Support and help can be a funny thing. If some one offers to help someone, most would hope that they are helping to get that person moving forward to a better place, closer to success. Or perhaps delivering some of the tools or resources (including, yes, money) that will lead to bigger and better things. However, there are those that become enablers. Their intentions are good, but they may end up hurting more than they help.
Everyone has heard the old joke, “what do you call a drummer with no girlfriend? Homeless!” It’s funny but also, in a number of cases, true. There are numerous aspiring musicians that are supported by their family, their girlfriends, their boyfriends and plenty of others when it comes to money. That is not always a bad thing. If communication is good, if expectations are clear, and the guidelines for support are set in place before a dollar changes hands, that help can be worth its weight in gold. That help can bring the artist to the next level if they are struggling. It can make things a little easier. It’s not a golden ticket, it’s not a back door from paying dues and learning invaluable lessons. It simply makes a long hard road a little easier for a few miles.
The right help
When the musician is getting help while he or she is doing all they can do help themselves, you have a good healthy situation. As the potential helper, ask if you are you giving money for something specific and something that will make a difference. Is there a budget in place? Is the musician planning for both the best and worse case scenarios? Lastly, is this going to help both in the short term and long term? If the answer is yes to all these questions, you have a good situation where helping out will actually be that: helpful.
Whether you are making a donation, a loan or an investment, the clearer you and the recipient can be, the better. Define clearly where the money (or whatever) will go and what it will do. By having an understanding among all parties as to who you are helping, why you are helping, what you want to see out of it, when you will be paid back or time frames if it is a loan and how it will benefit the artist, you magnify the benefit for everyone involved. Now, some people have very generous hearts and may genuinely feel they “don’t need to see anything out of it.” But even so, they will want to see their gift or loan actually help. They will want it to have the most positive impact it can, right? Just as the helper is being generous to the musician, it will help ten fold if the musician is held accountable, if they clearly understand there is an obligation in accepting a gift—the obligation to use it well, to deliver on the donor’s aim of making things better. When the above is not clearly stated and clearly understood by both sides, it can lead to the wrong help.
The wrong help
Everyone has heard the stories or seen the examples: The musician that is mooching off of a girlfriend, family, or others. The musician that expects everything to be taken care of for them so they can “concentrate on their art”. The artist who has absolutely no awareness how they are using and abusing those around them. You have seen the movies where the musician is laying on the couch explaining what he needs to be feeling or what has to happen as the girlfriend is paying the rent. Outside of the movies, it’s also the phone and the electric she’s paying as well, in addition to paying his tab so he can drink at the local music clubs or bars under the amazing guise of “networking”.
Another typical scenario: the musician that looks to use given/donated/invested money for the things that are not going to help his career. That particular artist that feels eating expensive meals out, hanging out in bars or spending money on clothes will some how fast forward their careers. These are the people that are just seeing it as spending money and not having consideration for how you are trying to help and flat out abusing that help.
Then there is that attitude of “help me now and I will bring you with me as I become a millionaire.” You take care of me now and I will take care of you later is the other one I love hearing. It is pure crap, and yet many people waste their time, their money, and their patience not-really-helping (aka “enabling”) these musicians to go on doing absolutely nothing.
Recently, I interviewed a number of women that dated musicians: successful, failed, and aspiring ones. The stories are a book in themselves. The things that were said, the promises made, and the explanations given for the lack of forward motion when they came back looking for more.
In the end, those helping lost their money, lost their relationships, lost their trust in these artists (which carries over to all artists in most cases, every drummer gets the bill for that one in the joke). And for all that loss, nothing improved for the artists. It isn’t a zero sum equation, where at least this person’s loss does some good over there. Everyone loses because of these supremely selfish individuals.
This goes for both sexes, too. Women do it too. People use people, it is an unfortunate and simple fact of life. The best thing you can do is watch for situations that are not clear—and which resist your attempts to clarify what is being asked and to what use it will be put. If it seems a little shaky, go with your gut feeling.
If you are going to help out, then make sure it is truly helping and not enabling. Make sure the details are there. Make sure the clarity is there. Make sure everyone understands the details. Whether it is written out or verbally discussed in depth, the answers to those HOW, WHY, WHAT and HOW questions above need to be clearly understood by everyone involved. Set goals, set time frames. Set worst case scenario plans. If you are supporting a guy while he is in the studio, make sure he is getting a job as soon as he gets out of the studio. Basic things like that.
Watch out for those that might use you, take advantage of you, and potentially end up hurting you. To the musician, remember every minute of every day that that is a human being with wants and needs of their own who is helping you, not the life support for a wallet. Show that you are worth that investment and/or worthy of their generosity.
Do not enable a musician with serious delusions of grandeur. It’s that simple: Don’t feed the energy creature. Don’t let them cost you a small fortune to further the bloating of a big ego. I am not saying don’t help or don’t be generous. DO give, DO be generous. But DO look first. Look at what you are doing, how you are doing it, and if it really will be helpful.
Loren Weisman is an accomplished music producer based in Seattle,
Washington. Having worked on over three hundred albums, Loren has also
worked on numerous television, film, video game and radio productions,
from New York to Los Angeles, Boston to Seattle. Loren is also the
founder of Brain Grenade Entertainment LLC, and the author of the
Freedom Solutions Recording Plan.