Last one this week in the continuing series of interviews with creative professionals in fields such as music, film, and comics to get a better understanding of how success is interpreted at different levels. Coming up next week, I’ve got more interviews with an actor, a comedian, a screenwriter, a cartoonist, and a couple of comic book writers.
Adam WarRock is a remarkably hard working and talented musician who makes “nerdcore pop cultural emo hip hop.” And in an environment where the music industry is scrambling to find a successful model, Adam has it figured out. He releases free singles and mix tapes, tours regularly and sells some killer merch. He’s received a lot of press coverage for his Parks & Rec EP, his Browncoats MIxtape, and a track dedicated to Downton Abbey. I first discovered Adam as a result of his free Oni Press Mix Tape, had the pleasure of meeting him at HeroesCon in Charlotte last year, and previously commented on his inspirational writings here. I’m a huge fan of his music and an even bigger fan of him as a human being.
At what point did you consider yourself a success?
After I was an opener on the mc chris tour in Fall of 2011. 44 dates in two months, it was the first time I ever got comfortable telling strangers that I was a “professional musician” without adding a question mark to the end of my own statement, reflexively.
How long did it take you to get there?
1 year full-time, plus 2 years part time, plus 8 years of making music on the side, plus another 15 years of being an obsessive music freak and hip hop head. Those first 5 years of my life, I was pretty lazy about it, I guess.
Who do you look at in the music industry as someone you respect, that is “doing it right?”
Jonathan Coulton. He started out making music completely free, and sticking to a song a week and doing all kinds of weird, bizarre songs in unexpected places (book readings, conferences, etc.). He toured and performed constantly. He released an album with a band and a producer, and still managed to grow meaningfully as a musician. He started a cruise. He takes chances, and none of those chances ever affected his art.
What’s the biggest surprise for how you expected life to be at your level vs. how it actually is?
I think you have to have a certain amount of delusion into thinking you can succeed, break big, or else you wouldn’t do it. But the biggest surprise is finding out how much of doing creative work, music specifically, is really all about customer service and reaching out to people, staying engaged. I’m blown away by the personal connections people have in the emails I get. Most of my day is spent trying to engage people, and then responding to them with something that I hope has some added value to the music I make.
What advice would you give to someone wanting to break in to the music industry?
Don’t bother with trying to make the perfect song. Post up imperfect art, and grow in public. People will enjoy either seeing you succeed wildly, or seeing you fail. Avoid the latter, if at all possible.