There are a few guarantees that you will succeed or reach the point that you seek in today’s music business – even a deal with a major record label isn’t necessarily going to make you rich. The music business is probably one of the most interesting yet difficult businesses in the world. Music is one of those vocations that gets in your blood and keeps you dreaming throughout most of your life, unless you do something about it. A person with great dreams can achieve great things.
If you have that dream of becoming a star, let me help you with some truths about the music business that may make the journey a little smoother and save you a lot of heartache and money along the way.
There are three elements that make anything successful – a goal, a plan and a team. The music business is no different. It is usually the dream that leads to the goal, but then the plan and the team seem to be a problem for most artistes. Most singers, songwriters and musicians possess a very creative mind, but they want someone else to handle the business side of things. The artist who can develop both their creative and business minds are more likely to have great success because they understand what needs to be done and why it is being done in their careers.
Psychology plays an important part in the music business as well. Understanding the mental side of the music business is very important, beginning with mentally visualizing your dreams coming true. A large part of this business is out-thinking your competition and coming up with unique ways of doing things that will get attention.
Here are some tips that will give you the edge and put you on the path to success in the music industry.
You can’t make it in this business unless the music you make is good. ‘Good’ means that it has a market (beyond your loyal friends and family) and that you can write and produce to a standard substantially higher than average.
It’s a harsh reality to face but, looking at the law of averages, it stands to reason that not everyone will be above the centre line. If enough unbiased people are telling you that what you do is impressive, do everything you can to become even better. Devote time, effort and – yes – money to fuelling your dream. If nothing is ventured then nothing is gained.
Develop your talent-Practice Practice Practice
Write every day. The art of writing is one that develops with time and effort and, if you’re good already, imagine how good you could become with practice. It’s amazing how lazy musicians can be with their talents. Take a tip from other competitive industries such as sport where, irrespective of natural ability, no athlete lines up to run a race without having trained every day for years. Get motivated and get to work.
You must commit to spending time every single day practicing your craft. I know there is a lot of other stuff to do like performing, networking, booking, marketing, and tweeting. But it’s all for naught if you aren’t consistently creating mind-blowing music and advancing your skills. Don’t ever let you chops get stale.
Get a Good Team-You Can’t Make It Alone
As the saying goes it takes two to ‘tango’. You can’t be your own personal manager, business manager, lawyer, booking agent, publicist. Find people who are good in these field to help you even if it cost your leg and head. Remember the “super” stars are not working it alone. And just don’t go get anybody to be on your team—friend, cousin, mother unless they know the ins and out of the music business. And don’t tolerate a weak team member.
Get Online and Engage With Fans
Start your marketing with social networking. It costs nothing but time and it’s not hard to bring a network of people together who will begin to understand what your music is about and help you spread the word. Setting up accounts on social media sites like YouTube, Facebook, Twitter, Sound cloud and Instagram can broaden the appeal of your brand beyond the purely musical sphere. Videos of studio sessions, screen capture videos highlighting your mixing processes, even photo content cut to a rudimentary video over one of your tracks are all powerful marketing tools which you can promote through Facebook and Twitter.
Register a domain name and get a website built. It needs to be one which draws people back regularly, so keep it loaded with content, update it as often as possible, and make it intuitive and informative. If you’re having a slow month without activity on your own label embed links to studio sessions, live gigs you’ve had recorded or even to videos for tracks by other artists you admire, to show not only that your label is ‘on the move’, it’s also aware of what else is going on in the industry and that it can be the place to get a real sense of what’s happening out there in your chosen genre or style.
Never assume that your music will have so much appeal that it will sell itself. Quality alone is no guarantee of success – we all know of music that we think deserves a wider audience while, conversely, we also hear music whose success seems inexplicable. These successes and failures can be explained by a single word – marketing.
People who don’t know your music exists can’t buy it and that’s true even if it’s the best song ever written. Any and all ways of letting potential fans know of your existence must be explored. Ignoring marketing in favour of churning out new material will guarantee that your fan base won’t expand beyond your friends and family.
As your profile grows, it might be time to bring in specialist marketing personnel. Generally, such people are hired in blocks of one month (three is recommended as a minimum for an album launch) and it’s their job to raise awareness of your product.
Specialists like this spend their lives keeping in touch with people you’ll find it hard to reach yourself, such as newspaper and radio journalists, pluggers, gig bookers and other essential industry contacts. You’ll effectively employ them to take your product to market and work as hard as possible to ensure that awareness of your record and label moves a few crucial rungs up the ladder. Often, the momentum generated by a few months of carefully planned marketing can be sustained by you thereafter…
Get Smart and Know Your Finances
One simple question – can you develop the skills required to balance the books? Just as most musicians don’t find marketing a very ‘natural’ process (most of us would far rather be in the studio, onstage or in a DJ booth), so it often proves with financial matters.
However, this side of working life isn’t something to be feared or ignored and, with some careful organization and time dedicated to understanding basics such as income and expenditure, paying bills on time and making sure you’re not committing rookie mistakes like racking up mountains of debt, there’s no reason why you can’t handle financial matters yourself, particularly when your project is finding its feet. When it gets too much, hopefully because you’re doing so well, you can consider looking elsewhere for assistance.
Get on top of your finances immediately, setting yourself ‘good practice’ goals from the outset. If you can handle small sums of money, correctly distributing finances among interested parties when the sums are a few dollars or cedis, you’ll find the process less intimidating if the amounts become substantially greater.
As revenue comes in, you’ll need transparent accounts which detail payments to everyone with clear columns in your books for each receipt and payment. You’ll need to file a tax return detailing all financial activity on time with the taxman and you’ll need to be keeping hold of invoices and receipts to provide evidence of all monies in and out.
Remember: more artistes and managers fall out for financial reasons than for any other.
In the business world they say, “dress for the job you want, not the job you have.” And I’ve seen it work. The guy that shows up to work in a tie everyday is invariably the guy that climbs the ladder the fastest. It’s not specifically because of the tie. It is because of the peripheral psychological effect that comes with dressing and acting the part to which you aspire.
The same thing goes for music. Only we have better style. You want to be a rock star? Then start acting like one. No, I don’t mean to mainline booze, dress slutty and bomb social media with it, knock up groupies, and ranting like you own the world whilst we are all know you are little in the scheme of things. I mean get your gear set up early enough to get a solid sound check, put 100% of your energy into every performance. And play your complete set no matter what goes wrong, even if it’s just you and the sound guy. Maintain your performance persona from the moment you walk in the door until the last embers of the after-party die out. The trick here is that you have to believe it.
Give Value to What You Do
Because if you don’t, no one else will. When you are booking shows think in terms of what you need, not what you can get. If you need to make $50,000 a year for you to consider yourself a professional musician, then you have defined yourself a goal that you can aim for as well as demonstrate to your naysayers. That’s $4,167 a month, or $962 a week. Once you set the goal you have taken the first step toward accomplishing it.
Keep in mind that not all of your income will come from performing. There are at least 101 ways to make money from music –get in touch if you want to know. Once you realize that, your financial goals won’t seem nearly as difficult to achieve.
Also keep in mind that not all value is money. There are shows that pay well and you should definitely seek them out. And there are other shows that don’t pay so much but provide great opportunities, like playing to a large crowd of potential new fans, opening for your hero, or traveling to a new destination.
Well, this is turning into a fairly lengthy post so I just want to share some final thoughts with you to help you achieve your goals:
* If you truly believe that what you are doing is beautiful, so will your audience. Performing is like telling a joke. It’s all about the delivery. You can tell a joke with confidence and projection or, you can use the exact same words but be timid and unsure. I’m sure you can guess which one people are going to laugh at.
* When you play something “perfectly,” stops. Then take a moment to reflect on the feeling. Your brain doesn’t differentiate between what’s real and what’s imagined. The same neurological pathways are used either way. You’ll find that it is much easier to reproduce a feeling than a specific combination of notes, yet the result is the same. So rehearse the way you want to feel and that will come out in your performance.
* With anything you want to accomplish, trial and error is the best way to gain knowledge. Thomas Edison said, “I have never failed. I have just discovered 10,000 ways that don’t work.”
* Other paths in life have predefined goals and curriculums. The first challenge in choosing the musical path is defining your own terms of success. And hopefully, after reading this article you have a better idea of how to do that.
* And finally, differentiate yourself by creating the element of the unexpected. The well-worn paths are full of people driving down the highway and getting startled by roadrunners that dart in front of them. Be the most creative roadrunner you can be. Because there aren’t always roads where you’re going…
About the author
Amare is an entrepreneur and music business consultant. You can follow @Amare for his tweets on industry tips and Life’s Hacks