When young, developing artists think about succeeding in music, they often picture sold-out venues, full wallets, and loyal fans who know all of their songs by heart. But whether your goal in music is to become famous around the world or to merely make a human connection with your songs, it takes an immense amount of work simply to get your music in front of listeners. Your ability to do this sort of work consistently and well could mean the difference of being able to connect with audiences or not. If you’re new to music and want to know what sort of work I’m talking about, here are four examples of necessary tasks to get your music heard:
Booking your own shows for the first time can be a huge challenge. However, one way of making it easier is to put yourself in the shoes of the venues, festivals, and show promoters you contact. Sure, you’d like to open for that popular national band on a Friday night, but what’s in it for the venue? By being clear and honest about what your performance can bring to the table you’ll have the best shot at landing shows and building good relationships with your local venues. An exciting performance opportunity for developing artists are livestreams, which are open to everyone regardless of experience level, following, and even age. Livestreams absolutely aren’t the same thing as conventional shows, but they’re perfect for building a following and developing experience as an unestablished artist. No matter what your goals are, some form of live performance needs to be a part of your plan if you want to succeed as a musician.
Most musicians understandably loathe the tedious and thankless process of pitching new music to record labels, blogs, playlists, and radio stations. A couple hours into sending emails, you might get the sense that your work might never pay off, and you might be right, unfortunately. But when you do manage to get someone’s attention and land a spot on a blog, playlist, newspaper column, or radio show, it can be a huge deal in terms of connecting with new listeners. In other words, pitching music can be pretty horrible, but it is ultimately worth your time. The same advice applies here as with booking shows, which is to approach pitching with the recipients of your emails and one-sheets in mind. Other human beings will (hopefully) read your emails and listen to your music. So sloppily written, copied, and pasted content won’t do you any favors. If possible, make your pitches thoughtful, personalized, and engaging when it comes to describing your music.
Writing emails and bios
Writing is a necessary skill for unestablished musicians because pitching music, booking shows, and communicating with fans can’t happen without it. No, you don’t need to be a technically skilled or creatively gifted writer, but you do need to be coherent and engaging in the way you describe your music. Doing this takes not only writing practice, but also a good deal of thought when it comes to talking about what your music means, how it sounds, and what makes it interesting. Why should people bother to listen to you and take you seriously? That might sound a bit harsh, but you should be as objective as possible when you think about your music when you write emails and craft your bio.
Managing money isn’t natural to many musicians, but a lack of financial literacy can lead to major problems that could plague you the rest of your career. This could be mounting credit card debt that forces you to quit making music seriously. Or, it could be getting locked into an unfair contract by foolishly signing with the first label that expresses interest in you. A lot of us don’t care much about money and would rather think about making music all day instead. But the truth is that you can’t avoid money in music. Your instruments cost money. Touring costs money if venues aren’t paying you guarantees every night. Recording costs money whether you pay for the equipment to do it yourself or invest in studio time. When it comes to the long game of getting your music heard, your career needs to be sustainable, and focusing on money is a part of that sustainability. If you can’t do it on your own, enlist the help of someone who can, whether it’s an entertainment lawyer, financial advisor, or accountant.
When we talk about how hard it is to succeed in music, the difficulty of these tasks help explain why. But the more resilient and tenacious we can be as artists, the better we’ll be able to approach the boring, frustrating, and thankless parts of our careers.
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.