At some point, every musician hits a wall. The worst part is, sometimes you don't even realize it. You're trudging along, so stuck in the day to day and what you need to do to keep your head above water that any room for growth is instantly stunted. And before you know it, you're beating your head against the wall trying to figure out why there hasn't been any real progress in six months.
When a venture is new and everything is still fresh and exciting, it's easy to get swept up in the potential of it all. But when dreaming turns to reality, and the stress of day-to-day life hits us, we forget how essential it is to step back and really focus on the future – not just the now. So before you go throwing in the towel, try asking yourself these five questions.
1. What is my end goal?
Although this question may seem basic, it turns out a lot of musicians don't actually know the answer. Sure, when you're a kid, the dream is to grow up and be a rock star, but in today's industry you're lucky just to get by on music alone. But it is possible, especially with careful planning.
First, you need to figure out what your end goal is – and then make sure everyone in the band and on your team knows and shares this vision. Is it to get signed to a major label? To remain independent but tour heavily? To be a studio musician? Ultimately it's up to you, but knowing your end goal is essential to figuring out what your short-term goals are, and the steps you'll need to take to achieve them.
2. What are my short-term goals?
Once you've established what it is you want long-term, it's time to break down those visions into short-term attainable goals. Ask yourself: What do I need to do in order to get where I want to be? Then work backwards. If you want to be on a label, your short-term goals might include researching clients on that label, finding out what it is they look for in an artist, networking with those close to the label, touring heavily, building up your online and social media presence, and building press.
Don't overwhelm yourself, but do push yourself with attainable goals and stretch goals that will lead you to where you want to be.
3. What are the keys to my definition of success?
This is an incredibly important question to ask yourself, and buckle up, because it's going to require some heavy thinking.
At first, the answers may seem simple – build up fan support, put on a killer show, make the right connections. Sure, those are all keys to success, but they're also very surface. The things that are already at the forefront of your mind are not the things you should be jotting down. Go deeper. So you know that you need to put on a killer show, but what does that mean? A great light show? Great merch? Playing a certain venue? That's a great start, but then dig even deeper. What do you need to put on a great light show? Who do you need to talk to to get a gig at that venue? What are the costs of the merch you want? Really think about the little things that go into the big picture, and write them down. Because ultimately, it's those little details that are your keys to your success.
4. What's my marketing plan?
Every artist should have a marketing plan, whether you're going the DIY route or hiring a team. You need to understand how you're going to market what you have and how you're going to get people to pay attention. Will it be through your live show? What about that is unique, and how will that translate to gaining fans outside your hometown? Will it be through unique merch? What will that merch be?
Notice I didn't say that your marketing plan should include how to get people to buy your stuff. While sales are (understandably) going to be on your mind, your marketing plan should be more about getting noticed and getting your name heard. If you do all of that right, the sales will come.
5. What are my financial needs and goals?
I know, you'd probably be happy just to get paid a decent amount for playing shows around town, and that's a great start. But as much as no one likes to talk about money, or think about how much you're spending chasing your dream, this is a business – and if you're going to succeed, you have to have a handle your finances.
This goes past just making sure you get paid to play. It means having a budget for things like recording, PR, merch, touring, etc. A lot of artists make the mistake of spending thousands on a recording, only to realize they've left themselves no money to hire a publicist to promote, or to put gas in the van to tour and play that record live. It's important to make sure you have an outline of your financial situation before you even think about recording, and make sure that you have enough to not just make the album, but then promote it properly. Even if you're going the DIY route, you'll still end up spending money and you'll still need to come up with a strong plan of marketing the music yourself (see above).
But don't stop there! No plan is ever really complete. As you and your music evolve, so will your goals and visions. It's important to routinely ask yourself these questions to ensure you're always putting your best foot forward and giving the world all you've got. I want to see your name in lights just as badly as you do, so let's make it happen.
Angela Mastrogiacomo is the owner of Muddy Paw Public Relations and Infectious Magazine. She has also founded several chapters of the free weekly music industry meetup Balanced Breakfast. Muddy Paw specializes in working with up-and-coming artists on personalized campaigns designed to bring their careers to the next level. To date, they've secured placements on sites such as AbsolutePunk, Substream, Property Of Zack, PureVolume, Anti-Music, and many more.