This is a near-constant concern for performers. Aging doesn’t end, and it seems like every year you’re getting closer to the conveyor belt of being “too old” to make it in music. I’m here to tell you:
Yes, your age does matter.
However, too many people focus on being “too old” to make it, and not nearly enough stop to consider what “making it” even means to them. You absolutely can have a great career in the music industry, regardless of your age. Don’t believe me? Check out this grandfather who just started making trap music.
A while back, I wrote an article about common music industry stereotypes and how to work around them (check it out here). This post will focus exclusively on the age portion of that article. We’re going to break down WHY age matters, and then see how you can work around it if you’re already past the targeted age range. (I also made a video post on this topic if you prefer videos – it’s all the way at the bottom!)
How Old is Too Old in Music? And Why Does it Matter?
If your goal is to get signed to a major label as a pop artist, you’re going to need to be young. I would say even 25 is pushing it as an emerging artist. I know, it seems unfair. You weren’t nearly as talented back then, and you’re a lot more serious about your music career now. Why wouldn’t a label sign you? Believe it or not, there actually are reasons they want younger people. Let’s explore each:
An artist is an investment to a label. They are putting a lot of time and money into you, and they want to make sure they get a LOT of use out of you over the course of your life. They don’t want to dump a bunch of money into someone who’s going to retire in 10 years. Now, you might say “of course I won’t retire in 10 years, I want to do this forever!” and that’s fine, but how can you guarantee that? How can you prove you won’t have any life circumstances change between now and then? In reality, no one can. If you have kids and a family, you’ve got a lot more risk as an investment.
2). A Younger Fan Base
Artists tend to gather fans of their own age group. Of course, there are exceptions. I’m sure there are children that love The Who, and adults that love Ariana Grande, but how many? Enough to majorly impact their career? Doubtful. You tend to like artists of your own age, for a variety of reasons.
“But why can’t an adult artist make it with adult fans? Why can’t a label find an adult fanbase for me?”
Certainly, they can. However, adults are less fervent about the artists they love. Think about how many screaming teenagers went after Justin Bieber. Rewind a bit to N*Sync, or The Beatles. Adults rolled their eyes while teenagers lost their minds. As an adult, you might really want to see an artist on tour. However, you also have a busy life and bills to pay, so you’ll see the show only if you can make it work. Teenagers, on the other hand, will do whatever they need to do to get to the show. They’ll also blow all of their money on things like merch and follow all of the social media profiles.
See how a younger fan base is more attractive to labels? They want that fervor. They want fans to obsess over their artists, because that means more money for them.
This is sad, but it’s true. It’s easier to manipulate younger people, so that’s often what labels, managers and agents will look for. It’s also relatively easy to manipulate parents who want the best for their kids, if they can make the kids beg the parents as well. Kids and teens are a lot less likely to stand up for themselves. They also lack the life experience needed to know when something isn’t right. I’m not saying this to be offensive, and adults can certainly lack experience as well. This is just a reality of why *some* labels and agents like younger clients.
There’s another…creepier reason why some people might prefer working with children. I don’t want to get into it here, but it’s very real and trust me, it happens. There is a whole documentary about the film industry and how children are manipulated (here if you want to see, but be warned, it’s a tough watch). There’s also the story of Lou Pearlman, the notorious creep who founded the Backstreet Boys and N*Sync and was manipulative and inappropriate the entire time.
I’m just saying, protect your kids if they want to get into music. They need you to watch out for them, because again, they’re easily manipulated.
Alright, so we’ve covered WHY labels want younger artists. Let’s talk about how to make your age work for you.
You can absolutely have success in the music industry without a label, so if you’re happy being an independent artist, you can move right along without one. However, you’ll need to keep some important things in mind in order to find success. Here are a few important things to keep in mind:
1). Act Your Age
Please, please trust me on this. Acting like you’re 20 when you’re pushing 40 is not going to fool anyone, and honestly it’s just a bad look. Artists used to lie about their age all the time, but today it’s a lot easier to find out how old someone really is.
This also means that your songs should be age-appropriate. If you are writing for yourself, write honest lyrics that fans your own age can relate to. There IS a market for your age and your music, you’ll just need to tap into it. You won’t be able to relate to your own age if you’re trying to pretend to be 20 years old.
Note: If you are not writing for your own age, still make the lyrics age appropriate! Consider the audience and what THEY would relate to, then write about that.
2). Your Age and Experience is a Gift
The most aspirational older artists are the ones who accept their age with grace. I’m not naming names, but we all know a few older artists who are desperately clinging to youth and relevancy, and it’s just kind of sad. Think of the artists you love that aren’t ashamed to post photos of their kids or grandkids, and who speak of their past fondly and their future hopefully. You shouldn’t hide your age! Embrace it! Hating the clock doesn’t make it tick slower. You’ve grown and learned a lot and you have a lot to show for it. All of those things make you who you are and make your music better as well.
3). Act Like a Label
If you can’t get a label to sign you (whether due to your age or other factors), you’re going to have to act like one yourself.
This is an enormous topic, so I’ll be releasing a separate post on that next week. Check back here for it when it’s up (I’ll post a link here when it’s done). We’ll cover all the things a label does and how you can do those things yourself.
When “Too Old” Doesn’t Matter
There are certainly situations when your age won’t affect your music career at all. If you’re trying to be a songwriter (or any other field that doesn’t involve performing), your age doesn’t matter. If you’re in another genre besides pop music, you have a lot more leeway on age. If you don’t want a major label, you could possibly get on an indie label regardless of age. Or, you can check back here next week for tips on how to be your own label!