I spent most of my life trying to be a musician, I desperately wanted to be a rock star. I was 14 when I got into my first band as a guitarist and singer/songwriter, and I was 40 when I was decided it was time to give up playing live.
I carried on making music for a little while after I hit forty, but finally had to take a break because it was making me depressed. I felt like it was over for me, I had failed to succeed in music, I was never going to make it. The dream was dead, and I did not know what to do. It was the only dream I had ever had, and I had invested my entire life into the idea of making it.
Spirit Level – 1990 @ The Marquee Club
I am not in shot but played guitar, keyboards & wrote most of the songs.
Depression is a very common story for musicians, even for the one in a million that do see big success. Most famous musicians will be on top of the game for five years at most, after that it is downhill all the way. It is a tough industry, and it has actually not got any easier with the advent of the Internet.
The Way UK poster @ The Trinity Bar Club – 2001
I am top left and middle right
I will talk a lot about my experiences in the Music industry in future posts, I have plenty of years spent in it as a musician, road crew, stage designer, events promoter and a bunch of other ways I was involved in it.
Playing live is a young man’s game
Romeo Suspect – London photo shoot Alexandra Palace – 1990
I was singer. That’s me top left.
I was in a variety of Indie bands in England from a young age right up to my 40’s. After that I started learning music production and started trying to write songs in other genres like EDM and Neo-Classical.
I still tend to think of music as a young man’s game, and there comes a point where you start to doubt yourself. You start to see younger people doing what you did, and doing it a lot better. I think it’s natural and happens to everyone in any field of work as they get older.
The Way UK
I’d gone into my loud-shirt phase here, probably trying to feel relevant
The Rolling Stones are a rare exception who managed to seemingly stay musically relevant past 40 years old. But I believe that is because The Rolling Stones broke the mold. They were the first rock-and-rollers to explore the experience of being ‘on-stage Granddads’, and I guess someone had to do it. I didn’t really fancy that myself. It looked sad to me. I just don’t think it looks right seeing old men trying to be young in tight pants. It’s weird.
I used to work with the Rolling Stones and many other big bands too. I helped design and build their stages, but I will talk about that in a separate post. I also worked road crew for many years in London clubs which is where I learnt a lot about the reality of the music industry.
Lisichka @ London Pub in Camden
This was my last band before leaving England for Australia
I loved playing in bands, I loved the camaraderie of it. I also managed all of the bands I worked with, and I did all the promoting and marketing too. We had a good circuit of followers with my second-last band called The Way UK. We even got on TV shows, and from that sold some tracks to a Canadian TV company for their tv series about teenage angst called “Girls stuff, boy stuff”.
The Way UK doing a TV show
Stopping for make-up. TV, huh.
And then, like most bands, we just fizzled out.
At some point, you have to give it all up
I gave up gigging and bands after I emigrated to Australia in 2007. I was 40 years old. The experience of being too old to play made me so depressed that I felt confused and lost for a long time. I felt wounded by my failures in music.
Getting settled in Australia kept me so busy, that I also eventually made the decision to give up making music altogether. I had to work hard to get settled in a whole new country, 10,000 miles away from all my friends, and that took up the first three years after moving (Something else I will write about in another post).
I was busy trying to survive and settle in. I got work in I.T. and for a few years all but forgot about the music…kind of…
Turned out that I couldn’t quite let it go. So, I eventually bought some congas and soon found my way into the dance party scene in Sydney, Australia. I worked in a music trio with a saxophonist, a trumpet player, and me on congas.
Conga playing a party in Bondi in 2010.
The Movember precursor to the beard that I now wear
It was fun for a while, but I drank too much to be able to continue that lifestyle for very long. Basically it was all getting the better of me, and I knew it. The live work had to stop.
Seeing it all from the business end of my congas
This is the top deck of a boat party on Sydney Harbour
They moved us downstairs, and it was a bit more chaotic
When you let go, you start to see things more clearly
Some part of me just refused to give it all up, and while the music dream was in it’s death throes inside of me, my gran died and left me three thousand pounds. I knew she would have wanted me to spend it on something of personal value, so I took myself to AIM college in Sydney, Australia, and I spent three months learning Music Production.
It actually did not teach me what I had hoped it would teach me. Curiously what it did give me, was the ability to give up the dream of making it. That in itself will make a very interesting post, so I will save that story for another time too.
Learning production with Scott Saunders from Dig in the studios where INXS recorded KICK.
(That’s Royalston in the background)
The main room at Rhinoceros Studios.
(Now a block of flats in Surrey Hills, Sydney)
Thanks to AIM College and the fantastic teachers that I met there, finally, I was able to give up music. Ironic huh? But think about it… I had invested so many years in a dream, that I actually had to figure out how to let that dream go. They helped me understand my position better, who I was and what I was.
Finally I felt a little free of the rock star illusion that I had been caught up for all of my life. Finally, I could let the music go.
Then a strange thing happened…
In the studio with Royalston recording “All My Life”
I had met a guy on the music production course at AIM College and we had got on well. One day I went over to his flat and we recorded some tracks together. It was Drum and Bass music, and not my usual Indie style, live band stuff.
Not long after leaving college behind, he rang me up one day to tell me that a record company was signing him up and wanted to sign up some of our tracks too.
So, having spent 30 years in music getting nowhere, finally, after I figured out how to give it all up, I got signed up for a record deal with a track called Tough Luck through Hospital Records back in UK !!!!
It’s a weird world, huh?
Recording vocals for “Tough Luck” with Royalston
One of his contraptions in the background
That was with Royalston, who is an amazing Drum and Bass producer and still signed to Hospital Records. I did a few more tracks with him that got signed-up and published and they did really well in the drum and bass scene, you can check those out here.
He did most of the production work, I was just riding on his coat-tails to be honest, but I was writing the lyrics, singing the songs, and also involved in the initial melody creations too.
In a strange way, it finally felt like I had made it.
With Jay Ferguson of Spirit. Recording some Indie stuff at his studios in 2007
(That’s his platinum album not mine, but I used to take acid and listen to it, and so he got it out for me to have a photo with him).
With Jay Ferguson (Spirit) and Mark Singer recording some tracks in Jay’s studio in Santa Barbara, USA
What goes up, must comes down
Royalston and myself had some other songs released through another label who completely ripped us off, and that’s been about it for my moment of Music Industry fame.
Since then, I have continued to write & produce my own songs and over time have learnt how to produce them well enough to release them myself.
My studio in Elwood, Melbourne
Lights maketh the mood
I don’t much like or trust the music industry and where it is headed, and I will talk about that in future posts.
If there is one single piece of advice I would give to all young musicians facing the future, then it is this…
Never give away your copyright!
Many musicians do not realise that the moment they sell their song to a record company or publisher, it is no longer theirs, they no longer own it. And that is for all eternity, you can’t change your mind later or win it back in court.
I believe the best thing you can do for your music long-term is to NEVER give away your copyright ownership of a song (I will explain why in more detail in a future post).
The future of the music industry is designed to make money out of you, take away your ownership of a song, and it will never give you what you are owed when it does, because the entire Internet music eco-system is designed to benefit record companies and publishers, while milking the musicians and getting them to do the work. Given it is like that, it’s best avoided.
Having said that, you usually have to experience this yourself to find it out.
My studio in Elwood, Melbourne
So now I release my work myself, and put all of it out on MarkDKBerry.bandcamp.com site. They will take 15% of any download, but I retain the copyright and keep the rest. I don’t make much, but then I am not in this for the money.
I may change that way of selling them in the future, and sell it directly off my own web site and keep the full 100%, but I have good reason to stick with a platform like Bandcamp at the moment. They don’t distribute, they just hold the music, like a store facility, and I can sell it as downloads using Paypal.
Understand this: You wont get rich being a musician
If you are making music to get rich, then you are in the wrong industry.
You won’t get rich being a musician in this world anymore. Don’t believe the musicians that say they are, they have to pretend they are, so that you might buy them! It’s a scam. Especially in the R&B scene where they have to appear rich and powerful to be of interest to the fans.
There is not much money in music, not for the musicians at least.
There is plenty of $$$ for the big companies like Spotify, Apple, Google, and all the record companies that buy your copyright and then milk it for the rest of it’s life, while you do a lot of the work to promote the record they now own.
My ocean view studio setup in Kiama, Australia
Sometimes “making it” is about where you are “at” , not where you think you are going
Getting ripped off, is part of the deal
I will write another post about my experience around a track I did with Royalston called “All My Life” As you can see from the Spotify link here we have seen well over 100K plays on that link alone and there are many other releases of it on other albums.
We haven’t seen any money for that at all. It got released to Vinyl too, and it is still a big seller in the Drum & Bass scene online, in the UK, and in Europe. It’s monetised on YouTube as well, where many hundreds of thousands of plays have occurred, and though it should get us quite a bit through royalties with PRS and APRA, it doesn’t. All of the money goes to the record label even though we signed a deal that should give us 50%. How much do we get? Nothing. zero. zip. Why? Because the record company is ripping us off.
We saw ZERO money in royalties for any of it from the label. ZERO!!!! I tried to contact the boss of the record company to make enquiries, and he responded by changing my name associated to the release, so within days it disappeared from all my artist links. It was his way of saying – if you mess with me, I will cut you off from this record.
There isn’t enough money in it to justify a legal battle, and you never know when you might lose that kind of fight anyway, and if you lost then you have even bigger court costs to consider. So you do nothing, you bend over, and you take it. That, amigo, is your entrance into the Music Industry.
Copyright is a problematic thing and if you sell your copyright to someone, it’s over for you if they decide to withhold money, and believe me, even the most trustworthy record companies will do that to you, because you are nobody and can’t afford to chase them up over it. This is normal behavior and has not changed and never will.
The irony is, that those kind of experiences help teach you what not to do in the future! You can end up bitter and do what one band did and cover the record company offices in paint and then get sued for more money, or you can put it all down as a lesson.
Everyone gets ripped off in the end, what is your story? Tell me in the comments.
The future of YOUR music
I still love making music, I do NOT do it for the reasons that I used to, and I do not do it thinking that I will ever make it. I do it for myself and for the love of it.
The idea of making it is a lie sold to kids by the music industry. If you want to become a controlled product for a few years and have the majority of your money go to the label and publisher in exchange for your brief moment of fame, while ultimately losing the rights to all your songs, then maybe that is for you.
To be honest, I spend a lot more time writing books now, but I still like to dabble in music production. I produce a few songs each year and release them myself on Bandcamp and sometimes through outlets like Routenote or Amuse, but to be honest they are probably the wrong way to approach it moving forward. Maintain ALL THE CONTROL yourself.
A young beardless pup rehearsing for an acoustic recording session .
Eventually it was mastered at Turtle Rock Mastering in Sydney by the great Rick O’Neil
Do it all for yourself!
Spend your youth writing songs and living the dream and getting messed up, all the while building a library of copyright content, then market yourself later when you get older and wiser to the ways of the world.
I have a variety of genres I work in and no one controls my music but me. I do not make music for money. That is a beautiful place to be in. You can check out my list of releases, DJ sets, collaborations, and all sorts here, or visit my website and click on the Music menu for a complete list of available works.
My love of music, my joy of it, and my passion for it, is alive again. That is the right way to do it, and it took me 40 years and a lot of pain to figure that out.
My dream of being a rock star is dead, long live the dream!
Thinking of staging a come back?
All Mark’s music is available to stream or download via this link
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