A Chat With Jack Conte, Musician And Entrepreneur

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Jack Conte is a busy guy. He and his partner, Nataly Dawn, are on tour with Pomplamoose, a band that rivals only OK Go in their dedication to weird and wacky video production and Conte is also co-founder of Patreon, a way to pay artists for their work. This interview, part of our back to school series, is aimed at getting to the bottom of what it means to be a musician in the Internet age and what it takes to be creative in the face of indifference. Conte took a moment out of his touring schedule to offer a few great points for budding online artists.

TC: What do student musicians need to know about the market?

Conte: Concentrate on making beautiful things. Everything else will follow. Know your goals – do you want to be an independent musician? Do you want to be rich and famous? Do you want to make a living? Know your goals – it will help guide your decisions.

Think long term. If you sign with a record label, they’ll do everything for you – which is awesome now. But when you’re 28, you won’t know how to make your own music and run your own business. If the label drops you, you’re toast! Learn every component, every aspect about being a professional creator.

Community management is a significant portion of your job. It’s always changing. Read a lot! Keep up with modern tech. It’s a numbers game! If you try ONE thing, it probably won’t work. If you try a thousand things, one thing will probably work.

TC: What tools do you need?

JC: Unless you’ve given up your business to a record label, there’s no such thing as just being a musician anymore. Successful musicians are entrepreneurs – they work hard, way beyond 9 to 5. They learn filmmaking and editing software to make their own videos, and they learn audio production software to make their own records.

Learn about EQ, compression, and limiting, starting now. It is an art that takes years and years to master. The internet is the greatest textbook ever written. And it’s free. Seriously, read that shit.

Get a cheap video camera, a laptop, and a crappy microphone. Start right now. Stop reading about how to do it, and go do it. Record a song, publish it, and get feedback. Then do that 100 more times.

TC: How can you make money?

JC: Don’t worry about money. That comes after you have an audience, which comes after you learn how to make beautiful things. In a few years, once you’ve built and audience, read the rest of this paragraph:

Since you’re not reading this in 2014 (it’s more like 2018 now, probably), please disregard everything below, as it’s probably no longer relevant. OK fine, maybe a few things are still true:
“Hobby Artists” (people who don’t make a living from their art) have a very idyllic view about art and money. They think artists should never work with brands, that money and art should be separate, that art should live in purity inside a vacuum. That’s why they’re not professional artists. Professional artists constantly live at the intersection of art and money. Making money is half their job. Being a professional artist is 50% making art, 50% building a machine whose input is art and whose output is money. Half your job is to build that machine. It’s different for everyone, it will take a long time. Have low overhead. Be lean. Use what you have. Reuse it.

What is the biggest mistake you can make?
Three things:

Underestimating the value of independence /DIY/learning/moving slowly at first.

Giving up too early/impatience.

Expecting results within 5 years. This is a long fucking haul. You gotta love it….

You can buy Conte’s new album here and see the band on tour now.