In this podcast episode and blog post, you’re going to find out how you should invest in your music career in order to gain the maximum return. First of all, I’m going to show you the three biggest mistakes that I see upcoming artists make when it comes to investments. Then, I’m going to walk you through my favorite growth strategy with the highest ROI (return on investment).
Growing your music career with limited resources
Let’s face it: Your resources as an artist are limited. You can invest your time, your hard-earned money, or a combination of both. Unfortunately, most upcoming artists tend to invest in areas that provide a very low return on investment. So stick with me if you want to be among the 5% who strategically invest their time and money so they actually see a return. The more limited your resources are, the harder you have to think about where to invest them.
Have you ever sat down and analyzed in which areas of your career you’re spending how much money and time?
Probably not. And that’s where the trouble begins: We’re investing subconsciously in areas that give us short-term satisfaction instead of long-term benefits. We tend to procrastinate on the things that truly bring us forward (because they’re hard to do) and spend money on gadgets that make us look like we’re accomplishing something.
If you start thinking about how to invest in your music career, you’re already setting yourself apart from a lot of upcoming producers out there.
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Curious to know whether you’re doing it right already? Let’s have a closer look. Here are the three major mistakes I see upcoming artists make when it comes to investments of time and money:
Investment-mistake Nr. 1: Expensive gear that doesn’t make a difference
Oh, I’m slaughtering some sacred cows here… Let me get one thing straight: I love gear. From high-end studio monitors to analog synthesizer and the latest flashy eurorack-module. But do I think they make a difference in your career? Not really. At least not as much as you think.
The problem with equipment is, that we tend to blame our lack of skills on a piece of gear we don’t own yet.
“If I only had a real vintage 909, I could create the perfect kick for my tunes and finally make them cut through the mix.” I’ve heard so many variations of this phrase and it always shocks me. If high-profile artists like Recondite create 90% of their song with Ableton stock plugins, you have no excuse.
You don’t need a vintage Moog synth to create analog-sounding bass lines. A vintage 909 has been sampled too many times already, so why buy it? You don’t need a full modular rig to write bleepy techno tunes. And no, just because your heroes all have a real Roland Juno 106, you won’t need one to write amazing tracks in that style.
Even if your main argument is the “tactile feel of real knobs”, I don’t think that it can justify your gear lust of buying one analog hardware piece after another. By the way: There are some seriously great midi controllers out there (and learning how to map them is a crucial skill anyway).
Investing in your music career means investing in skills rather than equipment. A piece of gear might go out of fashion, but you’re going to possess your skills and knowledge for as long as you want.
Investment-mistake Nr. 2: Spending too much time on social media
I don’t want to sound like your parents here, but I do believe that social media is one of the biggest productivity killers in our society. On the other hand, no one can deny that these channels play an important role in building your artist brand.
The question is: How much time are you spending curating your channels vs. randomly scrolling through your feed?
I believe we all know the answer to this…
So let’s talk about the concept of opportunity cost. This simply means: Spending time is a zero-sum game. If you spend one more hour on social media, you have lost this hour forever that you could have used to do something productive. So how many hours have you spent on social media (let’s also include Netflix here) last week? What could you have done with that time instead?
Our brain is craving that instant gratification that social media are providing. These platforms are designed to hook us 24/7 and they’re constantly getting better at it.
The problem here is: You think you’re building your artist brand when posting on Instagram and Facebook, but the very next second you’re drawn into a swamp of distraction.
I don’t say you shouldn’t use those channels (though one might argue that they’re not as important as everybody claims they are), but you have to come up with ways to limit the time you’re investing on these platforms. There are some fantastic tools and tricks that can help with that:
- The facebook newsfeed eradicator browser extension basically removes the whole crap and replaces it with a smart productivity quote. I’m still waiting for a mobile version of that plugin…
- Cold Turkey, a desktop app that allows you to block distractions completely for a certain period of time. I’m using it right now so I can finish this blog post for you
- Simply deactivating all notifications on your phone and putting it into your bag while you’re working on music
Investing in your music career means spending time efficiently and removing distraction during your most productive hours. Blocking off social media can work wonders and you will be shocked by home much more you get done.
Investment-mistake Nr. 3: Paying for a vinyl-release without having a solid fan base
This one hurts. You’re a vinyl lover, I get it. And so are all your friends. Above all, having a vinyl release under your belt gives you a lot of credibility in the scene. You might even sell a few on your Bandcamp page if your music is really good.
But please imagine what else you could do with the money you’ve spent on the other 279 vinyl records that you didn’t sell!
I love vinyl as a medium and I believe it’s here to stay (at least for the next couple of years). But if you want my advice on how to invest in your music career, I strongly suggest you stick with digital releases until your fan base is big enough to justify the expenses of a vinyl release.
If making electronic music is only a hobby and you simply want to have your own music available on vinyl, go for it. Makes total sense to me! But if you want to grow your music career strategically, please take my advice and save that money for something else.
Now that we’ve talked about the three biggest investment mistakes of upcoming artists, let’s get into the right strategy of choosing your investments wisely.
How to invest in your music career for maximum returns
There are basically three areas that will give you the maximum return on investment: Skills, mindset, and specialist outsourcing. Sounds surprising? It shouldn’t, as all my advice focuses on longterm success instead of small but instant rewards. So let’s dive into the specifics:
Invest in building and growing your skills
You’re probably very talented at creating music. Maybe your production chops are far above average. Still, I bet there are enough blind spots and areas in which you could improve.
Have you mastered every form of synthesis? How about field recordings and mashing up your self-recorded samples? Oh, you don’t know how modal interchange works? What about sequencing your own polyrhythms?
And those were only the music-related skills.
What about your copywriting skills (wouldn’t hurt these days, would it)? Task organization and goal setting? Project management? I know, it sounds weird at first, but if you’re mostly a DIY artist trying to break through, there are many skills besides music that help you overcome obstacles on your path.
I’m not saying you should acquire every possible skill that might be helpful. But if you take the time to find out what skills you could improve on, you will identify some that make a huge difference.
If you want to invest in your music career the right way, I suggest you set aside a yearly budget (money & time) for acquiring and improving crucial skills. Here are some examples of great investments:
- 1 on 1 consultation on specific skills and issues
- small group masterclasses
- part-time university courses
- specialized online courses
Want to know my dirty little secret?
To this day, I spend as much as 1500$ a year on self-education and improving my skills. And many of my high-profile artist clients do the same. If you truly want to get a headstart, invest in your skills, not in gear.
Invest in refining your mindset
I believe that adopting the “lifelong learner” mentality is crucial. From there on, investing in refining your mindset will pay off immense dividends. It starts with building a special type of resilience that helps us as artists live through critical phases in our career.
This might sound a bit abstract. So let me ask you a few questions:
How do you deal with failure currently?
Do you sometimes have a feeling of inadequacy?
Are you punishing yourself for not being productive enough?
Do you sometimes find yourself being jealous of other people’s success?
Do you think you deserve more attention than what you’re getting right now?
Or let’s go in the opposite direction:
Do you think the world owes you something and simply doesn’t recognize your ingenuity?
Do you think you’re better than all your peers and you deserve more success?
Are you not sharing your knowledge because you want to protect it?
All these questions have to do with mindset. The better we know ourselves and adopt a healthy perspective towards certain issues, the better we can deal with obstacles. If you invest time money into this aspect of your career (or even your personality), you will gradually unlock superpowers. Not bad if you really want to build an impactful music career, right?
You can invest in refining your mindset like this:
- Read loads of music biographies
- Invest in self-help books (sounds silly, I know) that resonate with you
- If you really want to get serious, get a 1 on 1 coach to work on certain aspects
- Start journaling (5 minutes every day) to help you gain awareness for what you need to work on
The problem with “mindset” is that it sounds very abstract and some people shy away from this immediately because of that. Nevertheless, I don’t know any successful, serious artist that hasn’t put effort into this. If you’re not willing to invest at least some time into this aspect, you’re probably paving the way for massive failure.
Investing in your music career does not necessarily involve obvious, superficial things. Often times, the subconscious mindset aspects make a big difference in the long run.
Invest in specialist outsourcing
There are a lot of things you can do on your own, DIY-style. But sometimes you’re running into roadblocks that you need to resolve with external help. The good thing is, that you not only get professional help, but you’re also learning from those specialists at the same time.
For example, when artists hire me for mixing and mastering, they always get in-depth feedback on their production and I’m happy to share everything I know. The result: They’re coming back with the next track that is already on a much higher production level. I call this a classic win-win situation.
One time I’ve hired a music lawyer for a very tricky contract situation. Not only did she provide me with a great solution, but I’ve also learned more about the music business in one hour than I had learned in several years.
Here are some things you can outsource to specialists:
- Studio work (mixing, mastering, additional production, etc.)
- Design (I highly recommend my buddy Kerr Wilson)
- Music videos (check out my friend Temi Hollist)
- Legal advice
- Taxes/ accounting
- PR & blog relations
Some of this might sound familiar to you if you’ve listened to my episode on why you don’t need an artist manager. I’m stressing this point again because I’m deeply convinced that outsourcing to specialists can boost your music career significantly.
You basically start playing in a different league of professionalism.
And people will notice. Your fans, your peers, and also labels. The ones who already have some degree of success are interested in working with like-minded artists that know when to outsource things to specialists.
Putting it into action: How to invest in your music career the right way.
As always, I’m leaving you with three action steps that you can implement right away. Consider this your homework until next week. If you want to invest in your music career the right way, start with this:
1. Evaluate your current investments (money and time)
- How much money have you spent in gear (analog and software) in the last 12 months? Divide this number by 12 and you have your monthly spending in gear.
- Ask yourself critically: Are you spending a lot of time on social media and/ or Netflix (Prime Video users, you’re guilty as well!)? If so, start implementing time tracking using tools like Clockify so you actually get an idea how much time you’re spending where. Moreover, make sure you install the Facebook newsfeed eradicator and Cold Turkey to save your most productive time.
- Are you guilty of putting out physical products that nobody’s actually buying? If this is only a hobby, then continue (I mean, others are playing golf). But if you want to build an electronic music career, this money should be invested elsewhere.
2. Cut these spendings and commit to maximum budgets
- I’m not saying you should completely stop buying gear (I won’t be successful with this anyway). But please cut this number at least in half and commit to this as your budget for the future.
- Regarding time, start setting aside distraction-free time blocks every day (I recommend at least 2 hours) where you focus on either creating music or doing something else that will bring your music career forward.
3. Commit to investing in your music career the right way
- First of all, set aside a yearly budget for learning new skills or improving on existing ones. Can you attend a masterclass? Enroll in an online course? Book a 1 on 1 consultation?
- Start refining your mindset by writing a short 3-5 minute journal every day to gain more self-awareness. Buy a music biography that sounds interesting to you. Dig around in the self-help shelf of a bigger bookstore (or online) and see what resonates with you. Choose one area at a time where you want to improve. Don’t overwhelm yourself!
- Commit to outsourcing at least one critical area of your music career where you know you need help but haven’t outsourced it yet. This will boost your career significantly!
So what are you taking action on? Let me know in the comments! I read everything.