I read in a book one time or article that one of the most goggled statements related to music was "how do I get a record deal" not how do I become a better artist.
That shows you just how far we have fallen from the tree.
People equate a record deal or being famous to success. If they do not achieve those two things, then they are not worthy.
I mean how could you not? Our culture has become so plasticized by bullshit, social media and other non-realities that this is our only reference point for success.
On top of that you have all these fake artists going out there repeating the hook on their song twenty times, throwing pitch correction on it, dressing like a clown and all of a sudden it's a hit. Rinse and repeat.
The labels have built entire business models on this trend. But that's the thing, it's a trend and has nothing to do with you or your artistry.
That being said, I want to outline how you can become a successful artist based on your own desires and expectation for yourself whatever that may be.
Here are the points:
- Define what success means to you first - Do you want to be able to quit your job and make music full time? Do you want to play a song you wrote at an open mic in front of a live audience or do you want to be an internationally known Rockstar? What are your expectations for "success". For me, I never had the dream of being an artist, so everything I do on a daily basis is a success for me. Just putting my material out into the world, whether it is listened to or not doesn't even matter. I know it will eventually be appreciated by someone by anyone. For me that is the definition of success. I have one friend who just wants to be able to perform in front of a live audience. That's literally all he wants to do. That's his definition of success. So determine what your definition of success is and hold that in your mind.
- Decide what's most important in your life and get rid of the bullshit you don't need - I talk about this in my podcast on the Things I Learned about life driving through Mexico podcast. I call it the "shake test". Put all your shit in a camper and drive it down a rough ass road. All the shit that breaks is what you don't need. Same situation here. If driving a new car is more important to you than taking a lesser paying job that allows you more free time to create, then you're not going to reach your goal. Same thing with people. If you have to have a girlfriend and are constantly spending all of your free nights and weekends with her, you're not going to reach your goal. If you go get wasted up at the bar on the weekend and hang out with your "friends" then you're not going to reach your goal. You really need to decide what's important and what's not. Once you get rid of all the stuff that's not important, you will have all the time you need to focus on your art.
- Focusing on your art over product - If you are focused entirely on creating art, eventually you will have so much of it that it will inevitably become product. Case in point, I have done so much stuff over the course of my career, both in business and artistry that I get offered a lot of opportunities to do shit. For example, I have a detailed background in branding, marketing, and systems design/web design, etc. I understand how that shit works and how people are supposed to be positioning their brands to sell more product. Because of this, I get offered to build out people's websites for a lot of money. This is a byproduct of me being a creator. I have taken on some of these projects too and because my work is so good, I have developed a positive reputation and people want more. But I get to chose what I want to do and because I value my time over money I only select the opportunities that are going to create the most gratification for myself and build my own brand as opposed to someone else's. The point is that I have become such a talented artist that has spent time so deep in his art that when I rework someone else's brand and present it to the outside world it gives them a huge competitive advantage because it becomes so distinct relative to the other products being positioned in the marketplace.
- Determine who your audience is and fuck everybody else - The biggest mistake artists make in their career is selling to the wrong audience. They think that if they play to a bar or club full of people that don't know them and the audience doesn't like them that their material is not valid. This is not true at all. You could in fact suck, BUT, that is different from selling to the wrong audience. If you just flat out suck to everyone and have nothing to offer you will know it. But if you play something that is real that you believe in your heart is good material and people don't respond to it, then you might be selling to the wrong audience. There are two reasons why people don't feel your music. The two reasons are because either A. You're selling to the wrong audience B. It's not that good. Notice I put selling to the wrong audience first. The reason I did this is because that's usually the most common reason why people are not responding to your music. If you have the balls to get up and perform what you believe is good, you're headed in the right direction, even if it's not good. There is an audience for everyone out there. I have seen many artists who were whack or sound exactly the same as when they started that are now famous because somewhere along the way they found the right audience and focused on that. This is one of my biggest inspirations. Seeing subpar artists succeed. Seeing them succeed further validates my own creations relative to having commercial potential. Because I can see that my material is clearly better, it just may not have reached the right audience yet. That being said, determine who your audience is and focus on them.
- Find or create your own platform - If you have great content, music or art, someone might put you on or give you exposure to a broad audience through their platform such as a radio show or TV. But don't count on this to happen. If you sit around waiting for other people to make you successful you will not be successful. I think even real artists who are famous will attest to this. Most of them got to a point where they took their future and destiny in their own hands and made it happen for themselves. That being said, you need to find a platform. I have multiple platforms. I have a blog, I have a podcast, I have the ability to speak my truth on other people's platforms such as being a special guest on another creator's podcast or show, I have YouTube where people can see me perform my music and also listen to my podcast. I eventually may broadcast out of my camper when I'm on the road. All of this stuff is a platform. A platform is a place where your content or art lives. Hell, if you're a painter, it could be an art gallery. That is also a platform. A musician performing on a street corner and collecting tips and email addresses, that is a platform as well. There are endless examples of platforms. Instagram models hashtag their tits in exchange for dopamine hits, this is their platform. Email lists, live broadcasting websites such as younow, Instagram, YouTube, facebook, soundcloud. Just find one or all of them and use them to cultivate and feed your fanbase.
- Cultivate and feed your fanbase - The day I launched my podcast, I started getting downloads all over the world. Not just because the content was valid, but because I had follow-up material for the people that liked my first creation. Sure, I'm still building it and I haven't even really promoted it to a great degree, but I have the food in hand to feed the fish when they get hungry. The bottom line is that when you finish a creation and you are satisfied with it, put it out on whatever platform you are using. If you like it, they will like it. If they don't like it, they are not your audience. If they only like some of what you are presenting, then they are a partial subscriber. That is fine, but you should not change who you are or what you are doing to appease them. Artists don't change who they are because of other people, they change because THEY want to change.
- Create a process or system for your creations - This is similar to a platform. Once you have your platform, you need to create a system or process to feed that platform. For example if you are a multi-instrumentalist that performs in bars, you need to create a performance circuit. The blues artists back in the day called it the Chitlin Circuit. This was their version of a process or system for performing their creations and monetizing what they do. They would tour around the country, play clubs, get paid and sell their records. Some of them made a lot of money doing this. People like BB King, Otis Rush, and Muddy Waters. For me, my process at this present moment is writing blog posts, creating podcasts and producing music I have already made so that I can lay the ground work for my overall vision. Overall vision being a genreless artist and setting the example for a business model of the future not constricted by genres or stereotypes. Whatever your process is, you need to be sticking to it and consistently honing your craft. If you're making an honest attempt at your art, it will get better over time. You know what you should and shouldn't put out. In my opinion, you should put out all of your art if you are satisfied with it. Some artists like to control their image more and want to be perceived as not having to go through a process, but I'm not talking about them. I'm talking about.
- Enjoy what you are doing - This should be the first point, and it almost goes without saying. If you are creating art to reach and end game goal of being admired, revered, worshiped or accepted, stop now. While this may ultimately happen for you as a byproduct of you creating honest art that you enjoy making it should not be your end game goal. People who base their success on end game objectives are never going to be happy because of the suffrage gap. Basically the space between where you are and where you want to be causes suffering. If you are sick, you want to get better, right? Until you are better you are suffering. This is an easy way to put it. At this moment I feel very satisfied writing this post. I am not worrying about all of the music in my back catalog that needs to be produced or all of the guitar that I am not practicing right now. If I was exclusively focused on that I would not feel I would be enjoying it in this moment because what my soul is telling me to do right now is write, not practice. That time will come, but that time is not right now. I am enjoying this process, not that process or any other process. That being said, whatever it is that you are doing, enjoy what you are doing.
- Monetize your art - My definition of a successful artist is just being able to finish a creation and put it out on my platform. That's my definition of success. I don't care how it's received or if it helps or hurts anyone's feelings. I am merely expressing how I feel. BUT...BUT...BUT, there is always a BUT I know that MOST people's definition of success in the civilized world is did I make money? How can I make money? That being said I will address this issue. As mentioned in my 14 Things a Real Artist does podcast, there are endless examples of artists that were brilliant, revered or at some point became huge that did not make any money from their art. But if you must insist on making money for your art, then you need to figure out how to do that. Stop playing for "exposure". If you are playing for exposure, sell your cds. Get out in the world and make emotional connections with people and sell the positives on who you are so that they will feel inclined to support your work. If you're a painter, see about putting your art on the wall at the coffee shop if you can't get it in a gallery. Price it to sell, so you can create more art or buy more paint. Decide what hard money you spent on supplies to make it, cover your costs, mark it up and sell it.
- Find a need and serve that need - If you must monetize what you are doing, then you are going to have to adapt. This means that you are going to focus on serving a need as opposed to your needs exclusively. For example, you might like to draw paintings of scary clowns that nobody wants to buy. On the flipside, there may be a demand for you to draw caricatures of people at the part for $10 each. If you are trying to monetize your talent in that moment, you would probably be better off serving the need of people wanting to have caricatures of them created. Or maybe you could blend the two ideas and draw caricatures of real people as clowns. A clown rendition. It takes the need and your brand and merges the two. You see what I'm saying? If you're a guitar player who writes metal music you might be surprised to learn that there is a huge demand for people who know how to play Christmas songs on guitar. Trans Siberian Orchestra were brilliant at merging what they loved with a need and were able to get the mainstream population interested in a very niche form of art. I talk about this in fanmail podcast 1 about my friend who was having trouble with women. I explained to him that a good salesman finds out what you need and gets you what you need. If you can find a need and serve that need, you will always be able to monetize that skill. So, put your spin on it or your brand and find a need to serve.