Musicians yearning for their place in the limelight are passionate and are willing to make sacrifices to achieve success. After all, who wouldn't want to be playing arena tours to screaming fans as a profession? While most musicians have the right mindset, there tend to be the same themes of mistakes that inadvertently cause setbacks.
Although not 'be all or end all,' these mistakes can be costly, and can certainly delay success. In this article, I'll address some of the mistakes that new artists make early on in their careers, and I'll show you how you can sidestep them to give yourself the strongest possible chance to reach your goals in the music industry.
I'll gladly admit to being guilty of making these mistakes at some stage in my previous bands. They've offered me valuable experience that I have had the opportunity to learn from. So without further ado, let's explore them!
1. Work smarter, not harder
Working hard and working smart are two very different things. A strong work ethic is a fundamental facet of a successful musician. However, it's also crucial to pick your battles wisely. Not every opportunity that comes your way is necessarily worth your time and effort.
For example, consider if it's really worth traveling 250 miles to play to a handful of people at an unknown small music venue. Sure, word of mouth is undoubtedly important. If you put on a killer live show, it will certainly get people talking. But that time and money could arguably be better spent nailing down some new material or focusing on how you'll be planning your latest release for success.
There are countless ways you can get signed in the music industry, but being scouted at a run-down bar by the cigar-smoking dude in a leather jacket isn't very common these days. The label reps will most likely be at the shows their roster artists are performing at. Therefore, seize every worthwhile live show opportunity you can, and try to land some solid support slots.
Want a surefire way to catch industry attention? Your best bet is to generate organic buzz on platforms like YouTube, Spotify, and Tik-Tok. Music industry pros are always on the lookout like hawks for upcoming talent that listeners are genuinely engaged with. By this, I mean real engagement - comments, views, likes, shares, etc.
2. Be bold and carve your own musical path
Too often, I see bands copying one another or another popular band in the genre, and the sound just mulls together into one bland amalgamation of indistinguishable production techniques and sonic conventions.
Trends can be useful indicators, but don't simply hop on them for the sake of it, or because everyone else is. Follow your artistic vision and create the music that inspires you. Allow your own individual expression to shine through in your music and visuals. Being fearless when it comes to your own creativity will give you a truly unique position, and fans will appreciate you for being genuinely original.
Would you rather be a trend-setter or just another band that follows the crowd? Think about that.
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3. Find an optimal balance between quality and price when outsourcing
In an ideal world, we'd all like to take complete creative control of our musical projects. Examples of these roles include music production, graphic design, videography, tour driving, or website SEO. Musicians should aim to be self-sufficient and 'wear different hats', but it's not always possible, especially when considering that quality is arguably the most critical factor.
I film and record my drums on YouTube, but it's just for fun. I don't claim to be a great videographer by any means. I wouldn't consider making my own music video, although it would be cheap, because the quality wouldn't satisfy my expectations. On the flip side, I've been quoted $15,000 for a music video in the past, which was obviously way out of our budget!
When looking to outsource experienced freelancers in the music industry for a job, perform some research and look at previous work while obtaining several quotes. Once you have a better idea of what a person or a company can offer, you can then whittle it down to your favorites that are within a reasonable budget for the task. There might even be room for sensible offers, but be mindful not to be disrespectful when negotiating a price.
I'd suggest it's not worth cutting corners when it comes to music production or visuals because they are essential to creating a strong artistic brand that resonates with your audience.
4. Understand what record labels are looking for
The music industry can be a dog-eat-dog world, and companies such as record labels are interested first and foremost in how much value you can bring to the table in terms of financial rewards. Remember that It's a business, just like any other.
Success must be earned, and you'll have to offer value in order to warrant backing from music labels and management agencies. Of course, talent scouts are looking for great music and a strong brand image, but they want to see evidence of being able to sell records and concert tickets first and foremost.
The reality is that the majority of signings essentially go down as a 'flop'. Record labels often won't make their money back from what they put in financially when it comes to recording advances, production costs, marketing campaigns, music videos, etc. Label executives seriously weigh up risks when signing new acts.
Think about what risks you might carry and how you can increase your value to appear more attractive in the eyes of industry pros. Can you demonstrate that you are able to sell out a small venue? Have you obtained hundreds of thousands of streams on Spotify? Have you sold out of your first runs of merchandise? These are all examples of things that record label reps want to see.
5. Persevere, manage expectations, and learn from mistakes
At some stage on your musical journey, you'll be bound to make some mistakes and experience unexpected pitfalls. It can be incredibly frustrating, and it can even be tempting to call it quits when things aren't going in your favor.
Although it's not necessarily a mistake to bring a musical project to a close when necessary, don't make such a decision lightly. First and foremost, correct a toxic or negative mindset that can arise when things don't quite go your way and fail to meet your expectations.
Perseverance is not to be underestimated, and if you want something enough, you'll figure out a way to make it work. Many of the world's most famous and widely loved musicians experienced huge setbacks, including rejection from top record labels.
The Beatles, Linkin Park, and Lady Gaga are but a few of the world's best-selling musical acts that have either been passed on by labels numerous times or even dropped from a record label altogether. Imagine if they'd have thrown in the towel? It's a scary thought to realize that not only would these artists fail to achieve stardom, but the world would never have known such phenomenal art ever to exist.
Be realistic when setting about your goals, and remember that Rome wasn't built in a day. Growth isn't always a smooth upward trend either; there can be peaks and troughs when measuring statistics such as sales and music streams.
One final note - we're all going to make some mistakes. That's okay. We are humans! So try to take it all in your stride. And while it's nice to look to the future, stay focused on your present goals and enjoy making music and bringing your creative vision to life.
Gideon Waxman is a London based drummer and music educator, who holds a Bachelor of Music degree from the University of Westminster. You can find more of his advice over at Drum Helper - one of the web's most popular free online drumming resources.
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