Part of being an emerging band is learning as you go. When you look at it this way, making mistakes along the way is perfectly natural. But imagine if you could save yourself the trouble of certain obstacles—wouldn’t that be kind of great?
Having been in the industry for nearly a decade as both a writer and a publicist, not to mention my almost 30 years on this earth as a music fan, I tend to see artists make the same mistakes. The good news is, because the mistakes tend to be the same, they’re a bit easier to mass diagnose, meaning once you know what they are, you can work to avoid them. So what are some of the biggest mistakes I see emerging bands make?
Thinking “great music” is enough
The biggest mistake I see bands make is believing that if only they have great music, the rest will fall into place. While this may have been true in the past, the music industry simply doesn’t work this way anymore. If you want to get in front of anyone, from labels to managers to blogs, you need to first prove that there’s demand. This means that not only do you need great music, you need a strong social media presence, you need press, a record of touring (preferably successfully), and anything else that’s going to show them that you’ve already done the hard work, and that investing in you is a sure thing.
Not having a social media presence
Very often I hear bands say that they simply don’t “get” or “like” social media and so, they just don’t participate in it for their music. Sometimes they go as far as to say “I know it’s important, but…” There is no good way to end that sentence. If you aren’t good at it, either find someone who is and hire them to help you out, or invest the time to learn. In today’s world, if you want to be a successful career musician you simply can’t afford to not be active (and engaging) on social media.
Keep in mind, simply posting to social media isn’t enough. You’ll want to be diligent about the type of content you’re posting (IE following the 70-20-10 rule) and keeping people engaged through brand building posts that support and show who you are and what the mission behind your music is, rather than 18 “check out our next show!” posts in a row.
Not taking time to plan your future
Sometimes you can get so caught up in the cog of life that just getting through what needs to be done seems overwhelming, meaning the activities that tend to focus more on growth over the long term can feel like a luxury. Things like planning out where you want to be in a year and then working backwards to see how plausible that really is and how to make it happen. Or getting crystal clear on your branding. But as difficult as it can be to find time for future planning, it’s a step that you really can’t afford to skip if you want to find success long term. Try to take out an hour or so each week to sit down and really think about where you want to go and how you’re going to get there. This can include long term plans like signing to a label or short term plans like gaining a more engaged social media following.
Trying to do it all on your own/not having a budget
As an emerging band, you probably have a pretty limited budget, and because of it, you’re trying to do everything yourself—even the things you really don’t have a clue how to do. While it can be tough to find the money to hire out experts for certain tasks that you may not be comfortable with, like PR or booking a tour, past a certain point you really can’t afford not to have their help.
I believe in the DIY artist and being in control of your own future, but the truth is that no one gets where they’re going alone. At some point you’ll need the support of a team, and the sooner you can begin planning how to budget for that and when and where to spend that money (as well as what tasks to prioritize it on) the sooner you’ll find yourself beginning to climb to new levels.
Taking it personally
I have all the respect in the world for artists, because what you do on a regular basis—putting your heart and soul out there and then hoping people respond positively—is one of the scariest and yet most courageous parts of being an artist. Unfortunately, it can be difficult to distinguish between “this just isn’t a fit for this blog/label/manager right now” and “they hate me, my music sucks, why am I doing this at all.” And look, you aren’t alone! We all have those days, even those of us on the industry side. But learning not to take these things personally, to understand some things really are just business is essential to staying sane in a creative industry.
Being able to separate yourself from your art a little bit is a healthy way of running your business—and make no mistake, your band is a business. Remember, it doesn’t have to please everyone and to be honest, if it is you’re probably doing something wrong—it just has to touch the lives of those whose mission and message in life is the same as yours. That means some people won’t like it, and that’s ok! Because for the people who do, they’ll really love it, and truly get it, and they’ll become your super fans.
So next time a blog or a potential label doesn’t get back to you don’t take it as a sign from the Universe that you should quit music. Instead, just focus on what you love and continue to make it better, and things will only continue to get better.