You Can’t Stop The Waves…But You Can Learn To Surf (The Music Industry)

Dan Swinimer has 20 years experience in the music industry – both on the business and creative side. Dan’s unique skill set, combining business experience and creative/musical talent have seen him involved in many successful ventures to date including charting on various Billboard charts, NBC olympic music placement, and video game placement to name a few.  He is also currently the Songwriters Association of Canada’s Featured Member.  We’re grateful he took the time to share some of the wisdom he has garnered over the course of his extensive career.

In His Words…

When I was asked to do this guest blog about the music industry, the devil on my shoulder instantly snickered “tell them to RUN FOR THEIR LIVES!!!!” It’s true – the music industry can be a volatile, pride swallowing, thankless place. It is intensely competitive, sometimes back stabbing and often political. Oh yeah – for most musicians, it will never pay a dime. So why do it? Life is made up of peaks and valleys – much like a wave. Sometimes you sit atop the wave and admire the view. Sometimes you find yourself in the trough of the wave – looking for a ladder. Well, if a normal life is a wave, then a musician’s life is a tsunami! Sure the lows are pretty low, but the highs are like nothing else in this world, and like a powerful drug, they keep you coming back for more. As they say, you can’t stop the waves…but you can learn to surf.

I’ve been riding this tidal wave for close to 20 years now, and here are a few things I think I’ve learned along the way;

1. There are very few, if any absolutes in music – only patterns. For any so called “rule” in the music biz, there are exceptions, often countless exceptions, and that goes for every point I make in this blog! Success in the music industry is a moving target – both on the business and creative side, so anyone claiming to know anything for certain…likely doesn’t. Chasing what is hot now can be very counterproductive. For songwriters, I do think it is very important to invest time listening to what is happening on the charts now, but I think it is equally important to listen to what worked in the past AND to listen and appreciate all different genres and styles of music. When we write music, we are constantly accessing our subconscious. If there is only Katy Perry in there, you will probably just regurgitate Katy Perry. If you have proven hits past and present, as well as all many other styles and genres of music mixing together, I believe you give yourself a chance to create something exciting, new, original and relatable.

2. Focus. Know what your goals are, and make sure your actions line up. Here is an example – I have artists tell me all the time that their goal is radio play, but they will write 5 minute songs with 2 minute intros. With the rare exception, you either write 5 minute songs with 2 minute intros, OR you get radio play. Not both.

3. Making money in music isn’t the same as “selling out”. There is a wall that so often exists between musicians and success. It’s the “selling out wall”. Sometimes peer pressure puts it there, sometimes we put it there ourselves. The reality – there is nothing wrong with being successful. Some musicians put more thought into avoiding the mainstream, then they do into making great music. Figure out the truth behind “selling out” as it pertains to you, then write the best music you can write and ignore the haters.

4. Musicians make music – Music lovers listen to, and buy music. Not all music lovers are musicians. In fact, MOST music lovers are not musicians. If you are trying to write music that millions will love and relate to, then don’t write music that only musicians will understand. Lyrics are not an after thought. To non-musicians, the lyrics are every bit as important as the music.

5. Find people whose opinion you value. This can be hard to find. There are 2 types of useless opinions that come to mind right away;

–  “I Love it!” guy.  They “love” everything, but in reality are just too polite to tell the truth.

– “I would have done this and this” guy. We all love this guy – the one that criticizes just to try and impress you.

The perfect opinion is the one that has no agenda, and shoots straight. They should like the style of music that you are doing, and they DON’T necessarily have to be music industry peeps! As much as I like to have industry opinions, I take as much if not more stock in non-musician/music lover’s opinion. After all – they are the ones buying the music…right?

6. Don’t sign ANYTHING without getting a lawyer to look at it. There are a lot of very bad recording and publishing deals out there – just waiting for a sucker to sign them.  DON’T be that sucker. If anyone threatens to take a deal off the table because they are not willing to wait for you to have a lawyer look at it, then that deal is likely a very bad one.  If someone is truly interested in what you are doing, they will wait.

7. Be nice! Be fair! Be honest! Be Strong! If you do all these things, you will really stand out in the music business! There are tons of slime-balls in music. Don’t be one of them. Don’t get walked over, but don’t be a jerk.

There are many things I haven’t included here because being musicians, and thus crippled with ADD, I figure a long blog wouldn’t get read anyways! I didn’t include “work hard” or “be persistent” in my list, mainly because these are just givens. If you don’t work hard, you will get left behind before the race even begins. I should also add “enjoy the ride”. There have been times in my journey that the ups and downs of the business have gotten the better of me, and I forget why I do it.  At these moments, it is important to get away from being a music creator, and go back to being a music lover. Listening to the music that first inspired you to write can help you can get back to writing from the heart – which is where all the best music comes from. Yes – the music industry is a wild ride – intense highs and lows. Grow thick skin, learn from your mistakes and enjoy the ride!



5 thoughts on “You Can’t Stop The Waves…But You Can Learn To Surf (The Music Industry)

  1. Hi Dan, nice read, all of it! I particularly like 5. Find the opinion that matters, nothing bothers me more than an industry rep who shatters a dream by voicing an opinion that’s not even theirs, they picked it up from someone else. Agendas do matter.


    1. Thanks Angie – there are a lot of jaded ex-musicians lurking around in the music business just waiting to crush other’s dreams. Steer clear of that kind of negativity. I find that you can usually tell when someone is giving you an honest and constructive opinion. Also, remember to take every opinion with a grain of salt – whether positive or negative. There are alot of people that HATE Justin Bieber, Nickelback, Black Eyed Peas – the list goes on. I’m guessing that these bands are happy they didn’t act on the opinions of those that didn’t like their music!


  2. Really great read! I especially like the ideas of looking at music patterns and music makers versus music lovers. Also, a lot of this wisdom applies to everyday life too! Wise and true. Thank you, Dan! Also, great music! :O)


  3. mongi

    hi Dan, an excellent read, it just stands out and this is honest of me…I skim an article here and there but never comment, at least not to praise…In short some words kept me coming back to them to read them again…the experiences you gathered there over the 20 years are made from concrete now; you´ll never get walked over, and allow me this, people with such experiences have a friendly and peaceful look, they´re balanced ” folks ” —that cons don´t dare approach—…thanks again for a most diverting literature rich in substance. Carry on.


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