If you want to be a doctor, teacher, lawyer, or salesperson, you’ll hear advice like study hard, go to a good college, and get an internship in your field.
But when you want to be a singer/musician/songwriter you’ll see people throw their hands in the air and say Well, it’s all about who you know.
Even those who truly believe you are the next All Time Low/Bruno Mars/Taylor Swift/Alicia Keys will encourage you to get the most exposure you can because All you need is for the right person to see you at the right time.
Believing that your success is about networking and exposure sets you up to believe that your life is in someone else’s hands. It sets you up to waste year after year trying to be seen by some mythical, all-powerful people.
These are the ideas that can make you spend more time promoting your music than making it. In an attempt to crack the code for how to break into the business, you won’t crack the code for what makes you special as an artist. You won’t crack the code for how to write your best song.
I made similar mistakes. When I had my first band I put more time into getting gigs in New York City than I put into our band’s rehearsals. I was so driven to get that city exposure that I lost sight of what I was trying to expose. The city was underwhelmed by us and I still went back to looking for better gigs instead of better material.
Exposure is just you making noise in a crowded place. It takes years of experience, practice and soul-searching to be so excellent, unique, heartfelt, raw and authentic that everyone in the room notices you and follows you out the door to your next show. And tweets about your videos.
Showing off unreached potential while waiting for lightning to strike is not the way to success (at anything). That’s the way to join the list of lackluster performers who wonder why their names are never called.
Instead, take control of your destiny. Reality TV would like you to believe otherwise, but the path to success in music is one and the same with the path to excellence in music. And if you love it like you say you do, it’s a fun journey.
* Take lessons. Develop your craft through coaching, books and videos. Carefully select coaches who are experienced in the industry and understand both technique and contemporary music. If you are a singer, understand that your instrument is inside your body and a vocal education enables you to keep it healthy throughout your career. I believe all singers should know how to play an instrument, collaborate with other musicians and develop songwriting skills. Put more tools in your toolbox for creating your musical masterpiece.
* Practice every day. Every day. You want music to be your career because you feel it is your life’s work. So wouldn’t you want to start living that way today?
* Learn what you’re great at and learn what you’re not great at. Don’t hide your weaknesses from yourself or anyone else. Instead, be inquisitive, open to new ideas, and open to learning from others around you. This isn’t a talent competition. This is your life, and you owe it to yourself to embrace the learning process.
* Listen to EVERYTHING. Old stuff, new stuff, popular stuff, undiscovered stuff. Add to your musical vocabulary.
* Get involved in a musical community. Collaborate, jam, go see other bands, interact with them on YouTube and Twitter. Get involved. Make friends. Be genuine and supportive.
* Perform as much as possible for experience, not exposure. At some point, you will change your performance plan and become more selective. You’ll know when the time has come because fans will actually be coming to your shows. Then venues will be calling to offer you gigs rather than dodging your calls!
* Put all the networking questions aside and ask yourself: if Mr. Mythological Music Biz was standing in front of me right now, what do I have to show him? The truth is, it’s really not hard to get your music out there these days. What’s difficult is creating something that will wow the people you want to meet. When you do succeed at writing those songs and finding the voice that is all yours, you will know. Because fans will find you, and they will share your work, and interest in you will naturally start to grow.
I don’t know what success will look like for you. I can’t promise you that doing the above will lead to fame or financial freedom. But if you become truly amazing at what you love you will experience creative fulfillment beyond your wildest dreams, and there will be work for you in your field of choice.
Awesome things occur on the road to excellence! Do not leave your dreams to chance.
*The photo above links to the web site for The Downtown Fiction, an amazing band I have the pleasure of coaching. They are perfect examples of talented musicians who continue to pursue excellence in singing, musicianship, songwriting and performance long after being “discovered.”