During the pandemic, it can be incredibly difficult to make connections and to find work. Millions are unemployed and creatives everywhere have seen massive layoffs. Music makers are not excluded. The work they do for advertising agencies, music libraries, and other musicians has all been crippled by COVID-19.
I was sent this wisdom from my friend Jason Rudd and found it to be poignant and encouraging.
Originally written by Kevin Paez.
Creative people are needed. Don’t believe the nonsense that you are not essential. I would argue that creativity is what gets us out of the current state of the world, in every challenge we face.
Successful creators know from experience that the very limitations and parameters that are given are not defeating, but rather spark and focus the imagination.
In light of that, here are some things that have repeatedly come up for me during the lock down:
Maintain your health. Don’t catch, don’t spread. Move. Sweat. Eat like you are in training for the best phase of your life. Research some dietary improvements, vitamins.
Avoid neglect of your talents and skills. They are more valuable than you are being led to believe.
Practice intellectual hygiene. Deploy Occam’s Razor early and often. It does cut down so much nonsense, so quickly.
Limit your social media engagement. You are not obligated to explain Occam’s Razor to people who are unable to think critically.
Be efficient with your energy. It is very easy to get scattered and distracted from basic life when there is a constant stream of scary news. Brainstorm, make lists, and knock things out one at a time. You don’t have to worry about November while you mop, or garden.
I don’t have to mop the garden til November.
Consume quality media. Not just news sources, but books, radio, podcasts, music, film, and episodic TV. Observe and learn from all the elements, production value, performance, space, settings. Consider everything that must have needed to happen to arrive at the release of works. “It takes a village” doesn’t have much value to a considerable contingent of our current society, but the presence of that foolish mentality will diminish. Prepare yourself to collaborate with every willing participant on the team that will get this ship righted.
Stay in touch. After 22 years of being phone-averse, I have noticed I am suddenly keen to check in on voice calls. Zoom with whomever suits you. Call or text those you are missing, or for whom you have concern today. Seek ideas. Listen carefully. Allow people to thrash, rage, cry. I have noticed there is an abundance of direct honesty going around. Welcome it.
If you’re reading this then you’re trying to really dive into who you are as an artist, why you’re driven to do this in the first place, and what that means for your career, your audience, and your brand.
1: WHAT MAKES YOU WANT TO DO THIS IN THE FIRST PLACE?
Be as descriptive as possible.
Why is this who you are?
Why will you pursue your art no matter what?
What does success look like?
What drives your message?
2: WHAT IS THE CORE OF YOUR MESSAGE AND WHY DOES IT MATTER TO YOU?
What makes your message part of who you are?
Why does it matter to you?
How does it manifest itself in your life?
How does it affect your art at the most basic level? How does it affect your art at the most extreme level?
3: WHY DOES YOUR AUDIENCE NEED TO HEAR YOUR MESSAGE AND WHY DOES IT MATTER TO THEM?
How does it change their life?
How does it make them want to hear more from you?
How does it create a connection between them, their story, and you and yours? Why does that connection matter?
4: HOW DOES YOUR SOUND REFLECT YOUR MESSAGE AND WHY?
What about your sound touches on your message?
What instruments, tones, energies, or vibes best express the feelings behind your writing and message?
What are your influences and why do they affect your message?
What parts of your influences hold the most meaning to you and your audience?
5: KNOWING THESE THINGS, WHO DOES THIS MESSAGE AND SOUND MOST EFFECTIVELY TARGET AND WHAT IS THEIR DEMOGRAPHIC?
Age? Social class? Ethnic background? Successes in life? Failures and struggles? Schooling level? Geographic location?
Why do these things tie back into their connection to your message and your art?
Why does your sound resonate with them? Who else do they listen to?
6: WHAT VISUALS EMBODY YOUR MESSAGE? HOW DO THOSE VISUALS CONNECT WITH YOU? YOUR AUDIENCE?
Movies? TV shows? Artists?
What emotions do those visuals convey to you?
What emotions are conveyed to your audience by them?
Why do these emotions create a connection between you and your audience?
How do these visuals tell a story that aligns with your music?
7. HOW DO ALL OF THESE THINGS COMBINE TO PAINT A COMPREHENSIVE VISION FOR YOURSELF?
If you could make one wish to put yourself in any position in the industry what would that look like?
In a perfect world, how does your audience respond to your music? How does it affect them?
In a perfect world, how much money does this career make for you?
How many live shows are you playing? What do those look like?
How do your sound and visual brand intersect to accurately convey your message and vision on the deepest level?
How does your visual brand affect merchandising? How does your sonic brand affect it?
Now it’s time for self-reflection.
WHERE ARE YOU AT IN YOUR CAREER AND WHERE DO YOU WANT TO BE?
What are your past successes? Past failures?
What have you learned so far? How have you changed and adapted yourself to implement these learnings?
HOW TRUE TO YOUR VISION ARE YOU BEING AND HOW IS IT AFFECTING YOUR CAREER?
Are you effectively pursuing every avenue to bring that vision to life? Why? Why not?
What does fully committing to that vision look like to you? Are you doing it?
What is your audience getting out of your vision right now? What would you like them to get out of it?
Is your current artistic product a fully effective conveyance of your vision? Is it exactly what you hear in your head when you imagine your sound?
How true to who you are in the product you’re releasing? How true to who your audience is it?
If it isn’t, what would happen if it was?
If it is, what’s the next step for you as an artist?
HERE IS WHERE TO GO WITH THIS.
Hopefully, this has helped you put your career in perspective on some level. There are like a billion places to go with this but the first place to start is with the areas you are struggling with.
Chances are, if everything is going perfectly you’re not one of the people filling this out. It’s also equally likely that this worksheet has highlighted some areas you need to work on. That’s good. Once you know what the problem area is you can begin to solve it.
First, make music people want to hear. Meeting industry-standard quality is a prerequisite for having an actual career. You can get away with it [not meeting quality standards] at high levels when you have dedicated fans.
If you want to be commercially successful you have to identify an audience and create value for them.
Just because you have a high-end record with top tier production, mixing, and mastering, does NOT mean that it will perform well if marketed poorly or not at all. Targeted marketing is important. Marketing amazing music to the wrong audience is bad marketing.
Figure out your “character” and create a “character profile” for your target audience.
Create content that connects with your “character” and hand-deliver to groups, hashtags, pages, etc, that they live in. Interact with people one on one.
e.g. For a politically conscious synth wave project, because of the political bent, we would regularly take footage of world events, use video editing to make them look extremely retro, and then back them with original synth wave music and attach some kind of existential blurb on top. We used memes that said things that our target character profile agreed with. We would write blog-style posts about issues that our audience deals with.
Brand Identity sample questions
Who are you as a creative? What defines you as an artistic idea?
What has led you to become this way?
What value do you want to get out of your career as an artist?
What value do you want to get out of your own music?
What value do you want your fans to get out of your music?
What unique stories about yourself can you tell that will resonate with people?
What lifestyle would you like to see your music provide for you?
What personality issues do you have that will make it hard for you to have a music career?
What personality traits do you have that will help you succeed in music?
What is your long term mission and vision as an artist?
Who do you want to be 5 years from now? Why?
Target Market sample questions
What does your fan do for a living?
How old are they?
Are they mostly men? Mostly women? Nonbinary?
Where do they live? Why do they live there?
What are their hobbies? What kind of value do these hobbies add to their life?
What do they like to eat? Do they cook at home a lot? Eat out?
Where do they hang out online? What social media platforms?
Who are they fans of on Social Media? Who are they engaging with?
What are their favorite types of entertainment?
What are their favorite shows? Movies?
What other artists are they listening to?
What videogames (if any) do they play?
What political issues are they passionate about?
What do they hate talking about?
What do they love talking about?
What kind of religious values do they have?
What has been a chief circumstantial struggle for them?
What has been a chief personal struggle for them?
What’s the biggest lesson they’ve had to learn about themselves?
What’s the biggest lesson they’ve had to learn about others?
What are their goals in life?
What are the primary roadblocks to those goals?
What do they do that they don’t want anyone to know about?
If your fan was going to tell you a secret, what would it be?
How trustworthy are they to their friends and family?
How successful have their romantic and personal relationships been?
Why have their relationships been the way they are?
Do they do drugs? With what level of seriousness?
To find out more about music coaching services, reach out and book a free consulting session by contacting me.
It’s Hard To Get Ahead In The Music Business, Working With The *Right* Kind Of Industry Expert Will Make All The Difference
(Listen to the episode of The Music Industry Blueprint w/ Rick Barker that inspired this post here starting at 25:42.)
Music business expert Rick Barker notes that the little differences between a music manager and a music career coach are actually vastly important. Notably, a music manager is a big-picture planner, an engineer for success that directs the flow of your progress in the most profitable directions(s) possible. A music career coach is focused on the minutiae of your day-to-day experience as an artist and will give you the tools you need to turn your raw talent, skills, and vision into a polished finished product. Both are almost-always essential to an artist’s success in the music business, yet working with either is not always appropriate depending on your level of achievement.
In this article, you’ll learn how to tell which you need right now.
You’re Ready For A Music Manager If:
1. You’re making money from your music (either for yourself or, potentially, for a label).
Music managers are most often paid through a kind of profit-sharing scheme wherein if (and when) you make money, they get paid. In the past, that created situations where managers worked incredibly hard, yet weren’t paid for their work until after the artist made it big. Because labels are no longer built to make music stars from scratch, managers are no longer responsible for that, either. If you’re not at the point in your career where you are profiting from your music and your fanbase (so your manager gets paid), you’re not ready for a manager.
2. You’re making money and/or drawing requests for collaboration, but you want to negotiate stronger contracts.
A music manager is your employee. They work for you, and because their paycheck is directly tied to your profits, they will always aim to connect you with opportunities, other artists, and industry collaborators that will grow your success. As expert negotiators, their job is also to ensure you are treated fairly in any collaboration or contract you engage in and to represent you to shareholders . If you’re not at the point in your career where you are involved (or about to be involved) in contract, collaboration, and other negotiations, you’re not ready for a manager.
3. You know who you are and what you want as an artist, but you need somebody to tell you (and arrange for you to) take actionable steps to get there.
Music managers have a strong entrepreneurial spirit, a knack for understanding how data translates into real-world information about your fanbase, and a close proximity to the music industry. Mostly, they figure out innovative, effective, industry-leading strategies to strengthen your following and increase your profits. This includes spearheading everything from marketing campaigns to new revenue streams like tours and features . A music manager needs data (video views, social media engagement, sales, gig attendance) to do their job, so if you’re not yet established as a business with marketing and revenue-building campaigns, you’re not ready for a manager.
4. You’ve come up against something in your career that you truly cannot navigate.
A music manager is also an excellent problem solver. They have an extensive network of industry contacts and a wealth of knowledge about the music business. When artists reach a point in their careers where they don’t have the connections or the finances to overcome a roadblock, a music manager is there to leverage their connections, knowledge, and oftentimes their checkbook to clear the way . They unlock advancement by using connections and networking. If the challenges you’re facing are things you could solve if you had different or stronger skills, you’re not ready for a manager.
5. You need a big-picture person and you need to upgrade the people in your life.
A music manager, when you have one, will be your big-picture person. Their focus will be to clarify your goals and hold you accountable to your contractual obligations for growth and momentum as a brand. They will be the one who will identify and oversee other team members (lawyers, business manager, agent, etc) so that you can focus on developing your strengths as an artist . If you’re still at the point in your career where you need to hash out the small details — your unique branding and sound — you’re not ready for a manager.
You Need A Music Coach If:
1. You’re willing to invest in yourself.
At some point, a label is going to become willing to invest in you. Before that can happen, though, you’re responsible for investing in yourself and working to develop your career on your own/with the guidance of an industry professional who you directly compensate for their time. Music managers will most often approach you if you are label-ready. If they haven’t, it’s probably because you don’t need a manager; you need a music coach. And if you can’t afford $1000 a year to hire a coach to educate you, then you’re probably in the wrong business.
2. You don’t know how to be a good advocate for yourself or your vision as an artist.
Being your own advocate is about more than just contract negotiation (though it does involve contract negotiation). Overall, it is a process by which you learn to hear, listen to, and respect your inner voice . As a recording artist, you are going to be surrounded by people who are constantly trying to influence you and the direction of your growth. Before you can be successful in such a noisy, cutthroat space, you need to not only acquire leadership and negotiation skills, but also a strong sense of self and vision and the ability to defend them.
3. You aren’t quite sure who you are as a brand or an artist, and you need somebody to teach you how (and support your efforts) to take actionable steps to get there.
Music managers are profit-focused and use data-driven tactics to improve your numbers. Music coaches are security- and strength-focused and use skill-building tactics to help you become more established as a musician and brand. Those tactics include exploring in-industry jobs and gig opportunities, learning about live performances and other direct-networking practices, finding vocal and instrumental coaches, developing better social media marketing and streaming practices, preparing for auditions/interviews/first-impressions, designing a productive daily creative habit, etc . They can do many of the same things that a traditional day-to-day manager might do, without a label deal or royalty contract.
4. You’ve come up against something in your career that you’re unsure how to navigate.
A music coach’s job has some overlap, here, with a music manager’s role in that they both want you to be able to move forward. However, while a manager will expect you to already have all the skills and confidence necessary to solve problems that are solvable (by you), a music coach will be more understanding of your insecurities or weaknesses. Their job is to facilitate breakthroughs — whether skill-based or confidence-based — to enable you to move forward . Oftentimes, that involves “lifting limiting assumptions” or empowering you to recognize your strengths and abilities .
5. You need someone detail-oriented to identify gaps between where you are and where you want to be.
A music coach, when you have one, will be your detailer. Their entire job focus will be to pay attention to the small (potentially underdeveloped) details of your music career with an eye for helping you stay on track toward your larger, long term goals . Sometimes, that even means they’ll help you form and clarify measurable, attainable long term goals. Other times, it means they’ll simply guide you to the next step in your development, where a music manager will become helpful. A music coach’s impact on your career is responsive to where you are now.
Working with the right people at the right time is essential to your success in the music business. A music coach’s job is to help you get from wherever you are now to wherever you want to be, while a music manager’s job is to turn you from a modest success into a very profitable one. For many artists, working with a music coach is an often-overlooked but incredibly important step in developing their potential as a recording artist. If you want to max out your chances of succeeding in the music business, consider the above-listed conditions of your current career. Working with a music coach, not a music manager, will give you the tools to develop the mindset and strategies necessary to be successful.
To find out more about music coaching services, reach out, and book a free consulting session by contacting me.
Advice Inspired By The Music Industry Blueprint Podcast With Rick Barker
(Listen to the full episode of The Music Industry Blueprint with Rick Barker that inspired this post here.)
There have never been more or better opportunities for success in the music industry, so if you’re feeling stuck, it’s likely because the industry is evolving in ways you’re not. Don’t make the mistake of thinking that you won’t recognize success until it happens to you. There are infinite ways to not be successful. Even among people who get signed by a label, only one in twenty-five will put out an album.
If you sit around and wait for it to come to you when you’re not looking for it, it won’t. Apply the following tools and it just might.
1. Be Willing To Try Things Differently
The bottom line is: your lack of progress is proof that you aren’t doing enough of the right things. Whether what you are doing is too little, too much, or flawed, you need to be willing to try something different. That is especially true if it means pushing yourself out of your comfort zone.
The industry is always changing, so you must change with it. That is not to say that you should make random or unproven changes to your business practices. Rather, you should adjust your behaviors by design; some approaches, attitudes, and behaviors are known contributors to success.
2. Stop Looking For Shortcuts To Success
About overnight success: it is a mirage. Nobody stumbles into success. The goal of being plucked from obscurity and placed at the top of the Billboard charts is wildly unattainable.
In today’s music industry, labels are not designed to make you successful. They are not there to build you from scratch or to find fans for you. They are amplifiers, giving you the reach to make you *more* successful. Calling an artist a sensation makes a better story. But that mythology belies the work you must do to get your music in front of people who want to hear it.
3. Be More Business-Like
Creatives often hate calling what they’re doing a business. They’re making art, moving people, and giving voice to the human experience, which is far from business-like. People sometimes acknowledge that they’re building a brand, but then resist seeing that as more than picking colors and logos to complement their organic self.
The thing is, approaching what you’re doing with a business mindset makes you more likely to recognize what is and isn’t working for you. A plan, target market, and marketing strategy create metrics to determine which actions and behaviors are moving you forward and which are holding you back.
4. Decide Where You Want To Go And How You’ll Get There
You need to know where you want to go and how long it will take you to get there. The key to that first part is to be specific about how you will identify and measure what success is to you. The key to the second part is to be patient and pragmatic; expecting overnight success will set you up to see failure even in incremental progress.
Combining those elements will establish a plan to recognize what success will be at each point in your professional development journey. Good business strategy will look different at different stages of your experience.
5. Know Who Your People Are And Know Your Role In Their Lives
Good business is not just about making good music. Rather, it is about making sure your music has an audience and asking what (more) you can do to max out your engagement with them.
Your fans give you a career. Your music and your brand are about them. It’s your song, but it’s their story. It’s your brand, but they have to feel connected to who you are. Maintain a “one-to-many” strategic focus; work to find ways to make people feel like you are reaching out to them as an individual even though you are speaking to the larger group.
6. Meet Your People Where They’re At
Expend as much effort engaging your audience as you do making music. Youtube is the #1 platform for music discovery. But you should still develop a consistent,*specific* presence on each of the most industry-impacting social media platforms (Instagram, Twitter, Facebook, Youtube). Each one speaks a different language to a different user base.
Don’t just cross-post and/or the only post when you want something; you’ll alienate your people by seeming like a lazy opportunist. It’s a cutthroat industry with crowded, noisy engagement platforms. Your branding has to be on point and you must actively seek out, build, and maintain attachment.
7. Look At The Right Numbers
Targeting a large audience and having a lot of low-resonance followers isn’t the best plan. Vanity metrics (follower/subscriber numbers) are less important than engagement (the percent of followers that like, share, comment).
It is a better business strategy to target a small community well than it is to appeal a little bit to everyone.
Even if you change or bridge genres, your genre should always be music that resonates with your people.
Your audience engagement levels will forecast your ability to sell albums, concert tickets, and merchandise, and a paying audience is a huge metric (and predictor) for success.
8. Praise The Process, Not The Person
It’s tempting to think that the road to success would be shorter and smoother if you knew people at the top of the industry who could help you cut corners. But success is more about who you know at your level.
If you don’t have high-quality metrics, demos, or bookings, don’t try to skip steps by throwing your music at the head of a label. Focus on networking with the people who can help you increase your engagement and monetization, get better recordings, and gain access to stages where the next-level people will see you when you’re ready for them.
9. You Are The Architect Of Your Own Success
Fans give you a career, connections give you opportunities, and labels polish you and put you on a stage, yet your success ultimately hinges on your work ethic. There’s no substitute, not even money, for having a plan or for the networking you do to connect with fans and industry professionals.
There’s also no substitute for pushing yourself out of your comfort zone. Whether that involves admitting that your music and/or branding is missing the mark or relocating to a music hub where you’ll have to compete for the stage, you ultimately create the conditions that enable your success.
10. Develop Your Strengths And Delegate To Compensate For Your Weaknesses
Many music industry creatives don’t have the time or energy to develop their strengths into selling points; they do too much. Then they stall out when they come up against problems that they lack the skills to solve and pour all their effort into doing things that they aren’t uniquely good at doing.
But you don’t have to do everything on your own. There is no shame in delegating tasks to people who will excel at them. The most successful people in the industry focus on doing what they are good at and remain undistracted by what they are not.
Hang In There
Now that we’re at the end of the post, if you feel optimistic and have new ideas about how to steer yourself towards success, that’s great. If that’s not what you’re feeling, if you feel like you’re up against an obstacle that you aren’t sure how to navigate, there is still some good news. You can try doing things differently. You can surround yourself with people whose strengths compensate for your weaknesses.
If that is the level you’re at, I’m the right person for you to know. Reach out and book a free consulting session.