As the great Louis Armstrong once said, “Musicians don’t retire; they stop when there’s no more music in them.” Despite the challenges of the industry, you should never stop trying to find ways to keep making good music and growing your career.
My take on this topic is not just based on inspirational quotes and fancy sayings. It comes from having been involved in music as a marketer and entrepreneur.
Over the past few years, I have worn several hats on the business side of music, from managing upcoming artists to starting companies. My experience has given me an insider’s perspective into how different people approach their careers and the little things some people do differently (or don’t do), which sometimes makes the difference.
Here goes what I think many musicians are failing to do (or not doing consistently enough) to take their careers to the next level:
Understanding Your Audience
When I was managing artists, this is an issue I had to tackle. Musicians not knowing who their ideal audience was, resulted in their songs sounding generic, lacking the edge to resonate with the listening public on a whole.
As much as ‘making music for the world’ sounds pretty charming, you have to identify one target audience in order to give your music identity and be able to use the words and ideas that particular segment wants to hear. Failure to do so can lead to frustration as you put out song after song without getting much attention.
Spend Time Growing Your Brand
Overnight sensations are one in a million, if any truly exist. Most people who have found success in music are those who managed to create strong brands. Just like creating a successful business, it takes a lot of time, from coming up with the right product to offer and deciding on brand colors, company mission, and logos, etc.
I know this all too well, having been in the business of building music companies from the ground up. The point is, you have to take time developing and shaping your content until your brand is unmistakable as neon lighting. That’s extremely important in a saturated music business where it’s easy to get lost in the crowd.
Let the World Know What You’re Offering
Many talented musicians seem to create quality work but don’t do enough to let the world know about it. They produce the music and then forget about the promotional part, thinking word of mouth alone is going to push their songs. Why do you think many record labels have PR departments for their artists? As an independent, you might not be able to afford that, but you can go out to events and network with music industry professionals, you can utilize platforms such as SoundCloud, you can build professional EPKs (Tunedly provides you one for free), you can send emails, and you can keep connecting with fans on social media.
Invest in Your Career
Being an independent artist is no reason to not invest in your music career. The first thing to understand (and a basic truth that I realized that many talents fail to grasp) is that you have to spend money to make money in business. That means making up your mind to invest in high quality music recording studios that will give your songs and lyrics the professional sound needed to compete with countless other records that are being made daily.
Using DIY methods is okay – for basic experimenting with music – not if you’re looking to grow as a professional musician. Once you have the desire to sell your music, whether to a publisher or artist, or want to be recognized as a singer, you will need to invest in professional recording studios.
With that said, it does cost plenty to make music with a decent pro studio. However, it is possible to find excellent alternatives, which allow you to control how much you spend while making it easy for you to connect with some of the best musicians in the world.
Lack of patience is also a career killer for musicians. For some, they want to see results right away and the music business just doesn’t work like that. There are many musicians who have been around for a while, trying hard to ‘make it’ and just when their success is about to happen they give up. On the other hand, there are those who have stuck it out and eventually found their success. Take the late Leonard Cohen, who tried for years before finally breaking through with his hit song “Hallelujah” at the age of 50. That song has since been covered more than 200 times.
I should also point out that sometimes being patient can also mean taking a break or taking a step back and assessing things. Sometimes when you’re plodding away and you’re in so deep, you might fail to notice one little thing that you may or may not be doing and taking that break opens up your eyes to it so you can begin again with renewed focus.
Regardless of where you are in your music career, you should never stop learning and trying to find new ways to make it better. The will to keep growing is one of the differences between people who manage to push through failures and find success and those who give up, never knowing what could have been.