Letter To a Young Singer Songwriter
I received an email this week from a young singer songwriter about developing a career in the music industry. Here’s an excerpt of our conversation:
I've been playing guitar and writing my own music for awhile, but just recently started trying to pursue an actual music career. I don't really know anyone personally who is in the music industry or pursuing a music career so I'm a bit lost on where to begin with all of it and getting my music out there. With you being an independent musician, I guess I'm just looking for some guidance on where to begin.
I've begun playing out at 2 open mic nights a week just to get more and more comfortable performing and getting a chance to perform my originals. I've been recording my songs at home with a microphone using GarageBand, and that's really the extent of it, but my overall goal right now is to eventually release an EP. How would I go about doing that? Is it possible to release an EP without making it in a legit studio? Is it ideal to release single songs first?
Thank you for reaching out! It sounds to me like you’re off to a great start in developing your music career, and it’s exciting that you’re looking for input at this stage rather than later on when you have less control over career direction. Yay for you!
First of all, I’ll say what I tell my may be a bunch of nonsense since I’m not convinced any one person has a roadmap for music career success. I’d recommend taking the below with a large grain of salt.
That said, I’d try to do a couple of things to help shape your music career:
1. What artists do I want to be like? If you can find just a few that really inspire you, I’d find out everything you can about them. Most successful artists’ habits and environments are what make them successful, and the more you can emulate them the better.
If you can, I’d recommend shadowing artists or musicians that you respect. Offer to help them run errands, buy them coffee, do anything you have to do to get around them. Most of the things that I’ve picked up from successful musicians haven’t been them telling me philosophies, but by me observing how they manage their time, energy, and work/life balance. Even if this costs you a lot of time and money, it’s worth it.
2. Start to develop your voice and your mediums. The hallmark of most of the really successful artists I’ve been around is usually based on one metric: how much quality material have I put out, and how consistently?
If you want to write and perform, do it every single day. Find people that are good songwriters and collaborate. Play coffeehouse shows like you’ve been doing (way to go, by the way!). Work with as many talented people as you can find, and do it consistently every single week. I’ve never seen someone who consistently creates material over long periods of time, and that material not get drastically better.
Once you’ve worked on the quality aspect of your music, start developing your mediums. For all modern singer songwriters, these mediums will probably include video, live performances, and audio recordings. I’d recommend starting a youtube channel, getting a mic, and creating music and experiences to see what works.
Once you’ve honed your skills on these mediums to the point that you’re earned the sustained attention of enough people, don’t settle for less than amazing quality for your album. Get someone who makes amazing albums and singles, and ask the people that deeply care about your music to help you fund/create the music. If that means you only can afford to put out a single but it sounds amazing, great! I can’t emphasize it enough: quality matters tremendously. Releasing crappy work can cripple a music career.
A couple of other things I’d recommend: I would read everything you possibly can on entrepreneurship, running a small business, and marketing. If you need a place to start, check out Seth Godin’s “Permission Marketing”, which you can pick up at any bookstore or library worth its salt.
Hope this helps, and let me know if I can help in any way!
P.S. If you noticed, I never mentioned building a fan base. The reason is simple: if your voice and your medium isn’t at a high enough level, there’s almost no chance you’ll be able to develop a fan base outside of your friends and family. I think this is a mistake a lot of artists make- not focusing on creating something of quality before looking for fans.