By Steven Pressfield | Published: March 18, 2015
My friend Kate used to work for Bob Dylan. Kate told me that every morning the guard out front would find demo tapes from wannabe folk singers and aspiring rockers affixed to Bob’s gate.
I can understand this. I can visualize the solo dude with a Gibson twelve-string on his back, or the young hard-working band in their VW microbus. Maybe they drove all the way from the opposite coast. What a rush! To do the detective work, find out where Bob Dylan lives, then leave your stuff for him to listen to. Maybe he’ll like it! Maybe he’ll give us a call! Would that be all-time classic or what?
But what really happens to those demo tapes? Bob Dylan (and every other artist/writer/filmmaker at that level) pays thousands of dollars a month to a security service. The service’s top priority is to make sure that NOTHING unsolicited gets anywhere near Bob. Each morning the guard collects the demo tapes and throws them unopened into the trash.
Why does the security service do this? First, obviously, to protect Bob Dylan’s time and safety. But equally important, to shield him from a potential plagiarism suit.
Suppose Bob is working on an album right now and one musical theme in it is dum-de-de-DUM? This theme is Bob’s invention entirely. It came to him in a dream; he loves it; he’s been refining it in the studio for weeks.
Now suddenly, affixed to his front gate, is a tape that has a similar musical theme. When Bob’s new album comes out and the band who pinned that tape to Bob’s fence hears it, they may think, “Hey, Dylan ripped us off!”
That’s why Bob and every other serious professional has a lawyer or an assistant or a security service who can simply say, “Mr. Dylan NEVER sees anything sent to him or delivered to him without his permission. We throw it all away. That’s our job.”
The #1 Amateur Mistake is sending material (musical, literary, or otherwise) to a fellow writer/musician/artist without asking his or her permission first.
This happens to me. I get two or three a week. Someone will send me their novel as an attachment in an e-mail. (I haven’t gotten any demo tapes yet.) I am under orders from my attorney NEVER to open those attachments. I must delete them at once.
Now I try to respond politely to such e-mails because I know the sender is not acting out of malice. He or she is sending their stuff to me, at least partly, out of respect. They are “taking action,” “aggressively marketing themselves.” They are “reaching out.” In principle I applaud such aspirations.
But the person is also being clueless and rude and lazy and selfish. And he is marking himself utterly as an amateur.
#1 Rule of Professional Artistic Deportment: Never send material to anyone without asking his or her permission first. It’s rude. It’s lazy. It’s selfish. And it’s desperate.
And, most critical of all for the sender, it’s a manifestation of Resistance.
The first obligation of any individual aspiring to a career in any field is to do his due diligence. Educate yourself about the business side of your chosen vocation. Buy books. Read articles. Listen to podcasts. Find out how the business works. What are the protocols? How is business conducted?
When that garage band hangs their demo tape on Bob Dylan’s fence, they are demonstrating their ignorance of the music biz and they are proving their contempt (even if it’s completely unconscious) for all professional musicians (including Bob Dylan)—for the time those musicians have spent to master their craft, for the sacrifices they have endured over years and years, and for the demands upon those musicians’ time, not just professionally but personally as well.
If you want to send a tape or a screenplay or a novel, great. But ask first. Write and ask permission.
Do your due diligence. Find out how the business works. Comport yourself so that one day, when you actually do meet Bob Dylan, you are already a thoroughgoing pro. And don’t ask him for anything. Be so good that he asks you.