I have been teaching artists and industry folks the business behind the music for twenty years now. As the industry has changed, so have I. I don’t just teach, I do. And then I share the “how to” of my successes and failures, so others will learn too. I’ve charged nothing for this knowledge. My attitude has always been, you can learn from me or not–your choice. But why bang your head when someone else has done it for you?
There are some life skills, people skills, and things that I can’t teach, however. They are innate traits or common sense you must already possess to win in this business. If you don’t possess these skills, you sure as hell better have SOMEONE on your team who does.
1…Motivation and Grind: Without the innate ability to get up and work, you will never succeed in this industry. Not only must you work hard to build your career, and then to keep it, but you must out work all of your competition. Today this is easier than it was a few years ago, because most artists are super lazy and have a false sense of entitlement (“I will get a deal and be a star because I’m better than everyone out here.”). In this industry, you are only ever doing one of two things: working or sleeping. So if you are awake, you are promoting yourself and moving your career forward. Do it. If you aren’t going to hand out your own flyers, postcards, and music, make sure someone is with you at all times who will (and if you don’t like doing this yourself, the odds are already against your success. Who will EVER promote you better than you?)
2…Passion: You need to have an intense love for not only recording and performing, but for promoting yourself to fans. Just making great music isn’t enough. It has to be commercially viable, embraced by some fans somewhere, and marketed and promoted to them in a way, time, and place that they will embrace it. Not so easy to do.
3…Thought Process: I can offer a plan, show you how to do it, explain what has worked for me and what hasn’t, outline a blueprint to succeed, and refer other reading material…but I can’t do it for you. If you don’t naturally have an inclination to sell yourself to others (why they should support you or buy your music), this industry will be challenging for you. You need to always be promoting yourself, no matter where you are. I don’t mean this in an obnoxious ‘used car salesman’ way. When you meet someone new, it should be second nature to explain what you do, why you do it, and to hand them a card or some music, or at least a promotional flyer to take with them. As you gain fame, this same promotional material will be the stuff you autograph for them to take with them (never give an autograph unless asked, as it makes you seem conceited). Don’t be one-sided, listen to them talk about themselves, too. Conversation is a back and forth movement.
4…Take Care of Your Team: If you are fortunate enough to surround yourself with great people (and that should be at the top of your list), take care of them. If you eat, they should be eating. If you have only a few dollars to your name and they need something more than you do, they should get your last dollars. See a pattern here? They go all out for you, so you go all out for them. Forget calling them “family,” treat them like it instead.
5…Intelligence: One of my favorite sayings is “I can fix anything but stupidity. I can’t fix stupid.” Your team can over compensate for much of your errors and short comings, but they can’t overcompensate for stupidity. Make good decisions and follow through.
6…Seize Opportunities: If you have an opportunity in front of you, seize it. Make the best of EVERY situation even if it isn’t comfortable, you have personal problems, or you don’t feel like it. Force yourself. Do not miss any opportunity. Bored at an event or party? Speak to every person in the room–find out who they are and what they do, and tell them who you are and what you do. This is called networking. This is what separates successful artists from the idiots. This is a ‘who you know’ business. Get to know everyone!! Be outgoing, charming, and charismatic even if you don’t feel like it. Do not miss an opportunity. Either build fans or interact with industry folks. You never know which avenues will lead to success. Test them all. Just don’t be blindly stupid about it. Treat everyone you meet with respect. One of my secrets to success is that I treat stars like regular people and regular people like stars.
7…Be Charming: Even when you don’t feel like it, be charming and outgoing. Your success depends on fame. Fame puts you in the public eye and makes you fair game. They don’t care if you are tired, if you are busy, or if you are having a bad day. They expect stars to be awesome 24/7. Come as close to that as you can manage. If you’re not, that will spread faster than anything else you do, good or bad. Be approachable and happy, not sullen and miserable. If you suck at small talk, get better at it. That is one skill you will need everyday. Read a book and learn how to be better at small talk or have people around you that know how to engage you and bring that out in you. Easy topics: sports, weather, location (wherever you are, ask them how they like it). Try to always be positive and upbeat even with difficult or negative people or topics.
Get your priorities straight and have great follow through and you can build a lasting career that will feed you, your team, and your family. Learn as much as you can, but even though not EVERYTHING can be learned–some skills need to come from within, so surround yourself with a team that’s strong where you are weakest. Be real with yourself. You have to really want this, and be willing to do what it takes to succeed. If you can’t do that, don’t waste everybody’s time and energy. Your team depends on you!