In this episode, I’m going to show you 7 ways to appeal to music industry professionals. You’re going to learn about the qualities that separate potentially successful DJs and producers from the ones who will most likely fail. These are patterns that I’ve noticed again and again over the last years but of course, there will always be exceptions. Nevertheless, I believe that these ways of appealing to music industry professionals can make or break a career.
Qualities that separate amateurs from professionals
This whole episode is based around a question I’ve received from one of my podcast listeners. She asked:
“What are the qualities that separate amateurs, semi-professionals, and professionals? What is a winning combination that makes someone attractive to work with or invest in?”
I think that’s a wonderful question. Let’s start with the first part. To me, there are only two qualities that separate professionals from semi-professionals and amateurs: Experience and grit. Every professional in this industry has made incredibly stupid mistakes, failed over and over again, learned from it, and gained valuable experiences. The ones who don’t reach the professional stage have either denied learning from their experiences or haven’t had enough grit to overcome all the obstacles in their way. So before we come to the 7 ways to appeal to electronic music industry professionals, let’s have a look at the role of grit for your career.
The importance of grit
In 2013, Angela Lee Duckworth gave a TED-talk about her groundbreaking research on the most important quality that separates successful people in various areas of life and business from the rest in the field. The one thing that helped her research team predict who’s going to be successful wasn’t intelligence, networking skills, or good looks. It was grit. The “power of passion and perseverance”, as she defines it. It helps you connect your current situation with your future goals. It’s “sticking with your future, day in and day out (…) and working really hard to make that future a reality. Grit is living life like it’s a marathon, not a sprint.”, says Angela Lee Duckworth in her talk.
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The interesting thing here is that talent is completely unrelated to grit. That means if you’re a musical genius but you don’t have the grit to overcome certain obstacles in your music career, you will most likely fail. Contrary to that, someone with only 10% of that genius-level talent but with the right amount of grit is very likely to build a successful music career.
Closely related: Resilience
Closely related to grit is the concept of resilience. Resilience is your ability to stand up again after you’ve failed. Birgit Ohlin describes the small difference between both concepts in her blog post as follows: “The subtle differentiating factor between these two entwined character traits seems to be that resilience is the optimism to continue when you’ve experienced some failures, even during tough times when everyone else gives up. Conversely, grit is the motivational drive that keeps you on a difficult task over a sustained period of time or life.”
So before trying to appeal to electronic music industry professionals, you better asses your level of grit and resilience and try to build that muscle. It’s probably the most important thing you can do for your success. But how do you do that?
Adopting a growth mindset
Building grit is easier said than done and even science hasn’t found the magical formula yet. Still, we have at least a great starting point and that’s the growth mindset. If you have a growth mindset, you believe that your ability to learn is not fixed. In consequence, this means you are accepting the challenges of life and try to figure out solutions no matter what the obstacle is. Even if it seems impossible, you’re willing to try and you won’t give up easily. And let’s be honest here: Building a meaningful electronic music career isn’t exactly an easy obstacle.
You can train this muscle with every obstacle that comes your way. Next time you simply can’t finish a song or get rejected by a club booker, remember this episode and try to figure out a way to overcome this obstacle. The only rule is: Don’t give up. Frustration is natural, but what you do after that is completely in your own hands.
Appealing to music industry professionals: The 7 most important qualities
Backed by the right amount of grit and resilience, you can now focus on building your electronic music artist career. I believe there are certain qualities among upcoming artists that make them appeal to music industry professionals, whether that’s booking agents, label owners, or other artists and DJs.
1. Be a self-starter and “walk the talk”
Many upcoming artists come to visit me in the studio and talk for hours about their big plans, where they are going to be in the next years and who is going to offer them a record deal one day. Don’t get me wrong, I love people with big ideas and bold visions. But simply talking about it doesn’t turn it into a reality. If I meet the same artist again a year later and all I hear is excuses why he or she didn’t put any plans into action, I’m already turned off.
A little example: Unsuccessful demo-submissions to labels
Just to give you an example: If nobody signs your tracks to a label you either:
- Haven’t produced something release-worthy (yet). In this case, you have to be honest with yourself and start working on refining your sound (including getting external help).
- Don’t appeal to any labels as an artist-personality and brand. Instead of complaining about how unfair the world is you can asses your current artist brand and take steps to improve it.
- Contacted the wrong labels (usually too big ones). In this case, you have to look for labels that are on your level and think about what you can offer THEM and not the other way around.
- Produced something so different from everything else out there that it simply doesn’t fit into any label’s catalog. While this is extremely rare, it occasionally happens. In this case, the only option you have is to start your own label and push your new sub-genre with all the power you have.
If I see you honestly assessing the reasons why your tracks didn’t get signed and you also take action and start dealing with the consequences, I will be genuinely impressed and take you seriously. If you can only come up with cheap excuses and complaints about the labels only signing Instagram-DJs, I will put you in my mental category of upcoming artists that are “not going to make it”.
Music industry professionals prefer to invest in self-starters
The upcoming artists who impress music industry professionals the most are the ones who start something on their own. Be it a regular showcase, a record shop, their own label (with regular high-quality releases), or even a clothing line. If you can prove to people that you can build something valuable with none or little external help, professionals in the music industry will be more likely to invest in your career.
2. Invest in your growth as an artist
One of the best ways to appeal to music industry professionals is to prove to them that you’re willing to invest in yourself. No amount of talent can flourish without constant growth in all relevant areas of the music business. If you have to learn a new DAW or want to level-up your production skills, buy a course or invest in 1 on 1 coaching. If you’re struggling with writing your artist bio, hire someone who does it for a living. But why does this make you so attractive to music industry professionals?
If you’re willing to invest in your artist career, it tells something about you. You’re sending a signal that music industry professionals interpret as “this artist is seriously working on his or her career”. So they take you more seriously. You appear as someone who
- Is humble enough to accept that you need help in certain areas
- Accepts the fact that you need to invest time and money into what means a lot to you
- Has the self-worth to also be considered worthy by others
Would you invest in someone who isn’t willing to invest in himself or herself? There you have it, case in point.
3. Have your shit together, always
It’s shocking how many upcoming DJs and electronic music producers make a terrible first impression. Industry professionals expect a certain way of working and communicating that includes simple things like
- Being on time
- Delivering what you’ve promised to deliver
- Staying polite, especially when tensions arise
- Not speaking badly about other people behind their backs
- Communicating openly and with integrity, if you fail to stand up to the expectation you’ve set
Just to give you an example: If a club books you for the first time, they usually request a tech rider. First of all, you should have prepared this in advance in a clear but detailed way. But even if you haven’t done this yet, it’s your obligation to provide this information on time, meaning before the deadline.
A pretty simple formula to remember is this: Underpromise, overdeliver. This doesn’t mean you should sell yourself short. You simply shouldn’t brag about something and then fail to live up to the expectation. So in our example of the tech rider, you can underpromise by replying with a simple email saying: “sure, I’ll be sending my tech info until the 26th” (or whatever the deadline is). Then you overdeliver by sending a clear and detailed tech rider already on the 20th, asking if you can help in any other way to make the show a success.
4. Help others succeed in their path
Remember my episode on networking? One of the most important aspects of building meaningful relationships in the electronic music industry is to adopt the Go-Giver mindset. This means: You’re helping others without asking for anything in return.
What you probably don’t know is that this mindset can create massively positive word-of-mouth around you. Other industry professionals will get to hear your name over and over again in a positive context. Therefore, you’ve made a great first impression before they’ve even met you in person. Can you imagine what an advantage that is?
If you want to appeal to electronic music industry professionals, this is probably one of the easiest ways to succeed. If you are one of the driving “connectors” that enables other people to succeed in the music business, you will automatically become part of a relevant circle.
5. Have your ego under control
If you tick all the boxes but leave out this one, you’re going to fail massively. Ego-problems are the number one reason why upcoming artists build up a negative reputation in the music industry. There’s a broad spectrum between having just enough self-esteem to be resilient and having an ego that doesn’t fit through the main entrance of Berghain.
The key to achieving a balanced ego lies in gaining self-awareness. This is an important skill you need to build (which is why you find it constantly in the action steps I’m giving you at the end of every episode). Self-awareness helps you make more objective judgments and react to tricky situations with a clear head. Your ego-driven gut-feeling reaction might have caused burning bridges. A person with a higher level of self-awareness instead would have reacted calmly and wisely.
A good example: Facing criticism
We all have to face criticism and it’s our duty to deal with it in a productive way. If Resident Advisor reviews your latest EP and criticizes you for having lost your edginess and unique sound, you have certain options of reacting to this. You could either
- Complain about the author’s bad taste (which is what most artists with too big of an ego default to).
- Feel miserable and get massive writer’s block because you feel like a fraud (which is what artists with not enough self-esteem default to)
- Stay calm and ask yourself clever questions that help you make the most out of the situation (which is the reaction of people who don’t have ego issues)
You could critically listen to your previous record and your new one to try to find out what the author is referring to. Have you maybe stumbled into the copycat trap? Moreover, you could read some of the other reviews of that author. Maybe he or she is the wrong contact person for your sub-genre? What expectations have you set for your EP in advance in your promo texts and visuals? Is it misaligned?
I hope you get the idea here: It’s about reacting calmly to a situation that is emotionally and professionally challenging. It might also be that the author of the bad review simply doesn’t like you personally, which means that you should decide that his or her opinion shouldn’t matter to you. But before jumping to that quick conclusion, you should figure out if (and why) this is the case. Have you done something stupid in the past that has caused this bridge to burn?
6. Know when to say “no”
Saying yes is easy, saying no is an art form. I’ve been guilty of this myself, over and over again. Appealing to electronic music industry professionals sometimes involves saying “no” to opportunities that aren’t truly aligned with your future goals. If you are among the few people who can politely say “no” at the right time, you’re likely to succeed in the music business.
Let’s say you get a remix request by a label that you truly respect but the original mix simply doesn’t resonate with you emotionally. The default answer of 99% of upcoming artists would be a clear “yes” because they don’t want to miss out on that opportunity. What happens then is the beginning of a problematic series of events. The remix will most likely not meet the expectations of the label which causes a weird tension. The artist who’s provided the original mix is not going to recommend you to other artists in the future. In a best-case scenario, he or she is not going to talk about you at all. But let’s be honest: Negative word-of-mouth is quite likely in this situation.
Saying “no” is often the best option in the long run
If you react with integrity instead and say “no” in a polite way (to keep the doors open), electronic music industry professionals will respect you for that. You could say something like this:
“I’m very thankful for the offer and I’d love to be featured with a remix on your label. Unfortunately, with this specific track, I don’t feel that I’m the right fit for the job. Don’t get me wrong, the original mix is fantastic, but I believe somebody like [artist xyz] would be a better match, creatively. I’m very interested in providing a remix for your label and if you have other tracks in the pipeline, feel free to send them over. I only want to offer you my best work and hope you appreciate my honesty.”
Statements like this create a powerful impression. They’re sending various positive signals:
- You’re among the few people who can say no
- You’re thinking in the label’s best interest
- Your answer is polite and your ego seems controlled
- You’re helping others succeed by recommending them to the label for this job
- It shows that you have integrity and people can trust you
If you want to appeal to electronic music industry professionals, this is one of the most powerful ways to do so. It’s also one of the hardest ones. You can build that muscle of saying “no” simply by pausing for a few seconds before saying “yes”. Stick with your own future goals and ask yourself if a “no” might bring you closer to them than a “yes”.
7. Make your music career your number one priority
Health and personal relationships come first, of course. But professionally, other electronic music industry pros want to feel that you’re at eye-level. You want them to categorize you as someone who’s clearly heading down the professional path. The worst thing that can happen is that they see you as a part-time hobby-DJ/producer who dreams of a different life instead of creating the life of his or her dreams.
Which side-hustle you accept sends a signal about your priorities. What things you spend your hard-earned money on tells something about your goals in life. Which types of relationships you build in the industry and how much you help others is sending a clear message. So make sure you “walk the talk” and do what it takes to build a meaningful electronic music career.
Putting it into action: How to appeal to music industry professionals
So what can you take away and implement from this episode? Here are a few suggestions. Please don’t desperately try to be appealing, as this would do you more harm than favor. But I think the main point of this episode is to double-check some important aspects of your career and make sure you’re on the right path.
1. Start adopting the growth mindset and build up grit as well as resilience
- How have you dealt with obstacles in the past? Have you given up quickly on the harder ones? Are there aspects of your electronic music career that appear “too difficult to even try”?
- List some of the skills or character traits you wish you had right now and start sketching out ways to acquire them. Commit to a first step in the right direction by putting time and money on the table that is dedicated to your professional growth.
2. Go through the 7 ways of appealing to electronic music industry professionals and give yourself a 1-10 rating in each area (10 being the best).
- Analyze the points where you score lower than 7 and sketch out ways to improve
- If you gave yourself more than 7 points in all areas, double-check with someone who knows you well; there might be blind spots which you still don’t see
- If you still score great in all areas, see how you can find even more ways to help others succeed in the industry
3. Put yourself in the shoes of a label owner, club booker, and electronic music journalist
- Which aspects of you would appeal to them?
- What is still missing?
- How can you fill the gaps while still being authentic and true to who you are as an artist?
Remember, all of these are exercises. There’s no secret formula that guarantees success. But if you’re open-minded and willing to grow personally as well as professionally, I see a bright future for you in this industry.
So how did you score? Where do you want to improve? Let me know in the comments, I’d love to hear from you.