The music industry has stayed loyal to some really destructive myths, and it’s always great to see when independent artists find new methods for success once they’ve freed themselves of bad or outdated ideas and habits.
Have you been attached to the eight stale concepts listed below? Time to do a little soul surgery!
Are you guilty of thinking…
1. You’re going to “make it?”
Most wildly successful musicians work REALLY hard. There’s no secret key gifted at the door of fame and fortune where suddenly everything is easy, makes sense, feels good.
A friend recently showed me this vlog episode from Bob Reynolds (saxophonist for John Mayer and many others) where he talks all about how “traveling IS the gig” — not the 30 minutes a day he gets to dazzle crowds, but everything else: standing in line, checking bags, riding in taxis.
Yes, you CAN make it. And then make it again. And again.
Success is work. Work it.
2. Your value is market driven?
I live in a town where solo musicians generally get paid $150 to perform covers for about three hours. Don’t ask me why. It’s just this weird local standard and all the venues take it as granted, as if written in the city charter.
Not great money, to be sure. Especially factoring in setup and breakdown (at home and at the gig), rehearsal, etc. But things continue in this way: “This is what we musicians accept because this is what they pay, and if I don’t take the gig someone else will.”
Now it’s been I while since I played one of these gigs, so I’ve yet to test my theory, but I’ll bet if a local musician turned one of these nights into a real event (not just a dude in the corner of a bar strumming his guitar), I mean something with a theme, a motive, a party, a hook, and brought out a crowd to match, it’d break them free of their tie to “market value.”
Suddenly, they’re not providing a SERVICE.
THEY are the service.
The musician’s creativity. Their drive to make a unique event. Their connection with their audience. Venues that want to benefit will quickly recognize at least THAT musician isn’t a $150 widget.
Same goes for CD sales. Lots of musicians charge $10 or $15 because that’s just how people price CDs.
They assume their cap on earnings from streaming activity is equal to the resulting streaming revenue.
The experience you create in and around your shows, content, and products — THAT is what’s really worth paying for (assuming you’ve put in the work to make it worth your fans’ time and money).
If you’re comfortable inside the box, your value is market driven. If you break beyond the narrow walls that typically define music consumption and monetization, the sky is the limit.
3. CDs are dead?
To continue the above discussion, CDs ARE worth something, as long as you’ve MADE them worth something.
Not just in terms of quality packaging, great music, and your autograph on the cover — but in how you’ve intrigued your audience, or even included them in the way the music is created or released.
Will all your fans buy your CD? No.
Will your avid listeners pay more than $10 or $15 for a piece of memorabilia that commemorates their connection to you? No question.
The answer is YES online, and twice as YES at live shows.
4. There’s absolutely no money in streaming?
Wait, really? We dispelled this myth long ago. Why are we still talking about this?
5. You’re too _______ to be successful in music?
Old. Ugly. Awkward. Poor. Add your pejorative of choice.
I don’t want to sound flip about the things you struggle with. Hurdles are hurdles, and our culture IS obsessed with youth, beauty, and wealth. The good news is that the internet has enabled us to bypass the usual media channels and target our ideal audience directly.
No, you will not be the next Camila Cabello if you’re 64 years old. But it’s an achievable goal to have a full-time music career at any age, as long as you understand your audience and a few thousand people are really moved by your songs.
And no, you might not be able to blanket Facebook with ads about your new track if money is tight. But what about a dollar a day?
6. Facebook doesn’t deserve your ad dollars?
Segue! Speaking of Facebook, are you still bitter you have to pay them to reach your followers and video viewers?
Tough love: That bitterness is holding you back.
Sure, Facebook threw a giant party, invited you and all your friends, and let you mingle at the open bar for years. Once you were hooked, they locked the doors and charged admission. (This is a metaphor borrowed from a friend).
So they don’t let you drink for free anymore. Ya know what they do allow? For you to reach a HUGE potential audience of new listeners/viewers (plus your existing fans) for a comparatively low ad spend.
You have a powerful tool that reaches more than 2 billion people, is easy to use, cheap to fuel, and continues to learn about you and your audience — which improves targeting AND lowers your costs at the same time.
Tell me again how you won’t spend a cent marketing your music with Facebook?
7. Everything was better in the past?
Steve Albini eviscerated this myth a few years back, saying you should be soooo thankful you’re not in a band trying to record and perform decades ago. His argument centered around the unlikeliness that you’d have been able to make an album or build a fanbase back then at all. Now you can do both, at low-cost, and with great speed.
But there are a lot of other reasons TODAY is more exciting than yesterday. I’ll list just one here:
The shift from music ownership to music consumption, while obviously introducing some new economic challenges, does relieve musicians of the burden of being constant salespeople. We hated that anyway. Now all we need to do is find creative ways to inspire our listeners to press play. The only cost to your fan is time, so you can experiment, be authentic, communicate (all things we want to do with and for our music!)
If you’re glorifying the past too much, it might be because you’re afraid of what you are (or aren’t) in the present moment. Your next success could be hiding behind something you’ve been viewing as an obstacle instead of an opportunity.
8. You’re not legit until you have ______?
Good press. A manager. A booking agent. Connected friends. An official showcase or festival slot. A slick video.
We long to be anointed. Approved of. Praised. Signed.
We wait. We wait, and all the while relinquish power to those people we hope or fear will make or break us.
You’re legit right now. Your music is legit right now. At least it will be for SOME people.
And given that your songs will NEVER be legit to all people (which is true for every artist), then GO! Stop waiting. Work. Connect. One fan at a time.
If the extra goodies arrive, great. If they don’t, here’s the thing: Artists today can sustain careers without good press, a manager, a booking agent, industry contacts, fancy videos, or prestige performance slots.
What beliefs or attitudes have held you back?
How’d you kick the bad habits? What happened when you did? I’d love to hear about it in the comments below.