Musicians share the secrets and realities of the music industry

Musicians are finding new ways to make their mark in the music industry; with rising competition, bands like KOCEAN share how they distinguish themselves from the crowd

The music industry is one of the most competitive industries in the world. Now, it is easier than ever for artists to share their music. With the industry growing at such a rapid rate, there is something for everyone, but there certainly is not room for everyone at the top.

San Diego State University Professor of Music and Coordinator of Composition Studies Joseph Waters said the music industry is not the path for those who are simply seeking fame.

“If you get into this career because you want to be a star, you are more than likely to be very disappointed…there is only room for so many people at the top,” Waters said. “The only reason you should do a career in music is because you can’t stand the thought of doing anything else.”

KOCEAN members (listed left to right) Zen Yokel, Nick Kusior, Kaitlyn Thomas and Isaiah Hand call themselves “Phase Four” of the newly reformed band in 2023. Photo by: Katelynn Robinson

The realities of the music industry

“You have to get good at rejection and not take it personally when the door gets slammed in your face a hundred times,” Waters said.

Waters said part of being an artist is being incredibly vulnerable with your work and having the courage to share it with others.

“Rejection is one of the most difficult things we deal with as people…it causes wars between countries…we do violent things when we feel rejected,” Waters said. “Being an artist is about being rejected all the time because you are always wearing your heart on your sleeve.”

KOCEAN is a dirt pop and punk rock band made up of San Diego State University students. Currently, the band has four members; Kaitlyn Thomas, Nick Kusior, Zen Yokel and Isaiah Hand. These members refer to themselves as “phase four” of KOCEAN. Thomas has been with the band since it was created about three years ago.

KOCEAN members described balancing band life with their busy schedules. With outside responsibilities and obligations to several bands, Kusior said KOCEAN has faced its fair share of conflict.

“There are tensions at times. Me and Zen specifically, are in three bands altogether…it used to be four,” Kusior said. “We spend a lot of time together. We have to learn and memorize a lot of sets and because of that some things can arise…”

Despite these conflicts, Thomas said the band has not faced any major issues with each other.

“I will say being in a band with boys and men, it is a little different because it is just straight up, it is what it is,” Thomas said. “They will be rude to me and to each other. We are honest, we are open, we are so upfront and I actually like that.”

The SDSU student-formed band KOCEAN takes the music industry by storm, performing at local venues and releasing original music. Photo by: Katelynn Robinson

Advice for new artists

San Diego State University Lecturer of Music and Performing Arts Internship Coordinator Eric Starr has been in the music industry for 25 years.

He said in the classical music industry there are three types of full-time jobs one can have if they are looking for a salary and benefits. These include orchestra jobs, military band jobs and college teaching jobs.

“College teaching was something that I didn’t think about initially when I started pursuing a career, but the longer I went without a career the more open-minded I became about what I would do,” Starr said.

Starr said working with college students is some of the most rewarding work he has done due to the students’ drive to be successful.

“I work with young adults who are pursuing a career in music, and if they are not serious then we talk about it,” Starr said. “And if they continue to not be serious…they don’t stick around the program because they are recommended to go somewhere else.”

In addition to being motivated, Thomas said new artists need to emphasize their originality in the industry.

“Find your sound,” Thomas said. “Write originals. I think that is the most important thing. I think that is why KOCEAN really took off in the beginning. Because it is mostly originals and we kind of have a presence. We have our stage presence, and we have our vibe and funny costumes.”

Yokel advised bands to set themselves apart from their peers by playing live and distinguishing their own style.

“You don’t have to reinvent the wheel or discover something someone has never heard before, but just having an environment that people can expect from your shows… and that can really go a long way,” Yokel said.

An inside look at KOCEAN

KOCEAN has four released singles and is known across the SDSU campus for performances at fraternities, sororities and small venues. Several small bands across campus collaborate and go on local tours or perform at venues alongside KOCEAN. Bands like Hanna Geller, Thani and Day Benders have hosted several shows with KOCEAN over the past year.

Lead singer and rhythm player Thomas is currently double majoring in business and entrepreneurship and criminal justice.

“I honestly had really no intentions of being an artist…but I wanted to do more,” Thomas said. “We are very unconventional…we used to do it at Parking Lot 12 on campus which was really fun because people would come up to us while we were playing and [ask]… ‘is this the show right now?’”

Drummer, Kusior is a part of three different bands and is pursuing his passions in school as a film pre-major and marketing minor.

“I like film a lot, I think that it is a great medium,” Kusior said. “I also like music. I was formerly a mechanical engineer and a lot of people think that is a big jump, but I think it is all like creating stuff. Even if that is useless mechanical components or really dope music.”

Bass player Yokel said he hopes to pursue a music career in a similar way to Thomas.

“I’m a marketing major,” Yokel said. “I am trying to work in the music industry ultimately whether it is with a band or doing something on the business side. So, I really just want to be surrounded and immersed with music, and I think having a good business sense is very essential to that. So, I am hoping to tie those two things together.”

Although the music industry is fickle, music continues to inspire and bring people together. There is no lack of affection for the art of music in society today, despite the harsh path musicians are forced to travel for their art.

Starr shared a powerful quote from UCSD professor, Stephen Schick who said this to him before performing at a concert; “There’s nothing material to gain from what we are about to do…but we might just change someone’s life.”

This project was produced by Katelynn Robinson as a published learning experience in JMS 550 Digital Journalism, part of the Journalism and Media Studies Program at San Diego State University.

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