If you’re a recording artist, you’re probably hearing a million different theories and opinions about how to “blow up” in the music industry. Some believe that you need to travel to a big city, like New York or L.A, and be seen by a big name industry person. Others believe that you just have to grind it out and play hundreds of shows and harass people on the internet to promote your work. There’s even a select few that believe that you just need a hit song which is, by far, the worst approach to building a sustainable music career.
Well the first, and most important, thing to know about becoming the next big thing is that it’s probably never going to happen. BoOM! I just blew up your life.
The truth is, out if the millions of aspiring musicians in the world, roughly 9% get discovered and a tiny fraction of those people go on to have long lasting, lucrative careers in the music industry. Why though? Is it that 91% of artists make bad music? Or is pursuing a career in the music industry a bad idea?
I don’t think so. I believe that almost all the undiscovered artists on the planet are asking the wrong questions because they’ve been sold the Hollywood dream, which was designed to collect money from desperate people, much like the lottery, not create business opportunities for artistic entrepreneurs. Very few people win a little, even fewer people win big and almost everybody loses. The good news is that there’s one major difference between trying to make it in the music biz and buying a lottery ticket. As a music artist you have the option to manage and effectively improve your results. You can do your research, ask the right questions and get the answers that will help you move forward, or at the very least, enlighten you as to what your next move should be.
The 2 questions I think every artist should ask are:
1. Do I want to pursue a career in music if fame is unlikely and sustainable income may only come after years of hard work and thousands, or even tens of thousands, of dollars are invested?
2. Am I humble enough to accept how people really feel about my music? Don’t answer this question too quickly. Yes, you’ve recorded and performed your music and, yes, some listeners swear that they looooove it! They say things like “how are you not signed?!” and “fire!,” but do those 200 Facebook likes and comments turn into 200 people at your show? Is your target market (not including your friends and family) coming to your events? Are a fair number of people buying, or at least, sharing your music? If you’re happy with a pat on the back from social media and next to know sales or concert attendance, then you really don’t want to accept how people really feel about your music.
If you can honestly answer yes to both of those questions then I think you’re at least in a position to start taking control of your career. You can start organizing and prioritizing your short term goals, which will allow them to organically grow into your long term goals.
Let’s talk about the first short term goal that will build a solid foundation for your career.
Create compelling music
There’s a difference between good art and compelling art. Millions of people create good music every day but most of those people fail to convert listeners outside of their circles into real fans, because in a world where everybody can have anything they want whenever they want, good isn’t good enough. Take your feelings about your art out of the equation for a second and think of it from an unbiased, logical point of view. You need to create something that is among the best of its kind and will feed an existing desire or you need to create an entirely new desire within people that wasn’t there before. If your latest single sounds like a Drake song but isn’t anywhere near as good as a Drake song, then all you’ve done is demonstrate to the listener that Drake makes better songs than you. So if you’re going to write for Drake’s market, then you better be comparable or better then he is at what he does. If you succeed here, you’ll have a large group of trained ears for your release and success might come quick. Don’t be surprised if it goes as quickly as it comes though. Those fans aren’t as loyal to you as they are to the trend. Once the trend fades, you’ll probably be left in the dust. If, on the other hand, you decide to be innovative with your sound, then you’re pitching your music to a much smaller pool of open-minded music enthusiasts that will hopefully be inspired enough by your artistic choices to tell their friends. It will be a much slower climb but the fans you gain will be loyal to you because, in this case, you are the trend. Either way, you’re music needs to be better than good.
The answer to the question “how do I create compelling music?” is quite simple. Write, record, share and perform. Accept the response and be brutally honest with yourself when you reassess your work. Don’t be too proud. The vast majority of people that come across your music don’t give a rat’s ass about how you feel about your music; they only care about how they feel about it. It’s ok to need help from experienced songwriters and producers to see the full potential of your ideas. Don’t ever cut corners. Sometimes a friend or an up-and-comer can be the creative partner you’re missing, but a lot of the time, the quality of the final product reflects the $$ investment. The other way I’ve seen artists cut corners is throwing money at a fancy studio or a producer that likes to name-drop because they believe this will fast track their career. The only thing that should concern you when deciding who to work with is the music they’ve created. If they can prove that they have made songs sound the way you want your songs to sound, then you should consider working with them.
Once you find the right creative team, try releasing singles instead of a full album or EP. Not only will that give you time to see how people react to the songs but it will also give you time to reflect on your writing, production choices and overall direction of the project. You need to be able to make adjustments as you go. Be very thorough and patient and the time will come when your art truly moves people. They will give you their hard earned money and they will spread the word for you too.
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