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Heather McDonald

Are You Ever Too Old To Make It In Music?

By July 16, 2010

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A reader emailed me this question this week, and it is definitely one that has come up before. How old is too old in the music industry? Should you ever throw in the towel simply because you're not a kid anymore?

In short, my answer is no! You are never too old to pursue your music industry ambitions.  There are many reasons your musical life may have taken a backseat over the years, but if you've got the time and inclination to jump back in, never deny yourself the chance by deciding you are simply too old.

Now, of course, there are a few practicalities to consider. Certain genres of music make age a bigger issue than others. If you want to be, say, Justin Bieber - well, that gets tougher to pull off every year you get past study hall. And yes, no matter what genre of music you play, some people within the industry will play the age game and be hesitant to work with older musicians - but then, some people won't. There are people within the industry who want to work with good music, no matter who is making it. Those are the ones you need to concern yourself with if you are thinking of jumping back into music later in life.

Of course, if you'd like to dip your toes into the business side of things as you get older, your age is not necessarily barrier there, either. In fact, your maturity and work experience can be trump cards. If you don't have any music industry experience, you may have to take on "learn-the-ropes" jobs around younger people or even go back to school, but there's nothing in the world wrong with that - absolutely nothing.

If you are trying to suppress your music industry ambitions because you've decided you're too old, quite simple, you will regret it. Just because you may face a few more obstacles than a fresh faced teenage pop star, that doesn't mean your ship has sailed or that you can't carve out a niche for yourself within the industry that allows you to satisfy your music biz dreams.

What do you think? Does age matter in the music industry? Share your thoughts!

Comments
July 16, 2010 at 1:37 pm
(1) Trisha says:

The music industry on whole,makes you feel you are ‘too’ old to have music career. Labels these days are more geared towards 15-30yr olds,because that’s the market they aim for in the commercial sense,thinking/fearing that an artist for whatever reason,that is deciding/coming back into the industry will not sell as well,if they are ‘over the required age’,30+.

Music should be about the music regardless of you’re age,if you are willing to put the hours in,and work hard to establish youreself/music,then as an artist you should have as much right to a career as anyone under 30. It is basically age discrimination by music industry,in the mainstream commercial market,music is about money,branding,yes,that argument is there,BUT,it should also be about the music and what the artist is saying/has to say,within their music,and let the music buying public decide whether they like what the artist is selling music wise,NOT based on their age.

July 16, 2010 at 3:23 pm
(2) guy Purple Fingers says:

im 46,and my dream is to be on the blues scene,since i was young,but different thing happened,and i always had good friends that every time i had a dream to be a star like,B.B.king,Eric Clapton and so on,my friends would bring me back to reality and,ahahhahah you on the music scene ,come on have a beer it will pass,but one thing i knew,if i make sure that my dreams are bigger than the obstacles,get rid of all ( dream nibblers) in your life,that until your dead,your dreams will always be there,thank you.

July 18, 2010 at 5:50 pm
(3) Kaadauwgg says:

Hey? Isn’t this how Milli Vanili came about?I’m pass 40.Some say they thought I was 32-36.I do hiphop&RnR.Mainly hiphop.A music that got its start,when I was at that age most kids are when getting into their own music(13& up.What else would I do now but hiphop.Not DooWop.That was my momma’s music.AYTOTMIIM?good question and descent answer. go for it .if you don’t you won’t know.If you do,you can say you tried.As for me,no one has taken the time to sign up or sign in a s a fan.Maybe because it involves email adresses to do so.But I do have over 58,621 people who click the like button..So go for it all you old motherfu**a’s like me.You my have something the world & I want to hear..

July 21, 2010 at 5:15 pm
(4) Virginia says:

A close friend’s catalogue of work became famous in his 60′s.. other close friends touring with famous band and headlining festivals in Europe in their 70′s.. my most prominent work unexpectedly arrived in my 50′s..

July 21, 2010 at 7:03 pm
(5) Andy says:

Well that makes me feel much better!

July 21, 2010 at 8:16 pm
(6) Ronnie says:

It’s only over when you say it is.

July 21, 2010 at 10:12 pm
(7) Lex Zaleta says:

How many great thinkers have lamented the fact that most of us die with our music still in us? We permit our real and perceived limitations to control us and keep us from displaying our creativity.
I retired in 2004 after 35 years of teaching high school English. Yesterday, I released SMALL TRACES OF TRUTH, my fifteenth album since my retirement. I may be too old to make it in the music business, but I hope I am never too old to make music.

July 22, 2010 at 12:54 am
(8) Niki says:

This article & some comments here have again uplifted my musical spirit & dreams once again. I’m 28 yrs old, and if some of you here that are older, even much older than me, can still bravely chase their dreams & even MADE it,..ie: being happy, doing what you love, and that some people (heck, even MANY) still appreciate the music *regardless* of age,..then there is certainly really NO reason for me to feel ‘too old’, just because of some super ‘pragmatist’ & even cynical comments from society, and parents!
NOTHING should ever stop a *true* Musician from channeling his/her singing tunes flowing out from his/her heart!

And thanks to this wonderful article, I am suddenly reminded of the great classical composers like Beethoven, J.S Bach. They ARE old musicians/composers (Beethoven even composed his greatest masterpiece ie: The Ninth Symphony, during his late 50′s!!), and people still LOVE their music, even passing generations after generations,..’cuz their music is simply great!

I think the “get worldwide famous” thing -like Justin Bieber?! ugghh!- is really just an illusion that I need to break,..to be truly in essence HAPPY and forget all those ‘nonsense’ things like “you’re too old in music and time to get a real job!” that mainstream ‘normal’ society often dictates.
Like Kaadauwgg said above so well: “You my have something the world & I want to hear..” :)

July 22, 2010 at 12:56 am
(9) Niki says:

This article & some comments here have again uplifted my musical spirit & dreams once again. I’m 28 yrs old, and if some of you here that are older, even much older than me, can still bravely chase their dreams & even MADE it,..ie: being happy, doing what you love, and that some people (heck, even MANY) still appreciate the music *regardless* of age,..then there is certainly really NO reason for me to feel ‘too old’, just because of some super ‘pragmatist’ & even cynical comments from society, and parents!
NOTHING should ever stop a *true* Musician from channeling his/her singing tunes flowing out from his/her heart!

And thanks to this wonderful article, I am suddenly reminded of the great classical composers like Beethoven, J.S Bach. They ARE old musicians/composers (Beethoven even composed his greatest masterpiece ie: The Ninth Symphony, during his late 50′s!!), and people still LOVE their music, even passing generations after generations,..’cuz their music is simply great!

I think the “get worldwide famous” thing -like Justin Bieber?! ugghh!- is really just a distorted illusion that I (& every *true* musician/artist) need to break,..to be truly in essence HAPPY, keep creating, and forget all those ‘nonsense’ things like “you’re too old in music and time to get a real job!” that mainstream ‘normal’ society often dictates.

Like Kaadauwgg said above so well: “You my have something the world & I want to hear..” :)

July 22, 2010 at 3:34 am
(10) Danny Katz says:

As a 33 year old generic office job by day musician by night guy, I think it really depends what you mean by “make it.”

If “making it” consists of a sustainable and artistically fulfilling life, it’s totally doable. If however “making it” means being the star of a teen-age trainwreck-waiting-to-happen production, then it might be tricky. But… if you’re ok being the backup musician for said potential trainwreck, go for it!

As far as the music business being ageist, I think the biz just reflects the society at large. But that being said – different segments of the population will drift towards different aged artists, so in truth – I think no matter what your age, there’s going to be someone out there who can relate to what you have to share. :)

July 22, 2010 at 9:39 am
(11) Mike says:

Great post Heather. I also feel uplifted by it. It’s always amazing to me how often we buy into societies stereotypes or our own misguided beliefs and habits. The fact is that we can have success in most endeavors we attempt if our mindset is clear on the goal and we’re willing to do the work. I’m 46 and still have doubted myself with music. I look forward to slaying this dragon!

August 2, 2010 at 8:33 am
(12) Dave Demay says:

I need to post this comment at a decent hour to the article… But read the article closer and make sure your comment is responsible…

I’m a producer in Nashville and have been in the music business for more than 30 years. My mother was a member of the Grand Ole Opry, my Uncle founded one of the largest music publishing catalogs in Nashville at one time (now known as Sony Tree Music). I have been making music my entire life. My production work is wide in variety, current and viable. It spans Country, Bluegrass, Big Band, Hip Hop, Jazz and more…

After so many years, and having been an accomplished artist and musician in my own right prior to taking on my role as a producer/studio owner, I’ve arrived at one very clear conclusion. And that is, that no one should “rely” on fame or a Grammy to validate their musical achievement. Otherwise there will be a lot of depressed people out there. Always do your best. Musical passion is important, or else you’re not doing it right. No matter how famous you become or don’t become, your art and expression of it should always remain a very personal achievement or non-achievement, according to how you look at your musical status with regard to how well you actually do it. You should work at it in small bites when you can do it “responsibly“, without disrupting your ability to pay your bills. It’s important to maintain your life and career outside of music. That is, if you have one outside of music. The real goal is to be the best musical “you” that you can be. Join a band, take lessons, become a better guitar player, singer, songwriter, etc.

As someone who is directly involved in the industry here in Nashville TN, I can tell you all, that unless you can accumulate a huge fan-base on your own with your own professionally recorded music, via myspace or facebook, or unless you have a few million dollars burning a hole in your pocket to co-invest with a major label in promoting yourself (like Taylor Swift’s dad did for her), your chances of mega success or stardom are quite slim regardless of your age. Mainly because profits that were once earned via national CD sales have been fairly depleted, thus limiting major labels from being able to afford launching new artists. This is all thanks to downloaded music. Downloaded music has all but ruined many professional songwriter careers as well. Many have been damaged by the change in the market place.

Sorry if that sounded slightly negative, but it’s the “not so pretty” truth. There are quite a few grass roots successes out there. But when you compare them to the number of people trying to be rich and famous in the music business, the success ratio will strike you as daunting and perhaps even frightening. So, do the music thing because you love it. If fame comes from it and you can somehow manage to stand out from the rest, all the better. Let fame and mega success simply be the cherry on top of the fact that you are doing music to satisfy your personal desire to excel at simply making awesome music! So go out and “work at having fun” with your music! Good luck to all you artists out there! Yes success is possible, but be reasonable and smart about making hasty decisions in this shifting economy and ever changing market place.

Dave Demay

August 16, 2010 at 8:35 am
(13) Lex Zaleta says:

A huge continuing THANK YOU to Mr. Dave Demay from everyone who reads his most insightful comments here. He exhibits what truly “making it in the music business” means – achieving all you can and still having time for the little man. I am impressed that someone with his credentials (and the workload that must come with them) would take the time to share so much of what he has learned.

Now, let’s all heed his advice and “work at having fun” with our music. That never gets old.

December 26, 2010 at 9:26 pm
(14) Bobby Baby Walker says:

Baby Boomer music is alive and well. I’m 60 and just was accepted into a Hall of fame group. By the way, I’m the baby of the bunch. Oldies are for ever.

February 21, 2011 at 4:01 pm
(15) DJ Eddie MARZ says:

Thanks guys! Sometimes I get worried that I’m getting too old 42 y/o to make a hit! However I have come to realize that if I quit I will never know! I work everyday in my studio producing hip hop beats and its just a matter of time! I am putting out CDs with tracks and getting great feedback. Soon come Because I Do want a Grammy!! Its my dream! And last I checked the whole world of entertainment is based on the dreams and goals of hard workers willing to GO FOR IT! Thanks again guys! Eddie Marz

March 24, 2011 at 9:02 pm
(16) Jd says:

Can’t even get a place to perform one night for free..final blow for a seasoned, professional musician ….really hurts when young managers look at an attractive, talented 62 year young woman who made a great living as a musician.

August 26, 2012 at 5:19 pm
(17) chad says:

Nothing stops you from making music!!!

People try to discourage you because they want to take you down with them, sometimes they give you real advise but a lot of times sitting around talking about how things will never happen is detrimental. this goes for just about anything not just music. you’ve got to try it but lose the grand illusion of being the next ‘justin beiber’ or whatever!

Also, getting signed is not all its cracked up to be.. in a nutshell, why in the world would you even want to get signed?

- They simply give you a loan to produce the album which you have to pay back.
- You don’t make dime one, till you’ve paid back everything they have invested in you (a.k.a the illusive 1 million dollar contract.. yes you have to pay it back!)
- So if your album sales can’t recoup the cost you owe the record company the balance… YIKES! that’s right!
- You turn over the entire copyright of your songs to the record label
- Royalties are basically 35 cents an album (for the whole band and like I said.. you don’t even make that till you paid off everything they invested in you)

So in essence, record companies give you a loan and some old school marketing muscle that’s all. You have to pay back the loan through album sales, live shows or subsequent albums. If sales dip, you’ll get dropped from the label and you’ll have to owe the record company money.

Enough said! This is the ugly truth that no one will tell you. This is why famous people aren’t really that rich unless you’re that 1 in a billion huge hit. Even well established bands are broke! seriously.

See what Dick Dale has to say! Listen to the pro!

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=8AJxc3Lxn4o

so don’t get signed, keep making music!

September 8, 2012 at 6:47 pm
(18) A.Roddy says:

I guess gone are the days of rags to riches stories like Loretta Lynn. They don’t seem to exist now. The last one I recall is Jewel who lived in the back of her ac. From the above comments, it is like you have to already be wealthy.

October 12, 2012 at 9:38 pm
(19) John Daly says:

Don’t let this doom and gloom discourage you! All depends on the contract with a label. A person usually needs help with promotion, especially in this digital age where there’s an overwhelming amount of music on the web. Sell it out of your car did I see? You got to be kidding me! Well, good luck with that! There are so many places to submit your music now on the web. You just need one song that can bring you into the industry. Don’t give up, I’m not. You can get your music in video games (I did). You can get it in TV/Film Libraries so they can be used for soundtracks (I did). Publishing can make you more money than playing live, in the right situation.

January 1, 2013 at 5:25 am
(20) robert williams says:

Musicians that made a name for themselves when they were younger find it easier to continue their pursuit of success than lesser known older musicians.
I think it’s a crying shame, and record companies, promoters, etc. should be ashamed of themselves for such backward thinking.
Can young people be proud of themselves for turning a deaf ear to superior quality musicianship just because of age?
What if there was a guy that was really good when he was young but wasn’t the pushy kind of guy that constantly promoted himself and remained unknown?
Say he honed his craft and became a virtuoso in Dubstep, Drum and Bass, Techno, current styles of Rock, and took it to a higher level.
Once the record company got a photo of the older looking they’d pass.
I’m a drummer and I played with Captain Beefheart (and played on SNL with him), The Stranglers, John Lydon (Rotten), Robbie Krieger, Dr. John, Hugh Cornwell, and had a solo deal with A&M Records.
When the Lynn drum machine came out in the early 80′s no one wanted acoustic drums and drummers fell off the edge of the musical earth.

January 1, 2013 at 5:51 am
(21) robert williams says:

Has it become MilliVanilli all over again?
Does I guy my age (57) have to wear head gear like Deadmau5 just to hide his age?
It’s shameful and discriminating!
Video made have killed the radio star but the culprits are the greedy corporations that own the airwaves, both radio and TV and the movies.
The actors in Twilight movies were horrendous but it made billions because of the handsome actors.
After the Linn drum came out I submersed myself in digital music and became an expert in midi with the ability to quantize a performance to make it mathematically correct. Since then, my timing on acoustic drums has become spot on.
I’m a much better drummer now than I was then not only because my timing is better but because of my years of playing drums I also have much better taste in phrasing like a poet on drums.
I know it sounds like woe is me but I am sure there are other older musicians out there that like me, have perfected their craft and because of their age, aren’t allowed to share it with the public because of some dumb ass A&R dick tossing his CD in the trash after seeing his photo.

January 1, 2013 at 6:04 am
(22) robert williams says:

Please visit my myspace page to hear some of my latest music on which I played about 95% of the instruments. I thought rather than trying to audition for bands I’d just try to develop my own. Some of the songs are still works in progress but you’ll get an idea of how ‘current’ the genres I writing in.

http://www.myspace.com/therobertwilliamsbanned

January 31, 2013 at 4:29 pm
(23) Greg says:

This article gives me hope but I think it’s false hope (not the articles fault really, more mine!) I turn 33 this year and only relate to dance or pop music, and even though my head knows it can never happen, my heart still wants it so badly. I need to find some closure and let it go. Breaks my heart but I know I need to. Good luck to others

March 27, 2013 at 10:44 pm
(24) Erock says:

You are never to old to play music for people, unless you are untalented and a hack. Even in such a case, you are never to old to play, and maybe entertain some friends and family along the way. We have reached a point, where good music can rise to the top again. No one I know is really talking about anything “new” and “mainstream” anymore. Most the people I know are talking about regional/national talent.

December 18, 2013 at 6:52 pm
(25) Modeling at Burger King says:

@Nikki, you brought up Beethoven? and you said he was in his late 50′s when he “made it”. I think people are listening to Paramore & Mac Miller these days. Stuff like that. This is also almost 2014. Also, you are a female. Yes, the music business LOVES youth. They can’t get enough of it! They don’t want somebody over the hill, like, say, Juliet Simms.

If you want to sing jazz then they don’t care about your age. Or if you want to sing opera or something…maybe the blues (if people are still singing it). But trying to be an over-30 rock star? Doubtful…especially if you’re a female. I mean, if you’re pretty & look young for your age like Hayley Williams from Paramore, that’s one thing. If you look like a skinned chicken, have an inch of hair on your head & somebody’s name tattooed on your shoulder, AND you’re pushing 30?

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