One of the most interesting things about the music industry is the different musical paths that artists and bands end up on. Depending on your upbringing, you may or may not have known people who played music their entire lives. People go about it in a variety of different ways.
There are many stages in the life of an artist, from the exciting beginning, to the grueling and uncomfortable tours. It’s a fun and worthwhile journey, if you stick with it. Here is what I’ve learned from my career thus far, and what I’ve learned from my friends in the industry.
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Whether it’s your first band or your third, a band starts with either a group of people or a bunch of songs. Sometimes, a bunch of friends start making music without any idea of where the music is going to go. Other times, one or two people get together with a specific musical idea they want to convey.
Either way, in the early days, you’ll be working on your sound, trying to make your music sound cohesive, and trying to express what you want to express. This is often the most fun and exciting time. There is no pressure, just music.
However, at a certain point you’ll want to start playing your music for others. Sometimes this means booking a show, getting some friends out, and putting on a performance. Sometimes, this means putting out a song or an EP.
Everyone writes differently – some people write in a “live” setting. Some write hanging out, jamming, writing together, etc. Other people make music alone – recording demos in a home studio or otherwise.
However, once you’ve played or released music publicly, you’ll want to get the ball moving. With a little bit of momentum, it’s time to kick your efforts up a notch.
Getting Your Business Together
Now things get fun. Consider your project and create a vision for the whole project. Not just musically – aesthetically as well. Your first steps should be doing some of the following:
- Getting professional promo pictures. Don’t spend too much money. Keep them simple and professional.
- Creating an internet presence. Go through and claim an account on as many social media platforms as possible. Even if you don’t intend on using all of them, you might as well claim the username.
- Get a domain name. Again, even if you don’t build a website right away, claim your domain name.
- Discuss the business arrangement with your band mates. Who wants to own the band? How will you split up the songwriting credits? Who will take over different duties in the band?
- Discuss plans and goals for the band with your band mates. Do you want to tour? When do you want to make an album? What are your goals for the band? What is everyone’s level of commitment? These things are essential to figure out before you travel too far down the path.
- Make a rehearsal schedule. It’s easier to remain committed if you are rehearsing regularly – that way it’s a commitment like any other.
If you’ve done all of these things, you’ll have a band that is significantly more organized than most bands. It’s a great way to start the band off right.
Start Working Hard
Recording songs, writing songs, booking shows, sending your music around – it’s an almost never ending job. There is always something to do!
Your first priority should be making music that you are proud of. If you are seriously proud of what you’ve made you will: a) work much harder, and b) have more success. People can see when somebody is truly passionate about what they do, and combined with a good work ethic, this will take you a long way.
Your band will make an album, you’ll play some shows and slowly but surely develop a following. This is a very exciting time in a band's life. You’ll get to make a lot of music, you’ll make your first music videos, and you’ll probably start to rub shoulders with some industry people.
There is a huge learning curve that most artists go through at this time. Most of us have no idea what the inner workings of the music industry look like until we’re in it. And as you start to venture out, you’ll start to get into that world.
A few key learning experiences will be attending a big music conference like SXSW. Here, you’ll work hard to get industry attention, do your best to learn as much as you can, and try to schmooze with the bigwigs. You’ll also learn how incredibly hard it is to make a splash.
Nobody will pay attention to you until someone else does. It usually only takes one or two people to pay attention before more people start giving your band a proper look. The fact is, there are simply a ton of bands, and not everyone will get the same attention.
It’s easy to get cynical at this time, however you’ll also have a few big wins. These little things may be a positive email from a manager, a few good shows, maybe a small record deal, etc. Celebrate these things, because they do matter.
Keep Pushing & Stay Together
So, so many bands get to a moderate level of success before cracking under the pressure. As your career progresses, you’ll be forced to make less music and do more business. At the same time, you’ll be working harder than ever and making less money.
You’ll be put in some uncomfortable situations and experience some frustrating roadblocks. This is where bands get run down and tired. Some people will want to start pursuing other projects, seeking out ways to make more money, or maybe start a family.
If you really want a successful career in music, it’s time to push through. The hard part will be keeping yourself from burning out, solving disagreements in the band, and staying excited about music.
I can’t count the number of bands I’ve discovered that have 10,000 or 15,000 likes on Facebook, had a bunch of good opportunities, and still called it quits. And honestly, I get it, because it's easy to burn out in this phase.
Make Decisions About The Career You Want To Have
The bands and artists I know who have pushed through everything and have made a career for themselves, have made smart decisions about how and where they want to make their money.
I know a folk band that makes a respectable income and lead comfortable lives playing folk clubs, folk festivals, and touring various countries and reliable markets they’ve developed. I know rock bands and pop bands that continue to push hard for high-profile opening slots and festival slots.
Some artists move into music production or artist management for other artists, to supplement their own career. Some people start managing events and putting on shows.
Finally, I know a few bands who have really broken through to the point where they’ve made a true, lifelong living playing their music. This is a beautiful way to live and something to aspire to, however it should be noted that there is absolutely nothing to be ashamed of in making money from other sources.
There are so many music related career paths to choose from and many other career paths that you may find fulfilling while still making art and pursuing a music career. It’s the 21st century – who doesn’t have like three jobs?
Soak Up Every Moment
Wherever your music career takes you, soak up every long drive, every minute of every set, and every satisfying studio moment. Making music is an admirable and worthwhile pursuit. Make music for the sake of making it, and the business will follow.