Full-time musician. Doesn’t that term have a great ring to it? Wouldn’t you love to pursue your passion full-time?

In this episode of The New Music Industry Podcast, I chat with UK based musician Malcolm “Bubba” McCarthy and ask him how he rose through the ranks to become an established and in-demand musician.

Podcast Highlights:

  • 01:01 – Who is Malcom “Bubba” McCarthy?
  • 02:48 – The deficiencies of traditional education
  • 05:57 – Side hustles
  • 06:50 – Playing well vs. social media marketing
  • 08:10 – Revenue streams and taming the tiger
  • 09:12 – Establishing yourself as a quality musician in UK
  • 12:23 – What sort of gear are you using?
  • 16:42 – Getting repeat gigs
  • 19:05 – Being versatile in the music industry
  • 20:32 – How important are music sales for you?
  • 22:24 – The duality of being prolific and perfectionism
  • 24:20 – Michael Jackson and Thriller
  • 25:15 – Are there any books or resources that have helped you on your journey?
  • 27:28 – Building relationships in the industry

Transcription:

David Andrew Wiebe: Today I’m chatting with UK-based musician, producer, and songwriter, Malcolm “Bubba” McCarthy. How are you Bubba?

Malcolm McCarthy: Hello! I’m good. It’s four o’clock in the afternoon and we actually have some sun here in England. So, that’s good. I’m happy.

David Andrew Wiebe: That’s great. It’s like about -1° Celsius here in Calgary, which is not too bad for this time of year. I think it should warm up a little more through today. I’ve had the chance to read up a little bit about you and your bio and everything but I think first things first, I’m sure for my listeners, they would love for you to share your story and how you got to this point in being a full time musician.

Malcolm McCarthy: Hmm. Well, long road, I would say. But really interesting road. I actually went to university to study history. I was going to become a lawyer. I was going to become a lawyer. I finished my degree in law school, and I just decided I want to take a year out and go to music college, me in front of people and just you know, enjoy music for a year before I went off to law school again. But then, actually, in that year, I was like, “Oh man, I need to give this a shot.” I started meeting a ton of people who then started hire me for the gigs for a little cost and so… Actually, you know what? Let me put all the law stuff on hold and go for it.

So, in that time, you know, I didn’t get a ton of gigs, probably the first year. So, I did a bit of peripatetic teaching. I taught piano at secondary school or high school as you guys would call it. That helped me go and help me afloat until I got tour that cometh that came in that would be a bit more sort of consistent. And so, I think that’s when I was like, “Okay. Let’s go for this full time.” And yeah, I’ve been doing it for the last, I guess, six or seven years. That’s been a fun, testing, exciting, you know, all the above. It was pretty cool.

David Andrew Wiebe: You know, something that I’m regularly on about is this whole thing about school. No doubt, I’m sure it had some benefit in your journey, but there’s also some fairly apparent, I think deficiencies in school. I’m wondering if it equips you and left you with all the tools you needed to succeed in music or if you found that there was a lot more that you actually need the skills you needed to pick up or experiences you needed to have to become a full time musician.

Malcolm McCarthy: Yeah. I think I agree mostly with you on that point. I’m not 100% sure, like the necessity of going to school. I think the main thing for me that was able to… Two things. I was able to pull out my technique. So, I played the keys and I played the drums, but when I went to music college, it was the drums that I specialised in. So, I was able to fill out my technique, which was horrific. That actually was something that I needed to fill up. But I guess you know, if you had a private tutor or whatever, that could be sorted out.

And the other thing was, I was able to meet a ton of people. I think that really was, for me anyway, that was super important. Coming from the schools in London, I had been in London for three years coming back just to have an immediate network of people to kind of know and who would give me gigs that I think that was one of the biggest things about going to college. But there’s a ton of other things you can do. You know, with jam nights, you can go out and meet people. You know, there’s other ways.

David Andrew Wiebe: Absolutely. You know, it’s the same thing I’ve heard from other musicians as well, like school helps you work on your technique and you also get to meet a ton of people so you got like an established base of basic contacts that you can tap into for gigs and opportunity and all that. You need that foundation no matter what. Obviously, it still kind of leaves you not knowing things like how to manage your money because most people actually don’t know how to do that. Or like social media marketing or any of that kind of stuff.

Malcolm McCarthy: It’s so crazy. Now I think back to it. I’m like, why do you school? Like I remember when I had to do my first year of taxes? I had no idea so I was asking fellow musician, who got a few years of taxes and asked, “Well, what does this mean? How do I do this? What can be claimed as expenses?” It’s just I still don’t get why schools don’t really invest in that. I guess it’s the less glamorous side of being a musician, so maybe they didn’t want to invest as much into it. But yeah, I mean, it’s silly really.

David Andrew Wiebe: Yeah, I think schools or vast majority of them are sort of based on a 200-year old system of pumping out factory workers. It’s changed a little bit through the years to be fair, but for the most part that’s what they’re trying to create is, you know, employees who are submissive and will do their job. The thing is things are changing, right? The culture is changing. We’re kind of in the gig economy now, and a lot of people have side hustles.

Malcolm McCarthy: Yeah, side hustles. And what I realised when I came out is there are actually a lot of different alternatives in the music industry to see. Like, I knew nothing about, you know, writing for adverts. That wasn’t really, when I was at school, I was only there for a year. It wasn’t really something I thought about. It’s all about being a session musician, you know, doing big gigs and things like that. So, there’s loads of different alternatives as well than have to just stick to a thing that is seen on Instagram, you know, drummers on big stages with endorsements and all that sort of stuff.

David Andrew Wiebe: Oh, yeah. Like I have friends who are sort of crying about this whole thing of one-minute videos on Instagram and that’s the new thing in the music industry. You can’t capture people’s attention for longer than one minutes. So, they’re like sore about this. I said, “Well, if you’re on Instagram, I guess.” but I’ve not really… I don’t participate in the social media world overly much and I’m not too concerned about it, I realized the importance of a following because I’m also an offer but, you know.

Malcolm McCarthy: Right. Yeah, exactly. I mean, first and foremost, just playing well, you know. I’m friends with actually this guy. He’s a fixer for a lot of the TV stuff that I do. And, you know, a lot of people hit him up and, you know, “Hey, man, have you got any gigs going? Here’s my resume. Check it out. Here’s my Instagram, check it out.” And he always goes back to the root of that if I want to hear you play, I want to hear you play live. I want to actually… even invite me on the gig and invite me to play so I can play with you and see how you sound and you know. That’s an interesting aspect as well.

David Andrew Wiebe: Absolutely. Definitely. I think that’s what people ultimately want if they’re going to consider hiring you. And to your point earlier about there being many income streams in music like I have people constantly coming to me wanting to guest post or advertise on my website or get their links on my website and I swear to you the communication some days is just like I’m trying to tame the tiger as it were, because these people expect me to be on call and have a ton of questions and messages and come back to me later wanting to change their content and all this kind of stuff. I’m just trying to set this tone that like I charge for everything, guys. So, unless you’re going to pay me, it’s not going to happen.

Malcolm McCarthy: Right, right, right. Yeah. I get that. I get that.

David Andrew Wiebe: I’ve had to tame that Tiger because there’s so many people coming to me for this. But it’s you know, it’s an opportunity. It’s not a pain. Yeah.

Malcolm McCarthy: Yeah, yeah, yeah. It’s great man. It is exciting because things are going up.

David Andrew Wiebe: Exactly. Yeah, it’s just a sign of success in a way. Now, you can certainly correct me if I’m wrong in saying this, but it occurs to me that some of the best rock bands have come out of UK, which tells me there’s a pretty high standard for musicians, right? But you have people saying stuff like you’re one of the best out there. So, what did it take for you to rise to that level?

Malcolm McCarthy: Oh. I mean, first of all, it’s always quite humbling if people say that about an individual, if they say that about me. It’s something I’m not at all really, but it’s nice. It’s a nice feeling because I know there’ll be a lot of guys out there that have put in hours and hours and hours, trying to perfect their craft. For me, it’s doing scales and in playing for click and all these sorts of things. So, there’s definitely been… I feel like years of investment both on my craft but also interesting things like gear, you know, for me getting the right keyboards, the right synthesisers, or the right unit for my kit, the right drum, snares, cymbals. Those are things that I think get often overlooked because those are the things that help give you a sound you know. So those have been important. I think, just connection as well on a lot of these gigs. It will be people that are repeats that have already hired me before, if you see what I mean.

David Andrew Wiebe: Yes.

Malcolm McCarthy: It’s doing a great job when you first meet a new person. Then a great job on that gig so that hopefully, they’ll rehire you or they’ll recommend you to someone else. And actually, that’s how I have got a lot of my work. It hasn’t been a ton of different bands or artists that have reached out. It’s probably limited to 10 people that have recommended me and then that person then recommended me or you know, things like that. I would say, which has helped my career so far. I think just as well being able to be versatile. I see a lot of pop gigs. And so, nowadays, money’s tight with these managements that they asked me to do more and more for the same price as it were. So, just trying to adapt to that, whether that’s learning how to run track, having your Ableton logic up to date, and knowing how to run track through an interface, you know, all these kinds of things, which I think just help in the long term.

David Andrew Wiebe: You’ve touched on a few things there that I definitely want to get into. First thing is, maybe just geek out about gear. So, what sort of gear are you using this these days and what’s your favourite piece of gear?

Malcolm McCarthy: Oh, wow.  I’m really happy with the gear I’ve got right now in terms of both keys and drums. So, for keys wise, I’ve got Nord Stage 88, which is like, my workhorse. It’s wholly compassing. Those are awesome. They’re great organs, great pianos, great roads. Yes. It’s just really quick. You know what the brief amount of noise is they are really quick to sort of tweak on the fly. So that’s my workhorse. I’ve got a cool Cronus as one of my syncs. I’ve got profit sick which is an analogue synthesiser which is amazing. Like it’s one of those things that actually has got me a lot of gigs as opposed to my actual play, which is amazing, which is weird to say, but it is. We hear it. I’ve been out and when people heard it and gone, “Oh my gosh, what’s that sound?” And then, the next big developer has hired me for a studio session. So, yes. That since has been quite revolutionary for me. It’s great. I use that in my production stuff as well. And then charms, [unclear 13:59], my kit. I got a couple of weeks there. Kaizen lights as my cymbals. I’m just really calm. Now I’m just really comfortable with what I’ve got. I think if you’re a musician, it’s not like you necessarily have to get it, you know the same things that I’ve said, but just be comfortable with the stuff you have and be like, “Okay, I can pretty much do anything that I’m off with what I’ve got.”, which I feel like I kind of can in terms of making sounds or having sort of Piccolo snares as well as deep snares. Yeah, yeah. I got really nerdy with my kits. I love it.

David Andrew Wiebe: Me too. As a guitarist, like I spent years hunting for that perfect tone, right? I couldn’t find it. Yeah, I had this little practice amp. I knew that wasn’t it. Then I bought like a 112-combo amp and it had some good tones in it, but I could still that still wasn’t it. Finally got a Marshall thinking, “Oh, this is going to do it.” Nope. That wasn’t it either. And then, at that point, the closest that I got to was like, I bought a cabinet. I think it’s a blue Voodoo cabinet. I don’t think they’re even available anymore.

Malcolm McCarthy: Yeah, I remember that. Yeah.

David Andrew Wiebe: Yeah, but it has vintage 30s in it, which turned out to be my perfect speaker. So, I was like getting really close at that point. My head was a mess of Boogie Dual Rectifier. So, that offered like a really transparent tone to where I thought, “Yeah, this is getting there.” But it sounded best when it was turned up so if I couldn’t turn it up, it just wasn’t going to give me quite the time I wanted. And then a few years later, finally what I came across was the PV 6505 head which is technically like Eddie van Halen’s 5150. And then like an orange cabinet with a vintage 30 in it. And that is, I’m done. I don’t need to look any further.

Malcolm McCarthy: That’s it. That’s it. That is what it’s all about, man. It’s getting the tone for the sound that you hear in your head. And that’s super important. I think that’s your voice as a musician to be able to do that. People go, “My gosh, that sound. It sounds like, you know, Robert, David, whatever, you know, whoever it is.” You just hear that sound and they are like, “Oh my gosh, that their kit. Well, that’s the sounds that they are getting from this thing.”

David Andrew Wiebe: And then, another thing you mentioned was getting repeat gigs, which I think is so important and often overlooked. I think maybe consciously or subconsciously there’s things you’re doing that help you get those repeat gigs. Is there anything you can think of that just maybe showing on time and being a really good player or is there a little bit more to that?

Malcolm McCarthy: For me, people almost act surprised when I’ve done all my homework. So, that says to me that there are a lot of musicians that rock up and haven’t necessarily, like learn everything, which is so strange. You think, once you get a gig, okay, learn everything so that you just come off as professional because obviously it goes without saying you want to be the most professional you can be. Yeah, I think repeat gigs from… Yeah, knowing my staff really. And then, I think that the hang is actually really important. I think that probably gets overlooked. Like, especially for these tours. If you’re on tour when someone hires you, they want to be able to enjoy your company. So, I think the spin is decent, decent guy or girl, just being able to get along with he on the road with or he do the gig with. Yeah, so often those two things. Being super professional, on time, and learning and stuff, and enjoying yourself like, I think that is quite infectious when you’re in a gig and you’re enjoying yourself. You don’t sound too depressed, you know, going off on one. So, I think those are important.

There’s probably loads of stuff I missed out on that whole repeat gig thing. Yeah, I would say just because first impressions are super, super important. So, if someone’s hired you for the first time. Like say, they’re the guitarist and you’re the key slur, you just got to give off a good impression. Otherwise, the likelihood is you would have made money from that gig but they might not call you again. I think that’s lost opportunity.

David Andrew Wiebe: Those are all really great points. And then, the other thing you mentioned was about being versatile, which I think is pretty important here in the music industry today. I have nearly 30 ways I’ve made money in music now. And not all of them have been huge. I have a blog post and then keep increasing that number just to kind of show musicians out there that are, you know, talking about “I can’t make any money.” Showing them what’s possible, right? Because, people will come to me and say, “I don’t get it.” I say, “Well, because you’re focused on music sales and live performance and that’s it.” And there is money in those things but if that’s all you focus on, it can be challenging.

Malcolm McCarthy: Yeah. Yeah. You hit the nail on the head with that one, I think. Yeah, people just… I think just being open and researching and seeing what different opportunities are out there. There are websites like yourself and then there’s other websites which have a ton of opportunities.

David Andrew Wiebe: Absolutely, yeah, there’s a lot of websites with great opportunities and it’s a matter of just keeping your head down, so to speak, you know, being willing to try different things or just being open to doing things in a different way. That’s not completely outside of what you’re trying to accomplish.

So, this next question, I’m asking many people because I kind of have these this hope of maybe one day turning this into a course or a book. I have many other books and courses that I’m in the process of curating. It’s not on the front burner but I still love to create something around this, which is music sales. So how important are music sales for you, and what’s the one tactic you’ve tried that’s helped you sell more music than anything else?

Malcolm McCarthy: I would always say, first and foremost, that the intention has to be that I want to produce the best music that I can. And unless you’re specifically writing for an advert or like a film trailer, then it needs to be okay, what can I give? What can I specifically give that is different and fresh and high quality? Because the issue with… I wouldn’t say it’s an issue right now, but this is a good thing. There’s so much music out there. But it’s like, the stuff that isn’t up to scratch will just get sifted out. And so, just being on it and creating good music as you can. And collaboration, I think is super important. Like collaborating with different people who bring different ideas who, whether it’s melodies, lyrics, or even business wise like they’re like, “Okay. I can help you out in this way. Why don’t we pitch this to this person?” So, I think, just being really open to that so having good quality stuff and collaborating.

David Andrew Wiebe: Absolutely. And that can be challenging too in a sense, right, because some people… Well, I wouldn’t say some people, it’s just that the being prolific is just as important too. Sometimes it’s trying to perfect your tracks but you still have to create great quality music. So, I think a lot of musicians are living in that duality.

Malcolm McCarthy: Well, I 100% agree with being prolific because say last year, you know, 70 to 100 songs. To be really honest, that’d be really good quality but only be about 10, I’m like, “Yeah, this is really… This is on point.” Because you’re constantly watching or writing. You’re constantly fine tuning your art, fine tuning the way you write. So, not everything is going to be brilliant. So, I agree with being prolific, but spin just constantly trying to work to super high standard and finishing stuff. Sorry, that’s a big thing. People just don’t finish their music, which is a weird thing to say, but they will dry and that will be fair for finishing it or releasing it. So yeah, it’s really obvious but yeah, you won’t get music sales if you don’t believe.

David Andrew Wiebe: Definitely, that’s true. And it’s relevant.

Malcolm McCarthy: Trust me. I’m sure there’d be a lot more than fair play. I’ve got like 20 tracks just sitting on my laptop unfinished but they’re still good.

David Andrew Wiebe: Oh, yeah, no doubt. I think you’re speaking right to the musicians right now. There are people out there sitting with music on their hard drives.

Malcolm McCarthy: Absolutely.

David Andrew Wiebe: Absolutely. I think, you know, part of what you’re speaking to there is, you know, what came to mind for me was Thriller. Right? Quincy Jones and Michael Jackson. And really, I don’t know how many tracks they created for that album. But ultimately, they whittled it down to nine, right? Rumor has it, there was hundreds or maybe even 1,000 tracks that they created. And they just took the best and said these are the ones.

Malcolm McCarthy: Not being super precious as well, like, okay, that’s finished. Okay, let’s do the next one. Which I see something I’ve had to work on because, you know, you create a track and you think it’s the best thing in the world. And, in reality, it might be but You need to get cracking. We’ve gone again, you know.

David Andrew Wiebe: Yeah. Oh, it’s the artistic tendency to be precious about your creations. Yeah, it happens a lot.

Malcolm McCarthy: Yeah.

David Andrew Wiebe: So, are there any books or resources that have helped you on your journey?

Malcolm McCarthy: Oh, interesting question. You know, I’m a super reader. It’s not necessarily in music. I love reading books. I love all the Malcom Gladwell stuff. You know what there’s a book called The Power of Habit, which really helped me. I can’t actually remember.

David Andrew Wiebe: Was it Charles Duhigg?

Malcolm McCarthy: Yes. Yes, that sounds right. I’m guessing that’s right.

David Andrew Wiebe: I’ve read that book. Yeah.

Malcolm McCarthy: Yeah. And for me it’s really helped because I wanted to find routine. I think as a creative, sometimes, we struggle to get a routine. For doing gigs in the evening, what do we do with the rest of the day? You know, all that kind of thing. So, for me, it was like, how do I get good habits going? Things like getting up early. This is what I’ve done by the end of the week, you know, all that kind of stuff. And that relates to stuff like finances as well, making sure you’re on top of all of that stuff. So that was a big book for me with tons of life focus on career stuff.

David Andrew Wiebe: Yeah. And you mentioned Malcolm Gladwell, which I think he has some really great works as well that I’ve either referenced or touched on in some of my books and resources too. The Outliers thing is certainly applicable right? Mastery takes 10,000 hours.

Malcolm McCarthy: Exactly. Yeah, right on.

David Andrew Wiebe: So, people do talk about that in the music industry as well. And you can also be you could also be an 80/20 artist. That will be more Tim Ferriss approach to become really good at certain skills so that you don’t have to put in the 10,000 hours, but kind of get the 80%. But I think ultimately you want to be a really good musician, and you’re going to work on the finer details to get to that 100%.

Malcolm McCarthy: Exactly, exactly. Yeah.

David Andrew Wiebe: Yeah. Well, thank you so much for your time and generosity, Bubba. Is there anything else I should have asked?

Malcolm McCarthy: I don’t know. That’s an interesting one. Is there any something particularly… you wanted to ask?

David Andrew Wiebe: There’s always so many questions and not enough time. That’s how this often goes.

Malcolm McCarthy: I think I’m just going back to what you said about the repeat stuff, as well. I’ve realised how important relationships are in the music industry because you settle… If you’re known as a person who’s not… who’s a bit of an idiot, the word will get around. But if you’re known as that person who’s great to get on with, that also gets around. And, in terms of like repeat work and I was just thinking about my work for this artist called John Newman. I came on board as a keyboard player. It went really well and we still tour and we can talk for a few years now. He’s the one who actually finds me for publishing bill. And so, that was like taking a relationship or working relationship and then expanding on that because I’ve always wanted to write and spend a lot of time in the studio. So that that was like a progression from our work relationship to a publishing thing. I think it’s really worth investing in the people that you meet. Yeah, I think that’s one fantasy.

David Andrew Wiebe: Absolutely. I totally agree with that. And honestly, from like day one of my podcasting career, that’s what people are sharing with me, which I got started in 2009. This podcast is somewhat new and I started in 2016 but I’ve been podcasting about the music industry since 2009. From day one, I’m telling you, people had been talking about networking, meeting people, creating relationships. I can’t agree more. Definitely. Yeah.

Malcolm McCarthy: Yeah. Yeah. I mean, for me, this is between networking and the relationship like, I think if the relationship is worked on, I think that then the networking comes automatically if you know what I mean. Like it will just be a natural thing. I think sometimes it’s just going out with a cabin and network today. I’m not hundred percent sure how far it goes in the music industry is like just straight up. Like, “Hey, man, this is what I do.” I think in general people want to get to know you. And if they do then from that, yeah, you might get people that are, “Man, yeah. I love that guy. Let me get him some work.” That’s my theory on it anyway. And that’s my experience on relationship and networking.

David Andrew Wiebe: Absolutely. I shared in a recent podcast, I mentioned that when I get gigs generally, I’m not the one booking them anymore. It’s collaborators. It’s other musicians, it’s family, its friends.

If I try to go and book my own gigs, it doesn’t happen. If it comes through a referral or friend then I got a gig. And it’s so funny, you know, it seems backwards but I don’t hustle for gigs anymore generally.

Malcolm McCarthy: You’re lucky.

David Andrew Wiebe: I know. I know. Because most people have to hustle for the gigs. Yeah.

Malcolm McCarthy: Yeah, it’s like a progression career like okay, you know having to, “Hey, man. Have you got anyone? That’s great.”

David Andrew Wiebe: Yeah, that’s been super cool. All right. Well, let’s wrap up this show. Thank you so much for joining me. Where can people find you online?

Malcolm McCarthy: Find me on Instagram. I think that’s the easiest way actually. @BubbaMCC1 is my Instagram. Yeah, come hang. If you have any questions, yeah guys. Yeah, hit me up.

David Andrew Wiebe: Awesome. I’ll be sure to look you up as well.

Malcolm McCarthy: Wicked.

David Andrew Wiebe: Thank you.

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