Discover the rockstars' career secrets

By Neil Patrick

Here's a glimpse into the career secrets of today's real life rockstars...and they have value to every one of us.

Last night I had the pleasure of meeting up with Alex Hutchings, an astonishingly talented pro guitarist. Alex is an up and coming star, he writes and records music for the BBC, is a popular presenter of guitar instructional videos and performs regularly with some of the most famous and respected musicians in the world. We’d agreed to meet up to discuss the problems of the music industry and how pro musicians are responding to these challenges.

The term ‘rockstar’ has come to be used to describe people whose status almost effortlessly transcends that of their peers. The reality though is quite different. Real life rockstars have extraordinarily tough careers today and they have just as many if not more hurdles to overcome than the rest of us.

Just think about this:

Music is now expected to be available for free

The old music industry has almost disappeared as digital media has replaced the old physical media. Free or cheap file sharing mean that no-one expects to have to pay for music anymore. And consequently, the giant record labels of old have shriveled to emaciated versions of their previous selves. What’s the value of a product that almost no-one is willing to pay money for?

Sales of recorded music have dwindled, regardless of your talent

These days, having real talent, writing and recording music is simply not enough to secure you a guaranteed career. Bill Haley’s 1954 hit, Rock Around the Clock sold 25 million copies. In 2011, just thirteen titles sold more than one million copies. Ten years previously, in 2001, there were more than one hundred such titles.

You cannot expect to make much revenue, let alone profit, selling your music via the internet

Songs on iTunes sell for 99 cents. But the artist only gets around 10 cents, so to earn just $1000, you need to achieve 10,000 downloads. Even if you can shift a massive 100,000 downloads on iTunes, your cut is just $10,000. But that’s your gross revenue before you deduct all the expenses you incurred in making and promoting the music in the first place.

Pro musicians these days are more or less on their own

Along with the labels, the resources that pro musicians’ could draw upon to support the development of their careers have dried up too. Managers, A&R people, agents, publicists, promoters – they've mostly gone save for a handful who truly serve only a tiny global super elite of artists. Other ‘signed’ artists get minimal support by comparison.

But tours and gigs still make money don’t they?

For most pro musicians, the only way they can make any serious money directly from their music is to have big sold out shows. But without the old industry to help you get there, for new artists, it’s a long hard slog to achieve enough popularity for this to become even a possibility.

So to return to our discussion. Several interesting points emerged.

He follows his passion 

Alex is in love with music. He doesn’t play to become rich or famous. I suspect he’d still do it even if it cost him everything he has. His commitment is total. And to excel at anything, that’s what’s needed.

He realises the value of diversification

Alex earns money in many ways. He tours all over the world. He writes and records music for clients. He acts as an endorser, consultant and developer for equipment manufacturers, and he presents instructional videos. He even appears in ads for an insurance company! This diversified approach ensures that he has more than one source of income. If one part of it dries up for any reason, he’s not dead in the water.

He understands the importance of social media

Building a relationship with your fans is critical for performers, who may not always have new material to offer their fans. Alex uses Facebook to give his fans the opportunity to follow what he is doing and see and hear his latest work and other updates.

He’s modest, approachable and a great networker

In the new music industry, there’s not much room for prima donnas. Despite his talent, Alex is a very down to earth, open and all round nice guy. He also understands that relationships with other people in his business are vital. So he’s always finding new contacts and other top musicians he can he can collaborate with.

He retains a positive outlook whatever happens

He refuses to worry about things, despite the risks of any number of things going wrong on a day to day basis. He always believes things will turn out well. Some call it good Karma. I call it the power of positive thinking.

Whilst you might have a steady job and regular pay check, I think all of us need to take a lesson from Alex’s book. You might not work in the music industry, but I am convinced that the trends unfolding in today’s careers mean that we all need to learn from what real rockstars do to survive in such hostile conditions.

So next time you use the term ‘rockstar’, you might want to remind yourself, what it really means. And remember that these guys are working much harder and smarter than you probably ever give them credit for.

I’d like to thank Alex for his time and the insights he shared. And as a small thank you, here’s a clip from one of his performances, that I’m sure you’ll enjoy.


  1. Can you post on the Linkedin Music of Business group Neil - brilliant post

    1. With pleasure Peter. Good idea, I never thought of putting it there.

  2. Alex is a classic portfolio worker in Handy terms. Not everyone finds the sweet spot from such a balancing act

    1. Worse than that Peter, he makes me feel I should become a bass player ;-)