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Are you serious about your music career? Read on..

I know nothing about "making it big", but I know how musicians should build they career in music....

Back in 60’s, 70’s and beginning of 80’s the western culture was driven mostly by music. At that time, everybody knew a song after hearing the first couple of notes. Everybody at a party knew the songs. It was one of the easiest, deep and meaningful ways of communication between people. Sometimes in 70’s the corporate took over the music business, and for a while, despite some major changes – like MTV taking over the radio, the massive invasion of indie labels, the hip hop – they were doing just fine. Enter Napster; the majors choose to battle an already lost war, a road to nowhere... the dices were thrown, the pop culture suffered a massive change... it still does. The majors are not really needed as they used to be; the artists can do it on their own.

However, that is not easy, there’s a new sheriff in town, with different rules, and the first rule may be: “there are no rules...” and the second is:” the first rule apply except for the distribution” which is still an old rule. In plain English, the question is how do you get your music out for people to listen to it. Read again, and understand I didn’t say for people to buy it, but to listen to it. Does that change everything my friends? Of course it does...

The Internet of things was a big, huge promise, that now everybody has the same chance to be heard. But, just because listening to music is so easy, and the time is limited, many are so frustrated that, when they clicked on a song, they didn’t hear great music... they are loosing their trust and willingness to go and check new music, so, despite the fact that everybody can post anything, some selection rules and criteria got to be in place, and one says that the differentiation is most of the time made with resources and knowhow. You know actually that not everybody has the resources and knowhow.

So, I get to the point where you may ask: what does that has to do with my music career, with my future? It’s part of the facts you have to have in mind when you decide what you want: to have a career in music or to “make it big” in this music business. I know nothing about “making it big”, so, if you continue to read, you may find interesting things about building a music career...

I have a lot of friends, and I had many clients, and they are making a very good living having a career in music. You didn’t hear of most of them, but they are doing just fine. For them music is a career, either if they play, teach, produce, manage acts. They are what I call professionals, they prepare themselves all their life, they know what they’re doing, they do not dream the glitter, they are very serious and dedicate their whole professional time to music. They are like doctors, engineers, technicians, lawyers, pharmacists… they went to music schools, they study many hours every day, they play with other musicians, they created their network, they worked every minute of their professional life to build a career, and they did not think for a minute in terms of “making it big!” And they enjoy almost every minute of it.

They are looking very careful when they associate with somebody; if they are in a band they are looking not only for musicians that they can play with, but they analyze their human qualities. They are studying the market and decide which way is better to sell their music or to get gigs, they understand what it means to go into a real partnership, they know success doesn’t come overnight, it comes slowly, the same way you build a house, brick by brick, and the next brick is always the most important one. And, before I forget: they do not complain about everything around them as the cause of their failures!

They also know that money is important, and money keeps things going around, and making music is work and work has to be paid! Money is not evil, poverty is evil. They also know well that luck and opportunities are not coming by accident, you need to work to get there!

Interesting enough, you don’t hear about these people in the media; media needs to sell, and the existence of a middle class guy that makes a comfortable living through music has nothing spectacular. Media feeds on stories about the big stars, to satisfy the crowd desire of sensational stories… Even more, there is no interest from the musicians to let others know all the intricacies of what they do… and why would they do otherwise? Just to get more competition?

These people are all around you: playing in clubs, at events, teaching music, playing in different orchestras in theatres, session musicians… Very few people know that the people on the so called “list A” of session musicians are making the most money after the few big stars. You know some of them: Dominic Miller, Nathan East, Andy Fearwheather, Joe Satriani (the only studio musician that went to stardom actually)…

Of course, on the way to the top, for those who are extremely talented and determined, experience will built up steady, so, once the top is reached, you already are a professional musician. Van Halen played for 10 years before they became known all over, and so many others; nothing came out of thin air…

Like with everything else, you need to have a plan. First, you need to look around and see how things are happening. Think of the successful musicians that are doing overall the same kind of music you’re doing. Then start researching as much as you can about them – choose at least 5 of them. Do it and write down every detail.
  • Check their biography.
  • Go to the music store, look at their CD’s, take a piece of paper, read and write down who is the producer, the [email protected] people, the label, the publishing company, agents, dig the net. Make a list with all these details.
  • Find out how these artists promoted their music with gigs, live concerts, where did they start, how often did they played live, how were their tours organized in time and geographically, who helped them, what was involved. Dismiss the bull about luck, and fancy stories; they are there just for the legend part of it, reality is quite different.
  • Check their website, look how they’re done, make a summary of the content, look for common things between the websites of these artists you are doing the research about.
  • Make note of all the announcements, pay attention to timing.
  • Make a note about the quality of the videos and pictures from the websites, and how they support the artist’s music.
  • Do a research through all the social media: Facebook, Twitter, Pinterest, Instagram, Youtube and Vimeo. Pay attention to the way the interaction with fans is maintained.
  • Check Internet for all the reviews you can find, pay attention when it comes to the people that helped the artists to get a certain sound – producers, mixing engineers.

This exercise has to give you a good idea of what is involved when you are where you want to get (provided of course you have the whole package), and think what the music business industry does to maintain these artists so they bring in the money. You have to start by understanding the target, before you proceed to travel this difficult road.

The second step is to try to be as objective as possible and see where you are at this point (again, if you really believe your music is outstanding and you keep working at it steady). Be cold and think of your actual image, how many fans you have, how often do you play gigs, how many people show up at gigs, and, more important, is the followers’ number growing at these gigs, do you have any sales, what are your connections, who is helping you, who is believing in you… basically take everything you observed at step one and assess yourself in the light of these criteria.

The most essential thing (provided you have the music) is to understand that this is a journey that requires patience, commitment, work, and good attitude; definitely it’s not something that happens overnight. You have years to go, and you have to go the healthy way, to grow up during this journey. We saw too many young talents that were crashed because they could not handle the pressure exerted by the music industry; they were not prepared, all they wanted was to be on the top.

What is different is the mindset: while working for a company provides you with a steady income from the same source, working in music industry forces you to make money from different sources, which is definitely more secure than having a 9 to 5 job. Just think about it: teaching an instrument - either private or in a public school, playing pubs/clubs, selling your music, working as a studio session musician, working as a producer or arranger, create music by request. It takes a while to grasp all these, so you can manage efficiently your time and activity.

This actually increases your chances to get signed or making it big, because you really start to move within music industry, understand how it works, and be more objective when it comes to the master plan you have to pursue it.

Many musicians are basically having a regular day job, thinking that, when the moment arises, they will just do music. Well, this is not going to happen in 999 cases out of 1000! If you spend 8 hours in a regular job, you’ll be left realistically with 2-3 hours/day to take care of the music career, which is far from enough to get you where you want to be. And the chances of miracles happen are close to zero.

That leads to a clear conclusion: you have to develop a plan that builds around your music career, while providing for living. Just consider this: you can get some music students, and therefore have some flexibility in your schedule, so when an opportunity comes up and you are offered a 2 weeks tour, you can do it. That will not bring the money in, but you have to start touring, and maybe at the 8th tour you will get the money, and things start to go well! In order to make money from shows, you need to start somewhere, and, with a regular job, you’ll never be able to do it. It is paramount that you spend the time required to build your music career.

One of my friends has a very good strategy: while he is a computer wizard, he plays piano pretty well, and he gigs regularly with two bands. So, he quit his day job. He still does programming work, but on a contract base, and in his terms, which allows him to dedicate the time to music whenever necessary.

No matter what your dreams are, your plan has to provide the most efficient ways to build an independent music career. I consider this to be the essence of the strategy a serious musician has to have to succeed. The more you succeed following your strategy, the more in control and demand you will be. We will discuss in details the aspects of developing an independent music career.