If you think your music is 'good'... then just keep it as a hobby. The music marketplace doesn't need more 'good' music, it needs truly great music, which is a lot easier to get people excited about, and to market. The low cost and advertising hype surrounding the making and manufacturing of music has given musicians the illusion that their music is worthwhile. The sad fact is that in this new millennium mediocre music is commonplace and increasingly more difficult to promote and sell. These days not only can everybody and their sister make bland music, they are making and releasing bland music; so the marketplace is flooded with mediocrity. Mundane might be a good name for a band, but keep it to yourself!
The minute you decide you want someone to listen to your songs, you have entered the music business. If you don't know who would like your music, why would you make it in the first place? Art and commerce not only can work together, in today's marketplace they must work together. Gone are the days when a musician's talent alone is all that is needed to succeed. These days record companies develop new artists through time-tested career development tactics that start with finding the right niche to break the artist from. Spend a lot of time asking yourself who your average fan is, and get to know everything about their lifestyle, ages, sex, and income levels. Do that, and a whole universe of inspired opportunities on how to reach them will open up to you.
Getting a music career off the ground is not only hard work; it also costs money. But the simplest ideas can deliver big payoffs. Look around where you live, and find simple ways to get your career moving. Get yourself a copy of the latest version of Gargeband and easily create Podcasts to entertain and inform your fans. Or, are there schools nearby where you can play live? Are there non-profit organizations that need volunteer entertainers for fund-raisers? Is there a fair or festival coming up that showcases local or regional talent? How about a retailer or service company that might be approached to distribute and sell your music? Think! Ideas come to us when we give ourselves time to think. Watch for any bad habits you may have (watching too much TV, too much partying etc.). Use your time creatively and challenge yourself to come up with one original music marketing idea a week! You will be surprised how many good ideas you can come up with, and most of them won't cost much money at all, if any.
If you don't know clearly where you are going, you can easily lose sight of your goal, and miss an opportunity that may come your way. Don't see only what you think needs to be done with your music. Find out as much as you can about how the music business is set up, and how it works as an industry. See the broad picture, and how all aspects of developing your career are related. Remember that every job, responsibility, and profession involved with creating, developing, and marketing music is related to another part, and they all need each other and work together for the mutual benefit of each other. Do you have a realistic plan for yourself that puts the whole picture into clear focus?
Do what you say you are going to do, and don't use any excuses for not getting things done. Everybody you meet in this business, who agrees to help you in some way with your career, may also benefit from your success. When an opportunity arises to get your foot in the door, keep it there. If you treat people unprofessionally, they will remember you. If you treat them professionally, they will remember you. You decide what kind of reputation you want to establish. Also, whatever you do, make it the highest quality you can. Your competition in this business is every successful musician out there. Are you as dedicated to perfection as your competition? Remember, the music business has enough flakes, so don't become the dandruff everybody wants to get rid of.
Like it or not, as a musician you are part of 'show biz', and as such should be very conscious of developing a clear, honest, and definitive image of who you are, and what your music is about. If you believe you don't have an image, go ahead and let the music business create one for you...but don't complain when they call you something you are not. Only you know what is inside of you. Be sure your artwork, press materials, live stage appearance, and your songs reflect who you are, so that every time you work on a part of your career development, you are thinking consistently about any and all aspects of your image.
The music business is built on relationships. Don't take advantage of people. Nurture the contacts you make, and spend time building these relationships within the particular music scene that exists for your music. Learn who the key players are in each area of music marketing; the distributors and stores, the broadcast media, the press, and the live performance industry. Give them solid business reasons to want to work with you. Once you have them on your team, communicate with them regularly, and become a team player who is genuinely in it not only for yourself, but for the mutual benefit of each team member.
Expectations are different from goals. They imply that you deserve something because of some inflated, premature ego that has put you on your own pedestal; when in reality you haven't even built the stairs up to a pedestal yet. You've met people like this. When any early recognition comes their way they absorb praise like a sponge, and become impossible to work with. Nothing is ever good enough for people like this. They 'expect' recognition and can easily get sidetracked into abandoning any plans or goals they have set for themselves. They may rest on their laurels, waiting for some invisible momentum to carry them to a new level. A sure way to fail as a musician is to get the reputation of being difficult to work with, and a pain in the ass. Don't shoot yourself in the foot; you won't look good limping about in front of your mirror.
Anticipate trouble and find a way out. If there are any guarantees in the music business, you can bet your amplifier that stumbling blocks to success abound. Knowing that problems will arise, and finding solutions to your problems is half the challenge. The other half is implementing your strategies and tactics consistently and professionally. Many 'wanna-be's' give up when rejection arrives. Rejection is a coat of armor that must be worn at all times. For every yes, there will be countless no's. Learn from the rejections, the missed opportunities, the failed promises, the lousy reviews, the insensitive label personnel, the crooked agents and managers that you may encounter. Turn every negative into some kind of a positive, See what can be learned from the bad experience, so that the next experience might be good.
Doing music and nothing else is a bad idea! Too many musicians forget that to grow as an artist, experiences are what matter most. It is so easy to get carried away with your music to the exclusion of everything else... friendships, family, the other arts, nature, and other interests are essential to keep the creative juices inspired and flowing. Do things you have never done before. Go out and eat a gourmet meal, read a poem, hike or go fishing. In fact, go out and do the one thing that you feel is the last thing you have any interest in....that should give you something to write about. Music is a business, no doubt about it, but music is also an art, and as an artist you need to nourish your soul as well as your pocketbook.
Throughout his fprty year career in the music business, FourFront Media & Music's Christopher Knab has shared his experience at many industry conventions and conferences, including the New Music Seminar and the Northwest Area Music Business Conference.
Knab was owner of a San Francisco music store, co-owner of the 415 Records label, and station manager at KCMU Radio in Seattle.
He currently provides a unique consultation and education service for independent musicians and record labels. His new book is entitled "Music Is Your Business".