So You Want to Be a Paid Musician? Jeremiah Clay Neal Has Some Advice

So you want to be a musician? Well, if you're one to let cash rule everything around you, consider going back to school now -- a dollar, dollar bill, y'all, is hard to come by in this industry.


It doesn't matter how many would-be hit songs you've got stuffed in your journal, the chances of you "making it" are as skinny as Kings of Leon's $225 jeans.

However, if static disillusionment and on-and-off-again income sound like a fun time, a career in music might just work.

We recently caught up with Jeremiah Clay Neal, host of the Vines Tavern & Eatery's Sunday open mic night to find out what it takes to survive the music business. As you'll learn after the jump, "It's not easy."

On Open Mic
Over the past few years, Neal's open mic night has developed the sort of reputation up-and-coming artists hate. It's an intimidating stage, the sort of place wannabe rock stars avoid because it's not a run-of-the-mill karaoke-style open forum. It's a place for serious musicians to go and test new material.

"We don't get as many stragglers or first-timers as we do regular musicians that come and play all the time," Neal says. "I always want to let new people play, and give them the chance to feel what it's like in front of an audience, and feel what it's like having people listening to their music. But sometimes, you know, people stink -- there's no other way to say it."

On Covers v. Originals
Covers can be cool, especially if they're sung in other languages, but at the end of the day, potential fans, and most importantly, potential label execs, don't want to hear them. That's what American Idol's for.

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Neal says, "Bring original material. That's what I've tried to design the Sunday night around. A lot of people are intimidated by (our) Sunday night because we try to promote original music.

"Take your newest songs and bring 'em out to let an audience hear them. That's what I found to be the most beneficial for me. As an artist, I've played covers for so long that (I know) it's not as fun to play them as it is to play an original song."

On Phoenix's Music Scene
If you walked up to someone and asked them to name five relevant music cities, chances are Phoenix isn't going to make the cut. But that doesn't mean Phoenix's scene is non-existent.

"Everyone I talk to keeps telling me, 'If you want to take music seriously, you have to go to Austin, or take a drive to L.A. and take your chances,'" Neal says. "I seem to think it's a little different. I think [the Phoenix scene] needs to be built. It needs to stay consistent, and consistently good so that more people will come out and appreciate it."

On Money
Musicians are a lot like bloggers; we don't make a lot of money. Sure, there are tons of groupies, but casual sex doesn't pay the bills. Granted, life isn't all about the Benjamins, but it'd be nice to eat a hot meal every now and again.

"I feel myself struggling to not sell myself cheap. I really want people to hear the music, and I want to have an opportunity to play," Neal says. "On the other hand, I'm going broke doing it. I have to tap into that business side and really make sure I'm collecting the money I need to be for doing the work."

His advice is to write. "Write the stuff no one's ever heard," he says, "the stuff that's yours. Once you do that enough, you'll have a product to sell."

But if all else fails, have a back-up plan like Jedi Master Neal.

"In the daytime, I write children's musicals. I actually just got my second one published."


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