You read about how to make it as a musician all the time. There’s always someone claiming to have found the secret to success. How about hearing why it didn’t work for a change? Well, here’s your chance. Find out first hand why my career as the next Notorious B.I.G. came to an end before it had even started.
Left tools unusedThe best tools are ineffective if you don’t know how to use them, or if you don’t even get yourself a tool kit in the first place (to stick with this banal metaphor). Well, that’s exactly what I did, or rather did not do. I was on Myspace and set up a band page on Facebook. SoundCloud? YouTube? Of course! But those services are just the tip of the iceberg. Bandcamp? Negative. Tumblr and Instagram? Nope. Let alone all the startups out there that have made it their mission to make life easier for artists.
Worst of all, I wasn’t on iTunes or, for that matter, any streaming service. That might have been excusable if I had been required to register and upload all of my music on my own. But there are services out there that take care of that. Digital aggregators like iMusician have been around for quite some time now, and they place your music in every store that counts.
Ignored superfansAs I already mentioned, I set up a band page on Facebook. At the height of my career it counted 874 fans. It is the people that express their love for your music right from the start that are of special importance. Amongst them you will find so-called superfans. These are the kind of people that celebrate your music even when you recorded it with a cheap USB mic, and uploaded it to SoundCloud without any kind of mastering. You touched these people with something that cannot be produced even with the most expensive equipment: soul. They just feel it. You need to appreciate them.
You’ll recognise superfans as they’ll be directly messaging you to tell you how much they love what you’re doing. And they’ll constantly want to know when you’ll be putting out new material. In return, show them your appreciation by letting them know, before anybody else, when you’ll be dropping a new song. You could even give them the song before you make it available to anybody else. You’ll see, these steadfast people are going to promote your music without being asked. Intimacy is the new exclusivity; even superstars like Taylor Swift realise that.
Didn't rehearseIt’s nice to have a well-produced album, but let’s be honest, for one, thanks to today’s technology, it’s easier than ever to achieve a decent sound. The other thing is that the majority of young music fans listen to songs in bad quality on YouTube. That’s just a fact. It’s more important that you focus on knocking their socks off with your live shows, not least because there’s not much money involved in actually selling music these days anyway. Granted, there have been performers arriving out of the blue in the past, but, as a general rule, it takes a lot of practice to become one. This does not mean that you need to turn into a live wire brimming with energy, making all these fancy moves to entertain the crowd. What you do depends entirely on your personality. An artist standing on stage, motionless, with his or her eyes closed for the entire show can be electrifying.
By performance I mean the delivery of your songs. Whatever your thing is, be sovereign about it and get it across flawlessly. Mistakes may happen; they can even be likeable. But they shouldn’t occur because you obviously did not prepare. In my days I used to start “rehearsing” in the car while on my way to the actual gig. It was only there that the set-list was conceived. If you want to be nice about it you could say that was punk. Not in my case. I wanted to be a rapper. A rapper delivers complex lyrics and rhyme patterns, there’s a lot of focus on technique. The audience will notice if your punchlines aren’t on point.
The most important thing though when performing live, is to be authentic. Don’t try and copy your idol’s moves or cool demeanour. If you’re the first rapper in the world not being cocksure of him or herself then don’t be afraid to show it. Your audience will forgive you for anything except putting on a show. At least I got that in the end, but it was already too late.
Didn't peddle my CDIn my entire career as a musician, not once did I send my music to a label. I thought it futile. Later I was even convinced that labels had become superfluous entirely. It was the time when do it yourself (DIY) was on everybody’s lips. I know two things today: first, DIY stands for decide it yourself. Secondly, labels are here to stay. There has never been a time in which the number of labels was as high as it is today. Granted, they don’t pay huge advances or send you to Ibiza to shoot a video anymore. But a label deal is still considered something prestigious, as I mentioned in an earlier post. Even tiny bedroom labels are invaluable if they take care of your promo. It cannot do any harm to send your music out to any label that matches your style, especially in the digital age where this can be achieved with a few clicks.
Gave upIn the end I did what nobody who truly wants it ever does: I gave up. I didn’t even leave my fans a note saying "I’m off". I just stopped making music. And this is where the wheat is separated from the chaff. Many a person never receives a cent out of making music but continues nonetheless. After all, a true artist does not care about money. He needs music to survive. I stopped making music, and I’m still alive and well. I didn’t deserve to make living from music, but you just might.
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