How To Become A Successful Music Artist

Without Selling Out

Guitar player on stage at concert

Music is a funny thing. From the time we are first inspired to pick up the guitar or any other instrument, most of us dream of stardom as a musician.

Our fantasies are filled with visions of sold-out world tours, buses, hotel trashing, groupie wrangling, and all the rest. We dream of legions of loyal fans supporting us and our creative efforts who buy each CD we release, wear our t-shirts, and come out to our shows.

Is becoming a famous Musician all that it’s cracked up to be?

The funny thing is, most bands that have reached the mega-stardom level will tell you that it’s not quite that sunny. While they do have fame, money, sold-out world tours, buses, and dedicated fan support going for them, they also have a sea of detractors who see them as having sold out to become as popular as they are.

These fans have the attitude that there is nobility in obscurity and nothing but pure evil in being successful. This poses a tough question for bands that are actually getting somewhere with their music: do they push on and promote as an independent musician and work to become as big a name as possible or do they pull the plug at some point to be able to cling more readily to their artistic creativity?

Why does this happen?

Simple. When we start any musical endeavor, we are playing mostly for ourselves. We can do things however we see fit with no one to answer to. In other words, we are doing art for art’s sake.

As a band gets more successful, however, art is gradually replaced by business once a record label, manager, publisher, crew, and all the rest is involved. None of these folks really care that much about anyone’s art; they are doing a job for which they expect to be paid.

Once a group or artist becomes an employer they often start making decisions based on money, which is what allows them to keep people working. They also begin to appreciate the trappings of success and get used to eating regularly and paying their bills on time, which many struggling musicians have trouble doing because they have a career with no money.

This is the point at which the group in question usually starts trying to replicate the hits they have been having rather than rocking the boat artistically, which can get risky and can lead to diminishing record sales. This is when the cries of ‘sellout’ are directed at the band and they are seen as less than the artistic powerhouse they used to be.

This is also when bands and fans alike need to better understand the game they are playing. The game is called “The Music Business” and, if you are in a band that plays anywhere outside of your house, you are in it whether you like it or not.

No matter if you are in a cover band or an original music artist, the game is very much the same. If you want to have a gig, your job is to bring people into the venue, pure and simple. How you do it is up to you, but you need to do it. The venue you are playing exists for one thing: to make money for the owner. It is not an artistic forum, philosopher’s salon, or creativity club. It is the way one or more folks put food on the table. To be a part of it, you need to contribute to that aspect of it.

Is it better to be a Cover Band or an Original Band? ]

Sure, your music is cool, you’re a nice guy, and all the rest, but to get any kind of respect or repeat gigs, your job is mostly to be popular. Whether you are being heard in a local club, on a record label, or in a soccer stadium, the principal is the same.

Many musicians have a problem with this and they are usually the ones with the least amount of gigs, and they can’t get why the world isn’t flocking to see them purely on face value. They hate when the first question a booker asks them is “How’s the draw?

The most important thing to understand about all of this is where you, as a band, musician or individual artist, stand in relation to it. If what matters to you is art, creativity, performance, and passion, be the best artist you can be and let the chips (or dollars) fall where they may.

Examples of people like this would be Kurt Cobain, Tom Waits, and Frank Zappa. If, however, you want to be successful in the traditional sense of the word, in the manner of Metallica, Brad Paisley, or Kiss, then go after that success with everything that you have and sleep soundly at night.

Sure, it’s possible to take it too far (Vanilla Ice and the Ninja Turtles comes to mind), but most out there will not go to that extreme.  Promote as hard as you can, get your music out there, be excellent in all that you do, and you will wake up every day knowing that you have the best job in the world.

We all have our own reasons to play music and it is vitally important that you know yours. If those reasons are aligned with the path you are on, all will be good. If the reasons and the path are in conflict, you will experience discord instead of harmony. Remember, this is a business and being successful is ok. Rather than selling out, try to see it as buying in.

If you do want to make a career in the Music Industry, then feel free to follow these helpful tips:

Tips on how to ‘Make It’ in the Music Industry

  • Assign a Creative Commons License To Your Music
  • Submit Your Music to Creative Commons Sites
  • Let Others Make Money Off Of Your Music
  • Make Your Own EPK (Electronic Press Kit)
  • Contact Music Blogs – Be Sure To Stand Out!
  • Charge For Your Music
  • Don’t Fret About Getting Signed
  • Use Social Media To Turn Your Followers Into Friends
  • Email Your Network; Have Landing Page To Gather Fan Emails
  • Don’t Do Free Shows

If you are creating music to express yourself, not to make an actual living, I totally respect and honor that! For me, the best art comes from self-expression and it is definitely what drives me as well.

No matter what you do, good luck in your venture!

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