By Randi Reed
When you’re in the music business, you get requests from parents asking for advice. “The neighbors all say what a great voice she has…” ”He’s been copying Michael Jackson’s moves since he was two…” We’ve heard them all.
If a parent calls me on the phone, I ask if they have a pen and paper, because “you’ll want to write this down.” When they’re ready, or if they’ve emailed me, I reply:
“Why do you want your child to grow up so fast?”
It’s a legitimate question. Putting a kid in the entertainment industry is like speeding him from child to adult at the rate a sports car claims it goes from 0 to 60.
It’s hard for most parents to understand this, and it’s not what they want to hear: “What do you mean? No one’s ever said this to me before.” Well, they’ve never said it because they want the money or recognition that may come from an association with your kid.
I don’t work with kids, and I’m not trying to be your best friend. And I’ve been in or around the music business since I was 16, so I’ll be as blunt as I can be in a public forum. Much of what I’m about to say may sound cold, and maybe even crass. But sugarcoating would not serve you, because we’re talking about your child’s well-being.
Think about your day job, or your partner’s day job. Think about everything that job entails and demands, both physically and mentally, and the pressures that come with it.
Could your 13 or 14 year-old do that job?
Yes, I’m serious. Stay with me here…
Could your child do that job, effectively, responsibly and dependably, full time, 52 weeks per year?
Most importantly, would you send them out to do it?
What about your boss’s job? Would you send your kid out to do that?
How about your 13 or 14 or 15 or 16 year old child running a multimillion dollar corporation of 20 to 300 employees? Could he or she keep track of the money? Could your child effectively, responsibly, and dependably keep the stockholders happy? Would you send your kid out to do that?
Would your kid excel at it?
Or would your kid crash and burn?
What about yourself, at age 13? 14? 15? 16? 17? 18? 19? 20?
These are the kinds of responsibilities that are asked of a child in the entertainment industry. This is what people are asking Justin Bieber to do. And they’re demanding excellence.
You may be thinking something like, “Oh but we’re not expecting…I mean, we just want to do this for fun, you know, to see what happens.”
A child in the entertainment industry has business responsibilities, no matter what level they are in the industry. The entertainment professionals you’re asking to work with your child are not doing it “just for fun.” Their mortgages and their own children’s educations depend on it, just as your mortgage and children’s educations depend on the job you do for a living. As you do at your own job, an entertainment professional expects the people they work with to be as serious about their jobs as they are. (Even if those people happen to be children.)
Do whatever you have to do to sear this into your memory, because you will need to recall it:
No matter what an entertainment professional tells you, never think the entertainment pro wants to work with you—or your child–“just for fun.”
Money may not be their main motivation, but they’re keeping track of what’s incoming and outgoing. On the business end of the entertainment industry, success is measured in dollars, so they want the creatives (i.e., the entertainer, your child) to bring in money.
Recordings, commercials, ad campaigns, T.V. shows, and movies all cost money to make money. Even if a musician plays a free show, he’s already in tens of thousands of dollars. Lessons, transportation, headshots, equipment, tickets that need to be sold–or audiences that need to be sought for “free” shows, studio time, employees, and hours of labor (whether paid or unpaid) are all financial responsibilities. It’s just that nobody ever talks about the money until there’s either a certain level of success or a large bill that’s past due.
The music business is not for kids.
Let me ask you something else…
Would you take your 14, 15, or 16 year-old to Vegas for a weekend of cigarettes, booze, drugs, strippers, and hookers?
Of course not. You’ve strapped him into a car seat or buckled him in safely since you first brought him home from the hospital. He’s never ridden a bike, skateboard, or similarly wheeled vehicle without a helmet. You discussed “stranger danger,” and you never let him walk anywhere by himself.
Then why would you encourage that same precious cargo to get into the entertainment industry, which has access to extracurriculars the average adult is only vaguely aware of during a crazy weekend in Vegas? Even in Vegas, you have to be 18 or 21 to participate. (For that matter, you have to be 18 to vote– and voting doesn’t put you in the vicinity of mind altering substances or scantily clad people.)
I’ll say it again: the music business is not for kids.
I’m sure you’re a good parent who believes you can shield your child from such extracurriculars. But you can’t. All teenagers rebel and want to do adult things. When a teenager in the entertainment business rebels and does adult things, they rebel in a big way and do “livin’ large” adult things. By the time this rebellion occurs, the kid’s job demands have already required him to become an emancipated minor in order to work longer hours. That means legally, he no longer has to do what you tell him.
You may think your child has a good head on his shoulders, and that may be true. But what about when he’s dealing with the adult-level stresses and responsibilities we discussed earlier? What about the additional pressures of dealing with it all in the public eye, with the public waiting for him to fail, and the media and paparazzi actually hoping he’ll blow it so they’ll get a good story (with photos and viral video)? What about when your kid’s friends and associates are doing it?
Yes, this applies even if you’re a close, loving family who raised your child to be deeply religious. There is a reason why some musicians’ favorite places to play are certain Southern cities and Salt Lake City, Utah. And no, this stuff doesn’t only apply to the rock music genre, or even only to secular music.
I’ve seen responsible, level-headed 27 year-olds from wonderful families’ crash and burn in this business. I’ve seen seasoned 40 and 50 year-olds stumble and crash. Why would anyone think someone under the age of 21 wouldn’t? Junior is far more likely to become a statistic this way than by being abducted on his way to school.
If you still believe it can’t happen to your industry kid, I have some lovely swampland you may be interested in.
I’m only half kidding. There are plenty of people who succeed at selling naïve parents on things that are far worse than swampland.
Let me state yet again, the music business is not for kids.
So, what do you do when your talented bundle of joy wants to be in the music business? Here it is, in three steps:
1.Insist that your kid wait to enter the business at the same age he would enter college, and be firm about it.
I know you feel your child is special, but it’s no different than a kid who desperately wants to be a chef when he grows up. You wouldn’t send a child into a professional kitchen to play with knives and open flames, would you?
2. Be firm about this to any industry professionals you meet along the way. If you don’t waver, and if they’re good people, they’ll back off, and they’ll respect you. If you waver, or if they’re not good people, they’ll work you, then they’ll work your kid—sometimes even behind your back–to make you the bad guy so you’ll give in. If that happens, you cannot reverse it; you’ve just lost your kid to someone who has no regard for you.
3. Keep your kid away from the business cards and contact info of the industry people you meet. (They’ll try the Internet, but on the Internet it’s a little harder to get the number for a direct line.) Your kid will try to contact them without your knowledge. I know because I did, and because my spam folder always contains emails from determined 14-year olds.
Meanwhile, let him take all the lessons he wants (or that you can afford), and help him educate himself about the business from the outside. Then, when he’s out of high school, if he still wants a career in the business, he’ll go into it better prepared and hopefully a little more savvy than if he hadn’t waited. (And in the case of a vocalist, doing it this way means teenage voice changes won’t be professional problems.)
If that’s still not enough for you to reconsider an attempt to raise an industry kid, think about this: I said all that in a public forum, having signed many confidentiality agreements over the years which are still in effect. Makes you wonder what I can’t say, doesn’t it?
Note to music industry professionals: If you’re in the business and work with kids and popped in to read this, thanks for stopping by, but…
Even if we’re friends and I know you’re a good person, if you’re a seasoned music business professional who works with kids, in the very back of my mind I’m wondering whether you’re naïve, blind, or what. Because if you’ve been around the music business long enough, you know. A kid’s parents have an excuse to be naïve and a little in denial. We don’t.
And if you think you can protect a kid because you know, you may want to check your ego. Looking after minors is not your job! Your job is to be responsible enough to dissuade the parents from allowing kids in. You’re busy enough with clients who are of age.
If enough music industry pros stood firm about not working with minors, the industry would skew slightly older, which would eliminate a lot of headaches. The work ethic would be more consistent, and the quality of the music would be better. It would stave the rush to get an entire career out of the kid before his fans outgrow him in a couple of years. There would be less financial risk, because careers could last longer.
You’re welcome to disagree with me. But we can’t blame everything on the parents. They don’t know enough to know what they don’t know.
To anyone who’s thinking of firing off a nasty tweet or email to me for saying all this, save your energy. When I started to write it I knew some people would be pissed off, so there’s no need for you to tell me. At this point, I don’t even care…
…Because right now, yet another young celebrity seems to be into the process of crashing and burning. At least Michael Jackson made it to 50. If something doesn’t change, I have doubts about this one making it to 25. That’s what you should be outraged about. I am.
Suggested reading: The Dirt by Motley Crue. The Heroin Diaries by Nikki Sixx, I’m With the Band by Pamela Des Barres. You can also try Tommyland by Tommy Lee, but if you’re offended by The Dirt, you’ll have trouble with it. If that’s the case, you’re probably not the best candidate for a music industry career.