Story 9: My Uncle Doesn't Owe You Sh*t

Cameron Laird

Cameron Laird

Published on: 17 January, 2022

Updated: 31 January, 2022

Liam O'Brien

Freedom, Balance & Chasing Dreams

Welcome back to another episode of The Chirp. For our last episode, we started off the new year strong by having a great conversation with the founder of City Innovation Labs, Josh Barker. In spending time with Josh, he walked us through the realities of life and reminded us all that it's okay to struggle because life isn't always easy. Whether it be financial, relationally, mentally, or physically we all go through life facing ups and downs, thus why Story 8: Life Isn't All Sunshine And Rainbows was such a special one for us.

Out of all the conversations we've had thus far, this is certainly our wildest one yet. As you might have guessed from the title, this episode is full of explosive commentary. In talking with professional musician, Liam O'Brien we got a look into his world and how sometimes the music industry can cause more pain for artists than good.

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This Episode In A Nutshell

Chasing your dreams is not all it's cracked up to be, especially if you can't put food on the table. Artists, actors, and musicians are no strangers to this reality, so going through the growing pains of trying to make it big can harden even the most resilient dreamers. In this episode, we talked to a resilient dreamer and LA musician Liam O'Brien. Littered with stories of financial expectations, commitments to following his passions, and so much more, this look into the unspoken world of the music industry is a brutally honest tale.

Note: Listener discretion advised; explicit content.

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Have a story to tell and want to be on our podcast? Let us know by sending an email to claird@pigeonloans.io.

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Audio Transcript of Story 9: My Uncle Doesn't Owe You Sh*t

Opening Monologue

Welcome back everybody! Cameron here. Episode 9 on the Chirp. You are almost welcome. Cool episode for you today, I got a chance to talk to a professional musician by the name of Liam O’Brien this week. I was very keen to chat to Liam having made a go of being a musician myself up until quite recently and I understand how stressful it can be and how broke one can be if they are doing it full time. Family and friends play a huge role in supporting you financially and emotionally and Liam's level-headedness about his music career was very interesting and he's definitely doing it the right way.

I chat to Liam about intellectual property being stolen, how he’s kept himself financially afloat all through his musical career, and finding that balance as well between money and passion. Now as ever, we appreciate your support and I hope you enjoy this interview. Let's go.

Cameron Laird

Listen, thank you so much for joining me today. We had a couple of technical difficulties, but we got there in the end. It's a pleasure to have you on.

Liam O'Brien

Thank you for having me! 

Cameron Laird

No, no problem. And I was researching you and doing a bit of digging on your music. And I was very impressed with what I heard. So it's great to have a musician on The Chirp for the first time. One that's most impressive. But I suppose where did you get started? I'd love to know when you started singing, what has your journey been like? And it might be a bit of a weighted question, but where did it all begin? Let's start there. 

Liam O'Brien

It all began when I was about three years old, I guess when I was learning to talk, I started learning to sing at the same time, my dad's singing around the house. He was a big, big singer. He likes...loves singing. He was in bands throughout his entire life. He basically prepped me for life like that.

And so I won't lie. Growing up I was a little bit of an outcast. My school district wasn't the most artistic, but I still thought singing all the time was normal because my dad did it. So I would just continue to sing. Wherever, whenever, anytime I wanted. I love singing and I love performing and I love being the center of attention a little bit. I won't lie. Not afraid to say it. 

Cameron Laird

You have to be!

Liam O'Brien

Yeah, right? Otherwise what are we doing here? So yeah, I went and I got my first show when I was three years old. I got on the streets of Quebec and just started singing for people. And I don't know why. I just remember being applauded and I had a whole crowd.

It was exciting. And then it took off from there. I wanted to be in the school plays every year, just looking for any opportunity to be on stage and to perform. So that was where it all got going, and then I started writing my own music when I was 14. I was always creating different little things here and there, but my first actual full song wasn't completed until I was 14. I performed it.

I didn't really know what I wanted to do or where I wanted to go and how my life was going to pan out. College coming up, my parents are getting a little bit, like, “Hey, start, start thinking about where the f*ck you want to go. What do you want to do? You’re good at math. You're good at singing. You're good at writing. Let's figure out what you want to do.” 

So of course with that comes, “All right, well we still want you to get a good education.” They honestly were super supportive throughout all of this, but like, they didn't want to send me to Berkeley college because, no sh*t on Berkeley, but their dropout rate is super high. If you go to Berkeley college, you're going to be a musician. That's just what it is. And that isn't why I went to college if that makes sense. I didn't go to college to be a musician. I went to college to get a degree and be able to make money aside from music, which is making me in my life a lot f*cking happier.

And when I was 15, there was a little dinner theater show. It was one of my first times performing live for my high school. And, like I said, not really the biggest artistic place, so I didn't really think people wanted to hear me. I think people thought people were going to be like, oh, who's this weirdo singing, playing the piano?

And then I got up there, performed my original song, and got a standing ovation. And I was just in awe of the fact that people actually cared and wanted to hear what I had to write, wanted to hear what I had to sing. That they thought I had true talent. And that's what changed my mind going forward.

I actually took it and ran with it. I went to college for music. I studied music business. I studied songwriting. So I got a little bit of both worlds. I got the business aspect, I got a marketing minor and everything. So I had the things that I needed, the tools that I needed to get a job and to have ammo in an industry other than music.

And I'm so happy I did because I found out that working in the music industry, and I found out via an internship, I had a great internship with a PR company and the music industry, and it was a great internship, great experience. But I realized it wasn't for me because as long as I was working in music and in a space that wasn't creative, It made me not want to work in it in the creative space. And so it was killing...

Cameron Laird

It became work in general!

Liam O'Brien

Exactly. It made music really not fun for me. And I guess that along with doing weddings, doing private events, doing bar gigs, they pay well, they pay great, don't get me wrong. That's how a lot of people make their living in the music industry. They do weddings. They do these gigs. They go on cruise ships and all this sh*t. And that was another thing that was making me hate music. It made me not want to come home and write, it made me not want to go out so I was tired of it.

I need a lot of balance in my life, and that was definitely really obvious for me when I was in college and graduating from college, I just realized that the music industry wasn't a place that I wanted to work. So yeah, very happy that I got the degree I did. I ended up going into home building, but I worked for a video team. 

Cameron Laird

Very good!

Liam O'Brien

Yeah, right? I worked for a video team within the home builder, so it's creative still, but it's very much corporate. '

Cameron Laird

Your experience of the music industry as well. I'd love to hear some stories, if you have any, of payments that may not have gone through, or have you any good stories or bad stories where relationships within the industry have been affected by money or money that was promised. 

Liam O'Brien

So the good news is I don't have any bad stories in the music industry. I have them in most other industries. I had a wild job. And I was like 17, 18, whatever the f*ck, I was coming back from college and working. I don't remember. It was over summer. I was working at a grill and didn't sign any W-4s and logged all my hours on my own. And just worked with the manager to make sure that was happening.

I got ripped off about $500 there. He stole a lot of money from a lot more people than just me. So that was like the biggest scam that I think I've ever been a part of. Luckily music just hasn't been! I've worked with good people. And then when I work with good people, I haven't had any absolute d*cks come along yet.

Cameron Laird

I love the word “yet”.

Liam O'Brien

That's where I was going with this. Maybe it's the fact that I just haven't encountered that yet. It's a fact that, maybe with growth comes demand, comes a lot more attention. So with more attention, the careless things that I do occasionally, like, put out a feeler for the next EP, right? Like maybe just put something out into the world. That's like, oh, just an idea, puts it on an Instagram story. It's not labeled as anything. It's not copyrighted. Someone takes that, someone steals it and uses it as their own. 

I worked with a duo in Miami that they said, we were taking stories of one of the songs we had just finished. And one of the guys was like, “Yo, you can't put that anywhere”. I was like, oh sh*t. All right, cool. No problem. I asked why, and he was like, “We've had people steal our sh*t. They steal hooks, they steal sh*t.”

They know we're good. They know we're a little careless sometimes. And I mean, all artists are careless. It's not, not just them. Every artist is living in the space where… first off, it's a hard world to collaborate in, like when you're mixing social media and being an artist, the two they're supposed to go well together, right? 

Sometimes they really don't. It's not as easy. Not everybody's good at both, and it's not easy to be in this carefree world of being an artist of like, yo, I just want to put my emotions out into the world. Like people getting drunk in the studio, getting high as sh*t, whatever the f*ck. It's such an industry where drugs and alcohol are so prevalent and, and a carefree attitude is so important.

We were looking for a saxophonist for this big session that we were doing. We call a sax player and he goes, “I'm down, but can we have splits figured out before that?” 

Cameron Laird

As in royalties? 

Liam O'Brien

Yep, he wanted that in writing before. And here's the problem with that? The artist's world, it might f*ck you over and you should be careful and you should want your split sheets and you should be doing what he did. People don't want to work with you if you do that. People don't want to work with you if your attitude is, “Yo, but what about the money? Yo, but how about business?”

It sounds greedy. It kills the vibe too. It's like, yeah, we don't even know if we're going to come out with anything. Just trust us, just trust the process If something goes out that you were on and you didn't get your sh*t, then that's where this conversation will come. Like if I'm part of a session where that song goes out and I didn't get my pay and I didn't get my cut and I didn't get my royalty, and there is no split sheet, then yeah I'd be on this call with you telling you all about it and being like, yeah, I got f*cked and I don't really know how else to say it. But unfortunately, it's hard to get in rooms with people. If you're going to be at a tight a**. 

Cameron Laird

And where do you stand on that personally? Because I think it's completely fair to ask for splits or, I think we call it points in Ireland and it's definitely coming from a place of fairness.

Do you think maybe he handled it wrong? Maybe his wording was a bit too forward and there was just a lack of trust there? How would you have handled this if you were said saxophonist? 

Liam O'Brien

So if I were him like I said, this is the opportunity, you haven't done anything yet, they don't even know how you play yet. Like, they don't even know if you're good. There are so many musicians in this world. You are almost always replaceable. If you are a big-name artist, you're not replaceable, that's different. And you can ask for whatever the f*ck you want.

That's why working with artists is tough and that's why they have teams. That's why they have demands. That's why they have entertainment lawyers. It's all of that. And so when it comes to me, I'm not big enough to be asking for splits at the beginning of a session. That's not where I can go with it.

This saxophonist, he's not… I don't even know a famous saxophonist. I can't even name you one, but he's not that guy. He's not the guy that you're like, this is him, we need him. You can't get anybody else now. Now we also didn't need a saxophonist. It was just a shot in the dark. Yeah. Let's just see if he's around. See what's up. You got to know the situation. If you're walking into a situation where it's all laid out, Hey, we're doing a song with Rihanna. Rihanna is gonna use this for her album. This is going to be, this is going to be an album.

Cameron Laird

Well, you would do that sh*t for free!

Liam O'Brien

I would do that sh*t for free, all day every day. But yeah, when it comes to the setup, it's like, how did they word it? Did it come in an email from their team? Did it come with documents? Sh*t, you have to sign?

Then yeah, you can ask. It's like, okay, this was formal. Let me be formal back. That's fine. Yeah, but my dog got a text from this producer that said, “Yo, ride to the studio, we need you. We need you and your sax, bring your sax. We got this guy here”, (I'll keep his name out just in case). “We got this artist coming in here. We're gonna write some sh*t.”

There was no, "Hey, we're definitely releasing this. This is for his next album.” There was none of that. Yeah. So you just don't ask in that situation, you show up, you do the damn thing. If you perform on a song, you can say, after to the producer, you'd be like, “Yo, you're the main contact, right? Just keep me in touch with any splits. Keep me in touch with anything that goes down”, and he's like, “ Yeah, of course, I got you.”

That's different when you've done something when you've proved your worth when you've shown what you can do, that's when you have a hand, you can be like, all right, talk to me about splits going forward because I want in.

Cameron Laird

Let's go back to 14-year-old Liam, again. You said your dad was a huge musician as well, and he was in bands. You mentioned as well that they've instilled this level of… do your music, but be smart with your money. I'm sure they're proud as punch. What is their outlook on your career and how have they supported you throughout the years following our dream? 

Liam O'Brien

So support has always been there. They're my number one fans, they're always watching. My dad would never have created any social media form ever until I existed in the world.

He wouldn't create Facebook. He wouldn't create any of that. And then he saw how active I was on Instagram that I was posting videos and songs and sh*t, and writing songs about him and situations and sh*t, he was like, “F*ck yeah, I'm going to make an Instagram count.” So he did now and now he comments on videos and sh*t.

So you can see that they care just from that alone. Yeah, and they're always pushing me to go and get in and to crush it. They know I have a good head on my shoulders in terms of my job. They know that. They always just want to make sure that I'm keeping that balanced just as well as I am with my music.

So they want music to take off, no doubt, but they want me to stay lucrative, stay smart. If I were to tell them tomorrow, “Hey, I got an opportunity to open up for Quinn XCII or some sh*t. I'm going on tour - I'm quitting tomorrow”, they would be nothing but excited for me.

But if I told them, “Hey I've been spending too much time working. I've been thinking about this a lot. I need to spend all my hours in the day on myself and myself only, and my music career and I can't do that with my job anymore I need to quit”, but I had no backup, I had no “this is how I'm making money, this is how I'm going to be affording my apartment, going forward, affording the nice things that I like going forward, like food, everything” they're not going to be comfortable. They wouldn’t support that. Unfortunately, they don't have the capital to help me, to funnel my life and my music career. They don't have that. I don't have that. Well, I do have that right now, but if I lose that, that's all I have. And I've been joking recently. People say “Oh, you make money in the music industry.” No, you don't get paid by the music industry, you pay to be in the music industry.

Cameron Laird

Yeah, haha yeah well put.

Liam O'Brien

I've made my music videos. Music videos are definitely the most expensive part of being a musician because those are huge productions and you want to look good. You don't want to f*cking look like you just set up a phone in your bedroom and were doing weird, low-budget films.

Low-budget films are great too. Don't get me wrong. I've done them. And they're great, but it's really, really cool if you can get a great shoot out there because visuals are everything these days. So just music production alone costs a f*ck ton of money, and people are dropping $5,000 a song. I know someone just charged $30,000 for a f*cking song. So it's like, there's a lot of f*cking money to pay. You're basically paying to be an artist because Spotify is not paying you back. No f*cking shot. You can perform a lot. You can perform live, but it won't catch up unless you're, like I said, on tour. If you're on tour with a major artist, you'll get paid back, but it still takes time and effort, and honestly, to get to that point, that's big…if you're touring, if you're a touring artist, You’ve made it!

Cameron Laird

Yeah. It's full-time income.

Liam O'Brien

Yup

Cameron Laird

Well, one point you were saying there about the content that you create, it comes out of your own pocket and you do a bit of the editing yourself as well. When we were in a band a couple of years ago, when we went into a recording studio in Dublin and recorded one of our songs, we did it live. It was going to be a live take. And it was coming out of our pockets and it was being split in five ways. And we did break up as a band, the band disbanded, shortly after. And we had some disagreements about money and how it was going five ways and did we all want to invest our money in these things. We made a conscious decision to break it up. But no matter how much money you spend on things like that, when you're a 60-year-old man, and you're looking back at this piece of content that you paid for, and if you pay them, it doesn't matter what a manager paid for us. You're going to look back on that fondly and you're going to have that forever. And it's going to be a piece of content of high integrity as well. So I don't think it's ever a, regardless of how successful you are or how much money you spend as long as it's printed data that you can access for the rest of your days. It’s never a waste of time, in my opinion.

Liam O'Brien

Zero regrets. Not a single mother f*cking regret, bro. Think of where people spend their money, right? People go out, spend their money on booze, spend their money on dates, spend their money on weed, spend money on other drugs, spend their money on…whatever the f*ck they want.

Cameron Laird

Short-term pleasures.

Liam O'Brien

And, yeah, there's short-term pleasures. There's the long-term pleasures, let's go on your Euro trip. Like that's a great place to spend your money. You're never going to forget that trip. You're always gonna have that with you. That's a great thing to do. I don't judge anyone who does that.

I know that I want to spend my money, at least right now, all on myself and my music. And if I put everything, every ounce of effort, energy, money towards myself and my music. It's like, I can't hate myself one day. I can never look back and be like, “You didn't try.” This is you.

I f*cking worked my ass off. I did the damn thing. I moved out to LA. I've lived here for two years, two and a half years now. I'm trying to push boundaries, make things happen. And I'm flying around the country trying to make it happen and spending my money on things that matter.

Yeah. I may not make the money back right away, but I will. And if I don't, I'm going to look back and be like, money well-f*cking spent.

Cameron Laird

Yeah, absolutely.

Liam O'Brien

I was at a comedy show the other day and the guy was like, “Everybody, stop worrying about money. Stop worrying about your debt. If you die with debt, that means you had too much fun. You had too much fun on earth. What are they going to do? How are they going to chase you for your money? What are they going to do? They’re not going to do sh*t.” I actually have a f*cked up story that I'm not going to name any names in, so it's fine. But a friend of my uncles, I have many uncles, so no one can figure this one out except for family. He died recently sadly and gave over his house to my uncle. And he was a successful guy. He was a pretty successful man. You know what he still had, though, $80,000 of debt, and the credit card companies were calling my uncle, like, “Hey, you're responsible for his house, what can we make happen?” He doesn't know them sh*t!

Cameron Laird

Does he? Nothing happens there, does it?

Liam O'Brien

My uncle doesn't owe them sh*t!. He's not the owner of his credit card. He's gone. So don't go telling the banks this, but…be fair, let's bring this back to being financially conscious and smart with your money. Don't be a dumb, dumb. If you're spending too much money on yourself and being a better person and doing what you want to do in life, and maybe that is a Euro trip, maybe that is drinking around the world and just having a f*cking good time through your twenties and thirties, whatever. Spending it on a crazy wedding that you'll never forget. Don't worry too much about it. And that's what this, this whole thing is about, right? Get loans from people, make it work and you'll pay it back. You'll pay it forward. You'll pay it back. Absolutely. 

Cameron Laird

And I suppose, what is the future like for you then, Liam? I was checking out your Instagram, lots of touring going on, you're doing gigs here, there, and everywhere. So 2022, what have you got planned? Tell us all about it.

Liam O'Brien

2022, we have, well, a sh*t, a loaded year. 2021 was a loaded-ass year. I think 2021 was quantity. Push it out, push out the music, show people that I'm doing it. That I'm real. That I'm actually, full-blown sending this sh*t. There's no more ifs, ands, or buts I'm doing it. That was 2021. 2022 is a focus on quality, tightening everything up. It's also focused on performing live because we didn't have that for the past two f*cking years.

Cameron Laird

No, unfortunately not.

Liam O'Brien

Yeah. Moved out to LA - artists were crushed. The whole music industry was crushed by it. But I moved out to LA. The whole point was to come out here and perform live and, and get myself in front of audience members out here and make a name for myself in LA.

“Oh, who was that guy? Who was, he said his name was Liam, whatever, like, oh yeah, he was f*cking killing it out there. He's got a crazy voice. I really liked that one song, Oh, we had a QR code thing, like check that out. Oh, he's got merch in the back over there.” 

The next thing, your brand's blowing up. Like that's how you do it. We're working with a beautiful thing in the social media world, you know Twitter, Instagram, Tik Tok. You can put yourself out there without getting a band together, without having to get a gig, without having to get permission to perform on someone's stage, but there's just nothing like that in-person performance when people are there, that is the best kind of engagement you can get. They're not scrolling on their phone, they're there to see you. They're there for the entertainment.

Cameron Laird

They’re present. 

Liam O'Brien

Exactly. They're going to be there. The likeliness that they convert into being a follower for you is a lot more likely than someone on TikTok scrolling through.

The one thing about Tik ToK is that the volume is higher. So you get like a hundred thousand views on some sh*t. Well, the likelihood that you're going to get more than 10 followers from those a hundred thousand views, it's up there. So you love a big platform to perform on. But an intimate one is also great.

So 2022, live performing. I've got a show Tuesday, this upcoming Tuesday, January 18th. I've got a show. I guess I don't want to date this. I don't know when this is f*cking coming out...

Cameron Laird

Monday, so the day before!

Liam O'Brien

Hey, look at that. All right. I got a show tomorrow, I got a show tomorrow!

Cameron Laird

We're right on time! 

Liam O'Brien

It's Adults Only if you're in LA, come f*ck around. I want a party with all y'all. And then I got another show on February 4th, another show on February 28th. So we're wrapping up the show, we're trying to get it going. But other than that, like I said, tightly. Quality, not quantity. Let's get the best possible music out there. Let's get the best possible art out there. Best music videos and just tighten up this brand, make sure that people know what Liam O'Brien is and who he is and what he stands for. And there's a consistency to that. So that's what this year is all about!

Cameron Laird

Okay, well, listen, Liam, I really appreciate you coming on The Chirp, such a unique episode. And to hear you talk about your own financial experience with music and how you've handled things over the years, and I wish you nothing but success in the future. So thank you so much for coming on. It was an absolute pleasure. 

Liam O'Brien

Thank you, Cameron. You are a great host. This was pretty awesome.

Outro Monologue

Very honest depiction of the music industry and how, if you're not on top of your game and touring and earning enough live, your passion alone won't pay the bills. Liam strikes me as a very smart guy, knowing that his relationship with music can only be enjoyable and pure when he can keep himself afloat financially in other endeavors. 

And that stems from his family. He said how his parents wouldn't be comfortable “following his dream” if he didn't have something going on the side to pay for his apartment and general standard of living and things like that. There’s wisdom there. 

I was keen to hear about how people treat each other in the music industry, the music business, and his story about the saxophonist showed that you need trust if you want to succeed. Like any business or any industry, it's the people that are easy to work with that will excel and succeed. Opportunities present themselves to those who are kind. I’m not saying the saxophonist was unkind but Liam’s explaining about how he would have handled that situation confirmed that necessary trust people must-have.

But the wisdom of Liam that most resonated with me was his borrowed comment from that LA comedian about not worrying about money. At the end of the day, those who have food on their table and a roof over their heads are part of the world’s wealthiest. When you can, don’t stress about money. Yes, it's a necessity, we need it to live but look to those around you, ask for help, practice kindness with your friends and family. Now more than ever, it's so easy to get instant financial help. 

That’s all from me this week on The Chirp. Big shout out to Liam. Do get in touch if you wish to come on and have captivating conversations with me just like Liam. If you reside in LA as well check out this Instagram @thisisliamobrien for his dates and check out his music as well. He’s very good.

See you in February for a new episode. Until then, take care.