The good thing to note about realising you’ve made a few mis-steps in your career is that this is a perfectly valid entrepreneurial business tactic – it’s called ‘testing’. If something didn’t work, you know not to do it again and that way, you learn what does work. However, far too many musicians spend too long doing things that aren’t working without realising it, and that adds up to tedium, frustration and a major lack of progress. So, stop for a moment and check if you’ve been doing any of these things:
1) Being inconsistent
Do you only work on your songs when you feel like it? Do you only play gigs when a friend mentions there’s a free slot one evening? If you can’t say when you practise and when you’re next gigging, you are probably projecting a kind of ‘hit and miss’ approach to your career. You can fix your inconsistent behaviour by setting aside certain non-negotiable times when you’ll definitely be working on your music. Try getting one regular gig night at your favourite live music jazz bar or post a new demo every 1st of the month. Set aside at least one day a week for songwriting, when you pull back from the business work and then post the results on a Friday on your soundcloud account. These kinds of regular, predictable actions will help keep your fans engaged and help you to focus on the priorities for your career.
2) Putting out albums or EPs with no schedule for promotion
Paying to get an album recorded, mixed and mastered, but not planning tour dates, release dates and strategic promotion through radio stations, magazines, mailing list updates and social media promotion will lose you sales and mean that your recording, far from being an investment, has been a huge waste of time and resources. The way to avoid this is to decide on the kind of release you want (single, EP etc) and write a list of all the small tasks you’ll need to do to complete it. Then plot those into a monthly overview, showing which things you need to complete for every week for the next three, six or 12 months. That way you can see clearly how long you’ll need to get things done and you can set aside enough time to do the necessary research in order to promote the work you’re releasing in the lead-up to that final date.
3) Staying in and practising all day and nothing else
Learning how to play an instrument takes time and effort and it’s really important that you practise regularly. However, staying in your room and practising to the wall does not a successful music artist make. You need to network with people, get out to gigs and generally get yourself known as ‘that great keyboard player’ or ‘amazing singer’ that people want to work with. Try going to venues that people have recommended to see another artist play and check out if it would be right for your music too. While you’re there, talk to the promoter about what you need to do to get a gig. And if you need some new photos for your site, you could ask the photographer who was taking photos of the band whether they would be available to do a shoot for your next gig. Making yourself known to other musicians helps you to support and be supported by a network of people, which will enhance your own career.
4) Avoiding using social media because you’d rather be ‘mysterious’ instead
This used to be a viable tactic. Back in the days before social media, there was a way in which you could work towards getting a record deal and have the record company do all of the promotional work for you. You could remain a mysterious artist putting out great music but not revealing much about your life. [I personally used to love this approach! Check out an old photo of mine - I was totally into moody photos where I hid myself altogether...]
Unfortunately, that just won’t cut it anymore. If you aren’t directly interacting with your fans, you can’t build the kind of following that will get you noticed by companies willing to do some of your promotion and distribution. You have to make it possible for fans to interact with you, so that they can do some of the promotional work for you! If you have a great fan page where your fans comment on the regular posts you make, that is a relationship that can not only lead to gig attendance and sales, but to further industry interest. Just post once a day about competitions for your fans, or ask which of two new demos your fans would most like to see finished first. If people are being asked to give their opinion about something, they are far more likely to follow-up to find out the result and even buy the EP or album that you’re about to release.
5) Not defining your brand
If you are randomly posting on social media however, with no kind of plan of what to talk about you could be damaging your potential for building a fanbase. What do you represent to your fans? Artists who only post sporadically don’t build up a sense of loyalty with their listeners. If you simply look at the kind of music you’re making and the message behind it, you can get an idea of what kind of person listens to your music. Is it dark, edgy, angry songs about break-ups? Then post about the latest arthouse film you watched about a couple who broke up and how great the acting was in the scenes where they’re yelling at each other. Use social media to have a conversation with your fans about the things that define the brand and purpose of your own music.
Look out for the second instalment to this article. In the meantime, check through the above 5 things and adjust accordingly in time for the final 6-10 of the list!