very busy—he and his wife. [laughter] Very busy. And the greatest composer of all time. 

The first pianist to use the thumb. They played all melodies like this: [plays brief melody on piano]. A lot of those Gregorian chants style. And he made everything equally tempered, so every note was equally spaced, and said, “Now you can change keys while you’re in the middle of a piece.” 

Dustin Small  12:21
How did I not know this?

Brett Manning  12:22
When you hear the piece [plays brief melody on piano], that key change happened because of them. Or [plays brief melody on piano]. All those notes are normally not in the song because he wrote music that could just change keys again and again and again. You all know this one, [plays melody on piano], Bach Prelude no. 1. It’s still the same key, right? It’s the ♪ Ave Maria, gratia plena, gratia plena ♪. 

Boy, I haven’t played it for a while. Now, my son plays it perfectly. I keep screwing up Bach. I can’t sing and play at the same time. It’s so hard. But it just keeps changing keys. Then, all of a sudden, it goes from this G thing to G diminished. [plays melody briefly on piano]. And then F. What is it? And then to an F diminished. And then you’ve got all these diminished chords. To do a double-diminished chord means you’re leaving the key. But he was the first musician to do that and to influence. 

So when you think you’re a singer or a musician who has found your own sound and has not been influenced by somebody, you are an onion. Every year, people come to me and they say: “Brett, I need to peel away all my prescribed identities—my religious, my philosophical, and my cultural prescribed identities. I need to find out who I am as an artist. My education and all my influences—I have too many influences. I need to peel away and find out who I am as an artist.” And I say: “Peel away, son. You’re an onion. Ain’t nobody home.” You are everything you’ve ever come into contact with. Yet you want to throw away all those influences?

Dustin Small  14:39
Sure. It’s almost like you’re just too focused on the minutiae. Just incorporating the thumbs changed everything about being able to create melodies. So what is your thumb incorporating into your artistry?

Brett Manning  14:56
Right. You lean on Bach. Do you know who influenced Bach? This guy. This one: [plays brief melody on piano] Pachelbel’s Canon. Pachelbel influenced Bach. I’m sure you’ve always listened to that. He goes: [plays brief melody on piano]. It’s a kid’s song, almost. But it’s beautiful. Stunning. Every wedding, you’re like, “Pachelbel’s Canon!” 

Dustin Small  15:40
My wife walked down the aisle with it.

Brett Manning  15:43
Did she? It’s a tradition. Or you could do the thing where you’re dancing and you come down and everybody’s doing that. And it was kind of cool for a little bit—these little cheesy auto-tune pop songs. It’s fun. If you did that, it’s cool. It’s charming. We all cried the first time we saw it. But Pachelbel’s Canon, man…

Dustin Small  16:00
It became timeless from something very simple.

Brett Manning  16:02
Yes. And you build on greatness. Somebody said to me: “I like to be very random with my chords.” She’s going: [plays brief melody on piano and sings in mock tone]. This is awful.

Dustin Small  16:24
It brings us back to the beginning: What’s connecting to your audience in the first place? Are you making music for yourself or are you making music for other people?

Brett Manning  16:32
Yes. And sometimes creativity is just sitting on one chord. Do you know about Keith’s song? ♪ This is my one chord song

Dustin Small  16:39

Brett Manning  16:32
He sits there on a guitar. The problem with the piano is that you can’t strum it. You can’t strum a piano. But he’s going:

♪ It’s my one chord song, I hope it don’t last too long, see I’d be stuck for eternity in the key of G, now I could sing like there’s another chord, but you say there’s only one chord in that song ♪

The first time he played that for me, I just died. Somebody said, “You should be able to write a song with two chords.” He goes, “I can write that song in one chord.”

There used to be a show called Name That Tune and they’d play three notes and boom, they could name that tune. Sometimes they’d say, “I can name that tune in one note.” How? [presses G on the piano] ♪ My love ♪ Wrong, because it could be anything that starts on a G. But two notes in rhythm… And here, look what he did. Something so simple. That  “One Chord Song”—people freak out every time he plays it.

Dustin Small  17:48
Chances are, he did that for someone else. Why would you write a song with one chord anyway? Just to connect.

Brett Manning  17:55
To make a point. How much melody can you dig out of one chord? When you are creating, you become an asset to yourself. Anybody who is creative will always have a job. If you are creative, you will always have a job. How do you know you’re creative? When people like what you create.

Dustin Small  18:26
Sure. If it’s all black and white and anybody can do your job, then you’re interchangeable with whoever else just so happens to have that same skill set.

Brett Manning  18:35
That’s right. Let’s go into that first. What are the levels of careers? There’s the level of career where you’re just a YouTube artist. A stay-at-home artist. You’re a touring artist. You’re drumming for somebody and singing backup vocals for people. You’re a studio producer. You’re a studio musician. Maybe you’re a studio musician. You’re an artist. You’re a writer. You’re a producer. You’ve done all of those things. Everything. I’ve done all those things, except that I can barely keep a beat on the drums. 

Dustin Small  19:03
It’s okay; we’ll work on it.

Brett Manning  19:04
All right, you’ll teach me. But I can play drum tracks. I can track it out because I can beatbox a rhythm. If I can do that, eventually I should be able to play. But we’ve done so many different things that all contribute to the overall value and net worth as viable artists or musicians working in the industry. We have met people who have done fantastic things.

There’s a keyboardist here who played for one of the biggest rock bands of all time. I don’t see hardly any work coming out of him. But he is a legend. And I respect him. I would probably bow down if I met him. [He’d be] like: “Come on, get up. I’m only a man.” “Sorry, I just can’t help it. Your music has changed my life.” And you hear one of his little rhythms and you’re like: “Oh, you did that on the keyboard?” I’m not going to mention his name because he’s not working a whole lot now. He still does some work. He has a place and he produced one of my students and did a brilliant job. But it’s hard enough to actually have a career. The energy you must use to find a career and to build a career, you must always use to sustain a career. 

It’s like getting in shape. You don’t get in shape; you stay in shape. It’s your lifestyle and you’re always trying to do something new. You’re always hearing me; what’s my new thing? My new thing is those yoga push-ups where you do the banana push-ups—downward dog, upward dog. And it works your shoulders out. I do those in the morning. They’re Indian push-ups. From India, not American Indian, which is Native American. But I do those push-ups. They’re hard! I can do 100 push-ups at any time, but I do 10 of those and then it’s hard to do 10 regular push-ups.

Dustin Small  21:02
Finding the variation in something mundane and repetitive before that changes the entire perspective and outlook on your creativity and your workflow.

Brett Manning  21:14
Well said. You’re always so concise. But yes, exactly. That’s what happened. For me, if I don’t innovate… You have to innovate, you have to create and you have to reconstruct what you think is great or you’re dead. This industry will leave you fast. I know producers who are trying to produce some of my students and head-hunting them hardcore. And she says, “Should I work with this guy?” That old saying, “What have you done lately?” Because that’s all that matters—that you’ve done something lately. “And he wants to experiment with you? Okay, good. Tell him, ‘You get one track for free.'” “Really? For free?” “Yes. And you get a percentage of that.” 

A little side note for you people: If you’re ever hiring a producer—and I’ll probably bring this up in future podcasts, because you can’t hear this too much—don’t ever pay a producer 100% upfront. Make them work for it. Half upfront, half at the end. I always do that and I always get my product. Because he’s got all his money, and now he’s paying off a debt. He’s working off a debt. He’s enslaved.

Dustin Small  22:28
We can probably go more in detail on that on a later podcast because I think we’re going to talk about when a record deal is right or not right for you at a particular point in your career. I think that would tie in greatly with that. 

Brett Manning  22:41
Yes. And I think we can talk for a minute about that. Sometimes your end goal is not to be a totally independent artist. You want a minor label deal—an indie record label deal. Those give you a lot more freedom. Sometimes you’re touring in small places that hold 100–150 people and you’re not making any money. You’ve got the minivan and you’re going around the country. 

You’ve been in some of those situations. And you’ve been flown out for gigs. It’s really nice. You go out to LA, you play, and you come home. That’s really nice and cushy. Those are different levels of careers. You’ve literally played in stadiums, and you’ve played in little, small, tiny, crap venues. Some with me. Crap venues. And you do that and they all contribute to what you eventually should do and what you want to do.

Dustin Small  23:35
Every show should be Yankee Stadium to you. You’ve got to treat it the same way.

Brett Manning  23:43
If you’re looking for that career for which you want a major label deal, you need to have a major label voice, and you need to build your career. You have to be a certain age. That’s unfortunate. But guess what? If you build your career and you’re not a 17-year-old girl who just graduated high school early and you can play four instruments and you’re drop-dead gorgeous and everybody loves you, you could still have that career. The same thing with Ed Cash. He’s almost 50 and he just signed his first record deal.

Dustin Small  24:15
Yes. There are exceptions to the rule, for sure. But it all has to do with the workflow, your work ethic, and the niche you are choosing to explore at that time. It’s nice to sit here and talk about all the ways that you could contribute to the music industry and hopefully get something back in return for it, but if you haven’t picked your lane to stay in… It’s throwing darts at the wall and hoping that something sticks. You’ve got to specialize in something eventually, but it is a great idea, in general, to try as many things as possible. As long as you’ve given yourself enough room for failure, which we’ve talked about before, it’s okay. It’s part of the process. 

But yes, eventually you need to land on something that you are known for. This helps create more buzz for what you do. They’re like: “Oh yes, I know that person. They’ve done this. I know somebody who said they did this with them. I don’t know what they’re working on right now, but” blah, blah, blah. No. So and so “is great at” X, Y, or Z. If you can do X, Y, and Z, that’s great. But it’s great to have a thing.

Brett Manning  25:23
Wow, you just said something that triggered a lot of thoughts. The thing you want to be known for. I texted Leah McHenry this summer and I said, “Look, I’ve been just writing tons.” And I said: “I’m trying to pick my direction. What do I do?” And she just texted me this: “What do you want to be known for?” I went: “Wow! What do I want to be known for?” 

And you know my mission in life—you know about that—that everything is leading to one great, big, more noble desire that I don’t want to make public until it’s done. But the noble desire is what you hope to be recognized for. But if it’s “I just want to be famous,” why don’t you, while you’re in the process, just say, “I would really like cancer”?—because it’s kind of the same thing. Fame is a disease. It’s a sickness. You don’t want that. Notoriety is fine. Respect. Success. Chase the career or chase the art—you’re okay. Chase fame—you’re dead already. 

You will do anything and everything if you want fame. You will compromise everything that you hold dear. I know. I’ve seen it again and again. There are artists that I look at and say, “This person is a shadow of who they were.” They’re not even a shadow. There’s no resemblance to the former person and the glitzed and glammed artist who has now allowed themselves to be transformed into the image of their maker. And we’re not talking about being made in the image of God. Made in the image of fraud. 

Dustin Small  27:20
Yes. And I’m sure several people can list off a handful of examples. They say, “Well, this person’s had a 20-year career,” or a 30-year career, “and we’re all talking about them still to this day. And they’re uber-famous” or whatever. What you don’t see is the work that they’ve continued to put in—we talked about the process earlier—over that 20-year career that’s allowed them to stay relevant. It’s not: “I’ve reached fame. I’ve reached the limelight.” It’s: “What are they doing behind closed doors that’s ensuring that they can stay in that spot?”

Brett Manning  27:59
And for every ten artists that have had that long, successful mega career, eight of them are telling horror stories about their careers. Eight out of ten will tell you, “I wish I would have had a simpler life.” I have one country artist who has a big farm, a big ranch in Kentucky, who said: “I just wish I could sing again.” I helped him get his voice back and he got another number one hit and it was really cool. He got his health back. But he said: “I want to sing, but I don’t care about the big stage anymore.” 

This guy had done some really great things. He has a lot of number ones. And he said: “I want to be able to be with my wife and my kids and watch my grandkids and go to my private ponds”—he has several private lakes on his property—”and do a little fishing and go out and sing occasionally.” And he was able to do a little bit. But he’s pretty much done with everything because his career just wore him down. And the regrets are often greater than the rewards. So you have to measure: “Do my rewards outweigh my regrets”? When you’re value-driven in your career, you can’t lose. 

Dustin Small  29:15
Exactly. I think the main thing is defining your own success, as we mentioned earlier, picking your lane and also putting in the exact work that’s required to meet that goal day in and day out, treating it as if it were potentially the last day. 

Brett Manning  29:40
Wow. It’s a great jump-off point. Bravo.

Dustin Small  29:44
Good job, buddy.

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