(Mis)Steps to Music Career Success

plane_crash_redux_01Air Crash Investigation is a series on National Geographic TV I’ve become addicted to recently. It’s not because of an excess of Schadenfreude, mind you; rather it’s because I want to figure out what made the plane crash before the show reveals the answer. And I’ve watched so much that I’ve actually gotten pretty good at figuring it out.

I bring this up because one of the investigators on the show said something that really impressed me. It was something like this: every air crash makes flying safer. While it sounds counter intuitive, the meaning is that each accident investigation leads those involved in the air travel industry to make improvements and modifications that will reduce the odds of such an accident ever happening again. Likewise, we as professional musicians can take a look at musicians whose careers never got off the ground (or crashed and burned) and take steps to avoid those same mistakes. The following list is a sampling from an excellent career postmortem article by Vinny Ribas.

  1. Lack of knowledge. Plenty of musicians find out about how to achieve success in much the same way they found out about sex: through the grapevine. And while statistics show that 60% of grapevine information is true, common sense should tell us that such a low number is not reliable. Lesson: read and study as much as you can about the music industry. Finding a mentor would be even better.
  2. Failure to build relationships. If fans feel like you don’t care a whit about them, they’ll stop coming to your shows. Likewise, if the people you meet in the industry only hear from you when you want a favor, they’ll start turning you down. Lesson: build strong relationships with everyone you come in contact with as a musician, from the fans to the salesman at the music store, to the agent you’d like to see booking your gigs one day.
  3. mozartOver-reliance on talent. One of my earlier posts dealt with the mythology surrounding talent, and many musicians have counted on being vaulted to success on talent alone. Lesson: never stop improving. Continue to write better music, stretch your lyric writing skills, or make your performance even more entertaining.
  4. Failure to develop an image. To me, this is the one sign that a musician doesn’t take himself seriously. Other evidence includes the lack of a professionally developed website (or simply a Facebook page), no business cards, unimaginative band pictures, and poor dress. Lesson: spend some serious time and money developing promotional materials that show your professionalism. Invest in a good wardrobe, and never be without professionally printed business cards.
  5. Failure to communicate. Face it: the club wants you to bring fans with you, but you can’t do that if they don’t know where you’re playing (or even if you still are). Lesson: keep up with your social media outlets (note the plural – don’t put all of your eggs in the Facebook basket). Write a blog, and do it regularly. Send email newsletters to your fans. They want you to do this.

There are more thou shalt nots in Vinny’s article, and he adds that there are probably far more ways to fail than he came up with. However, you’ll improve your odds of success by simply doing two things: keep an open mind (this is an evolving industry), and learn all you can about the career path you’ve chosen for yourself.

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