Although music sales are down and people are still waiting for a reasonable business model to emerge, I’m sure now is a good time to be an independent artist. There are more resources available than ever to help you grow your music career. The next phase is unavoidable, as organization and funding are the only missing elements in all new development. So what should you do as the puzzle pieces keep falling into place? I suggest you prepare, participate and build your arsenal. Only you can do the work necessary to prepare, but perhaps I can offer my own list of suggested keys to success.
Practical practical practice
If you are a performer, then you need to practice and practice frequently. I have struggled to develop my skills as a guitarist, but after 35 years, I can now see what worked and what didn’t work for me. Understand yourself and what motivates you. If you’re motivated by Stevie Ray Vaughan, then aim to play like Stevie Ray Vaughan, but not too much. Mix it up a little bit. That is, develop an appreciation for different artists and styles. If you’re learning the more traditional sight-reading approach, the same should be true. Play different pieces which can be difficult at first, but always challenge yourself to play the next level. Playing songs regularly can make them very easy, but it can also lock you into various bad habits. Develop a list of songs or techniques you want to learn and work on them. Always strive to improve.
Build musical collateral material
You should write songs and you should write a lot of them. I don’t mean that you should sit down and try to write one song a day. However, I believe that practice can help you develop as a songwriter. In the meantime, he’s building a good catalog of songs. I think the songwriting process is very personal. But, for me, it’s writing songs on the go. I have a notebook on hand to jot down ideas as I receive them. In other words, our life is made up of a series of observations that we can record as songs. Do you have all these observations at once? I don’t know about you, but I don’t know. I have observations that sometimes occur to me in abundance, and then I have observations that can occur to me less frequently. However, I consider them all valuable. Sometimes they are enough to inspire an entire song. Others are sometimes combined to create cute lines within another song. It’s my own process, but I think we can all develop the habit of recording our observations that can be used at a later date.
Write great songs
Well, it’s a good start in developing the habit of recording your observations and writing lots of songs. However, you also need to write great songs. This comes over time, I think, which is why songwriting practice is a prerequisite for writing great songs for most of us. Of course, Bob Dylan may have written great songs from the beginning, but I think he spent a lot of time studying his hero, Woody Guthrie. Studying the work of others is a great way to grow, and I encourage everyone to take the time to analyze the lyrics of those you admire the most. Read all you can about the songwriting process and also develop an understanding of what makes a song great. This, of course, is relative, as different people have different ideas of what makes a great song. However, you should have your own idea of what makes a great song and let it become the standard you aspire to.
Offer a great product
Well now you’ve started writing songs on a regular basis and have actually written some great songs. And that? If you can’t present the song at its best, you may never be recognized for the genius that you are. Therefore, it is necessary to produce a great product. By that, I mean you should record a professional quality demo. If you need help, try to seek help. It is possible to learn the technology and record very high quality demonstrations at home. However, this takes time to learn and you may not have the patience to learn software. Also, you may not have the skill level as a songwriter to sing or play all the instruments in your own song. That’s okay, because there are other people who can help you. Sometimes you can offer to pay them, but you can also offer them recognition that will help boost their own careers.
Be willing to work with others
This item should be second nature. Unfortunately, it is not. I encourage everyone to find value in their fellow man, which I believe is the biggest obstacle we face when trying to work with others. If you can appreciate a person and their skill level, this shouldn’t be too difficult. Also, learn to respect others in conversation and take time to understand people. Sometimes we do not understand the motivations of potential friends and colleagues, which is a fundamental problem when looking to build lasting relationships.
Develop personal networking skills
Personal networking skills are perhaps your greatest asset. You should always have good relationships with people, even when you can’t agree on everything. It makes good sense to have a strong circle of influence.
Develop business acumen
I believe that you need to develop an understanding of fundamental business principles that you can apply to your own career. While you should always live to network both on a business and personal level, we are in a do-it-yourself environment that requires some diligence on your part to understand at least the basics of business. If nothing else, read up on marketing as it is likely to provide the most benefit for the time invested. Try to understand the legal aspects of the music business. You don’t need to be a lawyer, but it helps to understand some of the contractual elements and some of the basic contracts. It is also worth understanding a little about intellectual property or copyright law. Having a good accounting sense can be a good thing for an artist … ask Willie Nelson. A certain knowledge of finance can help you when you’re ready to seek financing, and investing principles can help protect your money when you finally get it … just ask Willie Nelson.
Have an online presence
This has become increasingly important with all the new social sites. It can also be overwhelming as you find it difficult to maintain. I suggest you find a site that is comfortable for you and then let it become your main source of information. You can create a presence on some of the other sites, but you must have one that provides all of your information and you must point all of your sites to the one that presents it in the best light. Keep a notebook with all your screen names, usernames, passwords, etc. Depending on the confidentiality of the information, you can use the same password, but most people advise against it. Get in the habit of checking your sites and email accounts regularly. You can place them on your desk for easy access.
Get a stroke of luck
This is the most difficult of all. I don’t know how to help anyone with this item more to say, be prepared when it happens. Everyone has opportunities in life. They are not always immediately apparent when they happen, but we all have different degrees of luck. So learn to recognize a fluke when it happens, not 6 years after it happened when you didn’t act. Build all of your assets so you can make the most of your windfall when it happens. I mean, have a good catalog of songs with some great ones included.