TB Editorial: So you’re an underground artist? Let’s talk about that


Hello Everyone,

For those who just got redirected to this link/blog and had never been here, let me introduce myself shortly.
I am Alberto Caballero, aka Caballo. One of the people behind Tropical Bass as well one of the authors for Mad Decent, Rebelsounds and few more ‘active music players’ in the current scene.
With that being said, I am also a musician who struggles a lot to have an active/stable income from music.

Now, before we talk about real stuff..let’s put things in perspective. And to do it, I will make some sort of analogy with another area of entertainment: ACTING.

Imagine yourself being an average looking actor. Not ugly at all, but not stunningly good looking. Just right there in the middle. However, madly talented. Excellent memory, very disciplined, and even throw there an actual bachelor of arts degree.

You live in Los Angeles, and you actually have been trying really hard to make it in the show biz.
This is where the fun part begins:

REALITY: You are a ‘barista’ in a highly demand L.A. spot and you actually have a stable income from there, plus tips which pays for your rent, gas, bill and stuff. You even have the support of boss and co-workers when you have audition or actual shooting!
To add to your awesome real life, you actually DO appear in a TV show. Let’s say Like Law and Order: San Fransisco.

In this show, you have been selected to play the actual bartender who serves beer to the cops’ usual bar at the end of almost every episode. Sometimes you even have lines!! Your character appears in 11 of the 24 episodes, and you know ALL the cast by now.
In fact, this even leaded you to have a whole guest star as one of the bad guys for another series..let’s say an episode of NCSI: Los Angeles. You were the bad guy, who got killed and blablabla..
You got paid $550 for each episode and 5K for the bad guy! Not bad at all..

Perception: Your mom, friends, and facebook pals know you as an actor, your mates know you are trying hard, and actually many of your FB pics are with cast members and shooting, behind scenes stuff. You have nice clothes and perhaps you actually have some dope style.

Reality: Most of your friends do not really watch the show. They know about it because of you. But with cable, in where we have like endless amount of channels, reality shows, and not even throwing Netflix to the equation. Chances that you “make it” are really low. Not that you can’t actually make a living of it.. but perhaps you would have thought you would be ‘the next average looking’ madly talented Jeff Goldblum. So far it is not happening. Don’t worry your agent can help you out.. or not.

Now let’s switch it to Music.

You want to be like, well, not like, but as successful as Aoki, Skrillex, Guetta, or Diplo.

Let me tell you one thing. These guys have one thing in common, They work really hard. REALLY HARD.
To the point that it seems their personal life as 99% of people is non existing.

Think about numbers which is what really matters when you want to make a living.

Diplo or Skrillex play almost 300 dates a year!! and They go to a studio like 40 days!! which means they have 25-27 free days A YEAR!!!

These numbers: 25-27 days.

25-27 DAYS A YEAR!!! This is what most of underground producers/djs will actually play (with remuneration) a year if you have a bi-weekly spot.
We have 54 weeks a year, so you play at least twice a month for what.. $800 or more (?) if the answer is yes.. then you are making a decent living.. if you play more times.. for more amount.. you def are killing it.
BUT if you play more times for less, or those times for less money.. Chances you are struggling are very real.

Unless you are like.. playing everyday for $80-150 per night then you can say you are making a living of this. Everyday.
or at least 5 times a week. This is where your reality comes to a ground level.

You probably are collaborating A LOT to keep yourself in the loop. You are constantly traveling, meeting new people, networking with them, adding instragram, twitter, snapchat, FB, Ello, wthvr so people actually go to your show and you get paid, and have a good time.

Most likely you have realized merch is a good add to the bucket. T-shirts and stickers are no longer free for friends. They also have to chip in. Unless, they are the ones who brought you/booked you/flight you in. (LOL).

Now, do you remember that average looking actor?. Madly talented. But average looking.

Sadly. Almost everything is about how people perceive you. So you need to build an image, a persona, as much as you need to create good music. If you are super good looking DJ, you may be ditched as a douchebag, wagon jumper.. and if you are ugly as hell, well chances you make it big are slim to none, because the next level of underground are videos.. viral videos.

Don’t blame the players, blame the game.

Even to this day, if I walk on the street and I come across the guy who made the music for Turn down for what, DJ Snake, it is most likely I wont recognize him. However I do know his song. Everyone knows it.
Not even his song anymore, it is lil john’s.

Do you remember when trap was the next big thing?

Anyone remembers UZI, maybe he is swimming in a pool of money, but I do not think he is… what about dubstep’s hype guys that in 2008-9 had like 10K FB followers and they would not answer your messages, but in 2014 you see their promo (Trap-step) hitting your email every week.

So, what is the conclusion of this whole thing?

One thing is what we live, and another thing how people perceive us.
Make sure you are cohesive between them.

Here are my advises for you:

If you do music, do it because you want to create something that touches people’s life. That have a meaning, that became part of their memory. Trust me. Money will come if you are smart and do smart choices.

Understand sacrifice is a big part of being musician. However, Family first, always.

Reinvent yourself without losing your compass.

Expand yourself. Educate yourself. Listen to all sort of music.

Never rant in a public internet forum about you or your music not being recognized for the awesomeness it is. Leave that for Kanye.

And if you travel a lot..

This one goes out to all frequent flyers and worldwide travellers, to all those who brave the airport experience to get from point A to point B, and everybody who’s ever flown on a discount airline. .As we say: “Sometimes you have to fly pon Ryanair, but you can’t take a suitcase cause it’s extra on there. Hand luggage has to fit inna the small square. Food and drink so expensive and dear, Me nah buy no sandwich and Me nah buy no beer, still sometimes you have to fly pon Ryanair”