Here I sit. I am secure. I am successful. All of my needs are met. I am also insecure, unsure, and hungry. Existing within this bubble of paradox can feel chaotic and assaulting, but somehow without me realizing it, it has become the reality that I know best.
I guess this is what it feels like to be an early 30s female in pop music! (Did you see that coming?) We ladies in this industry have been branded with a ticking clock, an inevitable expiration date that feels impossible to avoid. I watch my male counterparts gliding into their mid-30s, seemingly un-phased by their age and status as “middle class musicians,” not having reached massive superstardom, yet making a viable career of music. They don’t seem to walk around with the same crippling fear that they don’t have much more time left to do this. Oh and also, what comes after that? The thought of having to stop what I am doing or dramatically change the way I am doing it because of my age and gender, and not because of the quality of my work, is heartbreaking.
I am angry.
You may be asking yourself how I have found myself in this position. In a world where folks are not very educated on today’s music biz, there can be an attitude of “If you haven’t ‘made it’ by now, it’s probably time to settle down and have babies.” What is a successful music career today? Most people look at it as they always have; “Being on the radio” or essentially being Beyoncé or Ariana Grande. Fortunately for musicians, that is only the top 1% of people in music. There are countless bands, solo artists, producers, song writers, etc., etc., that you have never heard of that are considered extremely successful in their own right. Many of these artists fly right below the radar of the general public eye, but are well known among those more involved in music beyond radio hits. It can take over a decade of tireless grinding for a band or artist to reach “the radio…” and here we are, thinking this artist is brand new when we hear them on Kiss-whatever-FM.
This brings me to the “musical middle class.” My band KOPPS has been a thing since 2009. Ten years. Wow, did time fly. We have amassed over four million streams on Spotify, releasing two EPS and a handful of singles in that time. We have been featured on the largest streaming playlists that exist. We played on the Howard Stern show. We got signed to a major label (seven and a half years in.) We had a large publishing deal with singles being featured in major tv and movie syncs. We have written with other artists, toured the entire United States, and so on. We haven’t even released a full-length record yet.
An older single of ours, “DUMB” recently reached viral status on new(ish) app TikTok. We have no idea why. We are currently sitting on an albums worth of incredible finished work, gearing up for impending releases and tour dates. This work’s release has been delayed due to legal and label issues that we are overcoming (extremely common.) When viewing this through a “musical middle class” lens, it doesn’t feel like quitting time to me. It feels like we continue to garner support from bodies that believe our music has viral potential again and again. I feel more self-assured as an artist than I ever have. My personal song-writing style, art direction, and on stage performance have literally never been stronger. My voice, body, and personality feel like one when I am on stage, and that took a really long time. I can do things now that I couldn’t do at 23, yet here I am, scared as hell that being a woman and a 30-something mean I shouldn’t continue to push.
Some of this IS my fault.
While my band was slowly doing all these great things, I was also in school. Both of my parents have been working musicians for the entirety of their lives. This is what they do full time. Watching them was inspiring but also left me feeling cautious. I believe in their hay day, they were both talented enough to reach stardom, but for a variety of reasons they did not. They do what they love and I respect them for that, but I’ve also always had a nagging feeling that it would be necessary to have a back up plan, because I’ve seen first hand that not all music careers lead to stability.
So, I became a Licensed Mental Health Counselor while I grew into my music career. People and helping them has always fascinated me, and this work has also inspired me musically. And yes, it probably meant that some things didn’t get done as fast- however I am not a solo artist. My band mates are also college educated and were in school as we grew.
It is important to note that even signed artists today do not typically make a great living right off the bat unless they have reached mega viral state already. Let me show you! A $100,000 record deal advance (which is decent for 2019) split between four bandmates with percentages removed for legal fees and manager fees and then divided by number of years between records (let’s say two), means each person needs to live on roughly $10k per year. This is not including absurd self-employment, royalty, and general income taxes. This means all band members are required to juggle jobs while trying to tour, make music, art, etc. It’s great if you have parents that can help to support you while you’re touring and not working- that was not me. For myself, I envisioned that eventually running a private practice would allow me the flexibility and income needed to be able to do what I want with my music and still be stable, and it has. It took some years, but I now have two therapists working for me, which allows me to travel and create my own schedule while still earning enough income to cover my basic expenses. I don’t have to try to “request off” and hope I don’t lose my job when I need to travel for KOPPS. I am not forced to make artistic decisions that center around my finances, and I don’t have to be stuck with a tiny art budget…I can decide to put my own money toward a project if I want to. I have never been in a better position to live this “middle class musician” lifestyle…EXCEPT, time has happened.
I am certainly not the only female artist grappling with the reality of ageism in the industry. When one of my peers had decided to move from songwriter to artist, she was asked, “Aren’t you a bit old?” She was 21 at the time…lol. This would never happen to a man.
How can we change this and keep female artists that are primed for success in the arena despite age? It 100% starts with listeners. Supply and demand doesn’t lie, and the record industry has a keen understanding that consumers are drawn to [very] young hot babe musicians and that age and popularity in the pop world tend to be correlated.
Continue to support artists you care about as they mature and develop over time. Be aware of innate interest as humans to consume things that revolve around women appearing youthful and try to check yourself if you’re falling into that black hole. Call out instances of ageism as you see them, and spend money on artists you care about. Yes, I said it. Actually spend money on the artists you love. Buy the album, get yourself some merch, go to a show. We used to spend almost $20 on one CD without a care in the world and now paying $9.99 a month for every song on the planet seems like “too much.” The lucrative record deals of the 90s and early 2000s are all but dead due to this, and artists are often forced out of the industry due a combination of age and a non-realistic financial situation where they are finding it impossible to earn a living wage and plan for the future while only doing music. When you support an independent artist, you are allowing them to be able to continue to create more music and visuals for you to enjoy. We quite literally depend on one another. Remember this the next time you visit youtubetomp3converter.com!
As for me…I’ll be over here making stuff, until the world tells me to stop.
Patricia Patrón, KOPPS
About Patricia Patrón, KOPPS
Never ones to take themselves too seriously, the Rochester-bred quartet would tell you that their sound is an equal and strong mix of Britney Spears and KoЯn, and they wouldn't be entirely wrong. Anchored by Patricia Patrón's sultry vocals, the band has a knack for pop sensibility that they immediately flip on its head, evoking a titillating mix of electro, pop and nu metal. Or as they like to call it: CrazySexyCreepy. With a flair for the dramatic, KOPPS visuals dabble into the creepy, twisted and often bizarre vibe but always with a wry sense of humor. That peculiar sense of humor may stem from growing up with labelmates and fellow Rochester-based band, Joywave. Patrón and KOPPS bassist Kyle O went to high school with Joywave frontman, Daniel Armbruster, who lent vocals to the band's latest single, "HOTT (ft. Joywave)" as well as prior collaborations.
Two other tracks of note, "Baby I'm Dead Inside" has a slinky, electro-R&B feel to it, as Patrón admits that true love is overrated, and the previously released "Hott (feat. Joywave)" is an infectious tune that walks a fine line between pop, dance, and rock, while the video creates what could be the next viral dance sensation. But no matter what song you're listening to, two things are certain: KOPPS is gonna make you laugh...and make you sweat.