Know Your Worth — You need to research what the industry pays for what you do on the highest end and the lowest end. Then figure out where you fit in that pay spectrum and negotiate accordingly. Asking for the high end is okay if you understand that when you ask for high end money, you better be bringing a high-end experience. Be honest with yourself about where you are right now, but don’t be satisfied with it; push yourself to rise.
As a part of our series about creating a successful career in the music industry, I had the distinct pleasure of interviewing Sean Ardoin.
Four-time GRAMMY nominee Sean Ardoin hails from a musical dynasty.
The Zydeco artist and Louisiana native is descended from American Creole musician Amédé Ardoin, the “Father of Zydeco” who laid the groundwork for Creole and Cajun music in the 20th Century, and grandson of legendary Creole accordionist, Alphonse “Bois Sec” Ardoin. Ardoin’s father, Lawrence “Black” Ardoin, also an icon in the Zydeco genre, passed away in December 2022.
This year Ardoin garnered a GRAMMY nomination (his fourth from three albums) in the Best Regional Roots Music Album category for 12-track Full Circle which tightly melds folk, funk, jazz, and Zydeco, simultaneously making history as the first complete album collaboration with a university marching band, LSU’s Golden Band from Tigerland.
Thank you so much for joining us in this interview series! Can you tell us the story of how you grew up?
I grew up in Southwest Louisiana, first in the little country town of Kinder. Then at 12 years old, we moved to the “big city” of Lake Charles. I like to think living in a small town instilled in me a solid work ethic and that city life gave me a desire for bigger things. But despite where we lived, family and music were always central.
Can you share a story with us about what brought you to this specific career path?
Music is in my DNA. I’m a fourth generation Creole accordionist so my career pretty much chose me. When I was attending Louisiana State University, I realized that most of my classmates were training for a career. I was lucky because I had the “family business,” music, back home. I had a great experience at LSU, but my career was already waiting for me.
None of us are able to achieve success without some help along the way. Is there a particular person who you are grateful towards who helped get you to where you are? Can you share a story about that?
My dad [Lawrence “Black” Ardoin] and I butted heads a lot when I was growing up. Old-school Creole men aren’t known to be very emotionally expressive, and I don’t remember him giving me any compliments or words of encouragement. Admittedly, I resented that for a while. But as I got older, I realized he did express his support for me, but in a different way. He paid for recordings and marketing ideas, without any questions, which meant he believed in me. I am the artist I am today because of my dad, who passed away on December 3, 2022. Fortunately, we had mended our relationship years ago and when he passed, he knew how much he meant to me.
You probably have a lot of fascinating experiences. Can you tell us the most interesting story that happened to you since you began your career?
When my band [Kreole Rock and Soul] booked a tour in the UK, it was exciting, it felt like we were “on our way”. Well, we “made it,” but barely. Getting to London was fine, we landed at Heathrow, and we followed the directions to where we were supposed to be picked up. It turned out to be van rental place. Now, we weren’t the Rolling Stones, but a car service is usually standard. They brought out a van, keys, and a map. It suddenly dawned on me that I was now our driver, an American from Louisiana who’s never driven in London. The driver’s seat was on the right, and Londoners drive on the left side of the road. Deep breath, okay, I can do that. The van has a manual transmission. Okay, still fine. But wait, the stick shift and foot controls are on the “wrong” side. Can you see where this is going now? Thankfully, somehow, we got through the tour in one piece. From then on, we always had a driver.
It has been said that our mistakes can be our greatest teachers. Can you share a story about the funniest mistake you made when you were first starting? Can you tell us what lesson you learned from that?
I was playing a gig and I’m usually engaging people in the audience to help them have a great time. There was a couple sitting in the center of the crowd who were stone-faced.
I said to myself, “I’m gonna get ‘em! I’m gonna bring them into this party if it’s the last thing I do!” Well, I get to work, I’m making eye contact and singing to them and everything. I even left the stage and went played and sang to them personally! But no reaction. So, after the show is over, I’m at the merch table and guess who shows up and buys me out? Yup, that same stone-faced couple. They couldn’t stop raving about my show and said they were going to be fans for life! I couldn’t believe it. The lesson I learned that day was to never judge people’s level of involvement or enjoyment by their facial expressions or lack thereof. Everyone consumes entertainment differently, so just do your thing consistently every time.
What are some of the most interesting or exciting projects you are working on now?
I’ve just released an album with my band, Kreole Rock and Soul, featuring the LSU Golden Band from Tigerland. It’s the first album in music history, that I know of, in which an artist and university marching band collaborate for an entire project. My understanding is that LSU’s marching band was the first to get a GRAMMY nomination. We also made a double purple and gold vinyl commemorative album and 15% of those sales go back to the band in scholarships.
You have been blessed with success in a career path that can be challenging. Do you have any words of advice for others who may want to embark on this career path, but seem daunted by the prospect of failure?
Embrace failure. You can’t know success without failure. Don’t be afraid to try things. Give yourself permission to be free and creative. I’ve failed so many times. Failure is a teacher. When you fail, you should learn something from it and use it to grow to your next level. You must decide in the depths of your soul that this is absolutely what you want and that you won’t quit until you have gotten what you desire.
Which tips would you recommend to your colleagues in the music industry to help them to thrive and not “burn out”?
Always keep your “why” in front of you. Your “why” is your biggest motivating factor. Once you know your “why” you are less likely to quit because it’s now bigger than you. On my phone, I have a picture of my weight goal on my screen saver and a picture of me on the red carpet at the GRAMMYs on my wallpaper. I won’t change them until I reach my desired weight and win a GRAMMY Award.
Thank you for all that. This is the main question of our interview. What are your “5 Things You Need To Create A Highly Successful Career in The Music Industry” and why? If you can, please share a story or example for each.
1. Know Who You Are (as a brand)
You need to know who you are in the industry, as in, where you fit. Decide what type of music you’re doing and how you’re going to present it to the world. I created a new genre, Kreole Rock and Soul. I come from a traditional music called Zydeco. The problem I started noticing was that the folks who booked clubs, festivals, and arts centers had a preconceived notion of what they thought Zydeco was and none of those notions were what I do. They had a monetary value in their minds on what they thought it was worth. Most concerning for me was they started calling saying, “We have ‘x’ amount of money for a Zydeco band.” They had a low value for a band to play a type of music. I realized that anyone could fill that spot. I want to be what they want to book. So, I separated myself from the pack by creating my own lane. I started branding the genre and making sure all my socials, website, and interviews stated that I play Kreole Rock and Soul. Since I made the switch, I’ve been blessed with four GRAMMY nominations. I believe that becoming unique and rebranding set me apart and made me more attractive in the industry.
2. Know Your Worth
You need to research what the industry pays for what you do on the highest end and the lowest end. Then figure out where you fit in that pay spectrum and negotiate accordingly. Asking for the high end is okay if you understand that when you ask for high end money, you better be bringing a high-end experience. Be honest with yourself about where you are right now, but don’t be satisfied with it; push yourself to rise.
3. Know That You’re a Business
This is not the “music fun,” it’s the music business. You are a business and should conduct yourself as such. Get incorporated so that you can open a business checking account. Then, as soon as you can, get a business credit card. With business credit you will be able to get loans to get things like upgrading equipment for your performances and investing in merchandise to resell at the shows. Keep good records of incoming and outgoing money. There are apps that can help you do it easily on your phone. Under promise and over deliver every time. Be prepared. Show up early. Start on time. Leave it all on the stage, every time! You do this and you will be successful!
4. Know Your Fan
Who is your perfect fan? How old are they? How much do they listen to music? How active are they on social media? Which social media platform do they prefer? Do they buy music or stream and if they buy, how often? Do they buy merchandise? What kind of merch do they prefer? These are just a few questions to ask yourself about your fans. Once you have those questions answered, focus your efforts and energy into servicing your perfect fan. Figure out how to get 1000 fans to spend $100 in a year with you. When you can do that, you have made $100,000. Social media is the first point of contact these days, I think. Post consistently to keep your fans seeing your posts on their feeds. Your perfect fan can become your best promoter so when you get them take care of them.
5. Pick Positive People
I have worked with many people in my life as an artist. I prefer not to be in relationships with negative people, no matter how talented they are. They become toxic to your organization. For example, I would rather have a good guitar player with a great attitude than a great guitar player with a bad attitude. A major artist once put it like this, “I have to be able to do life with you. We are only on stage a few minutes of the week in a touring situation. Ninety minutes in a 24-hour day and not every day are we on stage, but if you make my 22 and a half hours uncomfortable, you’re on the first thing smoking back to your house!”
You are a person of enormous influence. If you could inspire a movement that would bring the most amount of good to the most amount of people, what would that be? You never know what your idea can trigger. 🙂
#LOVECHALLENGE I’m seeing a lot of hate and negativity in the world right now. One of my favorite books says that love conquers all. I would like to inject a massive dose of love into the world with the #lovechallenge. It’s simple. Science says it takes 21 days to make a habit, so I’m suggesting we do 30 days and make it permanent. Every day, try and find a way to show love to people you don’t know and can’t return the favor. For example, pay for the person’s coffee in the line in front of you. Smile at people in the elevator and in the lobby. Pay for someone’s tab in the restaurant. Hold the door for the person behind you. Perform random acts of kindness for 30 days and watch how it changes your life and the lives of those you meet. Post on your social media that you’re doing it and challenge all those in your circle to do the same! #LOVECHALLENGE
Can you please give us your favorite “Life Lesson Quote”? Can you share how that was relevant to you in your life?
I live by a phrase “see it, say it, get to work”. It’s the formula that can’t fail. You must see your goal clearly. Write it out. What does it look like? Be detailed in your description. You must see it before you can see it and that’s not double-talk. The next step is to say it out loud at least twice a day, in the morning when you wake and at night before you go to sleep. You can say it more, but those two times are the most important as you start and end your day. When you speak what you want to happen, the universe/God responds. Finally, you must get to work! Nothing happens if you don’t put the work in. If you do the first two steps and not the last one, nothing will happen, but if you put them all together you have just kicked your path to your dreams into overdrive! I didn’t realize early on that I was doing it but when I realized it was a formula and started applying it on purpose, my life changed. So, I’m challenging you to see it, say it, and get to work!
We are very blessed that some very prominent names in Business, VC funding, Sports, and Entertainment read this column. Is there a person in the world, or in the US with whom you would love to have a private breakfast or lunch, and why? He or she might just see this if we tag them.
I would love to have lunch with Snoop Dog. He has figured out how to stay relevant to multiple generations. He’s tapped in and he’s a thinker. That time would expand my thought process and as I’ve been alluding to in all my responses, it would change my mind and in turn change my life!
How can our readers continue to follow your work online?
This was very meaningful, thank you so much! We wish you continued success!
Sean Ardoin: 5 Things You Need To Create A Highly Successful Career in The Music Industry was originally published in Authority Magazine on Medium, where people are continuing the conversation by highlighting and responding to this story.