A full-time career as an independent musician is a labor of love. You can spend years working to perfect your craft and get your music out there, but still feel that you haven’t reached a desirable level of recognition.
There are many reasons why some artists earn endless acclaim while others remain stuck in the same spot, but the strategies to reach your full potential aren't hidden secrets saved just for the fortunate. Almost every "overnight" success story has years of effort behind it. Here are five ways you can put yourself in the best position to get what you deserve as a musician.
1. Sacrifice for your craft
"Sacrifice" is a word that's thrown around a bit too loosely when it comes to life as a musician. If you’re setting aside a few hours at night to work on music and think that'll be enough to attain your goals, sacrifice is something you’ve yet to experience.
Making a living off of music is extremely difficult and not for the faint-hearted. It's important to have balance in terms of time management, but practically all of your free time must be focused on your music career in order to succeed. Going out every night of every weekend with friends isn't an option, and all the money you may want to spend on material possessions should be going toward music-related expenses.
Your family and loved ones will have to understand that the only way for you to realize your vision to the fullest is to make music the primary focus in your life. The personal sacrifice will get emotionally draining and there will be many ups and downs, but understanding what "making it" truly entails as an artist is essential if you want to get what you deserve.
2. Understand the importance of relationships
Spending endless hours in the studio working on music is a central part of an artist's lifestyle, but it's equally important to meet fellow musicians and creatives, and that requires being social and fully aware of all the daily happenings in your local music scene.
Conversing with industry peers on social media is all well and good, but a great face-to-face conversation will pay off more in the long run. Attend all of the live shows and networking events you can without neglecting the time it takes to make music to the best of your ability. Even if it seems like you didn’t receive any personal gain from attending an event, your presence will always be noted and good karma has a solid chance of heading back your way.
3. Become a jack of all trades
In this day and age, succeeding as an independent artist requires much more than simply being a talented musician. You need to be a jack of all trades in order to make sure you’re regarded as a professional in every aspect of your career.
Expertise in the wide variety of popular social media platforms, marketing/promotional strategies, and even Photoshop (for designing show flyers, etc.) is vital if you want to be respected as a well-rounded artist who is on top of all the latest trends. Doing all of this extra legwork may seem like a waste of time and a distraction from your creative process, but the presentation of your work is arguably just as important as the quality of your music.
If all of these skills come naturally to you, that’s great! But no matter how quickly your fanbase grows, there's always more to learn and new things to take advantage of as the music industry evolves.
4. Learn all the business aspects of the music industry
Dealing with paperwork is something you thought you were leaving behind when deciding to be a musician versus working a nine-to-five, but there's no avoiding these sorts of tasks when there's money to be made. Read up on publishing deals, royalties, and booking agencies. Sign up for a performing rights organization like ASCAP or BMI.
Not letting anybody take advantage of you is a huge part of getting what you deserve as a musician and, unfortunately, some people will do whatever they can to keep money in their own pockets. Once you’ve proven yourself as a professional and someone who's good to do business with, you’ll start to see how significant the benefits are of being a business-minded artist.
5. Remember that no one owes you anything
While you might want to think that following all of this advice will automatically lead to success, the truth is that things don’t always work out as expected. If you hit a rough patch and start to blame others for your stagnation, it'll only lead to a downward spiral that's extremely hard to recover from.
Always remember: no one owes you anything, no matter how talented you think you are. If your career isn’t going as expected, it's up to you to bounce work and do everything in your power to change your routine. You make your own luck, and it's important to be grateful for any support you receive, no matter if it’s 10 cheering fans or 1,000.
In order to get what you deserve as a musician, you have to earn it every step of the way. The journey isn’t likely to be a smooth one, but you’ll rest easier at night knowing you’re doing all you can to make your dreams a reality.
Eric Bernsen is a marketing/public relations professional and music journalist who specializes in the genre of hip-hop. You can find more of his work at HITPmusic.com (where he is an editor/writer) as well as HipHop-N-More.com, where he contributes album reviews. Follow Eric on Twitter @ebernsen.