Every musician starts out with dreams – performing to sell-out crowds in huge stadiums, playing with superstars, touring with a convoy of buses, groupies hanging out backstage, to name a few. The music industry is built on those dreams, but in most cases, the only winners are the record labels.

While dreams are great, nobody ever made it in the music industry by just dreaming. The essential factor is changing yourself from a dreamer to an achiever.

The reality is that the music industry is arguably the most difficult in which to secure a baseline income.

The music industry is unforgiving and tough – tough on you mentally and financially and above all, really tough on your family. The industry is overflowing with jaded ex-musicians, failed amateurs and hard-line professionals. You need to acquire the skill to wade through all the hard-luck stories and misinformation.

One of your most significant challenges will be to keep your motivation high.

You will watch friends becoming successful in their chosen careers, while you are still living a hand-to-mouth existence, living on noodles and tea. Get used to that “look” when you tell them you’re still in a band. Friends will wonder why you are persevering.

In any other profession, the end goals and possible outcomes are reasonably clear. As a musician, you are on your own, and the outcome of all your sacrifices could be anywhere from world fame and fortune, to abject obscurity. There are no longer any holidays or even sick leave. No dental plan or staff Christmas parties and, of course, forget any thoughts of “minimum wage”. You are on your own from here on out.

Talent alone will not bring you success.

The real door opener to making your way in the music industry is networking and knowing the right people. You should learn about how to network; become a social chameleon, mixing with all the movers and shakers so you can get an introduction.

Before you start out in the music industry, take a good hard look at yourself: can you handle the potential hazards and pitfalls; can you cope with the inevitable exploitation; can you put up with the financial and other hardships that you will face; do you think that your music is good enough?

Would you prefer the safer option of getting a real job?

There’s nothing at all wrong with being a casual musician. Become a weekend warrior, collect guitars and even get a tattoo if you like. Making ends meet is more important for your family than your rockstar fantasies.

But if your inner voice says “Hang in there” and there is a life-depending need to play, then now is the time to stop dreaming and start doing.

Doing something big in life will be outside your comfort zone.

For many people even singing in front of an audience is challenging enough. Consequently, changing the world with your music will be one of the most life-altering things you will ever do. You must anticipate the challenges: performing in front of possibly critical audiences. The fear of failure. Paranoia over what people think of you and your music. The daily affronts to your personal insecurities.

You need to find strategies to push through these hurdles. Finding growing recognition and changing the world with your music will be one of the most rewarding things you will ever do.

As they say – nothing ventured, nothing gained. Starting out in the music industry entails considerable risk, but the potential rewards are immense!

The first thing is to have a plan.

A plan gives you focus: you have a clear vision of what you are aiming for, and you understand what you need to do to get there. A plan will help you to overcome the challenges and insecurities that the industry will thrust upon you.

You may need to change your plan frequently, but to get the plan underway you need:

  • To educate yourself about the music industry. Learn everything you can about the business; develop an entrepreneurial mindset.
  • Learn the lingo of record labels; understand how they are managed and the key drivers in that part of the music industry;
  • Learn about the ins and outs of touring: the planning, the contracts, the costs, and the risks.
  • Know who are the promoters and management agencies who can help you.
  • Know where your music fits into the overall scheme of things; understand the demographics of your fan base and what (along with your music) might appeal to them.
  • Know about social media, promotional techniques and who the influencers are.

You are starting out on a big learning curve that will continue for as long as you are in the industry.

But most of all, build networks.

A network is an absolute key to success in this industry. It’s not what you know, but who you know.

I recommend you buy from Amazon a great book: How To Make It in the New Music Business. Written from a US perspective, the lessons in this book translate perfectly into the New Zealand industry.

None of the tips here or in the book mention buying new equipment! Think “Branding”. A professional photo shoot will bring far better results than a brand-new Stratocaster; a well-thought-out professional elevator pitch will impress an A & R rep far more than a CD sent in the mail.

Know the movers and shakers – and make sure that they know you. Successful musicians understand the industry and have the right industry professionals working for them.

Be extraordinary. Make sure you stand out from the crowd in your chosen niche.

Every musical genre will have its followers. Know where you sit and who are the people who enjoy your music. In practical terms, it is easier and cheaper to build your brand amongst a smaller fan base than to try and market generic “pop” to a broad audience.

Your musical skills are excellent to have but are of no value if you are not “extraordinary”.

It will take time to grow your knowledge of the industry. Remember this: you are competing on the same playing field as everyone else. You cannot win the game if you don’t know the rules.

Our most famous Hamiltonian Richard O’Brien wrote the lyrics “Don’t dream it, be it“. If ever there was a tattoo to be considered, that should be somewhere on your body where you will see it every day!

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