Apart from talent, organization and good record keeping are fundamental to a successful music career. This week’s Creator Conversation also doubles as part of my Better OK series with an interview with Maurice Johnson. His Breaking Into the Music Business book series puts into place a core sense of business and structure, with an added intent to dispel a popular myth that musicians make poor business practitioners.
Tell everyone a little bit about yourself and your background.
I was born in Milwaukee Wisconsin in 1959. After our mother died, we were moved to El Reno Oklahoma in 1964. At age fifteen I was introduced to the guitar. In 1976 I came to the realization that jazz was what I wanted to pursue and began to study it on my own. In 1985 I moved to Oklahoma City and formed the After Five Band. We were quite popular and stayed very busy for nearly ten years. Shortly after disbanding in 1993, I began to pour myself into various entrepreneurial endeavors, including co-founding D’Leco Guitars, a small handcrafted arch top guitar company. We negotiated manufacturing deals with major guitar companies, including Samick Musical Instruments in Korea and Gibson Guitars, introducing a unique line of Charlie Christian guitar models. Throughout those years I’d attend many music industry trade shows, and even had phone conversations with Les Paul and other, who’s who of the guitar world.
During that same time I was writing music career related books with several publishers. In the early 90s I developed a music business management software program called Gigorama, which became surprisingly popular among competitors. In 2010 I released my first independent album and officially proclaimed myself as an indie jazz artist. In recent years I decided to get back into my writing and explore self-publishing. Today, I have about fifteen new books and journals covering a variety of personal interests.
How did you get into writing?
In the mid-80s I had a successful band. We were signed to a NY record label and performed a lot of concerts as the opening act for many jazz and RnB recording artists of the day.
For whatever reason during that time, I was frequently approached by other musicians who would ask me assorted music business related questions, anything from, when to use a contract to how much should they charge for a gig. I was always intrigued that they’d come to me for answers, but nonetheless, it was the spark that started me writing from the context of a musician’s advocate.
In 1985 I self-published a book titled, “Gigs Monthly Planner for the Professional Musician.” It was a bold adventure, but it seemed to catch on.
In 1996, I pitched the concept to Mel Bay Publishing and titled it, “The New Working Musician’s One-Year Organizer.” It was basically a calendar based organizer with a few additional feathers. Within it, I wrote roughly four pages of business tips and suggestions for musicians. When it was published, I said to myself, “I want to write a real book.” It inspired me to write, “Build and Manage Your Music Career”, which gained national popularity. Since then I’ve been published by Mix Books, Artist Pro Press, and Thompson Course Technology. I’ve also written articles for Musician Magazine, and more recently, Realtor Magazine. That’s how it started for me.
What can people expect from your Breaking Into the Music Business book series?
Readers can expect to get a heartfelt dose of self-empowerment from someone who knows and appreciates the efforts, dreams, goals, disillusionment and aspirations shared by a broad population of independent, localized musicians.
What was the greatest challenge you had when writing these books?
Making sure I wasn’t subjecting readers to information overload, or the lack thereof. Also, keeping my focus on exactly what I wanted to convey while maintaining a sense of continuity across all three.
What was the greatest challenge you had when making an album?
For my first album, it was simply the fact that I had never engaged in such an endeavor by myself. The majority of compositions were written on the fly while learning how to use my equipment. There were a lot of technical hurdles and learning curves to overcome.
What were some surprising things you learned when working on your book?
What surprised me most was gradually becoming aware of the scope of my own development as an independent musician, while various topics and chapters began to unfold.
Who are some of your musical influences?
George Benson, Wes Montgomery, Marvin Gaye, James Brown, Curtis Mayfield.
Among them all, George Benson had the greatest impact on me as a guitarist.
How do you stay in a positive direction when negativity surrounds you?
First, by understanding that negativity is poison to a positive and ambitious mind. With that understanding, I make it a point to remove myself from any negative source, whether it’s a person, circumstances or environment. Negativity also offers me the opportunity to bury myself even deeper into my work, knowing that I’ll come away having achieved something positive. If I’m creating, I’m happy.
What’s the biggest piece of advice you want musicians to take away from your books?
“I want musicians to take away from my books a renewed sense of knowing, confidence, empowerment, and self-awareness.”Many music careers start with humble beginnings. I want musicians to take away from my books a renewed sense of knowing, confidence, empowerment, and self-awareness. Apply some of the insight and ideas to your own developing music careers. Keep a humble spirit, respect and encourage fellow musicians, and always realize, knowledge can be derived from some of the most unlikely sources. You can learn from anybody. Be receptive and listen.
Anything else you want to say or let people know?
Life for the independent musician isn’t for the faint of heart. It takes knowledge, determination, patients.