8 Pitfalls to Avoid While Building Your Music Business
This article first appeared on SonicScoop.com. I reprint it here and encourage you to check out their super informative site!
It’s a jungle out there. Or a forest. Or maybe a desert. It could be an ocean teeming with sharks. Whatever it is, we can probably all agree the music business can be a frightening journey.
Whether you’re a full-fledged professional musician or just trying to get the word out about some tunes, you’ve probably gotten a lot of advice about the path to take through the quagmire. A lot of that advice may have been helpful, and some of it was probably misleading and maybe even flat out wrong.
The truth is, the path is yours, and we can’t tell you exactly where to go. But we can post a few warning signs so you don’t sucked into a pit of quicksand or a magical whirlpool to nowhere.
Here are 8 of those pitfalls, laid out in no particular order.
Inconsistency is probably the top cause of failure in creative business. Have you ever turned on the T.V. expecting to see your favorite show, only to find that one of the cast members didn’t show up, or the script just didn’t get done in time? No. Period, end of sentence, never.
This doesn’t mean you need to create crazy, impossible promises and die trying to fulfill them. What it does mean is that if you can’t consistently show up and create, you should learn that skill before going any further.
You can still let your muse do what it does but learn how to drip that sporadic output to the public in an even way. This is easy enough to do using scheduled posts, future release dates and (contrary to the big TV model), NOT overpromising. If you’ve got 18 songs in the can and ready to go, create an 18-month release schedule. If you’ve got zero, don’t promise you’ll do one every month unless you know you can.
If you don’t have much content, just make sure you’re showing up regularly. That may mean checking your Facebook daily and responding to comments, sending a monthly email, doing a live video, or simply showing up to open mics predictably. Whatever you can do consistently, do it consistently.
Consistency also means emotional consistency. Give every contact the same great experience when they interact with you. Let your emotional whims and brilliant insanity out in the studio, not in your relationships.
2. Lack Of Focus
Here is an area where you’ve probably been given some bad advice. I’m sure you’ve heard something along the lines of one of these:
- Start a podcast to draw attention to you and your music
- Write sync cues to fund your act
- Write a blog post every day
- Post on Facebook 3 times a day every day
- Learn to play all the hits so you’ll always have a gig
- Put your music in every licensing library
- Be present on every social media platform
- Send your music to blogs, radio stations, magazines, etc.
The problem with advice like this is that it encourages you to dilute your focus and creates – wait for it – inconsistency. If you’re trying to release music, play shows, do licensing cues, write a blog post every day AND do a podcast, you won’t be focused enough on any one of them to do it justice. Podcasts will be late or sporadic, blog posts will come when they come, and disappear for months, and guess what? You will eventually stop making music.
When it comes to social media, it’s tempting to think that being on more platforms will get you more traction. But try spending two years solid responding to every Facebook comment, Twitter mention, Instagram post and LinkedIn request, and you will quickly find yourself drowning. Better to pick one than do three poorly.
Similarly, you may have seen advice about reaching out to blogs, radio stations, Spotify playlist curators, internet radio, magazines and labels. Before you spend time on that, think through your goals and decide what will do the most for your act. Again, one push done well is better than 8 done halfway.
3. Wasting Time And/Or Money
This is another version of focus.
Yes, it feels good to get that little bit of validation every time you get a review in a cool publication, a radio play or a Facebook like. The question is, is investment of time or money in those vanity metrics going to create a return?
If emailing blogs is taking you days and days and you’re getting a response rate of 1 out of 100, and an actual review in another 1% of those, and some of those don’t even have a link to your music, AND the only link to your music is a Spotify link, AND you have no way to capture, track or communicate with people who read the post, your time is probably not worth that effort. If you spent money on that effort in the form of a PR company or virtual assistant, you’ve probably wasted your money.
Maybe you’re convinced that two or three music business courses at $1000 a pop will do the trick. Or someone told you that you need a bunch more gear, or you think you’ll do better if your album is mastered by the absolute best mastering engineer in the universe. Or worst, you’ve bought into some pay-to-play scheme.
SOME of these things might help you go forward, but most will waste your time AND money. So instead of falling for the old “if you’re not willing to invest in yourself” line, stop and take a hard look at anything you’re about to put money or time into, and ask “how likely is this investment to return or forward my career in a specific and measurable way?”
4. DIYing Everything
While you don’t want to waste money on every service and gadget out there that may not feed your bottom line, you also don’t want to be doing everything yourself. If you’re trying to write music, mix your songs, master your songs, build your own websites, take your own photographs, write your own press releases, do all your own promotion…well you get the picture. Not only will this waste time, it will also lead to a lack of focus, which will hurt your quality.
If you happen to be a web developer or a photographer or a graphic designer for your day job, it makes sense to use that skillset to further your music career, and if you have absolutely no budget, then you’ll be forced to do things yourself for a while, but as soon as you can, get the things that you aren’t good at into the hands of people who are.
5. Trying To Bootstrap
Speaking of having zero budget, don’t. That may seem a bit harsh, but the truth is it’s a rare business which doesn’t start off with some outside funding. Especially in music, and more especially with recorded music, you’ll find yourself stuck at almost every turn if you can’t spend anything.
Obviously if you can make money playing live or with a sync license or two, you can put at least part of that back into your business, and you should! But you will find a whole world of ease and grace available to you if you let yourself fund your music business with your other endeavors – like your day job.
It can be quite a trick, finding time for a job AND your business, but there are plenty of ways to strike a balance. Flexible work, work that you can do remotely, part time work, and reducing your personal expenses are all really helpful things. Striking the best balance you can when it comes to what you do yourself and what you delegate is wise as well, and is easier to do if you stick to actions that really have heavy value. As mentioned above, do take the time to evaluate any potential spend of time or money in terms of how well and how fast it can return.
6. Making It About You/NOT Making It About You
You’ve probably been told it’s not about you. That’s true, to some degree. If you are the only one who loves your product (aka your music), you’ll have a tough time making a living. So you need to think about who your fans and customers are, and what they need. You want to move, touch and inspire people, which means whether you love the sound or not isn’t top priority.
By the same token, if you’re not true to yourself, good luck moving people. You must be authentic to your own inspiration in order to be inspiring to others. This is where making it about you IS important. The fact is, people don’t care about music. They care about people. Your fans will be fans because they care about YOU. They care about your story, the value you can bring to them as a leader, and the difference you can make in their lives, simply by being brave enough to put your creativity out for them to see. Remember to tell your story, create an experience, and think about how that story affects other people more than how it affects you.
7. Shallow Relationships
It’s tempting to try to build as many relationships as possible. We all want to get as many fans as possible, as many business connections as possible, and as many touches on social media, radio and blogs as possible. But if you’ll refer to pitfalls 2 and 3, you’ll remember that many of the quick, one -off relationships you gather will end up being valueless.
Instead of forgoing a deep connection in favor of more, be sure to cultivate your best relationships. Take great care of your super fans. Build lasting partnerships with a few incredible collaborators. Be truly there for businesses who fit value you.
When it comes to building new relationships, build them slowly. Introduce yourself, add value to the relationship, and be patient. Nothing alienates a potential fan more than spamming their messenger box with a link to buy your record when you don’t even know them.
This is yet another version of focus. It’s far better to have 1000 super fans all spending a $100 a year on you than 10,000 followers who spend a dollar and forget about you.
8. Not Vetting Music
Here is a thing that gets swept under the rug too much: most music sucks. There, I said it. You can do all the right things with your promotion, your relationships and your branding, but if your music is terrible, you’re facing an uphill battle. The truth is, though, if you’re serious enough to read this, you’ve probably got what it takes, so don’t sell yourself short just yet.
But be honest. Do you really take the time to get feedback and actually make changes? This is the thing that separates professionals from amateurs when it comes to quality. It’s not expensive gear, it’s not flashy studios and it’s not that major label musicians magically have 50 times your talent. It’s simply that truly professional work is vetted.
Professionals seek feedback at every stage, from ever-widening circles of unbiased listeners. Over the course of a production, change after change after change is made, until what is finally released to the general public is polished, crisp and excellent. If it’s not, it’s scrapped or continues to be honed.
Processing your work this way will give you confidence when it comes time to promote it, will virtually guarantee that your audience is impressed, and will involve more people, meaning more people will spread the word. So, vet your work!
When you go down this path called Art-For-A-Living, you really can’t predict how it will look, and everyone’s path is different. Heck, it’s not even the same landscape every time. The music business can look like a jungle, an ocean, a vast expanse of barren space, or a warzone.
However, those of us who have been meandering, careening and bumbling through the land for years can tell you what to avoid. There’s not much we can tell you about where you’ll go and what you’ll do, but hopefully with some of these warning signs posted, you’ll be able to get somewhere beautiful.
Go forth, then, and create and thrive!