There is an over-promise of artist success amongst all artists in all genres like country, rap, rock, pop, etc. This over-promise has become the key ingredient to your failure.
It’s causing you to lose.
I give credit where credit is due and this article was inspired by this 3 minute video from Gary Vaynerchuk called, “Reframing Entrepreneurial Success”.
The over-promise is so prevalent that when I write articles geared around “artist success” I’ll inevitably get a few emails chastising me for selling some idea of success and attaching it to millions-of-dollars kind of success; which I never do, by the way.
It’s the over-promise that has been drilled in their head so much they just assume that when I mention success it must mean selling out, fame and fortune, and of course that’s bad for the art.
To be clear, those of you that actually read my articles (and don’t comment solely based on your reaction to my title which is idiotic, but I digress) know that I define artist success as being able to make a living doing what you were born to do; the opposite of living the dichotomy.
What do I mean by that exactly?
Well, I remember moving a 17-year-old, phenomenal guitar player down from Detroit Michigan back in 2010 (ish?). His grandfather is my father’s best friend and someone I grew up with and respect immensely. I remember having a conversation with this man, someone I referred to throughout my life as an “uncle”, and someone who is extremely intelligent (a dentist), about whether his grandson had what it took to “make it”.
I asked him what his definition of “making it” was.
Naturally, it was attached to fame.
You have to remember he’s a dentist and completely unfamiliar with the entertainment industry and how it works.
His only experience with the entertainment industry is with the entertainment. The entertainment is served up to his awareness by the famous entertainers. This is MOST people’s grasp of the industry who operate outside of it.
His response was something along the lines of “will he be a star” or “will he be on MTV” aka will he be famous like all the entertainers that have come into his awareness.
Now you may laugh at this, but some of you who BELIEVE YOU’RE IN THE ENTERTAINMENT INDUSTRY are just as naïve.
To be clear, my uncle is an extremely intelligent man who built and sold an amazing dental practice, he knows nothing about the inner workings of show business.
YOU, on the other hand, have zero excuse for being naïve in this regard because this is the business which you choose to want to dominate. You’d better know how the hell it works, but again, I digress.
Anyway, I asked my “uncle” if he’d heard of Danny Elfman. Of course, he said, “No.”
I said, “Well, you’ve definitely heard his music and he could buy and sell you and your impressive success 1,000 times over. Danny writes music for feature films. He makes about 4 million dollars per movie.
He does a LOT of movies.
My uncle’s jaw dropped.
That was the opener to my point.
The next point was that there were tons of really talented people here in Nashville for instance who make a good living doing what they were born to do; making and playing music.
I described “A good living” as a job that allowed them to own a house, have a family, put their kids through college, and take a vacation once a year. These are people that he would only know if he was deep in the industry.
My uncle immediately understood my point.
I then told him that, yes, his grandson had all the talent he needed to “succeed” by our newly refined definition and it would be up to his work ethic and his brain to actually provide the execution necessary to turn an idea like that into a reality.
By the way, he did just that landing a gig with an indie artist tour that paid about $45k-60k per year…he was 19 at that time, I believe. Not too bad for a guitar player with no college education if you ask me.
Y’all are too worried about being famous and you’re making bad decisions because of it.
You need to reframe your idea of success.
This will change your approach.
Which will change everything.
Some of y’all are impeding your potential and you’re currently at a very coveted level, playing with the big boys, talking record contracts, and dealing with real industry professionals.
What I mean by impeding your success is that without sales, without any resemblance of a profitable small business, God help you if you if they say “YES” and you get your deal.
Sounds crazy but money talks and bullshit walks (h/t to Bobbi Fleckman). A less talented artist with more hustle and business experience is going to get the entire label team more excited and command more label resources than someone with astounding talent and no cash flow.
This model means you’d have to be developed and the labels just really don’t do that anymore.
Oh, and they’re people so they’re naturally lazy like you. Getting behind the other guy is going to make them look better quicker.
I’m generalizing to be sure. However, basing your future on a plan requiring the label to do all the work is like basing your next rent check or mortgage payment on whether or not you win the lottery.
It could happen.
But it’s lazy and unrealistic.
If making a living and getting a record deal is THIS important to you, why the hell wouldn’t you want to go in stacking the deck with every advantage you have to ensure your artist success?
Granger Smith did exactly this. He created an online 1.8-million-dollar-empire, completely independently. The labels wanted to sign him a couple years ago but they kept saying no until it was time to get the #1.
He was so undeniable as a business force that when he finally did sign he had the hearts and minds of everyone at the label. The entire team was committed to making him successful or die trying. That’s a buy in.
Consequently, his first single went to #1.
I doubt that would’ve happened if he was signed by the label and required them to develop him.
Most of you are not at this level yet. You’re just trying to get the ball rolling somehow.
Here’s the take away.
Focus on getting one new person to like you every day.
Focus on creating a business built around your music and creative efforts that generates $100,000 per year.
That’s impressive to me.
One step at a time.
VALUE BOMB: Try the same approach with your social media. Master ONE PLATFORM first. Master Twitter because you have my free book (GiftFromJohnny.com) and then build from there.
Once you master creating $100,000 of revenue per year, which equates to 1000 fans that are willing to pay $100/year to an artist, the next $100,000 is a lot easier, I promise.
Why the hell is this article important to you?
Because when you framing your “success” as multi-platinum record sales, custom tour busses, and millionaire rock star friends, you’re not thinking about the little steps required to create a career like that.
You begin to get in your own way and allocate precious resources like money and your limited time to the wrong things. I actually know an artist who blew a privately funded $750,000 record promo budget on a freaking tour bus! A 1.5 million-dollar depreciating asset with a $6,000/month overhead burden for a business that has zero dollars in monthly cash flow.
I guess he wanted to feel famous or something.
Now he’s still not famous, has a record deal, and a bus, which he parks in his driveway and plays video games in.
To be multi-platinum, yes you’re probably going to need radio at some point. But if multi-platinum is your only definition of success it’s super easy to quit because you don’t have $500k to invest in a radio tour that will promise NOTHING but give you the opportunity to make a play.
If you reframe your idea of success, which for a lot of you should be as simple as replacing your crappy day job that makes you $20,000 – $60,000 per year with money from sales from your artist career, it becomes doable.
Try that first.
How much money do you need to make to afford to be a full time musician?
Some of you write me and tell me you’re currently making $80,000 – over $100,000 per year and would have to at least start there.
To me that means the money is more important than the music.
This is ok, man. I get it, believe me.
Just be real with yourself. With THAT kind of discretionary income, you could orchestrate a pretty sick little business but it would require you to be willing to step back on your revenue for a while to get the ball rolling.
Start with making your first $1,000.
Then move on to replacing that money your making at your current job.
Then move on to the $100k mark.
Then move on to bigger things.
Don’t let hype shut you down or make you feel like It’s impossible to achieve the dream unless you’re famous.
Artists are creating small functioning businesses every day and you certainly don’t want to give up only to find out that everybody is doing it 10 years later and you hate your current job.
No matter how much money that current job is making you, that would be the opposite of success.
At least for me.
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