There is a lot of unrealistic misinformation posted online about how to succeed as a musician, painter, author, photographer or any type of creative individual. While each artist and type of art has a different goal, some methods are the same. We will be talking about musicians specifically but it bleeds into all arts. You want to know how to be a successful independent artist? These are some of the counterintuitive insights I’ve learnt from 20+ years on the frontline…
Everyone has it. Some are just better at hiding it than you are.
The most successful artists and producers are often, secretly, the most insecure.
It’s their need for the applause of strangers that drives them.
It won’t taste as sweet as you think it will.
As soon as you hit your goal you will create an even bigger goal. Rinse and repeat.
Ironically, it’s the years of struggling and hustling on the shaky rollercoaster ride to the top that will become your fondest memories.
It’s the sacrifices we make in life that shape us and not the achievements.
What is your Why?
Many developing artists and producers are chasing external validation. Many of our greatest cultural icons were/ are the same.
There are easier ways to get external validation.
If you are determined on a career in music then connecting with an audience is your new obsession.
To make music that moves people emotionally is all the validation you will ever really need.
Results vs Systems:
Developing artists and producers talk in terms of results.
Getting signed, selling out tours and scoring millions of streams are all worthy goals.
But in order to achieve those goals, you need a system. It’s successful systems that lead to successful results.
That means sitting down and writing/ producing/ rehearsing every day. It means creating a schedule and focusing on marginal gains to slowly master your music making skills.
It means making sacrifices.
Only the top 1% of music makers earn a full time living. The odds are against you.
To succeed: it means committing to a philosophy that cultivates peak creative performance.
It means mastering your craft. It means making music that connects deeply with your audience.
It’s making music that creates word of mouth.
Start focusing on the system and stop focusing on results.
Get the system right and the results will follow.
You don’t build a fanbase you connect with one. The more people you connect with the bigger your fanbase becomes.
If you make someone dance; they’ll buy you a drink. If you make someone sing; they’ll buy you dinner.
If you move someone emotionally; they will love you forever.
Make music that moves people emotionally.
They will tell their friends about you.
That is the key to be successful. Your icons simply connect with much more people than you do.
‘How can I grow my fanbase?’ is the wrong question. How can I connect with more people?’ is a better one.
Focus on the audience. Focus on connections.
Deciding vs Wanting:
Building a career as an artist or a producer is hard.
It’s a solid struggle.
Struggle is when you can’t finish your tracks. Struggle is when you’re too scared to release the ones that you do.
Struggle is when you overthink everything.
Struggle is releasing tracks that don’t connect time and time again.
Struggle is investing your self worth in all of the above.
These struggles are all part of the journey. Your icons struggled, too. They decided to keep on struggling and got a bit better year after year.
A lot of artists and producers want success.
Successful artists and producers decide they are going to be a success — and are willing to pay whatever the price is to do so.
Connecting with creativity:
This is the key to your future. It is your competitive advantage.
How do you connect with people?
Authenticity. By being vulnerable and sharing your stories.
Empathy. Make music that articulates the pain the listener is feeling and the compassion to try and heal it with your art.
Creativity is a service mentality. It is evoking emotions within others.
It’s making music that moves them. Making music that makes a difference… emotionally, inspirationally, politically or culturally.
True creativity is humanity. It’s making a difference.
It is the art of being a true artist.
It is essential. You will not develop as an artist or producer without it.
The more failures ( releases) you have, the more you will grow as an artist. More failures lead to success.
By reframing failure as growth you reduce the pain and increase your power.
There’s no shame in quitting.
Life is short. The music and art business can be brutal. If the struggle is making you anxious and depressed, quit — or take an extended break.
Nothing is worth more than your well being.
I quit artist management. It was no longer worth the chronic stress and burnouts. The end no longer justified the means.
We are creatives.
There are other creative outlets. Find one that you love to do and do that instead.
Perfection Vs seeking excellence:
Perfection is a myth. Seek excellence.
A perfectionist has unrealistic expectations and is never happy with the results regardless of how good they are.
A seeker of excellence demands extremely high standards and is happy when they achieve them.
Don’t listen to your icons when you’re making music. It will only make you feel inadequate.
Control freakery is a curse. It is the source of much of your anxiety.
Trying to control situations that are uncontrollable will do that.
You can only control your effort, your attitude and your reactions. Surrender to the rest.
Remember this the next time you are writing, producing or performing. Focus all your energies into your effort and attitude.
Ignore everything else.
In elite sports, they call it ‘controlling the controllables.’ It is a peak performance technique that will serve you well.
Success is good but it won’t fill the voids in your self-esteem. It won’t make you happy. It won’t fulfil you.
It may make you feel worse. Why? Because you have probably convinced yourself you’ll be happy when you find success.
You will have more money. And your gigs will be much bigger.
But this is also true of your fears and anxieties.
This will make you happy. This is your goal.
Happiness comes from mastery and not results.
Creative fulfilment comes from mastering your craft. Creative fulfilment comes from connecting with others with your art.
Creative fulfilment is making music that matters.
Get into flow. It is intrinsic motivation.
It’s the joy of creating for the joy of creating.
All artists feel fear.
The core fear of developing artists is: ‘Am I good enough?’
The core fear of established artists is: ‘Am I still good enough?’
All other fears manifest from the core fear.
• Writer’s block
• Imposter syndrome
• Fear of failure
• Comparing yourself with others
Fears never leaves you. The fear of losing success is greater than the fear of never finding it.
The more successful you get the more you will fear losing it.
Channel your fear to tap into your superpowers.
If you can’t channel your fears, you will never reach your creative potential.
You art is the marketing. If people aren’t talking about your art and sharing it with their friends, then it isn’t strong enough yet.
It doesn’t matter how much you spend. If your art doesn’t connect with an audience, you won’t see results.
Word of mouth is the key.
A great track with bad marketing will do well. A mediocre track with great marketing will bomb.
Keep writing until you have material that is worth sharing.
Stop marketing to everybody. Laser focus your marketing on the people that care in your home town/city.
Playing live is the best way to connect with an audience. Start building a live following.
Selling tickets will get you good support slots. This will grow your fanbase.
Leverage this and sell out small venues and scale up the size of the rooms.
Do this and you will create a local buzz.
Become a respected face in your local scene and then expand to other markets from a position of strength.
Want to attract a pro manager? There are two ways:
Either, one of your tracks blows up online or you can sell tickets.
I never signed artists that couldn’t sell at least 300 headline tickets in their home town.
If you can sell tickets in your home town, then this can be scaled up in new markets.
My philosophy for creative success:
The best philosophy to be successful in the music business? Stop trying to be successful in the music business.
It’s too big a goal. It’s like a new climber tackling Everest.
300,000 tracks are released every week. You will crash and burn trying to compete. You will be crushed when you fail to achieve the unrealistic goals you set.
Focus on the fundamentals and success will take care of itself.
Become the best artist or producer you can be. Focus all your energy on creating your art.
Master your craft. Master the art of connecting with people with your music.
If you want to earn a full time living from music you only have to do two things:
1) Make remarkable music that people share with their friends.
2) Create a live show people will pay to see.
This is not easy. It will take you years to master.
Focus all your energy into fulfilling your creative potential. Become the artist or producer you were meant to be — and the results will take care of themselves.
Your creative peak performance may not be enough to make a full time living but it will be enough to have a purpose and be creatively fulfilled.
And that is often worth more than money.
You see, you don’t need to make a full time living in the music business to be a successful artist or producer.
Moving people emotionally with music will be all the validation you will ever need.
It’s the art of being a true artist.
The choice is yours.