These 10 rules that make or break you as an independent artist in the ever-changing music business are also the 10 critical differences between successful indie artists and those who are forced to quit. Because no one ever really willingly quits. You have real life catch up with you around 25 years of age and you shortly find yourself unable to pursue your dream career unless you are aware of THESE 10 foundational truths.
10. The business always changes.
Most of you reading this can remember the times when buying a new CD felt like the coolest thing ever. Some of you can even remember cassette tapes and boomboxes. All of you can remember when you had to actually buy every song you wanted to listen to off iTunes. And all of us are currently subscribed to some streaming service. If you can wholeheartedly accept that this career will always be changing and unsettling, you will succeed.
9. The industry is flawed.
Just like every other industry on Earth. Don’t waste precious resources seeking justice all the time. Sometimes you gotta take the hit and keep it moving. Some videographer screwed you over the music video and doesn’t want to finish your project? Unless you’re ready to fight him in small court claims or have the funds to pay a lawyer to deal with it for you, let it go, learn from the experience, and avoid repeating the mistake. A lot of young artists coming straight from the school and university benches have a feeling of being done wrong most of the time. Why? Because they expect the real-life system to reward them and appreciate them like the education system. Not gonna happen.
8. Money talks.
Righteous people who hold strong prejudices against the rest of the world, or worse, who are moral troopers, make for terrible artists. Yes, there are greedy billionaires in this business, but most are normal people with kids, mortgages, and often with a sick family member they are trying to help. If you can afford to tip your sound engineer, producer, back vocalists, or whoever else you’re dealing with, DO IT. How do you think Drake stays in the favor of most radio hosts and DJs? It’s not Payola if you do it without expecting anything in return. However, people feel indebted and will open doors for you without you even asking.
7. Sticking only to one group of supporters will actually hurt you in the long run.
We’ve seen Gospel artists reaching decent levels of momentum and recognition but never really breaking the walls of their own church. Why do you think that happens? Because when you let one group of people define your music potential, you’re stuck. You might be lucky if it’s a big church we’re talking about, but local groups are always limited in their reach. When you feel like you’re getting stuck, change cities if you have to but MOVE UP. Meet new people, frequent new studios, work with new producers. Do some research to see how many different people Beyonce worked with during her career. One example: she used SEVEN entirely different filmmakers to put Lemonade together.
6. Just like the business, the music trends change too and you have to keep up.
Flexibility is key in this industry. Get too fixated on doing Trap music only and soon you’ll be losing even the little fans you had. Society is like a living organism. Our common experiences change, our perception of right and wrong changes, our collective sense of beauty changes, heck, our Presidents change every four years. Nothing stays the same. So don’t be the dummy unable to adjust to the rest of the world. Listen side by side to Massive Attack from 2010 and then to Yikes from 2020 and you’ll note the obvious differences in Nicki’s style over the decade. And guess what? Nicki still reigns high. Whereas Lil Kim who got stuck in the 90s is overflowing with Ls.
5. Lay low before a big announcement.
If you’re online 24/7 always available for everybody, that’s cool. But scarcity creates value. Disappear for at least two weeks, preferably over a month, before you announce a major new music video, an important collaboration, a magazine cover, or a tour. You have to know when to lay low to create anticipation, mystery, and value. If your fans know you’re always there to find, they won’t make too much of a difference between your new song or your new shoes’ photo.
4. Insider battles matter.
Don’t just take your dose of music business news from gossip columns. Read up on professional sources like Billboard, RollingStone, or Pitchfork to stay up to date with the latest moves in the business. These sources gave plenty of insight into the Taylor Swift vs. Scooter Braun legal fight before it even hit the masses. It is essential that you first and foremost, learn the whys and hows. But it is equally imperative for you to be educated on the matter so you can express your opinion in a discussion with a professional. Don’t let the journalists who interview you know more about the music business than YOU, the musician.
3. Additional sources of income are the secret ingredient to longevity.
Whether you’re famous or not, the top successful folks in this industry have several streams of income. This is such a paramount concept to accept that you will be ready to save yourself years of trial and error in your conquest to win this race whatever lane you’re in. The more you diversify both your investment portfolio and your talents, the safer you are. No one was ready for Covid but those with a multitude of knowledge and skills survived it and thrived while many crumbled and suffered. Some still can’t recover.
2. People expect artists to dazzle.
So when you don’t, they don’t take you seriously. Many known faces throw those chains in the jewelry drawer as soon as they enter their house. The A-listers we know don’t care for the jewels and clothes but THEY HAVE TO fit the narrative and veil themselves in luxury so that they get the deserved respect. If Ariana Grande dressed in unknown brands’ clothing and showed up at Coachella, the paparazzi wouldn’t even bother photographing her. As a matter of fact, most publicists send in advance press releases of the outfits the artists will wear to media representatives. That’s how sick we are in the head as a society that appearances have taken on a world and meaning of their own. Play the game if you want to win.
1. You gotta have a rags-to-riches background.
Yup. Artists with a sob story will indubitably win over hundreds of thousands of fans at much higher rates than talents coming from wealthy or medium-class families. Blame the governments of the world for this. Why? Because 99% of the population is broke AF and when they see a talented, good-looking, young kid from a financially stable family, it feels like acid is being thrown at their faces. It just seems gravely unfair that you should have it all and not have struggled for it. You’re simply put, unrelatable. Don’t invent your story ’cause people will find out sooner or later and disown you and your entire career because of it. What you can do though, is enroll in some selfless cause and prove you care about others. If you can’t be the poor, orphan Harry Potter, be the wise, generous Dumbledore. But you CAN’T stay in the middle and be Draco. Your music just won’t matter even if it is fantastic. You want a loyal following? Strike ’em in the feelings.
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