As an artist, you have a lot to be proud of. You’re honing your creative talents and sharing your gifts with the world. Odds are you’re pretty hard working and generous with your time and resources as well, all of which are awesome.
Still, as a music publicist and blogger for the last 10 years, I’ve seen emerging artists make the same mistakes in their search for stardom or at least a little recognition. I’ve compiled 5 of the most common mistakes musicians make and how to avoid them—don’t let this be you!
1. Not thinking ahead
Learning to live in the moment is a sought after skill, and if you’re the kind of person who harnesses it naturally, more power to you. That can be an incredible asset in your music career, especially when it comes to live shows. However, as they say, if you fail to plan, plan to fail. Tough love? Maybe, but the truth is that planning ahead is an essential skill for a successful music career.
If you’re not someone who loves planning, try to dress it up a little. Have your favorite cup of tea when it’s time to sit down and plan. Put on your favorite album. Go to your favorite café. This is the time to plan (in small increments) everything from next week’s social media to where you want to be in 6 months. This isn’t a chore—it’s time you set aside to invest in yourself.
2. Believing great music is enough
Making great music should be your baseline for success, which means expecting to get noticed just because you have great songs isn’t realistic.
For success in today’s music world you need so much more, and that starts with knowing your brand. Once you know that, you can pretty much take over the world. Or at least become an integral part of your fans’ world. With that knowledge, everything from what kind of content to post, to the kind of opportunities to seek out becomes so much clearer.
3. Failing to acknowledge fans
Your fans are your people. They’re what make this whole thing work, and frankly, they’re the thing you should be giving most of your attention to. Trust me when I say, if you have a loyal fan base the rest will fall into place.
Many emerging bands tend to think if only they can do XYZ (get on a label/find a manager/land a certain placement) the fans will come in droves, but it’s actually the opposite. If you focus on building up that fan base, and nurturing it, that’s when the opportunities start to appear.
4. Waiting for someone else to do the work
This goes along with the above point—artists who expect anyone else to do the hard work of building their career for them are in for major disappointment.
While hiring team members (publicist, manager, booking agent, etc) can and should be one of your goals, these people are there to aid in your success and fill in the gaps, but they aren’t meant to do all the heavy lifting. You can’t place all your hopes and dreams on them and then just sit back and wait to revel in the fruits of their labor.
The only person who can truly drive your career forward is you. At the end of the day, a publicist can only land you great placements if you’re on top of your branding/social media/give engaging interviews and a booking agent can only get you gigs if you put on a great live show and pull in a crowd. A social media marketer can only help you reach new fans if the content you’re putting out is compelling, and a manager can only help navigate your career opportunities if there’s actually something to manage.
All this to say, team members are an amazing, integral part of your career growth—but it’s true what they say—no one will ever work harder for your career than you. And to be honest, if someone else cares more about your career than you, we have a problem.
5. Not having a growth mindset
Most of you reading this are likely to have goals of making it—whatever that means to you. So you might be thinking “of course I have a growth mindset!” But wanting to be successful and having a growth mindset are not the same thing.
Wanting to make it is an abstract goal—like wanting to be rich. It’s vague and there’s no real strategy or specificity included in it.
When I say you should have a growth mindset, I mean that you’re always thinking a step ahead, and picturing the opportunities that are in front of you, as well as the ones that can be.
For instance, it’s one thing to want a sponsorship with a huge company. But realistically, you might not be there yet. Having a growth mindset would mean seeing the value in starting with a smaller, perhaps local partnership to not only build relationships but to learn the ropes of what sponsorship entails, without it being overwhelming and full of pressure.
It also means being able to capitalize on opportunities. Ari Herstand does this really well—he sees an opportunity, acts on it, and then keeps growing it. In his case, he was receiving tons of emails from artists asking the same questions. So, he saw the opportunity to address them in a way no one had yet, and started a blog. Then, the blog became incredibly successful so he took his writing a step further and turned it into a book. Then, he took that book and secured major speaking engagements at SXSW, Berklee College of Music, and more. That’s a growth mindset.
It may not seem like it, but being an emerging artist is actually a gift. This is a time to get to know who you are and the message you want to send into the world. It’s your time to experiment and play, to have fun figuring out your direction and involving those that want to be a part of your journey—it’s an incredible opportunity to experiment and try new things without any pressures. Enjoy it!