Extracted from Bank to the Future by Simon Dixon
Let’s follow the journey of one Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart.
After 20 years of toil and brilliance, Mozart was deep into debt and was reduced to selling possessions for income.
By a stroke of luck and a chance connection, Mozart is summoned toViennato work for Archbishop Colloredo. When Mozart realised Colloredo simply wanted him as a mere servant with musical talents, he tried to quit, but was refused.
Due to his past position and talent, he was requested to perform before the Emperor. But, even when Mozart attempted to resign in order to perform for the Emperor, he was refused.
One month later Mozart fortunately was kicked out by the archbishop's steward. He decided to settle inVienna and attempt to succeed without patronage.
Mozart established himself as the finest pianoforte player in Vienna and his work as a composer was gaining ever mor recognition.
As his reputation grew, he started managing his own business affairs, with space in the theatres scarce, and his work ever more popular, he often booked unconventional venues himself.
Once he had fully established himself, he further increased his circle of influence when he became a freemason (the largest and oldest fraternity in the world with influential members throughout history including George Washington, Benjamin Franklin, Sir Winston Churchill and Henry Ford, to mention a few).
But even though Mozart was able to establish himself with the richest and most influential of his time, in the following years, he stopped appearing frequently in concerts, and his income shrank. It was a difficult time for musicians inVienna because Austria was at war, and the ability of the aristocracy to support music had declined.
So we see first hand, that to make it in the 18th century, success was dependent upon the aristocracy, no matter how talented you were.
Disillusioned with Mozart’s story of struggle, let’s travel forward in time and try again.
… To the 19th century...
The world has changed since Mozart’s time and there is one key innovation that means musicians have a chance to make it without being backed by the aristocracy – printing.
The effect that printing has on musical careers is breakthrough, as musicians are now able to write song sheets and sell them to those who wish to compose, without the influence of the aristocracy.
To see what it was like to be a musician in the 19th century we try to make it ourselves.
We are able to spread our work faster, more efficiently, and to more people than ever before because we learn how to write music rather than create it ourselves.
We start writing our music for amateur performers, knowing that it could be distributed to them at an affordable cost.
However, the cost of printing is still fairly prohibitive and we need to raise funds to take our musical artistry to print.
As we get a bit strapped for cash we try to earn some extra money by teaching others how to read and compose music, as it is a highly sought-after skill in this age.
But then something happens. The aristocracy don’t like our new-found magical powers to create music without their say-so and we receive news that the right to print music is only granted by the monarch.
We soon realise that only those with a special dispensation are allowed to print song sheets. Now we are back in the same scenario as we were when we left the 18th century.
It’s not just about being talented again, but privilege.
Moving forward a few years, we overhear a conversation about a musician who managed to raise the funds to travel toNew York and publish their music with something called ‘Tin Pan Alley’.
It turns out that there is a movement going on in the US music industry and publishers are now dominating song sheet music. After raising funds from teaching, we plan a two month long journey and eventually arrive in Manhattan armed with our song sheets.
As we step off the train and head to Manhattan, we start to feel the energy, with a steady stream of songwriters, Broadway performers and musicians coming and going. We now realise that we have simply been in the wrong place all along. So in this time, geography determines your success.
Our music can now finally get recognised as we have arrived in the right place –New York. We are surrounded by the right people who can further our career and better still, they are not aristocrats.
We very quickly show our song sheets to a major music publisher who makes us an offer. As a talented unknown with no previous hits, all rights to our songs are purchased outright for a flat fee, including rights to put someone else's name on the music as the composer.
Desperate for the money, we agree and get busy writing our next hits.
After several successful sales, we are hired to be on the staff at one of the music houses. The problem is, that no matter how hard we try, we cannot get past writing music.
To sing music in the 19th century, you had to be beautiful and tick all the boxes of what people like to see in a singer, as well as be able to sing.
In the next extract Simon auditions for Sony and finds how Marillion cracked it second time around.