1. You have to NEED to make it.
Wanting to make it is not enough. It must be your one true calling. If you’re willing to be broke, with no direction home, you might possibly make it. Sacrifice is the key element. If you’re not willing to sacrifice your home, your relationship, forgo children and sleep on the floor when you’re forty, don’t expect to make it in music, certainly don’t expect to sustain.
2. You have to be great.
Good is not good enough. You’ve got to blow our minds.
3. You can’t do it alone.
That’s an Internet fiction, from a decade past, that if you just posted something online it could cut through the noise. You need a team:
a. A lawyer
b. A manager
c. An agent.
A lawyer to make sure you don’t sign bad deals that hobble you forever.
A manager to play interference, he who sells himself and makes his own deals is destined to piss people off.
And an agent to get you gigs.
An agent is hardest to get. A manager is never easy. But no act ever made it without a manager.
It can’t buy you love, but it can buy you visibility. That’s what you’re looking for today.
The story of 2013 is cacophony, noise. Nothing rises above the din unless it is worked by a team. There’s just too much out there, and no one agrees what is great. So, gatekeepers are everything. I know this is contrary to everything you’ve heard for the last ten years, but this is what noise has wrought. How can you attach yourself to those who will get your message out? You must have the goods when you get your chance, but spontaneous virality is doomed in an era where BuzzFeed is a business BASED on virality and Gawker and other outlets play the same game. If you can’t get on their radar, if you can’t expose a large audience, you’re never gonna make it. Sorry.
Sure, you need fans. But all they can do is pay for your Kickstarter record, and have you noticed we hear no more Kickstarter stories, that the outlet is the new BlackBerry, something that used to be that is no longer? If you’re just speaking to your fans, getting money from them, you might be able to survive, but you’ll never be able to grow.
You need business people, those with power, to believe in you. They need to do favors for you, get you on the radio, get you placed on shows, give you a chance to demonstrate your wares. If you’re totally DIY, you’re gonna be living in your basement.
That’s the hardest thing to do these days, not have one hit, but two. The label might sign and promote your single track, and then they’ll drop you when you’ve got no follow-up.
We live in a country where no one can admit they’re wrong. If you’re not willing to question every choice, do it differently next time, you’re never going to make it. Three years ago, almost everything I’ve said above would be different. You could go viral by your lonesome, social networking worked. But times change. You once used your aforementioned BlackBerry and were thrilled to get your e-mail on the run, now it’s all about apps. People hate change, but those who are willing to do so win. Kind of like in Silicon Valley, where it’s called “the Pivot.” Your original idea didn’t work, so you take the core and go in a different direction. You might think you’re a rocker, but truly you might be a country artist. You might think you’re a singer, but you might really be a songwriter, or a producer.
8. Pay little attention to those who are popular.
By the time you get your chance, completely different people and paradigms might rule. Originality is the key to longevity. Be yourself, not someone else.
Was useless until this year. With so much information, we see publicity as evidence that someone believes in you. The content is less important than the imprimatur, that you’ve risen above. Used to be if we saw your name everywhere, we winced. Actually, we still do, but we now know you’re not a complete wanker.
10. Word of mouth.
Is still king, but too many are promoting for friends and have terrible taste. We’ve all got our trusted filters, and those who count are not afraid of the mainstream. The Internet is littered with those who abhor anything that is truly popular. Don’t get caught in their backwater, unless you want to starve. You want to be popular. Otherwise, get out.
Means people like you and your music. It comes with haters, because it’s so hard to break through, people are going to be angry that you did. You’ll be told you’re ugly, that your music sucks, that you can’t sing, that you’ve got no talent, but don’t believe it. It’s so hard to make it that if you have, pat yourself on the back and do your best to survive.
One hit and you can get royalties forever. Maybe even live dates. But chances are you’ll have to have a day job. The rule is, the harder it is to do, the better the chance of survival. Which is why doctors can always be employed, even if they bitch about their compensation. The barrier to entry to music is miniscule, so there are always others who are eager to take your place. The more skills you’ve got under your belt, the better your chance at lasting. But don’t be holier than thou that you can read music and got a degree, these are just tools, building blocks, a foundation, it’s what you build on top that counts.
13. Be nice.
It’s the key to making it. If you’re a jerk, no one’s going to want to work for you, go out of their way to promote you. Constantly say thank you and go out of your way to be appreciative. Everybody loves compliments, not just the act.
14. Sour grapes.
Are gonna pull you down. The woulda, shoulda, coulda posse can tell an interesting story over a beer, but these people never succeed. Life is full of challenges, if you haven’t been screwed, you haven’t played the game. The road to success is paved with humiliation, you can complain about it or swallow it and realize it’s dues.
15. There are no guarantees.
Everybody’s time goes by. Most only peak for a short while. Enjoy the ride when you break through.