How to Make it in Music

by | Sep 18, 2020 | Uncategorized

Are you wondering how to make it in music?

You certainly aren’t alone.

Let me say at the outset that making it in music isn’t about becoming a publisher, digital marketer, or entrepreneur.

After all, if you could eat, sleep, and breathe your art, that’s what you’d do, isn’t it?

And I can tell you right now that making it will require exactly that – you’ve got to go all in on your art and focus on little else.

Before we get carried away through, let’s talk about what making it in music means.

🔑 Making it in Music Means Different Things to Different People

What does it mean to make it in music?

Can we agree that it means different things to different artists?

Some musicians might be happy with making $500 per month…

Some may want to make a full-time living in music

Others might want to make six-figures

While some artists won’t acknowledge that they’ve made it anywhere without being signed to a major label.

The level of commitment and dedication required to reach one level may look drastically different than the wherewithal needed to reach another.

I’m here to help regardless of what you’re aspiring to, but I can’t cover it all in just one article.

So, the strategy outlined below will help you create options.

By that I mean setting yourself up to be able to choose the highly profitable independent path, or sign with a label if that’s what you desire.

Now, let’s get into strategy.

🧠 Build Your Rock-Solid Mindset

The mindset needed to make it in music

I’ve interviewed enough musicians, musician coaches, music educators, marketers, entrepreneurs, and venue owners to know that you can’t expect to get to the other side of this tunnel unscathed.

You will encounter hardship on this path, whether it’s enduring rejection, having to replace band members, your tour van breaking down on the way to a venue, or otherwise.

And that’s on the MELLOW side of what can happen.

Metallica lost their bassist Cliff Burton in a tragic bus crash.

Composer Ludwig van Beethoven lost his hearing.

Def Leppard drummer Rick Allen lost his left arm in a car crash.

How do you overcome challenges and obstacles? What do you do when the going gets tough?

Without a meaningful answer to those questions, you can’t make it in music.

And the answer is building a rock-solid mindset.

But let me tell you what that DOESN’T mean…

  • It doesn’t mean becoming an “untouchable” robot or ice queen
  • It doesn’t mean you’ll never feel another emotion
  • Never feeling like giving up (you WILL feel that from time to time)
  • Never feeling anxious, depressed, or like you want to cry…
  • Becoming immune to the things we all struggle with as humans
  • Being 100% free from temptation and violating your values

There is ONE THING we can do to ensure we keep going when things get difficult.

We can invite more positive into our lives and do it intentionally and consistently.

Studies show the average person has about 12,000 to 60,000 thoughts per day, and 80% are negative.

If THAT wasn’t bad enough, we are surrounded by the negativity of media, pressures of society, and depending on your life circumstances, nagging significant others, disgruntled family members, or whiny roommates.

I have a book called The Essential Guide to Music Entrepreneurship that deals with these all too critical mindset issues.

Either way, I would recommend getting on my email list to begin developing your bulletproof psychology.

🎸 Develop Your Musical Talents

I don’t think we need to spend a lot of time on this…

Because many musicians I see are incredibly talented…

And DON’T have much of a following to speak of.

But just in case – if you’re under any delusion that you can make it in music without any discernable talent – be it singing, songwriting, playing an instrument, or otherwise – that’s what we call a “pipedream” around here.

But if you’re looking to develop your confidence and inner game while working on your musicality, Musical U might be right up your alley.

Either way, I do recommend joining my email list so you can learn more about developing your talent.

🤘 Live & Breathe Your Magnetic Music Brand

Magnetic Music Brand

If you have a magnetic music brand, it means people are naturally drawn to you and your music.

Trying to do things the other way around (convincing people to listen to you and fall in love with your art) is uphill warfare.

I’m not talking about logos, fonts, and colors here. These elements ARE important, but in the grand scheme of things they’re just the ambassadors for your brand – not the brand itself.

Your brand can be summarized this way – the impact you want to have, and the difference you want to make in the world.

Your brand can be summarized this way – the impact you want to have, and the difference you want to make in the world. Share on X

Once you’re clear on that, A LOT of things tend to sort themselves out.

Author Tim Ferriss sometimes talks about what he does between creative projects. He thinks about what the big domino is.

The big domino is the project that will knock down all the small dominos (tasks, ideas, projects, etc.) and make them virtually irrelevant.

That’s what a brand does for you…

  • It makes it easier to attract an audience
  • It makes you more marketable in the eyes of labels
  • All decisions concerning what music to make and how it sounds become mere trivialities
  • And more…

So, if you’re going to prioritize something, I would posit that figuring out your brand should go at the top of your list.

I have a book called The Essential Guide to Creative Entrepreneurship that describes many tactics and strategies you can use to achieve clarity with your brand.

Either way, I would suggest getting on my email list to learn more about branding your music.

📻 Release Great Music Consistently

Working on your music until you think it’s “perfect” is only going to bore your fans and prospects to death. They’ll quickly forget about you and won’t come back when you FINALLY release your magnum opus.

So, we need a different kind of plan.

A plan that revolves around releasing music consistently, EVEN if it’s not perfect.

Notice how I’ve been publishing a new blog post daily as of late? Do you THINK I’d be able to do that if I obsessed over perfection?

But don’t take my word for it. See what Jack Conte had to say about releasing before he thought his art was ready.

Here’s what I recommend:

  • Split your year into four, 90-day segments
  • Set a big goal (not an out of reach goal) for each quarter
  • Do EVERYTHING in your power to reach those goals

You can also use this 90-day framework if you wish:

Music entrepreneur framework example

So, this might mean releasing a single, EP, or album every 90 days.

I know it seems aggressive. But if you want to make it in music, you’re going to be consumed by your art either way.

And right now, there’s basically no touring anyway, so you might as well hunker down and get to work on your recordings.

If you don’t know how to self-produce yet, LEARN how. It’s the best decision I ever made, and I bet my friend Patrick Zelinski would agree it’s the best decision he made for himself too.

If you don’t know how to self-produce yet, LEARN how. Share on X

I have an eBook I co-wrote with Goemon5 called How to Record, Promote & Sell Your New Music – Single, EP, or Album.

Regardless, you’ll want to join my email list to learn more about self-producing.

👨‍🎤 Build & Engage Your Tribe

Your fans want to be a part of the creative process. So, how you interact with and involve them is crucial to your success.

A large, disinterested fan base won’t do you much good. You should avoid buying “likes” and using cheap click-bait tactics to try to draw traffic to you.

What you win them with is what you win them to. I had to learn that the HARD way.

What you win them with is what you win them to. Share on X

And that means if they come to your website for free music – guess what? – they’ll stick around for the free music. But getting them to buy something might prove challenging henceforth.

Even if it’s a slow build, it’s worth attracting quality subscribers and followers. Long-term, it will prove much more beneficial to your career.

As my business coach always told me, serving your existing customers is generally more profitable than trying to attract new customers.

If a publicist, booking agent, manager, label, or anyone else is evaluating your online presence, don’t you think they’re going to check whether you have an engaged following?

For instance, having 1,000 likes on Facebook means jack all if that following isn’t actively interacting with your posts.

Also, many artists haven’t figured out that subscribers and followers across different platforms aren’t created equal.

This is how entrepreneur Joe Pulizzi ranks subscribers. Use it as your guide:

You must prioritize and FOCUS. Otherwise, you will do as all busy artists do – get swallowed up in a bottomless pit of tasks, grind and hustle all day, and basically accomplish nothing of substance.

Looking to get more done in less time? I talk about several things you can do to do just that in my book, The Music Entrepreneur Code.

Either way, join the email list to stay up-to-date on productivity best practices.

🗂 Grow Your Rolodex

You don’t need to become an expert at networking. You just need to be a good hang.

I recommend building your Dream 100 list.

This list should be made up of 100 or more people that you want to connect with, collaborate with, and work with.

Don’t leave any stone unturned. Are there brands you’d like to be sponsored by? What about booking agents you’d love to work with? Are there publicists who could get you seen in your favorite magazine?

Make a list of everyone you can think of (even those you would consider too high to reach). And when you come across more, add them to your list.

Once you’ve got your list, all you’ve got to do is:

  • Follow and interact with them on social media
  • Join their Facebook group
  • Join their newsletter
  • Leave thoughtful comments on their blog posts (THOUGHTFUL being the operative word here)
  • Buy their products

You may not end up working with anyone on your Dream 100 in the short-term. And that’s okay.

It’s better to adopt a long-term mindset and start chipping away at this bit by bit than to force something.

This process is entirely about building relationships, and that’s what you should focus on.

The music industry isn’t just about what you know. It’s also about who you know.

The music industry isn’t just about what you know. It’s also about who you know. Share on X

💪 Augment Your Weaknesses

I get that many marketers are telling you to embrace the idea that you’re a digital marketer.

And I don’t disagree with it. I think there’s a lot of good that can come from that.

But there’s just too much to do for the modern musician. You’ve got to build a website. Post to social media. Write press releases. Make videos. Go live on Instagram. That list stretches to the ends of the earth.

You don’t want to do everything yourself because then you won’t get to work in your genius zone, and more importantly, focus on what matters (as I shared earlier).

So, stop trying so hard to get good at everything. You do realize that mastery in any area requires 10,000 hours, right?

There are people out there that are good at things you aren’t. Who knows, some of those people might be a part of your fan base already.

Now, it’s important to understand that timing matters. Bringing on team members is only practical when you’ve already got a profitable and sustainable music career.

But that doesn’t mean you can’t outsource some tasks.

My colleagues and I have had a good success with:

Where most of the time, you won’t end up paying an arm and a leg to get a logo designed or have a lyric video made.

Come out from under the burden of having to do everything yourself and begin to embrace the value of working with people who are talented at what they do and can augment your weaknesses.

I talk about how to create the structures necessary to set yourself up for success in my book The Music Entrepreneur Code.

Either way, you’ll want to join the email list for more.

👀 See Things from Their Perspective

You will go far if you follow the steps outlined above. They will need to be applied rigorously and steadfastly, over the long-term. But so long as you’re committed to the process, good things will happen.

As billionaire Bill Gates says:

Most people overestimate what they can do in one year and underestimate what they can do in 10 years.

That 10-year commitment is crucial.

But there’s one last thing I need you to think carefully on, because I see many artists complaining about not being able to build a team or attract great gigs, but haven’t given any thought to the economics of working with a label or agent.

A label is a business. So is everything else – talent management, booking agency, publicity, venues, and so on.

A talent manager, for instance, usually gets paid 10 to 25% from the commission they earn on the jobs they’ve booked for you.

If you’re making $5,000 per gig, 10 to 25% would be a decent pay day for a manager ($500 to $1,250).

On the other hand, if you’re making $500 per gig, those numbers don’t look so hot ($50 to $125).

Industry isn’t going to be interested in working with you if you can’t bring home the bacon.

Industry isn’t going to be interested in working with you if you can't bring home the bacon. Share on X

And by the time you’re making $5,000 per gig, handing over 80 to 95% of that (i.e. signing to a label) may not look like a great deal.

Bottom line – industry is looking for acts that are profitable and marketable. If you’re not interested in signing, nothing to worry about. But if you are, you’ve got to keep this in mind.

How to Make it in Music, Conclusion

In this guide, I focused on helping you create options.

Whether you want to stay independent, sign with a label, or even found your own label, is entirely up to you.

Usually, creating options means growing big. But as I said at the beginning, if you’d be happy making an extra $500 per month, you could also follow the above process.

The amount of time, effort, resources that goes into getting to where you want to go will depend largely on how far you want to go. So, if you want to make $5,000 per month, that’s going to require a different commitment than $500 per month.

If you follow the above steps, though, you will create more options for yourself, and what unfolds before you will be exciting.

What did you get out of this? Do you have any questions?

Let me know in the comments below!