I couldn't tell you the number of times in my 15 years of teaching and consulting that I've heard a young musician say, "I just do what I do, and if anyone likes it, they'll buy it." My reply? "Congratulations, you're a real artist." But as you get a little older and your responsibilities increase with a mortgage, spouse, and kids, this attitude is dangerous unless you have another source of income or you’re just a hobbyist. Make no mistake – music is an art, but making money at it is a serious business. Here are five tips that might help improve your chances for success without compromising your integrity.
1. Have a clear vision
Marketing starts with a vision. A vision is a declaration of where you'd like your career to be in seven to 10 years down the road. With a clear vision statement intact, it's far easier to map out the directions for how you're going to get to your desired destination.
A vision statement summarizes what you're truly passionate about and includes everything from the type of music you'd like to create, to the products you might release, to the overall brand image you might like to impart on your intended audience.
Long before Marilyn Manson hit the scene, he envisioned himself as being a "pop star who would shock the world." He kept drawings of costumes and stage set designs along with other business and creative details in a personal notebook. This was Manson's "North Star," his guiding light. Several platinum albums later, he truly succeeded at bringing his vision to fruition.
As the saying goes, "If you don’t stand for something, you can surely fall for everything." So what’s guiding your music career? If you haven't thought about it before, now is a good time.
2. Identify opportunities or "needs"
While keeping your vision at heart, it's time to examine what's going on in the world to ensure that your vision actually fills a need and represents a true marketing opportunity. As previously stated, Marilyn Manson had a clear vision, but he also identified and filled a specific societal need and void in the marketplace for an entertaining and horrifically dramatic new stage personality, similar only to what a now-aging Alice Cooper had done 23 years before. In other words, the commercial marketplace was ripe for an artist like Marilyn Manson, and he capitalized on the opportunity unlike any other artist.
A valuable tool to help you examine the external (and internal) environments of the marketplace is called a "SWOT analysis." SWOT is an acronym that stands for strengths, weaknesses, opportunities, and threats. The idea is to identify external needs and opportunities that match your internal strengths (i.e. your skills), while also considering your internal weaknesses (perhaps your finances) and external risks (i.e. competition) that could impede your ability to succeed. While all this might sound like business school jargon, the most successful companies, both big and small, use the SWOT model. And with a little training, so can you.
3. Don't worry whether Dr. Dre or anyone else knows this stuff
Successful people in all fields apply marketing and business principles to get their desired results, whether they know it or not. From jazz guitarist Pat Metheny, who advanced traditional jazz music into the future with the use of synthesizers and robotics, to Nirvana, who stamped out cookie-cutter hair metal and created a whole new genre of music called grunge, new trails were forged that filled a very specific market need. The advantage of being consciously aware of certain marketing principles upfront is that you don’t have to find your path by chance. Rather, you can use these helpful tools at your own discretion to help you achieve your vision.
4. Be an innovator
Let's be clear that the marketing approach that I am discussing here is not asking you to compromise your artistic integrity or "sell out," but rather to adjust with the world around you, be more unique and innovative, and "buy in." Creating art is a beautiful thing, but creating a sound and style that's new and fresh, having it enjoyed by a large audience, and receiving compensation so that you can quit your day job is simply awesome! Remember, creating music in a vacuum and simply hoping it's successful can be a risky proposition if you intend to be more than a hobbyist or feed your family.
5. Be flexible
Always stay true your vision, but be willing to adjust that vision to fill a specific need or void in the marketplace that matches your strengths. If you can fill that need first and do it better than anyone else, the rest just might be your amazing history.
To sum this up using the words of the hockey great Wayne Gretzsky, "Don't skate where the puck is. Skate where the puck is going."
Bobby Borg is the author of Music Marketing For The DIY Musician: Creating and Executing a Plan of Attack On A Limited Budget (September 2014). Find the book on Hal Leonard's website under "Trade Books" or on Amazon. Signed copies with a special offer are also available at bobbyborg.com.