Every once in a while, I get a message from an aspiring musician asking for industry advice. It usually goes something like…
I am a musician in so and so town and I am looking for advice about how to advance my career in the music, media, and entertainment industries. Writing and performing music are my true passions, and my ultimate goal is to play music for a living. However, I am also interested in other music industry jobs, and what’s really important is being involved in music. Do you have any advice or resources that you could share with me?
Since I’ve received a fair amount of these messages, I thought I’d take some key points from my responses and share them as 5 Tips To Boost Your Music Career in this article.
Tip #1 - Immerse Yourself In The Industry
Regardless of the capacity in which you want to be involved in the music industry, it is important that you surround yourself in the culture and people of the industry. Whether you want to be an artist, a producer, an engineer, a writer, or a photographer, this will be critical to your success. Go to shows, attend online events, volunteer for local projects, call studios and labels and ask to take a tour of their facilities, attend AES or NAMM or any of the industry trade shows or conventions, make business cards and hand them out, collect other peoples cards and actually email them to reinforce the connection. Your personal and professional relationships should both consist largely of musicians and music industry people. I cannot stress enough how important building your network and immersing yourself in the industry is. Follow this one rule alone and you may end up in the industry without even trying.
Action Item: Set up an email account specifically for your music industry related contacts. Use the calendar in the email account to keep track of birthdays, events, relevant holidays, and anything else that would give you a meaningful reason to reach out to people. Email them; try to develop real relationships. Seek not only how they may help you, but primarily how you might help them. Add value to other people’s lives.
Tip #2 - Have A Plan
Even a shit plan is worlds better than no plan. To start, define your goals.
Well defined goals meet the following criteria:
Relevant - The goal is related to something important to you
Attainable - Your goal is realistic, and can actually be accomplished
Time-bound - Your goal has a due date
Measurable - There is a way to measure or track your progress
You can have long term and short term goals. No goal is too big, but break big goals down into smaller steps so they are easier to approach.
Allow your goals to adapt with your circumstances.
Goals and plans can be malleable. All things change with time, including ourselves and our circumstances. Be willing to shift and change your plans and goals accordingly.
Action Item: Identify the two or three most important goals for your music career. Be realistic; be optimistic. Write out all the individual steps you’ll need to take to accomplish each goal. Be thorough. Finally, put due dates on each step of each goal. This is your plan.
If you are having trouble writing your plan, check out my article How to Make A Living As A Musician, where I outline the entire roadmap from mom’s basement to financial independence.
Tip #3 - Monitor Your Progress and Adjust Course
Monitoring your progress is extremely helpful to keep yourself motivated, engaged, and realistic. It allows you to be more aware of how your future might actually look. There are many ways to monitor progress.
Schedule a reoccurring check-in with yourself or a mentor
Keep a calendar of steps and goals hanging on your bedroom door or somewhere constantly visible. Mark things off as they get completed.
Create a spreadsheet to track your progress, and generate graphs to get visual feedback
Write in a daily or weekly journal
Action Item: Identify an easy way to keep track of your progress. Start tracking. Set a weekly or monthly reminder to review your progress.
Tip #4 - Hold Yourself Accountable
This means that you assign yourself tasks with deadlines and you make a strong, honest effort to meet those deadlines. Don’t blame anyone other than yourself for missing a deadline. By assuming fault, you give yourself the power to adjust and correct. Be realistic about how long a task might take when setting deadlines; you want to set yourself up for success.
Another way to help keep yourself accountable is to work with other people. There is an added sense of obligation when someone else is expecting you to complete a task. That someone else could be a co-worker, bandmate, friend, or mentor. A mentor is an experienced or trusted advisor who is willing to meet with you every so often to assess your plan and progress. Finding a good mentor is difficult, but if you are able to, they can be an invaluable asset.
Action Item: Create a rewards system for reaching your goals. Maybe every time you add 100 emails to your mailing list, you get to buy yourself a new guitar pedal!
Tip #5 - Be Persistent
“It’s not that I’m so smart, its just that I stay with problems longer.” - Albert Einstein.
Cultivating a sustainable career in the music biz takes time. Be patient, be persistent. We tend to overestimate our one month potential and underestimate our ten year potential. Read that last sentence again.
Simply, do not stop until you have achieved what you desire. The only way to guarantee your failure is to cease your efforts.
My advice to aspiring musicians who want to have successful careers in music starts with immersing yourself in the industry. Your network can be such a strong asset that it alone can determine your success. Next, it is helpful to know exactly what you're trying to accomplish, and how you’re going to accomplish it. Define clear goals and create a plan. As you start executing your plan, track and monitor your progress. This will help you hold yourself accountable for actually doing the work of building a career. Finally, be persistent. Don’t stop until you have achieved your goals!
Things You Can Do Right Now:
Define your goals and write your plan
Join an online music group
Make friends who play music
Help other bands and artists by sharing their work
Contact venues to book shows or to get hired for production work
Attend shows and concerts
Contact studios and ask to take tours
Volunteer at or attend the Audio Engineering Society (AES) Convention or the NAMM show
Become involved in community or after-school music programs
Take music courses at your local college
Get a music-related degree or certification
Join community or student music organizations
Intern at a recording studio, record label, or publishing house
Apply for music industry jobs and follow up on your applications
Create a music blog, vlog, or podcast
Create a website and social media accounts to boost your online presence and exposure
Start a music-related business
I hope that this list provides you with some brain food to get your own plan of attack together. The music industry is not the easiest place to cultivate a sustainable career. It takes determination, passion, and time. But if you are committed, thoughtful, and capable of doing the work, it is possible to achieve a rewarding career and happy life in music.
Want to get started developing your music career right now? Download this Music Career Worksheet I made for you.
It is my goal to help you thrive as a musician. I hope you found this article helpful. If you have any questions or comments please drop me a line! Of course, if you need help with recording, mixing, or mastering your music, get a price quote here.