Welcome! Take a seat, I brought you here to talk to you about something important. This kind of stuff is hard to talk about, so I appreciate you being cool about this. So… you suck and I’m not sure you actually deserve to take up the space you’re occupying. Also, your dog is dead.
Hmm, too harsh? Oh, and completely untrue.
You are awesome! We call that routine the classic “hook and shag” (never said that before, I’ll never say it again). There are some huge reasons that you are feeling stuck right now. Together we will go over some things we can start enacting so that we can get that big ole ball rolling.
A Poor Practice Routine – Raise your hand if you don’t have a daily practice routine. Ok, now put your hand down, you’re reading this off your phone, you look crazy. Confession time, I have been guilty of not have a practice routine. Let’s make one thing abundantly clear. If you are not practicing technique almost every day, you will not progress. Do not trick yourself into believing you don’t need to practice (Insert dated Allen Iverson quote reference here).
Do you sing? Well, then you should be taking lessons, or at the very least have a heavy practice regime in place. YOU HAVE TO DO THIS! No excuses! I know it’s not always fun. It doesn’t have to be 5 hours a day, you need to stay in shape though, respect the craft, take lessons, find a mentor. I have been self-taught most of my life, I am telling you right now, I would have really benefited from taking lessons earlier in life. I’m looking for guitar lessons now! You can always learn more, you can still get better. If you don’t have anything in place, scour YouTube and set yourself a routine today! If you want to break through, find a teacher!
The People You Surround Yourself With – Let’s blast right through with some more tough love. The bass player you have has only been playing for three months. He’s not planning on getting any better. He doesn’t really care about what the band is doing. It’s time to dump him. Stop picking people that suck all the time! Be nice! Don’t burn bridges! Start investing your time in something really worthwhile. Invest your time in finding a PR person that really cares about what you are doing! Find a bass player that actually knows what they’re doing! Let them contribute to the group.
Accept that even if someone is very talented, they might not fit in the group, it happens all the time. I believe creative differences can drive a group to do something incredible. I also think that someone consistently pumping the breaks will damn the band into non-existence. I’m sure it is unintentional, but you don’t need that kind of daily stalling! We need momentum! I’m not saying that this isn’t a revolving door business and that you can’t have someone on for a short amount of time, I’m saying be honest with yourself about people. Is this person helping further the goals? No? Then they are just a fan and don’t get them involved in the band decision-making process.
Time Management – You have twenty-four hours in a day, the same as everyone else. Have you ever seen someone else who seems to get four times as much done in as much time as you do? Well, first off that is an illusion. I promise if you got to follow them around for the day you’d see their life is a mess.
You need to dedicate time to planning out your day/week/month. Give it a couple hours a week. Don’t pretend you don’t have time on a Sunday to make it happen. Plan out when you practice alone and with a band. Plan out when you will write music. Allocate time to promoting your group, and a separate time that is explicitly booking. It doesn’t have to be a full hour for each thing, it doesn’t have to be every day. I guarantee that 30 mins of sheer focus will reap far more rewards than 3 hours of half-assing a project. Lastly, set apart time to do something that doesn’t involve music at all.
The phrases, “I’ll work on that tonight after I’m done with everything,” is NOT planning. You will be tired tonight, even if you get through whatever you’ve set to work on, you’re not fully invested and therefore, you’re not optimizing your schedule. It is better than nothing, but not by much. Sometimes you will have to “catch up” when you get home, but avoid this by scheduling a proper time to get through the checklist.
Empires have succeeded because of solid planning, and they have failed due to poor planning. You can have poor product work for you with proper planning. It doesn’t have to follow any crazy scheme, you don’t need a Franklin Covey planner. Just plan it out the best you can! Expect it to fall through, so be sure to make backup plans. Respect your time (and others) by planning things out.
You’re Thinking Too small – Every open mic has dozens of people playing guitar/piano and sing. What you’re doing has been done before and that’s okay! It’s our job as creatives to find a way to take something and make it our own. I read columns like this all the time and it drives me nuts when they’re so cryptic; unfortunately, I finally get why. I can’t tell you what to do here. I can’t tell you how to be different, you just have to experiment and find a way to be different, you have to think bigger!
Are you solely playing birthday parties and random open mics? Maybe you’re playing all covers at the next show, but you want to be an originals band? You’re planning a FB live feed in the middle of the day? There’s nothing wrong with an entirely acoustic album, but maybe you could think a little bigger! Push yourself! Make mistakes! The only way you get better is by trying new things and living in that zone where you feel a little uncomfortable.
You’re Thinking Too BIG – I hate when blogs do this, (say one thing and then go back on what was just said) but I must! What you are searching for is in the balance. Are you planning on saving a song for your fourth album? Can we stop for a second and realize how dumb that sounds? If you have something incredible, use it now! Trust in your ability to continually write great stuff! Are you planning five guitar swaps next show? Maybe a crazy light show? Three different singers are coming up to rotate and sing with you? You’re constructing a new backdrop for the stage? You have a music video planned out with a budget that would make Kayne blush? You want to do a compilation album featuring a local artist on every song and it needs to be out by the end of the month? I commend that you for having a great imagination and being creative. I want you to think about this though. Every time a movie is made, there is what we want to happen and what is possible. Don’t overwhelm yourself! Start with things that you know you can do, then expound on those things over each show experience.
You’re Using Social Media Wrong – Hmm, I don’t know if I should say that there are overtly wrong ways to use social media, but I do think there are a few ways that we could improve what we’re doing. The greatest appeal of social media is interaction. Have you ever had your post liked by a celebrity? It’s funny how it makes you feel especially – well, special. This is all bullshit of course. Instead of putting a song up every day, or solely focusing on getting people to a show. Try focusing on connecting with people. Learn names, make a personal response to the comment. It’s time-consuming, it’s also totally worth it. I think the biggest thing is just staying involved in other peoples business. Be proactive in learning about those friends and fans. Promote their stuff!
Have you heard of the 70-20-10 rule? 70 percent of all you post should be on valuable, relevant content. 20 percent of what you share should be shared content and 10 percent should be self-promotion. That 70 percent should be a place where you endear your audience. It can be fun, it can be funny, it can be sweet and tender. As a musician, you’re really selling yourself. Give them something they can talk about. Something that doesn’t involve buying something. The 20 percent is sharing another’s post, it could be another artist’s upcoming show, maybe an old song they’ve released. This helps to build a sense of community! Scour SoundCloud and find an unsigned artist. Push songs that mean something to you. Push yourself to discover new things to listen to. Maybe a big fan of yours just created an Instagram page for their photography. Share that page and their art! The final 10 percent is where you promote that upcoming show, that new merch you’ve created, that new song you just dropped. That means 1 out of every 10 posts you make should be about things other than you and your product.
You’re Using Old Techniques – If you’ve ever said: “well that’s how the stones did it.” You’ve never been more right, and you’ve never been more wrong. The world has changed so much since I started playing music! Most of my favorite artists got their start around Napster. I can’t use the same techniques that they used. They’re archaic! They will have a minimal effect on helping me get out there. The spirit of the stones’ technique works. It’s a good idea to have a residency somewhere. A good rule of thumb goes as follows… would you stop to listen to a band if you just saw a lame poster in a coffee shop? I wouldn’t. If you were handed a business card on the street, would you most likely throw it away later that day? I WOULD, and I’m a musician! I’m not saying it never works. It just rarely ever does.
If its the only way you’re marketing yourself, is it really any surprise that you have progressed? I’m not going to exaggerate this… I see at least 50 band posts every day on Facebook/Instagram. I might listen to one of them (and that’s usually only because I know them well). I’m not saying, “Don’t do it!” I’m saying rethink how you are doing it. Start thinking about actually engaging with others so they will want your product. Start small, what’s better than one fan? Two fans.
Your Product Sucks – I need to preface this by saying first off… the important thing is to get yourself out there and be terrible. I was terrible for the first five years of playing… then I got adequate for the next five. I’m just now feeling comfortable on stage and I still have a long ways to go! My first recording experience was in a closet. The song was terrible. Here’s the thing though. I knew it wasn’t my last attempt, I knew I’d get another shot and I kept pushing to get better! – Now, some real talk. If you record on GarageBand, it’s going to suck. You will touch some people, but you will not progress far. Is it possible, yes? But the exception to the rule never treats themselves like the exception to the rule! You can make this work! I promise you can! Just stop treating yourself like the exception and PUT IN THE WORK! Create a well-made product. Push to be great! You don’t need millions of dollars, but you will need money. There are ways to get it! If you keep doing your best, your best will get better! If you make a great product, people will take notice. That is ALWAYS the case. It’s a long process! Start to create excellent art today and you will get there, I promise you will get there.
You’re Only Relying On Word Of Mouth To Promote Your Product – Another rule of the game is the 50/50 rule of music. If you spent 3k on your last album, you should be putting 3k into marketing your album. I know that seems like a lot. But if you really stop to think about it… it makes sense! You spent all of this time and energy and MONEY into this project you LOVE! But you haven’t given it a chance to be heard at all! Social media has provided us with more than a few ways to promote ourselves… but I will advise you to put money and time towards getting involved in playlists and getting influencers to promote your music/product. Give them some incentive to share your product. Let’s be honest here, money is the fuel! If the only way you’ve marketed your music/product is posting about it on your story… you’re not giving it a chance to make an impact.
You’re Not Active In Your Community – I touched a little on this before, but it deserves to be its own point. If you don’t give, don’t expect to receive! Get involved! Find stuff that you like in your community! Don’t limit it to music. Buy local and the love will come around to you!
If everything was based solely off talent, many should break through, but it’s not exclusively based on ability. I have been lucky enough to hear a lot of great acts, and it’s sad that a lot of them didn’t break through to the next level. Most of that is just being unlucky. Don’t bank on just being lucky to make things work for you. Remember that you’re pursuing a passion because you LOVE your passion (haha that’s a funny phrase). I should rename this post as “How to get the most out of your passion.” But it doesn’t have that same click-bait feeling. Success, on any level, will be fleeting and won’t give you that satisfaction that fulfillment brings. I promise you that hard work will bring you pleasure.
I want to thank Felipe Bustillo for letting me use his wonderful eye to make this post pop! Give him some love by following him on instagram @pipe_fx