Glamour and luxury has shaped the way a lot of musicians perceive the music industry. Even the way few musicians are discovered seem like glorious happenstance that seem sort of in reach.
This turns into two things for aspiring musicians. First, success looks like a millionaire life with tons of fame. Second, to achieve this success, you need to keep hustling until you stumble upon the right record label exec to get you signed.
As a result, I’ve found that there are 4 big myths that musicians end up believing about succeeding in the music industry. And unfortunately, a lot of this blind hope only sets them up for failure.
MYTH 1: IF YOU PERFORM ENOUGH GIGS YOU MIGHT JUST BE DISCOVERED BY THE RIGHT RECORD LABEL EXEC
Sure, artists like Rihanna and Taylor Swift were discovered. But TONS of musicians are discovered and only a few of them make it.
Regardless, musicians will gig around as many places as possible. They might even do some covers and originals on their YouTube channel hoping to be the next viral hit.
The problem with this is that it’s a “spray and pray” or “scratch and maybe win” process. It’s aimless, tactless, and it hardly works. I call these musicians the “lottery musicians”.
Doing gigs and sharing music needs to be strategic and meaningful. For example, The Civil Wars started in small areas and very specific areas. Their other strategy was to offer a free live recording EP in exchange for emails and zip codes. They got over 500,000 new subscribers from this!
Not only did they get an excellent way to connect DIRECTLY with fans, but they knew where their fans were to build tours around them. This is deliberate and strategic – not random.
The kicker? They became a grammy-award winning success all without a major record label.
In fact, record labels don’t even look for talented musicians anymore. They look for artists that have a following. For example, Bhad Bhabie. She has absolutely no rap experience. She had a few one-liners in a Dr. Phil show, and then she became an internet sensation. Not long after, she was offered a major record label deal from Atlantic.
MYTH 2: THE ONLY WAY YOU CAN BE SUCCESSFUL IS WITH A MAJOR RECORD LABEL
The Civil Wars, Chance the Rapper, Dodie, KING, Ingrid Michaelson, Kina Grannis and other artists are all independent artists that don’t have a major record label.
Yet, they’re making 6-7+ figures in their music. Aside from their salaries, they’re able to create music full-time while paying the bills. For most people, this is success.
Nowadays, “getting discovered” is like winning the lottery. Much worse, even if you are signed, record labels aren’t obligated to get an album out of you. In fact, only .2% of those signed manage to dodge the bullet of being dropped by a label. In other words, that means 99.8% fail. Even more, 99% of the acts signed never even get to release an album (Avalon, 2011).
You might think to yourself, “But I’m different. I’ve got real talent, and they just gotta find me.” I’m sure this *might* be true for you. But you can’t bank on happenstance to get a deal. If you do, your likely failure rate just increases.
The reality is, successful musicians are strategic and smart about how they promote and grow their fanbase.
MYTH 3: IN ORDER TO BE SUCCESSFUL MUSICIANS NEED TO JUST FOCUS ON THEIR CRAFT, EVEN IF THEY’RE A STARVING MUSICIAN.
This isn’t just a musician problem. It’s an artist problem. The mentality is “if you love something, wouldn’t you just do it for free”? This reason comes from the idea that being poor means more passion and more authenticity. This couldn’t be more wrong.
Deep down, it’s an excuse to not think strategically or try harder. As a result, they convince themselves that real opportunity will be handed to them. “Real art is found.” However, like in The Civil Wars example earlier, opportunity is created not hand delivered.
The music industry is changing and it demands a change in mindset. This leads me to the next myth.
MYTH 4: THE MUSIC INDUSTRY IS DEAD, SO WHY EVEN TRY
Ever since P2P file-sharing back in the early 2000s and, now, the growing streaming industry, CD sales have plummeted. Demand, however, has not.
People are listening to music more than ever before. In fact, there is countless academic research that show that streaming increases the interest of music consumption. In other words, streaming increases a fan’s listening palettes AND increases their interest to buy full CDs and/or physical albums. Like, for example, classical music.
And I mean music that was made CENTURIES ago is having a comeback in this changing music industry. All thanks to streaming. Back in 2016, Mozart (yes, Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart) had one of the highest album sales of the year.
The way in which fans consume their music is completely different from the early 2000s. How much they’re consuming is also changing. This also means artists need to be creative with the ways we reach fans and how we sell to them.
Beyonce created a visual album. Chance the Rapper gave all his music away and made money from concerts. Kina Grannis ran a Patreon campaign to create her own label with her fans. Radiohead released their album at a “pay what you want” model and made more that way than any other major record label release.
Thanks to the changing digital landscape around music, there are even MORE opportunities to connect with fans and succeed in the music industry.
CRUSHING THOSE MYTHS AND THE NEXT STEPS FOR YOU
As a musician you can build a tangible – and strategic – plan to succeed in the music industry. It all starts with a shift from a “lottery musician” mentality to an “opportunist musician” mentality.
Here are three jumpstart steps for you to get into that mind shift:
- Have smart, digestible goals. Being strategic means being reasonable with your goals. Make simple, tangible goals that make it easier to get to your biggest goal. If your goal is to have 100,000 fans, start with the first 10, then 100, then 1,000, then so on.
- Think of different streams of revenue. Don’t just focus on getting fans. Think of ways to monetize your craft. This includes streaming sales, single/album sales, merchandise sales, sync licenses, collaborations, lending your voice in projects, live digital shows (yes, that’s a thing!), crowdfunding, and more.
- Keep learning. Keep investing in your education. Not just your craft. This includes music business. Learn how to network with the right people. Understand smart promotional strategies to get more fans by reading books or watching courses on marketing. Never stop learning and APPLY what you learn.