[Editor’s Note: This article was written by Shannon Byrne.]
I recently spoke with a young, popular, fast-rising indie band who shared how getting organized has reduced tons of stress from them. I’ve heard similar messages from others who’ve prolifically recorded and toured for over a decade. The concept is simple: if you want other people within the music industry (i.e. managers, record labels, publishers, press) and fans to take you seriously, you have to treat your music project as a business—a well-oiled machine.
If you’re looking to grow your listener base or want to sell records, tickets, syncs, merch, etc., it’s time to set goals and make a plan.
Making a plan doesn’t have to be a frightening endeavor. There’s no need to try to rocket into stardom this year. That’d be quite overwhelming and likely unsustainable. Instead, take things one step at a time.
Here are some simple steps for making a roadmap to achieve your ambitious-but-realistic goals this year while reducing stress and holding yourself accountable.
1. Define and refine your goals
As Angela Mastrogiacomo suggests in a recent article, it’s important for us to reflect on our achievements. Make a list of your accomplishments and notable events (successful or not) over the past year. In what ways did you surprise yourself? What relationships pulled through for you? What areas of your career did you focus on? What worked, what didn’t? What did you learn? Where, specifically, is there room for growth or improvement?
Now, use these events and milestones as your benchmarks. Take note (in a journal, notes app, or a google doc works) of where you stand in the areas that matter most to you. Examples include where you’ve toured, the number of shows or the size of the venues you’ve played, streaming numbers, social media metrics, records sold, number of songs written, recorded, syncs secured, press coverage obtained, etc.
Examine the impact these events had on your career. Which led to the most growth? What sold the most records, put the most cash in your pockets, or felt the most fulfilling?
I can’t tell you how to define success, that’s up to you. But know what’s been most effective in getting you to where you’re going so far. Identify three to five of those activities. If you’re just starting out, pick a few that you’ve seen other artists try or that you’ve read/heard about. Or any wild ideas that excite you. There really aren’t any rules here and you can always pivot.
While exploring which activities have been most impactful, think about the ways you can grow them further. Write down one to five top goals for this year. As Kevin suggested recently, aim toward a mix of realistic, achievable goals and more lofty and ambitious ones. Try to dream big while setting yourself up for success rather than disappointment.
Also, look at how goals can be combined. For example, if two of your goals are to a.) release a record, and b.) tour a record, combine them into one. This is a lofty-but-achievable goal (depending on your day job and where you are in your musical career) and it will probably be your only one for the year.
2. Break goals down into smaller goals & actionable objectives
Goals can feel overwhelming. That’s why we break them down into smaller milestones that can be accomplished in a shorter period of time. You can start with any goal but I suggest choosing the one that feels most timely or pertinent. Or the one that excites you most.
Let’s say you have enough demo songs recorded for an LP and a band to record the finished tracks with. You don’t yet know where you’ll record, how you’ll distribute or promote them, or what the album art will look like. For simplicity, we’ll say you’re self-releasing this record.
In this example, your benchmark is having an LP written, your goal is to have the songs recorded, a release date, and distribution and marketing plans in place by the end of the year. Great, what a goal!
List out all the steps or tasks needed to accomplish it. You can either write down all the big, main steps it’d take to reach your goal (i.e. find a producer, book a studio). These are your milestones you’ll later break into smaller sub-tasks. Or, you can list everything that needs to be done and categorize them into milestones and tasks as you go.
Using a hybrid example, here are what the initial action items might look like for that goal:
- Create a budget
- Determine royalty split among artists and collaborators
- Decide if you want one person to engineer, mix, master, and produce the record or different people for different roles
- Find your engineer and/or producer
- Ask your friends who’ve they used
- Make a list of potential engineers and producers
- Reach out for quotes
- Make a list of potential recording spaces
- Book studio time far enough in advance so that you’re ready
- Align everyone’s schedules around that deadline
- Teach your band the songs you’ve demoed
- Practice enough until you feel studio-ready
- Record your record
- Send your record to an engineer to mix and master
- Create a concept or direction for your cover art
- Research artists for cover art, make a shortlist, ask for quotes
- Set a release date
- Create a distribution plan
- Create a marketing/PR plan and timeline
- Make a tour plan and start booking for it
That’s quite a list. Take a breath, you don’t need to do all these things at once, we’re going to spread them out over several months.
One of your big milestones for this goal is to book studio time. Breaking that down might look something like this:
Goal/Milestone: Book studio time
Deadline: 8 months before release (July 31)
- Find an engineer/producer
- Ask 5 bands who they used
- Get quotes
- Schedule calls
- See if they come with a studio or if a separate needs to be booked
- Confirm their availability
- If still in need of a studio, research 5 potential ones
- Get band’s availability for recording
- Take time off work / clear schedule
- Confirm dates with studio & engineer
- Pay deposit(s)
A simplified example of this might be:
- Benchmark: I have 1,000 average monthly listeners on Spotify
- Goal: Reach 2,000 avg. monthly listeners on Spotify by end of year
- Milestone: Gain 150 listeners/month
- To-dos: Add Spotify link to Instagram profile; reach out to 2 Spotify playlist curators/week
Now you’ll place these tasks into a timeline, each with their own (flexible) deadline.
3. Create a timeline & schedule
A timeline and schedule make your tasks actionable. Working backward from your final goal and deadline, start mapping out when all other major milestones need to be accomplished. Then, set deadlines for all tasks. These can be in a range, such as “the last week of March” rather than “March 27th.”
Put a project management system into place
Personally, I think it’s easiest to do this in a project management software or google spreadsheet. I like Asana because it’s free and you can create projects, tasks, and sub-tasks within sections or categories, each with its own deadline. You can also assign tasks to other people, such as band members.
What our studio booking tasks would look like in Asana.
Time block your calendar
I’m a big fan of flexible time-blocking. Once a week on Fridays or Sundays, I look at my list of to-dos for the coming week, organize them into categories, and block out time on my calendar for each. I typically move things around as the week progresses and meetings get scheduled, thus the flexible part.
Regardless, I assign certain days for certain activities. Examples include one day for writing, one for practice, one for admin/email, planning, promotions, and so on.
If you have a job(s) outside of your music—as most of us do—this can be especially helpful. Block off your mornings, lunch hours, or evenings to specific tasks to hold yourself accountable to them. Eventually, your body and brain will get used to the schedule. For now, put them in your calendar.
Don’t forget to schedule yourself some downtime or fun time as well. If you’re only working, you’ll burn out and potentially start resenting your art, and none of us want that.
4. Keep track of your progress
Your spreadsheet or project management tool will help you keep track of your progress as long as you’re using it. Even more effective and fun is to find an accountability buddy. This could be a friend, manager, agent, bandmate, mentor, whomever.
Find someone to check in with weekly, bi-weekly, or monthly to discuss what progress you have and have not made and why. This will provide you with a sounding board as well as a fresh perspective and new ideas.
Plus, it will keep you honest, as you’ll have to report your progress to someone else. It’s not intended to make you feel guilty when you don’t reach milestones. On the contrary, this person should provide support, even if that means encouraging you to tackle less at a time.
You can always pivot
Sure, it’s a great exercise to try to reach your goals, but it’s not worth the detriment of your physical and/or mental health. If you feel like you’ve taken on too much, scale back. This is a marathon, not a sprint. The world will be ready to embrace your art when you’re ready to share it. It’s perfectly fine to do things on your own time.