It is generally accepted that on top of having great music, success in the music business is largely down to being in the right place at the right time as well as having a little black book of superb connections. The reality is that on top of these given elements, those who cut through the clutter are those who put in the hard work and go the extra mile. Those who step out of their comfort zones and do more than what is required of them at base level are the ones who find themselves getting the gigs, the sales and the recognition and validation that every musician so desperately wants.
I have said this before and will say it again. If you are earning an income from your career in music, it needs to be treated as a small business. You need to develop a product (your music) and sell it and in order to sell it, you need to build awareness around it by strategically marketing it. You also need to constantly observe trends within the music industry, see what your competitors are doing and where they are performing and you also need to be on top of the latest goings on in the marketing sector, social media and digital platforms being the ones that are most used in current times. This takes work.
Sitting around and waiting for opportunities to come to you is just lazy. Resisting anything that is out of your comfort zone is just lazy. Not taking the time and effort to keep up to date with what is happening in your industry, you guessed it, it is just pure laziness. Taking on gigs that are menial and below your true worth is just taking the path of least resistance – again, pure laziness. Expecting the label to do everything for you whilst you chill is just lazy. Not marketing yourself is not only lazy, but poor business practice too.
There is no way to soften it but you have to get off your arse and take action. That is all there is to it. You have to get out there and look for opportunities, play the game and hustle. So what if you don’t have a manager, they are hard to come by and unless you are of huge financial value to them, you won’t get one. So not having a manager and someone to do your dirty work for you is not an excuse for a stagnant career. If you aren’t going to step up to the plate for your own career, sure as dammit, no one else is going to either.
In life, some of the biggest victories come from stepping out of our comfort zones. Think of a marathon. The training is brutal, it is a ball-ache getting out on that road every day and it can suck the life out of you because you are sore and tired and it is damn hard. But on race day, there is a sense of accomplishment not only at the fact that running the race is often easier than expected, but the sense of achievement when stepping across that finish line is something special. It makes the schlepp all worth while. The same is true for the music industry. If you require four songs, keep writing until you have the right four songs, even if you have ten in the bag. If revenue is low, look at doing things that are related to music that can earn you some extra cash, like hosting singing lessons, songwriting workshops or guitar classes. Showing innovation can earn you a lot of respect in the music business. If you are required to do early morning radio and television shows, get up and do them and sacrifice your daily lie in for once. Put in the hard graft now and it will be easier in the long run and you will reap the rewards.
Keeping up to date with what is happening in the music business is crucial. Not only from a business perspective, but a creative stance too. We are fortunate enough in 2021 that we have pretty much every bit of news and information available at our finger tips through blogs, podcasts and news sites. In fact, we have almost every song ever recorded available on our mobile devices through streaming services such as Apple Music and Spotify, to name just two. There is no excuse not to stay current, but it will take a bit of commitment to spend a bit of time each day understanding this ever changing creative environment and applying the knowledge you have gained to your own careers.
We all have bills to pay and if you are a working musician, you are most definitely not exempt from this. We are going through a pandemic and the live music scene has been pretty much dormant for the best part of a year, with many gigs being cancelled and also many venues shutting their doors. So the reality is that it will be a “take what you can get” scenario for a while and also a situation where you need to get back into the live music game, so it may be a case of performing for a smaller amount than what you are used to getting, in some cases, you may not earn a penny. But you have to get back out there. Let us step aside for one minute and assume that things have gone back to normal and there are negligible traces that we had even been through a world-stopping pandemic. The “take what I can get” scenario works well when the chips are really down and you have to have a certain amount of money each month to cover your financial commitments. But in many cases, this just boils down to taking the path of least resistance as putting energy into fewer and higher paying gigs is just too much like hard work and too much effort. What happens here is that someone who is hugely talented ends up on the bargain basement end of the pay scale playing with amateurs and hanging around rookies. What someone who has put in the grind and known their worth gets for one show is often more than someone who takes the easy “take what I can get” option gets after doing a dozen gigs. Once again, it takes hard work and confidence to communicate your worth and get the gig fee that you actually deserve.
You may be one of the most talented musicians in the world, but no one is going to know about you or appreciate your music if you don’t market it. Yes, some people aren’t natural marketeers and struggle to know what to do. There are two solutions here: 1) learn how to do it or, 2) farm this responsibility out to someone who does know how to market music, but understand that this may come at a cost to you. Most marketing and awareness building is done online through developing content that is shared across social media platforms such as Instagram, Facebook and YouTube. Developing content that is useful, meaningful and can stand the test of time is crucial and this will take time to do, but once it is done it is done. Just because you don’t like social media and think that it is annoying doesn’t make you exempt from using it as a platform to market your music. Just because you don’t know how to do a Facebook Live stream isn’t an excuse for you not to do one. Yet again, step out of your comfort zone and do these things as they will serve you in terms of getting your music out there for the world to hear.
Many artists run their careers independently of a record label, which is great as they have complete control over their music, but they understand that they have to do everything in house, even if it means hiring external consultants to do elements such as radio plugging and general PR. Some artists have deals with record labels, which is good as very often label execs are the people who can open doors for them, but the artists understand that they have to relinquish a certain amount of control and revenue as a trade off for having this luxury. When a label invests in an artist, it shows that they are confident that the artist is going to recoup the investment as well as make them some cash. This is obviously hugely risky. There are a number of realities that come with being signed. Firstly, you are not the only artist on the roster, so roughly 8 weeks after an album release, the momentum of marketing hype and any sales hype will die down as the label personnel move onto their next obligation. Secondly, label owners and managers like to see their artist making just as much effort as they are making. If they see this, they are more inclined to invest more capital into the artist and extend and sustain the working relationship. Therefore, it is the responsibility of the artist to put in the time and effort into helping the label promote the album and make this a team effort instead of an “all take, no give” set up. Your career is your ship, the label is merely investing in the fuel and a bit of initial navigational assistance – being signed doesn’t mean you let the steering wheel go completely.
You have to be completely honest with yourself. Being in a state of denial and bullshitting yourself won’t advance your career. Sometimes a brutal reality check is what it takes to kick yourself into progressive action. It’ll hurt and you may even beat yourself up, but admitting that you haven’t necessarily done enough is a huge hurdle that you have stepped over and things will be so much easier going forward when it comes to taking positive steps towards a more fulfilling and financially sustainable career.
In conclusion, what you put in is what you get out. If you want a good shot at success, you have to get off your butt and take some serious action. Make the choice now to step out of your comfort zone, go the extra mile, put in more than an hour a day and reduce your “chill time” to a couple of days a week. Get out there, implement the nuggets of wisdom that you have gleaned from staying informed with current trends and go to bed at night knowing that you have done absolutely everything that you possibly can to keep relevant and current in the music business. You know what you have to do, just do it!