Hopefully, you've been in the music business long enough to know that miracles don't happen overnight and it takes real, honest work to achieve any success, no matter how small. Still, it's okay to carry some pie-in-the-sky dreams in your back pocket. Just make sure you pair them with a healthy dose of reality. If you're in need of a little real talk, here are five sound reality checks for your music career.
1. Rolling Stone and major labels aren't interested
I talk to a lot of bands. Of those bands, it’s not unusual for many to come to me with lofty dreams of appearing in Pitchfork, saying things like, “Yeah, we just recorded our sophomore album and we’re shopping labels right now, so our next steps are going to depend on who picks us up.”
I love the optimism, and I'm a huge advocate of big dreaming and future planning. But if I look at your social media and your following is weak, your interactions and engagement are next to none, you have no previous press, and the longest tour you did was a week around your home state, I can tell you with almost 100 percent certainty that the major outlets and most labels will not be knocking down your door to get your attention.
This doesn’t mean it won’t ever happen, but it’s important to be realistic and understand that huge milestones like these are something you work towards over time. You can’t just skip all the steps in between and shoot straight to the top. There is a lot of value in partnerships with smaller outlets and labels. If you’re greedy and overlook the little guys who might just be the perfect fit for you, don’t be surprised when the majors do the same.
The reality is that the days of a major label discovering a new artist and showering them with money while they “take a chance” on them are over. Labels want to see that you’ve already proven yourself through engaging with your audience, lots of buzz through press (this doesn’t have to be major-outlet press, by the way), and that you’ve toured successfully. In other words, you have to do all the hard work yourself before attracting the attention of the higher-ups.
2. Team members are there to assist, not do the job for you
There’s this crazy idea out there that you need a manager to get major placements and put you in front of all the right people; a publicist to take your following of 100 people and turn that into a major outlet feature; and an agent to book you in your city's biggest club when you can only draw 50 people out on a weekend.
The tough-love reality is that team members are there to assist with what you’ve already built, not do the job for you. It’s not up to a manager to get you a licensing deal, book you a tour, and get you press. Many emerging managers do this because they’re scrambling to break into the business and believe in their bands, and God bless them for it, but it's so far above and beyond their responsibilities and paygrade.
You do not need a manager if you have nothing to manage. Let me repeat that. You do not need a manager if you have nothing to manage. It's your manager’s job to advise you on your affairs and decisions when they become so overwhelmingly large that you can’t do it on your own, but until you reach that point, it's not their job to hustle for you. In fact, it’s no ones job to hustle for you and if you go into any partnership – with a publicist, an agent, a manager, or another band – with the mentality that the other person is there to do all the work for you, you’ll be incredibly disappointed.
We can only work with what we’re given, so if you aren’t putting in the work on your end, don’t be surprised when there’s not much we can do on ours.
3. You're judged on your social media
You’ve probably heard this a million times by now, but because I still see so many artists abandoning their social media platforms, save for the occasional “come see us play!” post, it bears repeating.
For better or worse, social media is a big part of how artists stand out and prove that their audience exists. This comes into play when you’re looking for press or a manager, booking tour dates, or searching for a label. It’s imperative that you not only build your audience, but that you interact with them and do it in a meaningful way (read: not constantly spamming them with just show/music news).
It’s so important to get clear on your brand and to incorporate that into your social media so that you can truly connect with your audience on a human level, rather than just talking at them. They already know they like your music; that’s why they’re there. What will take them from a fan to a superfan is getting to know you.
4. Your laser-focused approach might be killing your career
There are a lot of opportunities out there – you just have to be open to seeing them. A big creativity killer is tunnel vision and refusing to see anything other than what you have your eyes set on. Focus is great – it’s necessary, even – but you have to be open to opportunities that present themselves in new ways.
For instance, if music blogs aren’t connecting like you want, try approaching other niche blogs where you have an interest or knowledge. If you’re a nutrition nut, get in touch with recipe blogs and offer to submit a recipe in exchange for a short bio at the end of your article that outlines who you are and links to your music. If you’re feeling down about how long it’s taking for your song to get licensing placement, try turning to YouTube, finding channels that align with your brand and where your music might fit in the background of videos, and getting in touch to offer a partnership.
Don’t get greedy asking for a ton of money, and don’t try to shoot straight to the top, bypassing all the smaller channels that might be a great fit. This is about building relationships, getting your music out there, and the long game. Remember, patience is a virtue in this industry.
5. You're putting too much pressure on yourself
This isn't an industry for the faint of heart, and it’s not one that responds well to impatience. Things can move really fast, but they can also move really slow, and usually in the beginning stages, you’re on the slow path. It takes time to properly establish and clarify your brand, build a social media following, and get people out to shows. It’ll take time to get into your dream outlet and play your ideal show – and that’s okay!
It can be easy to look around and think you’re lagging behind every other band in the world, but the reality is that everyone is struggling in their own way, and even the biggest bands out there right now have been putting in a lot of work behind the scenes to get where they are.
Success is absolutely within your reach, whatever that means to you, but it doesn’t come easy. The good news is that it is actually in your hands. If you work hard and smart, have patience, and employ these strategies while continuing towards your goal, there’s nothing standing in your way. If "they" can do it, you can do it. You just have to be willing to go after it.
Angela Mastrogiacomo is the owner of Muddy Paw Public Relations and Infectious Magazine. Muddy Paw works with emerging artists and growing industry talent to bring their music and product to industry tastemakers. Clients have seen placement on Noisey, Idobi, Substream, New Noise, and more.