By George Howard

Spring has sprung, and with it comes thoughts of renewal. It’s hard to move forward, however, when you’re either still connected to the past, or unsure of the road ahead (or both). This, for many in the music industry, is precisely where they find themselves: clinging to outmoded habits, not because they work (they don’t), but because they’re unclear on how to move forward.

Here are a handful of thoughts not necessarily meant to be taken as doctrine, but more to give you some inspiration with respect to how you might change some habits.

1. Apply the Lean Startup Method

Applying Lean Startup thinking to the music business is more crucial than ever. I wrote an article on this, but to summarize: I don’t know what music will succeed, you don’t either, nor do any of the so-called A&R legends (the Ehrteguns, Blackwells, Davises, or anyone else). The only one who knows what the market wants is the market. Therefore, get something out there, measure it, refine, repeat. The music business lends itself to a Minimum Viable Product better than any business I can think of.

2. The Best Middleman Is No Middleman

In all businesses there must be a willing buyer and a willing seller. The sellers tend to derive their materials from some third party (be that the person who delivers the beans to a restaurant, the guy who sells the builder her wood, Intel who sells computers chips, etc.). The music business doesn’t quite work this way. The “suppliers” in the music business are the artists. These artists have their own desires that go far beyond what price they can get from some label. This is why the artist/label relationship is almost always adverse. Artists can’t “just” be the supplier of goods to some re-seller (labels). It doesn’t work. Nor does it work if artists are just suppliers of goods to any other type of reseller; Spotify, et al., use artists’ songs to get customers to use their services. The only buyers of their goods that artists should concern themselves with are their fans. Work on pleasing them.

3. Stop Worrying…

…about how much (or little) you’re getting paid by the streaming services. While you must understand how copyright works, and why and what you should be getting paid when your songs are used, being overly concerned with whether or not you’re getting $.003 per song or $.0003 per song is not a good use of your time. Neither amount will ever add up to anything material for the vast majority of artists. Instead, use these services for all their worth, if in fact you deem them actually effective in providing a promotional lift, but don’t count on them for revenue. Determine other strategies for that.

4. Shift the Burden of Promotion

The goal of all of your marketing efforts is to shift the burden of promotion from you (the band or record company) to your fans. Until you do this you will never achieve any real success. There’s a finite number of people you can reach by exclaiming at the top of your lungs that your music is great. There’s an infinite number of people who can be converted to your music by their friends telling them it’s great. Focus on creating architectures of participation, where you’re encouraging and enabling your fans to tell their friends about your music.

5. Think About What’s Holding You Back

Understand that if your music is not succeeding at a pace you think it should, it means one of two things: a. Your music isn’t remarkable, or b. You’re not getting it in front of people who are pre-disposed to like it. At the core of the word “remarkable” is another word: “remark.” Your music must make people remark on it; they must talk about it–this will spread the word (see #4 above). However, even if it is remarkable, if you put it in front of people who aren’t predisposed to like it, it won’t spread. You must, therefore, make sure your music is great (if it’s not, keep working at it), and make sure you’re putting it in front of the right people. When you do both, the world opens up. If you do only one of the two, nothing will happen. There are no exceptions to this rule.

[Editor’s Note: Improve your music career starting with a new release. Distribute your music now!]

George Howard is the COO of Concert Vault, Daytrotter, and Paste Magazine. Mr. Howard is an Associate Professor of Management at Berklee College of Music. Follow George on Twitter.

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