Posted: May 31, 2023
Category: The Musician Business
**Guest post by Musician Indie Coalition, Business-Based Artist Development Experts who help DIY Musicians develop, launch and scale their music careers.
"Building a full-time music career is a difficult and complex process that involves a ton of work. That said, in today’s music industry with all the tools and services available to musicians, it’s more possible than ever to achieve success.
...That is if you actually know the steps and strategies for creating a music career.
However, most people that set out in pursuit of a professional music career don’t know what they’re doing. As I discussed in our previous blog, Planning Your Music Career: The 3 Steps to Unlocking Your Unique Recipe for Success, there’s a big difference between CREATING a successful music career vs MANAGING a successful music career.
The majority of today’s artists and bands that work towards creating a music career copy the business strategies used by labels and professional acts - meaning, they focus on creating music, playing shows and promotion. However, this is only truly effective when you’re MANAGING a successful career and have an established and loyal fanbase that is willing to financially support your work.
Aspiring artists and bands, ones that have yet to find financial success, need to focus their time and energy on learning what will make them successful. There are steps that every artist and band should follow when going through that learning process that will help them develop their career, but most artists and bands are completely unaware of what those steps are – and this doesn’t discourage them from pursuing their career. In fact, it’s the direct opposite, most musicians dive right in, throwing caution to the wind and letting their passion for music drive them.
But without a plan that allows them to steadily progress in their career, that passion and drive eventually burns out and leaves most musicians feeling lost or stuck.
If your goal was to become a doctor, a teacher or even an athlete, there are clear paths and guidelines for pursuing those professions that you would be required to follow.
Because you are pursuing a job where someone will be hiring you. And if the person doing the hiring says you need to be a college graduate and have x years of experience, then that’s what you’re going to need to do and have if you want that job. People accept these mandatory job prerequisites because they understand that it takes a certain amount of learning and experience to become successful in their profession, so they commit to doing the work required.
In contrast, if you’re pursuing a music career, this dynamic doesn’t exist because there’s no one hiring you to be a professional artist or band. Even if your goal is to sign a record deal, you need to first build a successful business around your music, because labels are looking for proven acts that they can exploit and not acts they need to develop.
This means to have a successful music career, you will need to develop your own business.
If you can accept everything I just said as a fact (and you should because it’s true), then your job, as a musician, is to build a full-time music business for yourself. This requires you to learn the steps for building that business. Now the question is, if you don’t know those steps, what do you do?
Well, you have 2 options:
OPTION 1: You teach yourself how to build your career.
OPTION 2: You work with someone that can guide you through the process, such as a mentor or coach.
Both my business partner TJ and I are big believers in self-teaching and have taught ourselves a lot throughout our careers, so I can honestly say it’s an invaluable skill to have.
However, there are pros and cons to teaching yourself something. Some of the pros are that you can do it alone and it’s typically free, but the cons are that it takes a lot longer and makes what you’re learning more difficult.
With that in mind, I believe self-teaching is best used for small tasks. For more complex tasks, you should really seek professional guidance.
And I don’t mean YouTube videos. Although YouTube videos can be a source of good information, they can also have drawbacks, such as the video may be out of date or contain only partial information. Also YouTube videos usually cover random topics and don’t come as part of an overall strategy, and having an overall strategy for building your career is important. To use an analogy, baking a cake requires specific ingredients blended together using a sequential process. If you watched a YouTube video that covered how to beat eggs and add them to a cake mix, it would show you how to accomplish that task, but it would omit the ingredients and steps that came before and after. And without those steps, you’re having scrambled eggs, which is nowhere near as good as cake. Similarly, if you watch a video that explains how to distribute your music, you’ll be able to perform that task, but you won’t know all the tasks you need to do before and after to have a successful release.
This is why you should seek guidance from someone that can explain the overall process for building a music career, as well as someone that can help you overcome the challenges and obstacles you’ll encounter as you progress through your career.
This brings us to our main topic: 5 Reasons You Should have a Mentor
As you work towards becoming a professional artist or band, it’s important to have a mentor because it allows you to get guidance in areas where you have no experience or knowledge. Why go through the process of teaching yourself something if you can learn from someone that has years of experience and knows the best path for you to follow?
If you look at people that are successful, most of them at some point in their career have had or currently have a mentor / coach. Professional athletes have coaches, as do pro singers - even top CEOs of companies are known to work with coaches. And although TJ and I are coaches, we continually work with assorted mentors that specialize in areas where we aren’t experts, such as public visibility, community management, online course creation, etc. Each and every one of the mentors / coaches we’ve worked with has shared invaluable information with us and in the long run, saved us time and money.
Once you know you want music to be your profession and feel confident in your musical ability, your next step is to start learning the business techniques needed to develop your career. This process has 3 main steps. First is the planning and setup phase where you create a plan for your career and set up things like your online channels. Then, there is the launch phase, where you go live and begin doing things like releasing music, building your audience and developing your revenue streams. And finally, there is the growth phase, where you work on growing each aspect of your career. Throughout each of these phases you will be learning about the specific things that will make you successful and the things that will be completely unique to you, your audience and your career. Needless to say, this phase requires a lot of experimentation and strategy and it’s not something you should go through alone. A mentor can provide you with techniques for overcoming obstacles that stand in your way, which usually saves you time, money and protects you from making any career-damaging or career-ending mistakes.
As you go through your career, you will most likely need to work with recording engineers, photographers, lawyers and an assortment of other industry professionals. A good mentor will be able to provide you with those contacts or at minimum, walk you through the process for finding and connecting with them. This ensures you’re working with someone reputable that you can trust, which is important because the last thing you want to do is work with someone that is untrustworthy, overcharges or otherwise takes advantage of you.
Developing a music career involves a countless number of tasks and decisions. And when first starting out, it can seem like there are an infinite number of career paths you can follow. For example, should you start a YouTube channel or invest your time in TikTok? What kind of live shows should you focus on – Club gigs? House concerts? Livestreams? All of the above? What will be your primary source of income? Live Shows? Patronage? Each of these decisions will have a significant impact on your career because they all involve an investment of your time and money. With so many options, it’s easy to get scattered and lose direction, but a good mentor will help you identify your goals and show you how to break them down, so you can make the right decisions to achieve them. This ensures that you will make continual progress in your career.
Musicians go through a lot of mental high and lows throughout their career and to be successful, it is essential to maintain a positive mindset. A mentor will provide you with encouragement and support, which are 2 things aspiring musicians need: to stay focused and mentally positive. Emotional support is something that typically gets overlooked. From my time working 1-on-1 with artists, I can honestly say moral support is probably the #1 thing most aspiring musicians need because when you feel good you’re more likely to take on challenges rather than avoid them.
With all that said, overall, a mentor simply saves you time and makes your job easier. So when it comes to selecting a mentor, I recommend selecting someone that has expert knowledge and with whom you feel comfortable. And before hiring a mentor, always get a recommendation from someone you trust or ask for references.
My music mentor, Ann Ruckert, literally changed the course of my life and her influence is one of the main reasons why I work helping musicians.
So my advice to you is find a good music mentor. And yes, you can look at this as a shameless plug, because I am a music career mentor, but it doesn’t make anything I’m saying less true.
Professional guidance is important and it saves you time and money. Period.
That said, if you do seek out a mentor, never work with someone that hard-sells you on their services or requires you to pay a huge upfront fee, unless you fully understand exactly what you’ll be getting in return. There are a lot of people like that in the industry, so use caution and never work with anyone that is outside your budget, no matter what they promise you."
Related Blog Posts: