How a musical life faces a steep climb

By Beverley Knight

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Music should be anything the heart desires. It should be expressive. Experimental. Fulfilling. But music as a thriving, long-lasting career? That’s a very different story. Artists of all ages and experiences speak about the highs and lows of a creative calling. So many could not imagine themselves doing anything else: not possible. However, financial support and a steep climb to the top are concerning.

LA-based German composer Frank Rothkamm produces sounds with classical, EDM, and improvised vibes. “I like exploring what I can do creatively and technically,” he says. Dedicating over 40 years to his craft, he’s seen changes within tech, business ways, and genre expansion. Frank also sees millions making music, yet only a few earn a decent living. “Is it based on luck, connections or something else? There is a ton of excellent music out there that is never heard or only heard by a small number of listeners,” he says. There’s always a starting-out tale with the rich and famous of this world. “They caught a lucky break. I’ve never figured out how to find that break, so I decided to make my luck,” Frank says. “Some people complain that I can’t be categorised and think I’m less marketable. I think it’s important to push myself constantly.”

The industry can throw people off target. Pushing through takes commitment and dedication. Rap artist D3NN, Dennis Joy, looked up one night and saw a lonesome star: the only visible thing in the sky. Something strange came over him. “From that moment, I had my answer. I knew I had to take my music career to the next level.” His determination may be unwavering, but he feels a distinct lack of support for emerging artists. “There are a lot of talented musicians in Ghana, trust me, but we have no support,” he says. Financial challenges make him unable to buy much-needed beats and record music because producers can charge a hefty fee. “They forget that we’re upcoming and we have nothing yet. So, they should cool down a little and try to support us. Then we have a chance of realistically achieving things.”

Building a name in music takes its toll. Avenda, Vishwak Sudhaka, is in a zen state now, but that wasn’t always the case. Born in Tamil Nadu in India, he relocated to picture-perfect Paris in 2020 to refine his Lo-fi sound. He says, “Witnessing individuals embrace stress in the pursuit of success, unaware of the harm it inflicts, strikes a chord. I wouldn’t wish it on anyone.”

One sure thing now is it’s easier than ever to share music at the touch of a button. Frank says, “When the internet was accepted more broadly in the late 90s, I was an early adopter and could see how it was a tool for independent distribution. I think the industry can adapt to a lot of changes in a short amount of time.” Streaming services provide a platform to share art widely with no signs of slowing down. Frank claims it’s good to acquire technical skills to have new possibilities to consider. “There are likely to be a lot more changes coming down the road because of the rapid pace of technology and the importance of music in people’s lives,” he says. “Now more than ever and where possible, it’s a bright idea for artists to distribute music on their own terms.”

Online communities invite listeners into the creator’s vision. “It’s a beautiful way to express yourself and inspire others,” says D3NN. “You’ll find everything in my music: love, heartbreak, motivation. Listening to tracks from other countries offers a beautiful glimpse into the infusion of culture in their music.”

With access to Lofi Girl on YouTube, where lo-fi hip-hop music airs 24/7 to aid relaxation and study, it shows an accessible online trend that keeps soaring. Avenda says, “Despite the challenges, there are positive aspects in the music industry, particularly in the ability to explore diverse cultures.”

The power of music brings us together. “Music connects people from different backgrounds and cultures,” D3NN says. “It evokes emotions. It’s amazing how a song can touch someone’s heart and make them feel understood.”

Avenda believes art and music serve as ‘transformative wonders’ that open minds to other perspectives. “Whether in visual art or a rap song, they are powerful enough to immerse us in deep emotions.” There’s an escape from harsh realities; listeners can discover new places to call home.

It appears there’s no clear solution to the struggles of the pursuit of art, so why do it? It’s pure passion; it’s in the bones. Artists couldn’t function as their true selves without it. Otherwise, they would have thrown in the towel a long time ago. You’ve got to enjoy the process and enjoy the ride. Keep that self-belief, look up to the sky, and wherever and whenever possible, do what you love.

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Cover image: Avenda