Let’s be honest. This business is tough. In fact, it may be the most brutal of them all. But there’s one thing that remains true: the last man (or woman) standing wins the prize.
Not everyone is cut out for a career in music. You must face constant rejection, play to empty rooms, learn to navigate the evolving business climate (moving from physical sales to digital to streaming, etc.) There is a whole lot of supply and not a ton of demand. Lots of people want to play, but most of them aren’t willing to put in the time and effort it takes to thrive in the music world.
Everyone wants to play music, especially these days, because they see people making beats on their laptop and decide they can do the same. This causes the market to be flooded with people who just want a quick trip to fame. So they invest little time in their craft and ultimately end up giving up when they face a little adversity, because they were in it for the wrong reasons from the get go.
If you’re like me and have 10 or 12 years invested in the music business, it’s can feel like beating a dead horse. It’s easy to wonder if you’re ever going to catch a break.
Here are a few bits of advice to keep you going. If you implement them, stay true to who you are and your specific path, I believe in the end you can accomplish your dreams of being successful in the music business.
Set small goals to keep you going. As you accomplish these, they can give you the strength to keep moving forward and the sense of accomplishment you need to hang on a little longer.
What feels overwhelming sometimes is the sense that you’ll NEVER get there. Sure, your end goal make take you years, maybe even most of a lifetime, but the small steps along the way are great accomplishments in themselves and deserve to be celebrated.
If you’re fairly new to a music career as a songwriter, set a goal of writing enough songs for an EP or album. Maybe you want to find a producer to help you craft your sound. Set a goal to raise enough money to work with this producer. Maybe you’ve been playing awhile and you want increase attendance. Set a goal to get 50 people out to your show.
These small milestones will help you feel like you’re headed somewhere. They are important steps in the career of an artist and deserve to be celebrated. Don’t overlook them by letting the lifetime goals overshadow the stepping stones it takes to get there.
Define where it is you want to go. Name and visualize what success looks like to you personally. This way you will know when you’ve arrived. Without a guidepost, it can feel like the end will never come and that you’re endlessly pursuing a white rabbit down an infinite hole.
Some people want to be famous. This may satisfy for awhile, but as you can see with the Kardashians, there is no end to the thirst for the limelight. If this is what you want, go for it, but I have a feeling it’ll leave you empty in the long run.
A better goal might be to reach the masses with your message. This pursuit of influence is based upon the message rather than the desire to be noticed or loved. Martin Luther King Jr. had something to say and he wasn’t going to stop until the message was heard. Yes he became famous in the process because the world needed to hear what he had to say. But if he had pursued fame over the message, it would have watered down the message and wouldn’t have lasted in the grand scheme of history.
By defining where you want to go, it’ll help you outline the steps to get there. Rather than wondering when you’re going to arrive at some ethereal destination that is constantly just out of reach, your dream becomes tangible and measurable.
Don’t quit. Whatever you do. If this is what you want, and you know deep down in your soul music is what makes you tick, don’t stop even if it seems like all hope is lost. Chances are breakthrough is right around the corner.
A great example is soul singer Charles Bradley. There is a great documentary about his story called Soul of America. He spent 60 years of his life in a James Brown cover band, working odd jobs, taking care of his mother, and drudging through life wondering when his break would come. Finally as a 60 something year old man, he caught a break with Daptone Records, put out an album and was named by Rolling Stone Magazine is one of the top albums of that year. Now he has three albums out and is a successful touring musician.
You never know what’s around the corner. Most people will quit. That leaves room for the ones who don’t. If you stick with it, believe in yourself, define where it is you want to go, set up goals and plans to get there, and most importantly NEVER QUIT, I believe it’s only a matter of time before you become successful in the music business.
Start at the beginning of this series: Part One