Over the years I’ve had many people come up and ask me how to “make it” in the music world. My answer is usually that I am probably not the right person to ask as my idea of “making it” and theirs might differ. But, for kicks, here are 8 things I think every artist should remember if they want to make it (long term) in the music world.
1. Make up your mind who you want to be.
Very few people become a super-star overnight. If you want a trip quick to fame, try out for American Idol or America’s Got Talent or some other contest. Who knows, you might just make it! And there’s no shame in getting to the top that way. But if you want to make music for a lifetime, if you want more than a 3-5 year career in the limelight, you must be willing to pay the price. It can take 20 years or more for an artist to finally be heard by the masses. Decide if you’re willing to put the time and energy into “becoming” or if you want to compete and perform. Again, there’s no shame in either, but they are two vastly different ways to approach art.
2. Live your life.
The saying, “art imitates life” is true. The most powerful music is inspired by real life. If a song speaks to your soul it was most likely written or performed (or both) by someone who was very in tune with the world around them. This is why you’ll often see long periods of time between CD releases (for Indie Artists who don’t have contracts forcing them to push more product)—it’s not that artists are lazy. It’s not even that they are too poor to complete a project (though, that does come into play). It’s usually that they are busy living their lives, waiting for the inspiration, time, energy, and strength to put together an album that is worth sharing. Don’t focus on making music or building your career so much that you miss out on what makes your music worth listening to.
3. Be true to your calling.
Yes, art is a calling. Don’t try to be someone you aren’t. Don’t try to create something someone else has already created.
4. Be willing to walk alone.
Not everyone is going to like what you have to offer. Accept the fact that some people won’t appreciate your music. Accept it over and over and over again.
5. Be patient.
True art can’t be rushed or manufactured. Art flows in due time . . . remember the story of the tortoise and the hare? Slow and steady is a good way to view life as an artist.
6. Be humbly bold.
An artist creates because they have to or they will shrivel up and die, not because they long for fame or attention. Most artists are extremely sensitive and insecure and many are shy about performing the songs that are closest to their hearts. (This particular artist has a tendency to get depressed after every single concert or performance and especially after a CD release.) That’s where humility and boldness comes in to play. To truly make it you have to be humble enough to lay aside your pride and share and share and share—in spite of your fears that you will be misunderstood, shamed, or ridiculed. Every song I have ever recorded has made me feel humiliated—like I just paraded naked in front of a bunch of people. It’s probably sort of healthy for me to feel that way because every time I release a new project I am forced to remember that I create and share because it’s my calling, not because I’m trying to win the approval of others.
7. Don’t criticize other artists.
Not everyone thinks the song you hate stinks. Some people like coffee, others tea, others prefer to drink only water. What sounds like noise to you might be the sweetest, most refreshing music to another soul. Do what you do as best as you can and let others do the same.
8. Remember that “making it” isn’t all it’s cracked up to be.
If or when you get to the top you’ll be the same person as you are now. If you aren’t satisfied or fulfilled when performing for 10 people, you probably won’t be when performing for 100K. An artist isn’t called to create for accolades. They’re called to create, period.