Breaking into the music industry has always been a challenge for artists from all genres. There are tens of thousands of artists vying for attention and gigs, and that’s on top of the artistic challenge of getting the inspiration for new songs, finding the right melody or beat, and dealing with band member personalities. The whole process can be overwhelming, especially considering the constant flux the music industry presents.
But, explains composer and producer Rodney Alejandro, “No band ever became successful by accident. It took passion, planning and persistence.” Despite the thousands of tips on joining the music industry readily available online, knowing where to start is something completely different. To help you, I’m going to share essential tips on how to make a long-term career in the music industry that you can start implementing right now.
1. Create something your audience will love.
To truly have a lucrative career, you must create music an audience wants to hear. “Gone are the days of record labels creating rock stars,” says producer Julie Pyle of Jayde Monroe Productions. “To be successful in the industry today, a band must act as its own CEO and create a strong and unique brand.” It’s vital to channel your passion to find the right sound, genre, topics, image, and target audience for the music you create. Your music brand is no different than any other, so it’s vital that you do adequate market research to know:
- Where is your audience?
- How old is your audience?
- What music do they currently listen to?
- What do they want to hear more of?
- What do they hate?
- Where do they listen to music?
- Where do they buy their music?
2. Help them relate to your brand.
Despite your creative flare, your desire to be unique, and perhaps your lack of care for pleasing the masses, you are no different to any other brand — meaning you have to be likable. For your audience to take an interest in you, you need to first create good music, and second, portray yourself in a way that your audience can relate to. Be personable, show personality, and portray yourself as an authority figure in the industry by leading the curve.
Mike Varney of Shrapnel Records says this about creating your own personal style: “There is always a curve in each genre of music and you have to be careful not to jump on an existing bandwagon that is phasing out. You take the chance of falling behind the curve, as other bands who are more cutting edge shape the industry. Hopefully, you can see the curve and naturally create music which will be perceived as fresh and not a rehash of what has been popular in the previous years.”
3. Promote your music on the right online channels.
You need to promote yourself online, of course, but it’s more important that you choose the right channels to do so. Having a website and maintaining an active presence on social media are both essential, but you also need to make sure you appear on Spotify specifically. Spotify is dominating the online music industry and if you can get yourself into one person’s playlist, others will follow.
4. Promote your music offline, too.
Online is where you will reach your largest audience and following, but the radio still plays a very important role in the music industry.
Once you are established in your city, and you’ve played a lot of gigs and gotten to know people, ask local DJs if they will spin your record. Once local DJs are playing your songs, bigger market radio stations will likely follow suit.
Aside from having your songs on the radio, you should also aim to get some air time doing interviews and playing live sets. Ask for interviews on local radio stations that coincide with big gigs, which will help you not only get the word out about your show, but also get you more exposure on the radio. Interviews will help your audience relate to you as a person and show them that you are more than just another name.
5. Prepare for a bumpy road.
Remember, you need to earn a living while making your fortune from your music — it’s feast or famine in the music industry so prepare for the worst while expecting the best. Consider keeping your day job while you write new songs, play live gigs and establish yourself in the music community in your town. Once you start seeing an income solely from your music, you can dump everything else and invest yourself fully.
Nothing happens overnight, and that goes for making it in the music industry. You need to be prepared to stick with it for the long haul — sometimes 10 to 20 years, maybe more. You also need to know that financial times may be tough during your journey but that with one break, it could all be worth it. But, says Alex Grossi of Quiet Riot, “If you truly love music and want it badly enough, anything is possible.”
6. Diversify to stay alive.
If you decide to quit your job to pursue your music professionally, you need to find ways to make money that will allow you to progress. Aside from getting your name out there and networking with the right people at relevant music industry events and gigs, you could also start giving music lessons, play weddings and other events, run sound for gigs around town, and/or learn how to produce other local artists.
7. Be someone you are proud of.
All of us aim to be the best that we can be. Unfortunately, the media tends to focus on the negatives wherever they can, meaning that you need to make sure that there is nothing negative to discuss. Aside from always wearing a smile and being a genuinely nice person, keep yourself sane by acting in a way that you can look back on and be proud of.
Also the music industry can be difficult on your personal life. Maintain balance by having relationships outside of your industry.
8. Don’t go it alone.
The term, “It isn’t what you know but who you know,” is especially true when it comes to the music industry. To succeed you can’t do it alone; you need to meet the right people that can get you a foot in the door. Artists can be notoriously reclusive as you need downtime to create, but make it a point to hang out with like-minded creatives, support other artists, make friends in the industry, and form alliances. It seems like it’s silly, but attending events and conferences and going to other people’s gigs can catapult you to success.
9. Never complain.
There’s an old saying that goes, “Want an artist to complain? Give them a gig.” The only time you can complain in the music industry is if you are fighting to protect what you believe in. Voice your opinions about artistic matters, tell people your vision and always share your music, but if you start complaining about venue management, not being given a shot, or streaming payouts, you won’t get the respect you need to succeed.
Be ready to put in the hours. If you have a team that works long hours and pushes you to your limits, it’s a good thing. It means that not only do they value you, but they believe in you. Say yes to every music related opportunity that comes your way, and once you’re a bit more established, you can start being a bit pickier.
10. Change the world.
True artists strive for change. There is a constant drive to make themselves and their audiences a little better than they left them. If your songs are popular it means they are inevitably making an impact, and that impact you make could change people’s lives; so try to create every piece of music with the aim of bettering the world. Don’t second guess yourself, ignore any hatred that comes your way and make people connect to your music on a level that positively influences their lives.
The music industry is a tough one to get into, but even more difficult to stay in. But don’t get discouraged — many artists have come from only a dream to a full time living in the music business. If you really want to succeed you are going to need more than talent: you need to live, eat, and sleep music. You also need to mingle with the right people and be proactive every step of the way. Remember, once you achieve your goals it’ll all be worth it, so start implementing the tips outlined above in your daily routine and you’ll be in a stronger position to succeed in 2017.