Musicians have a lot on their plates these days. We’re told that there’s virtually no chance we’ll succeed without throwing a huge amount of our time and energy into doing things like promoting our work over social media or carving out brands for our digital identities. But while there’s some truth to that advice, it won’t make a difference if the music you’re looking to share isn’t solid. Yes, in today’s music industry, artists shouldn’t expect to post music online and find a following without throwing in some hard non-musical work behind it, but many of us are missing the point of what it means to be creating music in 2020, and that point is to share compelling, interesting, fresh, and meaningful music.
Are you a marketer or a musician?
Virtually every unestablished musician has to be some version of both in 2020, but what role do you find yourself taking on and thinking about most of the time? The answer should resoundingly be “musician,” but we’re often so caught up in the game of finding audiences for our music that we forget the work itself. If you’re a serious musician, your top priority as a creator should be making great music. The savviest PR campaign can’t help you if you don’t have something genuinely exciting to share with the world.
If you’re a musician that finds yourself getting caught between the roles of creator and marketer, don’t feel bad. Most of us have been there, and it’s a common problem in the modern music industry. But the more we can separate our invaluable creative processes from our marketing efforts, the better we’ll be able to take on both roles. You’re a musician first and a tour-planner, booking agent, PR expert, and social media promoter second. That’s how you should be thinking about it, anyway.
To make songwriting the true focus of our music careers, we have to learn how to prioritize our resources. For example, you and your band might be touring to promote an album you released two years ago, but every day you spend on the road amounts to time taken away from your current creative process. Even if the album was successful, today’s audiences demand much, much more new music than they used to. Devoting precious resources to old music will leave you at risk for being forgotten by your fans, even if your efforts appear to be musically driven on their face.
Create, create, create
This might be an oversimplification, but I believe virtually every unestablished artist should spend the majority of their career efforts creating the best new music they can. Touring, marketing, pitching music to blogs, radio stations, and playlists––these are all essential duties for finding an audience in 2020, but they shouldn’t be your main priority and focus. With more and more musicians creating music from their home studios and distributing music online, the cost of making music has gone way down in recent years. This gives musicians of every age and background the chance to create and share as much music as they can and develop their musical identities in the process.
Rather than sharing each and every idea we come up with, musicians are best-off creating as often as they can in 2020 and releasing their best work. As you most likely already know, coming up with genuinely solid musical ideas takes a lot of time and personal investment, and this is why we should be focusing on creating and refining music more than anything else. If you struggle to find time for songwriting, try creating a list of realistic songwriting goals, stick to a writing schedule, and set up a place to make music in. Save the non-musical promotion and administrative work of your music career for the projects that truly matter: albums, important shows, etc. And above all, remember how valuable your time is. Accepting show offers out of politeness or collaborating on projects you don’t believe in are examples of things that can take significant amounts of time and energy from your own music. By letting uninhibited musical creativity and exploration be the foundation of your career, you’ll have the best chance at being able to make amazing work.
Patrick McGuire is a writer, musician, and human man. He lives nowhere in particular, creates music under the name Straight White Teeth, and has a great affinity for dogs and putting his hands in his pockets.