For the last 6 years I have reviewed music professionally. It’s a hobby of mine. Some would call it a labor of love. The truth is the only time it feels like “labor” is when the music is consistently bad. Actually, it’s not bad, it’s just “ok” – which is not good enough in a competitive marketplace. But every now and then I receive outstanding projects; they are the ones that give me the incentive to continue critiquing.
After monitoring the careers of some of the artists I’ve reviewed over the years, I’ve noticed some common mistakes that artists make which prevent or limit their success. They are listed below in descending order:
10. FAILING TO CREATE MERCHANDISING OPPORTUNITIES
I did a music panel earlier this year entitled Succeeding As A Music Artist Without Failing As A Business Person and one of my guests, Mr. Gary Platt, who is the co-founder of The Recording Workshop, Full Sail University, and Ex’pression College, was vehement about artists creating and selling merchandise in this digital era. I concur. CD sales are negligible at this point so if you are going to sell product, you may want to start thinking about designing t-shirts, buttons, bumper stickers, coasters, calendars, or some product other than, or in addition to your CDs to sell at shows and on your website.
An act that I consulted with, Mastema , has a searing and erotic brand of rock and a sexy logo. They have been consistently selling g-string underwear and other sensual apparel to their female constituency for years. Remember, fans literally want a piece of you, and in this day and age they expect it. Choose appropriate merchandising opportunities that reinforce and promote your brand when you make your offering.
9. NOT ESTABLISHING THEIR BRAND
If you don’t know your brand you can’t reinforce or promote it. It’s not enough to be “very talented” or “good” these days. Differentiation is the key to your success and will enable you to stand out in a marketplace that’s over saturated with music artists. What makes you different? What do you have to offer that others don’t? What do you stand for in terms of values, philosophies, and ideas? What causes do you stand behind? Can you answer these questions? More importantly your fans should be able to answer these questions if you’ve branded yourself correctly. Investigate your core values and build your brand around them. People need to know what you can deliver and what they can expect from you.
8. MAKING A CD BEFORE THEY ARE READY
Many artists impulsively record a CD simply because they feel that it’s what they are supposed to do. Consider this: every writer does not write books; many are capable, but find and develop their skill in other outlets. Writing a book requires planning, discipline, concentration, and conceptualization. Creating a meaningful CD project should be the same way.
There are two things that music artists should absolutely have before making a CD. The first is quality songs, or viable song ideas that can be developed. The second is a plan to strategically utilize the songs which appear on your CD. For example, if you are a dance artist who incorporates a great deal of choreography into live performances, create songs with that in mind. Once you can visualize how each song will be received by your audience, utilized commercially, and can help you reach your goals, then you are ready to make a CD.
7. MAKING A FOLLOW-UP CD AFTER FAILING TO EXPLOIT THE FIRST ONE
Every year a CD is sent to me by an artist whose debut CD I absolutely loved…and then I don’t review their follow-up CD because it pales in comparison. Why does this happen? Because they recorded new material too soon. As long as artists continue to perceive their new music as their best music, I imagine they will always make this mistake. There’s no point in making a new CD if you have not fully exploited your first one – especially if you took your time to create it.
6. NOT BUILDING A COMMUNITY
There’s just one thing that makes an artist a success: an audience. Do you have one? It consists of fans who comprise your community. Community support is – and always has been – a MAJOR factor which makes or breaks careers.
Social networking sites now afford music artists the opportunity to collect, share, and distribute information in ways that are both constructive and cheap. Unfortunately, many artists don’t take proper advantage of this technological blessing. If you are successfully cultivating your music community (i.e. forging relationships by giving people incentive to want to see you live or buy your music) you should be able to fill a small to medium sized venue with relative ease. Social networks must be used to consistently inform, engage, and entertain your fans to earn their loyalty. Build your community, and your community will help you build your career.
5. NOT IDENTIFYING THEIR AUDIENCE
Who is your audience? How old are they? What level of education do they have? Where do they live? What magazines/newspapers/books do they read? What movies do they go see? What websites do they visit? This is called “demographical” information (demographics for short) and major record labels spend fortunes to get this information for music artists. It helps them to better “serve” (read: market to) fans. Everyone is not your target audience. Your target audience has a personality, a temperaments, likes and dislikes. It’s YOUR job to know what they are.
4. NOT DEVELOPING THEIR STAGE SHOW AND PERFORMANCE SKILLS
Performing live has been the bread and butter of the music industry since its beginning. The music artists who fail to develop their stage show and performance skills will flounder. Your ability to connect with your audience – and maintain a long term relationship – will be based on the worthwhile experience that you provide them with at your shows. If you can do that they will track you down at even most obscure venues to be a part of it, AND tell their friends about it as well.
3. NOT PUTTING FORTH A DECENT MARKETING EFFORT
The old music industry adage is “production rich, promotion poor.” It still holds true today. It’s common belief that the marketing budget for a CD project should be two to three times the amount of the production budget. Every CD project should have a marketing plan which enables music artists to reach their marketing objectives. What are your objectives? Fame? Fortune? Critical acclaim? Attention to a cause you support? Artistic innovation? Know your objectives before you attempt to market your project.
2. NOT HANDLING THEIR BUSINESS
Anyone who attempts to sell a CD or have someone pay to attend their performance is doing business. If you are doing business, it must be handled correctly. The first step is to acknowledge that business is not about having fun or being cool; it’s serious. A business consultation with an entertainment attorney or experienced industry professional which revolves around the question, “What business should I be aware of handling at this point in my career?” would be an excellent investment of time and money.
1. NOT KNOWING THE MUSIC BUSINESS
There is absolutely no excuse for not knowing how the music business operates these days. The Internet is just bulging with free information on every aspect of music industry operations. What ever you need, it’s there and Google will help you find it. From detailed instructions on how to register copyright forms, to document court cases that offer remedies on how to get out of a contract. In addition, the rapidly increasing number of online classes about the music industry makes it easier to get the specialized knowledge you need. Failure to understand how the music business operates at this point is simply a sign of laziness.
Hopefully you will be able to avoid these mistakes which can often result in frustration that leads to many music artists giving up on their dreams.
Gian Fiero is an educator, speaker and consultant who specializes in business development, career planning, and personal growth issues.