Beyond talent and songwriting chops, carving out a career as a successful independent artist requires unrelenting dedication. You are a small business – pure and simple. Your understanding of the music business, networking skills, marketing savvy, and your ability to organize and multi-task, will increase over time. But your career will only flourish if, off the top, you’re willing to take a good, hard look at your own strengths and weaknesses.
Musician, know thyself
Self-examination and keen observational skills are key components of songwriting. Looking inside yourself, at the world around you and taking experiences we all share and distilling them in a way that encapsulates what others feel and that listeners are often unable to put just the way you can, are the hallmarks of a good songwriter.
Applying the same dedication to understanding your capabilities and limitations will help you grow personally and professionally. The better you know yourself, the more fully you understand others and, by extension, how to work with them to identify common goals and achieve them.
Every situation you find yourself in, positive or seemingly negative, presents an opportunity to learn, to strengthen your ability to rise to and surmount challenges, troubleshoot, and expand your skill set, not only as a player, writer and performer but also as an entrepreneur.
Build on solid ground
Being independent doesn’t mean going it alone. Inevitably, at the outset, you’ll be wearing multiple hats. Chances are some you’ll be loathe to give up, but knowing when, how and who to ask for help and establishing mutually beneficial relationships with others you trust is integral to success.
Identify and partner with others who are equally dedicated and work just as hard as you do. Be confident. Surround yourself with people who are better than you – as songwriters, performers, players – and you’ll up your game. Bear in mind that there are skills beyond proficiency as a player that are valuable; diligence, a methodical approach to solving complex problems, and the ability to communicate your vision in a way that inspires others to take up your cause.
Take a personal inventory with an eye to making an honest assessment of your talents, experience and what you want to achieve. Beyond helping you define your vision, doing so will make it easier for you to communicate that vision to others and to sell them on it.
The value of being part of a group whose individual members know how to get the best performance out of each other – in every facet of the job – can’t be understated.
If you can work effectively together, and do so without having a blow out every time you disagree, you’re ahead of the game. Most bands don’t fall apart because of a lack of success, but because the chemistry to achieve it (or deal with it when you do achieve it) isn’t there to begin with.
A creative or business partnership may expire at the end of a project. It may last a lifetime. Either way, choosing collaborators is one of the most important decisions you’ll make. Finding people who share the same level of determination, degree of commitment and similar goals isn’t easy, but it’s the foundation of everything that comes after.
Find a balance
You need to juggle the business and music making sides of your career. Scheduling and booking, generating press materials and funding proposals, networking; all need doing effectively and on deadline. Your voice and vision, musically, are the most compelling representations of you are as an artist, but what you do on the business side to get that voice heard is equally important.
Find time to be creative daily, and ensure you can do so with as little distraction as possible. Protect that time jealously, but don’t skimp on fulfilling your responsibilities on the business end.
Above all, be aware that there’s a time to stick to your guns and a time to compromise. The old adage, that a deal no one side is entirely happy with is often a good one, is spot on. Compromising to find a way forward that benefits everyone involved is far better than remaining inflexible and going nowhere.