By, Wendy Day
As you read in Part 1 (read it here: http://bit.ly/ZpHUDR), there are plenty of things artists do that don’t necessarily lead to success. It’s not intentional, it seems to come from a lack of knowledge of how the music industry operates. When knowledge is lacking, everyone loses: the artists get frustrated, the new labels investing in them aren’t profitable, fans don’t get to hear great music, and the music economy suffers. And I get irritable. If I can find and learn the information, everyone can, so there’s no excuse.
While there is certainly more than one way to achieve success as an artist in the music business, there are many ways that do not work. They don’t lead anywhere, but artists don’t know this. And of course when one person makes a wrong move, others follow because this is a copycat industry. There are consequences to every decision we make in life. So choose direction wisely and based on reality, not assumption, of what will work (even if you think you know, there’s a good chance that you do not!). You can try lots of different stuff and hope to get lucky, or you can learn, research, and get input from successful people in the music industry. If you don’t know any, meet some! One way is by attending panel discussions and networking events at conferences, or through social networking. Or read websites, blogs, books, and articles (it’s up to you to decide which are accurate).
Watching other artists, from the outside looking in, isn’t the best way to learn because outsiders don’t get to see everything. Plus, every artist has a different plan, different budgets, and different experience and different teams working them. You really have to do a lot of research (what I did was volunteer to work for free on some properly funded projects until I learned how to do this the right way).
As I mentioned in Part 1, perhaps tweeting P. Diddy, Jay Z, or Birdman isn’t the best idea, but how about reaching out to someone who works for them? What about a manager you heard speak on a panel at SXSW last year? What about an A&R person you read about on a Blog? What about a new artist in Chicago that’s beginning to bubble in the Midwest if you aren’t his or her direct competition? You may have to reach out to many, many people to get just one response, but get as many responses as you can. The key is to ask many SUCCESSFUL people who are doing what you want to be doing, outside of the marketplace in which you live for advice and decide what is true, best, and makes sense for you to apply in your local area (which you will then grow into regional). Then make a plan and stick to it. Set goals and time frames for each goal. And have a budget–if you have no budget, the first item on your Plan should be to raise money or find an investor. You can not build a career as an artist today without money. You can not start ANY business without money. This is a business.
Part 2 of Stuff That Doesn’t Necessarily Lead To Success
1. Shouting YMCMB Every Chance You Get Because You Grew Up With A Friend Of A Friend of Some Guy Who Knows Wayne’s Second Cousin’s Neighbor
Who you want to affiliate with is your business, but just bear in mind that those of us in the industry who do this for a living will wonder why you aren’t on any of the co-signing artist’s music while you’re shouting out their crew’s brand, AND if you are so incredible how come THEY haven’t signed you? Now we’re wondering if there’s something wrong with you because they didn’t sign you. Additionally, co-signs might make you think that you look good on the street with an affiliation, but remember that you then pick up all of that crew’s beef without any of their money and power to protect you. Instead: build your own company or crew to shout out and build relationships (or enemies) based on your own personality. Stand out by having good songs and working them properly. And then outwork every other artist out there. Build you. Affiliations are fads, they come and go in popularity. Don’t be a fad.
2. Having No Measurable Goals
Wandering aimlessly never got anyone from Point A to Point B. Just trying out what you think will work and switching up when it doesn’t gives too much power to chance. It’s like playing Russian Roulette with your career. No wonder so many rappers don’t succeed–they statistically have a better chance of winning the Lottery. Instead: set goals with a realistic timeframe for completion and a way to measure success. Progress can be seen and measured if you have a goal.
3. Your Song Sounds Just Like A Song A Known Artist Put Out (With A Budget) Six Months Ago -or- Your Song Has A Mike Will Made It Beat Except That Mike Will DIDN’T Make It
I come from an era where copying wasn’t acceptable so I may be biased in my assessment of this one. I also realize that many of the newer generation folks in music feel comfortable with “getting over.” For example, it seems popular today to buy blog mentions, social media likes, fake YouTube views, and fake followers on Twitter and YouTube to trick labels into thinking artists are hotter than they really are. I don’t see this building any successful careers however, as the industry seems to realize the scam as they call into the artist’s home areas to hear local clubs, industry tastemakers, and other artists barely know who the artist is. Making a song in the vein of last month’s hit record just makes you look like a clone, plus by the time your song comes out, it’s already sounding old. As soon as Future got hot, a million Future clones sprung up. Stop it! His sound works for him, not you. Ditto for the beats–get you own sound. Instead: build a real buzz on the streets and in clubs; interact with fans on social media and build real relationships with fans who might buy your music and merchandise. Don’t listen to current music and make what you hear on the radio, and if you want a hitmaker’s beat: buy one. Nobody respects a knockoff beat (and you really need respect to gain traction), so start your own sound or pay for the real thing. Authenticity matters.
4. There’s A Secret Or A Contact Someone Is Holding Back That Keeps You From Succeeding
There is no substitute for hard work. If there was, I’d have found it by now. Sometimes when artists seek help, they argue when they don’t get the answer they want to hear. They feel that all they need is that one piece they are missing–the missing link that will open up the success and riches to them, as if someone is holding it back from them. If there is a missing link, it’s either knowledge or hard work. So rather than feel a sense of lacking, apply both–wisdom and grind. Instead: learn all you can about the industry so that you have the knowledge and are in control of your own destiny. No one can hold anything back from you if YOU already have access to the knowledge and information.
5. Securing A Meeting With A Major Label
Some artists finagle meetings on their own through persistence and some are stupid enough to pay for meetings. The only time meeting with a major label has value is when THEY fly YOU in for a meeting. That means they are interested. I know you think they just haven’t discovered you yet and haven’t yet seen what great stuff you offer, but you are wrong. They only want artists with a regional buzz, strong Internet presence, and maybe some radio spins–not one of those things, but ALL of those things. Instead: build a regional buzz and let them come to you. Once you think you might like to sign a deal, THEN go meet on their territory and look over all of the departments and employees to see if they’d be a good fit for you! Let them fly you in.
6. Hiring Or Trusting The Wrong People
I would have listed this one first or second if these were in order of importance, which they aren’t. Most artists hire the first person they meet that they feel can help them. Often excited by the fact that they feel they are one step closer to achieving their dream, they give money to someone unqualified to do the job, or they trust someone unworthy of their trust. I’ve also noticed that artists out of a small city or area that has no other successful artists will hire local people to further their career even though it’s obvious they’ve never built a successful music career for any artist before. Instead: network outside of your little area with folks in bigger cities that HAVE built successful artists before. Go regional! Research everyone you hire–start with Google. Only hire folks with verifiable track records of success. Make sure they have done what they say they have. Even the biggest f*ck boy can get a few folks to co-sign him, so dig deep.
7. Unrealistic Expectations
So many people expect to achieve success within a few months. Some investors expect a return on investment within 120 days. This is unrealistic and puts unfair pressure on everyone to deliver the impossible. Instead: Hire professionals with proven track records of success, and trust their judgment. As long as the project is moving forward steadily, you’re on the right track. Ask professionals in advance an approximation of time this could take. Get all-in budgets of what this will cost from start to finish and THEN decide if it makes sense for your investment. Once you move forward, an artist is a human being that you’re marketing and promoting with needs and dreams. Stopping midway is cruel and short-sighted. Running out of money in the midst of working a hit record is even worse.
8. No Budget To Invest In Your Project
If you are broke, how will you record? buy tracks? market? promote? reach your audience? travel around? pay your bills? attract fans? make videos? build a website? press CDs? impress the industry? No budget means no success and this is NOT an “I will get discovered because of my talent” type of industry. You have to promote yourself, which means you have to invest in yourself–or find someone who will. Instead: create a realistic budget and seek investors if you don’t have the money. Make a list of everything you want to do. Price it out. Figure out the total costs before you start spending any money. If need be, get a job.
I don’t mean to beat a dead horse, but let’s look at the list of all of the Stuff That Doesn’t Necessarily Lead To Success, and break it into two sections: the stuff that wouldn’t exist if you took time to learn how this industry works, and the stuff industry knowledge can’t cure.
Stuff Knowledge CAN Cure:
1. Randomly Sending Your Music To Industry People (Especially If They Have No Power To Sign You)
2. Fame Without Income Isn’t Success
3. Other Rappers Thinking You Are Talented Doesn’t Lead To Success
4. You Know One Or Two Industry People, Although They Are Far Removed From The Decision Makers At Labels
5. Changing Direction Every Time You Get A New Opinion Of What You Should Do
6. Recording At The Most Popular Fancy Studio
7. Opening For A Famous Rapper When He/She Comes Through Town -or- Getting Mentions In A Few Magazines Or Blogs Here And There -or- Being Played On The Radio Once Or Twice
8. Shouting YMCMB Every Chance You Get Because You Grew Up With A Friend Of A Friend of Some Guy Who Knows Wayne’s Second Cousin
9. Having No Measurable Goals
10. Your Song Sounds Just Like A Song A Known Artist Put Out (With A Budget) Six Months Ago -or- Your Song Has A Mike Will Made It Beat Except That Mike Will DIDN’T Make It
11. There’s A Secret Or A Contact Someone Is Holding Back That Keeps You From Succeeding
12. Hiring Or Trusting The Wrong People
13. Unrealistic Expectations
14. Securing A Meeting With A Major Label
Even knowledge CAN’T fix:
1. No Budget To Invest In Your Project (but it can teach you to find an investor, or get a job and reinvest into yourself)
So, to sum up: learn how the industry works. Make a plan and follow it. Stick with what works and get rid of what does not. The only way to succeed is through knowing what to do, and doing it. And then out work every other artist out here. And there are a lot out here!