Before you ask the question, how do I “make it” in the music biz, you must first answer a question: what do you mean by “make it” in the music biz? After all, how you define your goals determines whether or not you have successfully achieved them. Does “making it” in music mean global fame and selling out large concert venues all over the world? Sure. I don’t think anyone would argue that Beyoncé or Jay-Z have “made it” in music. But what about the little known musician who plays hundreds of shows a year, self-releases their own music through the various digital channels now available (and even has a small distribution deal for physical CDs, LPs, etc.), and pulls in anywhere between $50-150k per year solely through their music? Hasn’t that musician “made it” too?
If you are an artist who makes music because you are compelled to create and express the emotion that lives inside of you, then “making it” in music should be about developing a sustainable career in music, where you can spend your life working as an artist and creating your music. That is a very different proposition than craving fame or a life filled with material excess. Not that there is anything wrong with fame or money – by all means, please enjoy both should they come your way. But it shouldn’t be the goal and you need to not get distracted by these things or adjust your business plan in order to achieve them. Building a sustainable career in music is by definition a long-term plan, and one which requires extreme dedication, hard work and patience. Rarely is overnight stardom involved.
There is no precise formula for building a career in music, but there are some basic principles that apply. Here’s what I know:
· You Have to Be Music. You have to know that you are an artist and that music is your greatest value and the gift that you unequivocally must bring to the world. Music must be your purpose. And you just can’t say it (there is no faking this one), you have to know it and believe in yourself. You are but a vessel through which music must speak and be heard. This is the hardest step because too often people are not honest with themselves. Sure, they may say they love music and may be talented, but the truth is they end up pursuing music for a variety of other reasons and not because it is their entire being and they absolutely have to. Maybe it’s the potential fame or exciting lifestyle, or maybe they figure they’ll just give it a shot because at that moment they have nothing to lose and, hey, a career in music could be fun. The truth is, if you are pursing music for any reason other than the fact that music is a reflection of your soul, then a sustainable long-term career is probably not what you really want and you will be less likely to succeed. If, however, you truly are music, the rest will not be so hard.
· You Have to Work Really Hard. Simply being music is not enough; you also have to work really hard on making your music into a career. The good news is, if you are music, the hard work should not be that painful and you should revel in the process of building your musical career. The hard work starts with mastering your craft, practicing and becoming the best musician, singer, songwriter, performer, etc., that you can be, constantly looking to improve yourself. You should strive for perfection in every little step taken and note played or sung. Again, if you are music, this should come naturally and not be a burden at all. If you don’t enjoy mastering your craft, maybe you are in the wrong craft. Next is mastering the business of music and building a career based on your craft. You will have to completely immerse yourself in how the industry works and understand how the potential revenue streams work. If you are really not business savvy, you’ll have to try and find someone who can help you out with this part, and take on a partner of sorts (i.e., a manager). Either way, you (or someone on your team) will need to understand the business of music from all angles so that you can aggressively and strategically pursue the many outlets now available to independent musicians.
· You Have to Never Give Up. This goes without saying. You can’t make music for your career if you stop making music. Stay at it. And stay focused. Remember, the goal here is to make a living making music. Too often, artists give up because they find that the living they are making is not enough. They want more. They feel that they are not getting enough back from their music and the hard work they are putting out. The reality is, if music is truly who you are, then being able to make a living (no matter how modest) that supports your music and gives you the freedom and opportunity to share your music with audiences big or small is all that should matter. If you are frustrated that you can’t buy a house yet, then what you really want is a house, and music is only secondary. In that case, get a job working for someone else doing something you probably don’t enjoy that will pay you enough to afford a house, and buy that house, or car, or whatever it is you feel you deserve out of life. Maybe that’s “making it” to you. Otherwise, keep doing what you were born to do and love. Keep making music, and be grateful that you can make a career doing so. Before you know it, as you continue to build a sustainable long-term career in music, some of that fame and money that others crave so immediately may start to pour in. And the house that is your musical career that you built with passion, hard work and integrity will have a much stronger foundation.
For more on why musicians fail, check out this article: http://www.musicthinktank.com/blog/why-do-musicians-always-feel-disappointed-about-their-career.html
To read some success stories about artists you probably never heard of who are making a living in music, check out this article: http://www.digitalmusicnews.com/permalink/2013/12/23/full-time-musicians