[Editors Note: This article was written by Patrick McGuire.]
When a new artist starts making music seriously, they often have dreams of signing with a big label, touring the world and sailing off into the sunset in a yacht filled with cash.
Okay, that’s an extreme characterization, but thinking big and believing an artist’s music can make a real impact on the world are things that inspire countless musicians around the world to do what they do.
But while believing that you and your music can do anything is vital to helping some artists find and connect with audiences, every serious musician can benefit from narrowing down their big goals into small, realistically achievable tasks.
There is no “making it” in music anymore
“Making it” in music undoubtedly means something a little different for every musician, but for most, it can usually be summed up with things like being famous, making lots of money and earning some sort of widespread critical acclaim for their work.
It’s okay to want these things, though each has nothing to do with making music. But to find success in today’s insanely complicated, competitive and unpredictable music industry, it’s important to realize that “making it” is simply not a realistic goal for 99.7% of musicians out there.
It doesn’t matter how talented, lucky or connected you are. There’s lots of reasons behind this, but the main one is because there’s simply much less money to be made in music now than there used to be. Even famous musicians who appear to be successful now often have a difficult time making a living with their music.
I’m not saying that all musicians should despair and give up, but instead that they should break down the big things they want to accomplish through their music into small manageable goals. Simply setting out to do big things with your music isn’t good enough anymore. Everything from the ways people now use to listen and discover music down to how artists are paid have evolved in recent years, so in order to keep artists will have to adjust their plans in kind.
Starting small is the best way to get there.
Breaking down and defining goals
Let’s say you’ve got a big goal of making a living exclusively through making music one day.
That’s a fine goal to have, but how exactly do you plan to make it happen? Rather than going through the motions and hoping it happens, you’ll have a much better chance of getting there if you break down that big goal into smaller, realistically attainable milestones. Things like earning X amount of dollars a month through streaming revenues or being able to pay for 1/4th of your monthly bills through touring are good examples of realistic goals a small artist could shoot for.
You may never reach your big goal, but that’s okay. If you’re set on doing big things with your music, breaking down goals into manageable milestones can still help you achieve big things through the journey of trying to make your big goals happen.
Something hugely important in music that’s often difficult for an artist to do is defining goals.
For example, lots of musicians want to be famous. That’s too broad of a goal to have. Being famous could mean anything from being on your own reality TV show to getting a “Best New Music” review in Pitchfork depending on the musician. Having a solid grasp of what your music means and where you want to go with it is more important than ever because the music industry is so fractured today.
Figure out who you are, what your music means and who will resonate with it the most and you’ll have a better shot at reaching your goals. This isn’t something you do overnight. It’s something that will grow and change throughout your career. If the goals for your music ever seem to be too big and unattainable, going back to this idea again and again can be helpful.
How to start small
Start writing things down––goals, timelines, budgets, etc. To get into a planning mindset for your music career, you’ll need to start thinking about specific ways to move your music forward.
If you’ve got a big goal of getting signed by your favorite label, take small steps to get there, like playing more shows on tour, increasing engagement with your fans and getting your music featured on more playlists.
Again, you may never reach your big goal, but you’ll have a better chance at achieving success with your music if you try approaching things with one small milestone at a time.
Planning ahead isn’t something musicians are known to be especially good at, but the truth is that the artists who now manage to find some success are usually the ones who are able to work towards their dreams by figuring out how to tackle their goals one at a time.
Patrick McGuire is a writer, composer, and experienced touring musician based in Philadelphia.