There Are No
"10 Steps to Success"
by Christopher Knab ,
Back to The Academy
I have been watching, studying, and analyzing why some people ‘make it’
and others don’t for a long time, and I have given up trying to discover
some magic formula that every musician can follow on the road to
Today, more than ever, there are countless
advisers like myself who offer tips to developing acts and ‘struggling
musicians’, and all too often we try to inflict some step-by-step
process on musicians that will help them become successful as musicians,
but the truth is ‘There are no 10 steps to success’ or even 25 or 50 steps.
So, I have been asking myself some questions about why some acts make it and others don’t.
there a difference between the attitude of successful, well known acts
and the attitude of upcoming acts? Why do some musicians make it big,
while other equally talented people songwriters and musicians never get
their music heard by the masses? What specific skills and/or inherent
talents do the successful artists embody that so many 'wannabees' do
Is it charisma? That
special something that many artists seem to exude the minute they walk
into a room? I think that is part of it, but many successful acts have
as much charisma as a pitcher of milk, and yet do quite well for
How about a lot of money?
That seems to be the one thing behind so many successful names these
days. There are always major labels owned by huge multinational
conglomerates behind so many superstars. They can buy their way into the
hearts and minds of the public, right?
Wrong. Money can only push something out to the public for their acceptance or rejection…that’s all it can do. Nobody
reaches into the public’s wallet and forces them to spend their hard
earned money on anything unless the public sees some real value in it.
Think about it. Today there is a lot of (what some observers) call ‘shallow and immature’ music out there. But you know what? No one who bought any of that music would cop to that criticism.
No indeed, the
people who buy the latest sounds on the pop charts buy that music
because it gives them some kind of pleasure. It means something to them.
think we should look at what sells and what is successful from this
standpoint; music fulfills the needs, wants, and desires of any group of
fans because they identify with it. Basically people like a song because they can hum it in the shower.
one thing that all successful acts have in common when they cross over
to mass appeal is great songs! This is true as well for the more edgy
artists who eek out a living from smaller fan-bases… they still write
compelling songs that touch the hearts and minds of their fans. I think
that is the reason why some musicians succeed and others don’t.
or not you personally ‘like’ current popular songs has nothing to do
with it. Enough ‘somebodys’ coughed up $10 each to prove your tastes may
not be in-tune with what the general public likes.
must be something else that separates successful artists from those who
don’t connect with the public. What other thing is it that successful
artists and bands have that separates them from struggling artists?
answer is business savvy. Yup…that’s it. Somebody somewhere in every
successful acts history had enough business savvy people behind them to
make them the stars that they are or were.
NOW…listen up! It
isn’t as simple as you think. In the past having some business savvy may
have been the domain of a weasel-like manager, or record label
executive. It may have been the unscrupulous business practices of shady
lawyers and booking agents, as well as greedy club owners, or money
My point is that no matter what the behavior
of a particular music business gatekeeper may have been… they got a
certain part of the job done… they broke on through to the other side of
the competition, and got their act’s song into the ears of the thousands
of music fans. And to do that, I can assure you they had a plan.
are no short cuts to success, and there just isn't enough room at the
top for everyone who makes music to make a living from their music.
But there is a balance that can be obtained in one’s life. With the
tools available on the Internet, and the technology of downloadable
music now an every day reality, no musician who writes great songs
should have that much problem realizing modest successes with their
Be careful of the "10 Steps To Musical Success" and the
"What Every A&R Rep Is Looking For" articles and books. I myself
have written some articles with similar such titles, only because they
are my means of getting the attention of an ever growing group of music
star 'wannabees'. Once I get their attention, I try to give them proven
tactics and strategy tips that are time-tested ways that record labels
and industry professionals work.
In reality, there are no 10 steps to anything! There is the conscious involvement, and commitment to your songwriting and musicianship, and to the business of music.
that the world of commercial music is a world of dollars and cents,
whether you like it or not. But that does not mean that Art and Commerce
cannot walk hand in hand... they must do that. It never ceases to amaze me
how often history repeats itself when it comes to the question of
artistic achievement and music business savvy.
Most ‘artists’ in
the truest sense of the world are narrowly focused people who never take
no for an answer. No matter what challenge comes their way, they have
no recourse but to turn to their creative side and get lost in their
music as a way of staying alive. Then, along comes a businessman or
woman who either is or is not ethical, but knows the music business
inside out. They hear the magic in a client’s music, and they do what it
takes to get that music into the marketplace.
Today, businessmen and women are the artists themselves. They have to be. That’s just the way things work in this era.
live in a capitalist, consumer-driven society. The successful musicians
of tomorrow will be those people who either attract dedicated,
knowledgeable people to do the marketing and promotion for them, or
they take that responsibility on themselves and realize that no artist
has to sell hundreds of thousands of copies of their music to make some
money with their music. Just KNOW who your audience is and create a lasting ‘friendship’ with them.
you do have to be able to write and perform great songs, and then
produce them with the ‘sound’ of your particular genre carefully
understood and honored, AND you have to take the time to read trusted
consultants and advisor’s articles and books and also find time to stay
on top of this ever changing business by attending a few music business
conferences or seminars.
But you also need to do some
‘grunt-work’… keep up on your social networking presence at Twitter and
Facebook, call club bookers (over and over), read good and bad
reviews, put on a great show when you're exhausted or sick, and
tirelessly promote your music. This is where the 'entertainer' steps in
and handles things.
The ‘entertainer’ is someone who knows that
the show must go on. They know that no matter what obstacle is put in
front of them, they will persevere. Looking at the work habits of most
successful musicians and bands, I think they all have an ‘entertainer’
inside them. That's what allows them to succeed in all areas of the
business. That is what keeps them going during the fifth press interview
of the day, and all the other crap that has nothing to do with music
and everything to do with the business of music marketing.
an upcoming artist finally ‘makes it’, the pressure to keep producing
sellable music is huge. So the ‘artist’ has to be healthy and ready to
create on demand. You may be asked to hit the road for nine straight
months, then make a world class album immediately following the grueling
What it all boils down to is that professionals
have to be on top of their game, both artistically and business-wise. It
is essential to create a balance between music and business early on.
First, make sure your psyche is in the right place. You know, screw your
head on right! Be honest with yourself regarding what things you are
and aren't willing to do to be successful with your music.
make a plan. Map out how you will improve your skills in both business
and art. Put it on paper. Try living the 50% business - 50% music
Make sure you honor your business commitments and
always act professionally. Make sure you keep your artist side healthy
and creative. Take days off, take walks in nature, take time to noodle
around that new idea for a song that just popped into your head. Those
types of habits will keep the artist inside you in good shape and feed
the creative juices inside you too.
Being a famous musician is
not a "normal" life. To survive and thrive requires a special set of
skills. The good news is those skills can be learned and developed.
Every little bit you learn now will benefit your career plan down the
Put your hands together. The one hand is the creative side of you, and the other hand is the business side of you.
Now clap your hands!.
Christopher Knab is an independent music business consultant based in Seattle, Washington. He
is available for private consultations on promoting and marketing independent music, and can be reached by email at: firstname.lastname@example.org
Chris Knab's book, 'Music Is Your Business'
is available from the Music Biz Academy bookstore.
Visit the FourFront Media and
Music website for more information on the business of music from
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