10 Things A Musician Must Do To Succeed

I get very nice emails from artists with some regularity. They make me feel good; they’ve read something I’ve written, and think I have some kind of “answer” to the questions related to what they can do to increase their odds of success.

I always have a lot of stress around these emails. Someone who has taken the time to read something I’ve written, and then taken more time to find my email (not that hard), and write me deserves a response….but what to say?

There is, of course, no universal response to such questions, and my impulse is to say, “Give me a call; let’s talk it through.” This – for obvious reasons – isn’t the right approach.

So, when I got one of these emails this morning – in a moment of hyper-caffeination – I banged out a response as if in a fever dream (if only all writing flowed so easily and fast).

Upon re-reading it, I think that – while it of course will not apply to everyone – it will apply to many, and will (hopefully) at least give people some food for thought (and save me time and guilt – I’ll just link people who email to this post).

Here’s my response pretty much verbatim to the question: “Do you have any advice on how I can succeed with my music?”:

  1. Find a really solid tech/social media person and pay/partner with them to work 20 hours a month building awareness across relevant platforms (if you can do this yourself…all the better).
  2. Do local live events (not random shows at clubs), but actual events/parties….whatever….that allow you to build an audience to where you can reliably draw ~100 people to one of these events every month (obviously, #1 above ties in – you can also do fb live, etc). Do NOT move to step 3 until you do this. If this is not happening (you can’t reliably draw ~100 people to a show every month) it means either: a. your music is not remarkable (yet… so keep writing/practicing); b. you’re not putting your music in front of people predisposed to care (so… keep putting it in front of others).
  3. Once you have #2 locked in – look for other artists who are able to draw ~100 in cities/towns that are in rough driving distance, and whose sound/values/audience sorta aligns w yours, and offer to trade opening slots (ie you put them in front of your fans in your hometown/they do the same for you in their hometown).
  4. Do this in 4 or 5 markets. This will take some time.
  5. Augment these shows via social, etc. (ie step 1).
  6. Create merch that has low COGS but high perceived value (think in terms of social objects – i.e. things people will show their friends – external manifestation of internal values) – signed shit, vinyl, etc.
  7. Work to shift the burden of promotion from you to your fans via over-supplying them with #6 above (if you buy one vinyl, you get a free one… if you promise to give it to someone who you think would like it).
  8.  Think in terms of a funnel:

a. Use #1 and #2 to get casual people with a shared psychographic aware of your work (this is the top of the funnel);
b. develop a way to move them down the funnel (many will fall out along then way) in order to convert them to Marketing Qualified Leads (MQLs) (ie they give you *something* that allows you to contact them (email, follow on instagram whatever);
c. develop a way to take these MQLs further down the funnel (again, many will fall out) and turn them into Sales Qualified Leads (SQLs) – that is, make them an offer – “buy something.”
d. measure the process, and focus on those SQLs who convert (buy something/do something you ask) and turn them into repeat cust’s (ie #7 above). These are your passionate fans, and their role is NOT just to buy everything you put out, but to TELL their friends (this is known as a Net Promoter Score (NPS)), and you need a HIGH one – that is, most people who know of you are highly likely to tell their friends. But YOU must create an architecture of participation for them to do so and to be rewarded (NOT FINANCIALLY, but by feeling better about themselves for having shared something they care about).

9. In terms of tactics – there is NO silver bullet. You’re an artist, and thus axiomatically creative – come up w novel ideas/remarkable ideas/things people will talk about…this should be fun for you to do. Most of your tactics won’t work, and so have lots of them, but think in terms of tests. not some fucking MVP (what does that mean – what IS “viable” – how do you KNOW until you test – it’s flawed logic), but rather what’s known as the Deming Cycle – which is Plan, Do, Study, Act. This allows you to go from idea to test to refinement quickly.

10. Above all else, DO NOT waste time trying to get someone to: sign you, manage you, put your music in a film, book you, write about you, put your songs in a spotify playlist, etc etc. This does not happen from you chasing. This does happen when you do steps 1 thru 9 over a period of time and build awareness/demand. It’s a byproduct of steps 1-9. Then – and only then – these people come out of the woodwork….but – at that point – you should be asking, “what do i need you for?!” This is a plan. Everything else is hope.



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