In this episode, I’m sharing the ten biggest music industry secrets that will help you build a meaningful, long-term music career. Some of them are very surprising and counter-intuitive, but that’s what makes them so relevant. Don’t blindly jump on the bandwagon, check this list instead and do the things that move the needle!
The music business is full of myths
You might have come across some typical “music industry secrets“ blog posts that repeat the same silly list of nonsense. Most of the time, these articles are written by people who don’t have first-hand experience (not calling anyone out here…).
Its one thing to write about the music business, but it’s a completely different thing to actually make a living in it.
To me, this explains why so much content revolves around topics like growing your social media following, gaming the Spotify algorithm, or sneaky ways to get your demo into the inbox of a major label A&R. Don’t get me wrong, there are also some good examples like this one from Sonicbids or this one on the DIY musician blog.
I’ve decided to create this episode as a counter-example to all the lukewarm advice out there, showing you exactly what music industry secrets make a difference to your success in the long run. So let’s dive right in!
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Top 10 music industry secrets
This list of music industry secrets is my subjective but brutally honest collection of things that make a difference in the long run. Over the last 15 years in the music business, I have seen countless examples of failure and a few examples of success.
There are many reasons why some artists manage to achieve their goals and others don’t. Keep in mind also that the definition of success as an artist varies from person to person. There is no right and wrong.
1. Having a loyal audience is more important than having a huge audience
To me, this first music industry secret is the most important one of all. Success in the music business seems out of reach for many of us. You might think that you need tens of thousands of fans and followers to make a living from music.
But that’s not even remotely true. If you have a small but super-loyal following, you’re lightyears ahead of someone who has a huge but disengaged audience.
The 1000 true fans theory by Kevin Kelly has taught us that in order to make a living, all you need is a small but highly engaged audience. Let me add to this: Even a few hundred really loyal fans will enable you to quit your full-time day job.
In essence this means: You’re closer to your dream than you might think. All you have to do is zero in on leading your tribe, put out remarkable music consistently, and grow your fanbase step-by-step.
2. Being good but consistent is better than being great but inconsistent
Don’t we all dream to be the creative genius, the outlier, the uber-talent? Be careful what you wish for because it’s almost impossible to deliver up to that standard again and again.
If you put out an extraordinary album once in five years but everything you publish in between is trash, you’re setting yourself up for failure. There’s nothing worse than constantly disappointing your true fans. They will move on, believe me, and that’s the ugly side of this music industry secret.
If you instead manage to put out good music that resonates with your audience consistently over years, your fans will stay loyal to you. In consequence, this will enable you to make a living from your passion.
3. Hype is dangerous
This one of the most counter-intuitive music industry secrets. You might think that getting a lot of hype is the best thing that can happen to your music.
But that’s a trap!
Hype essentially means that everyone and their grandmother have an opinion about you, your music, and where things are going with your artist-career. Moreover, hype is a very time-bound phenomenon. You might be the talk of town for a couple of weeks, but what happens afterwards? What if your next single doesn’t crack the Beatport charts?
Instead of hoping for hype, you should focus on building momentum, slowly but steadily. This is a more healthy way of growing your fanbase and making a sustainable career in the music business.
4. You don’t need a record label or manager to make it to the top
My fourth music industry secret is connected to one of the biggest music career myths that I keep hearing. It’s that record labels or music managers are the key to “making it” (whatever that means).
That’s simply not true. YOU and ONLY YOU are the key to success in the music industry.
Let me explain what I mean by that: It’s dangerous (and maybe a bit stupid) to rely on external factors for your own success as an artist. It puts you in a position of dependency. Why would you want that?
I know the answer: Because if you DON’T make it, someone else it to blame. The stupid label A&R who rejected your awesome demo, the lazy manager who didn’t see your true potential, blablabla.
Honestly, I believe it’s dangerous to even think about working with a manager too early in your music career. It prevents you from learning the essential basics of building a music career. With record labels, the situation is similar. You might want to gain some experience with releasing your own music first before trying to get signed to the record label of your dreams. This type of experience will also help you submit demos correctly and increase your chances of getting signed.
5. Social media marketing is less important than you think
I know that this music industry secret is a controversial one. But I’m asking myself: Why the hell does everyone believe that social media marketing is the key to success in the music industry? I don’t get it… Okay, there are some great things about Instagram, Facebook, Snapchat, TikTok, and whatever platform is the new hot shit:
You can showcase your artist brand and have some direct interaction. Moreover, you can be personal and give people a look behind the scenes. Lastly, the biggest factor that makes social media import for the music industry is ultra-targeted paid ads.
But is that really important for you, the upcoming artist? I don’t think so.
I don’t want to downplay the role of social media for artists these days. But I’ve seen way to many examples of credible artists who simply ignore all social media best-practices and still succeed in the grand scheme of things.
Social media are a blessing and a curse. On the one hand, they’re one of the best direct-to-fan communication channels. Plus: Nearly everyone uses these platforms on a daily basis. On the other hand, Instagram, Facebook & Co. are limiting your reach more and more. You’re competing for the attention of your audience with some of the biggest brands in the world. They have specialized teams and millions to spend on ads (which is what the platforms are looking for).
I believe you should view social media as one of many channels that make up your music promo mix. These platforms aren’t the holy grail and won’t make or break your music-career.
6. Don’t see other artists as competition, instead, look for potential collaborators
This music industry secret has to do with adopting a so-called abundance mindset. You might be thinking that you’re fighting a silent battle against all the other music producers in your genre. A fight for a limited amount of attention among your audience. In essence, you believe that the pool of potential fans is a scarce resource.
The problem with this scarcity mentality is that it prevents you from massive growth. If you see your “competitors” as collaborators, your artist-career can gain much more momentum. If you start interacting positively with other music producers, trying to win the battle for longterm success TOGETHER instead of against each other, you will see a massive difference.
Who says that a music consumer can’t be a “true fan” of several musicians?
In this day and age, collaboration is one of the keys to success in the music industry. Your professional network is everything (which is the next point on my list).
7. A strong music industry network consists of 10 deep relationships instead of 100 superficial contacts
One of the biggest music industry secrets is that you don’t need a massive network to be successful (see my episode on a better way of networking in the music business). It may be nice for your ego to max out your friend count on Facebook with influential people from record labels and booking agencies. It’s awesome to see established artists follow you on Instagram. But what does that mean in reality?
My personal experience has shown that it doesn’t matter how many people you superficially know. The only thing that counts is to have a few likeminded, close contacts in the music industry who would do everything to see you succeed. And the other way round!
If you manage to establish five to ten very deep relationships with influential people in your genre, you’re setting yourself up for success in the future. What’s important here: These relationships grow over many years. The girl who’s booking underground showcases in a small venue might be the founder of the most influential booking agency of your genre in a couple of years from now.
8. There is no such thing as overnight success
This weird idea of someone becoming successful overnight keeps spreading like a virus (no Covid-19 jokes intended!). Again, I believe this myth was created by dreamers for dreamers.
The ones who actually succeed in the music industry are the DOERS, not the dreamers.
Overnight success stories are usually made-up PR-campaigns by shady agencies or promo people at big record labels. They make for a great headline, but there’s usually very little truth to it.
Here’s the not-so-secret music industry secret: A successful music career is clearly related to years of ongoing work, installing healthy habits, honing your creative skills, and investing time and money into the right resources. So be patient, follow a well thought-out strategy, and serve your audience instead of waiting for that magical “overnight success”.
9. Do more of fewer things and focus on what’s essential
Feeling overwhelmed is one of the biggest issues that upcoming artists are facing. The only solution to this is focusing on the few things that actually make a difference. You should do more of those things and say no to a lot of other things. I know that this is easier said then done, but hey, it’s your job to figure this stuff out.
This music industry secret has to do with being intentional. You only have very limited resources of time and money so distribute them wisely.
Let me give you an example: You could try to follow a very common Instagram growth-hack and look for great hashtags, follow other people, comment on their posts, and send direct messages to influencers in your genre, hoping that they will support you in any way. This might consume up to one or two hours of your day (if you actually want this tactic to give your results).
But what else could you do with that time? You could work through an online course that helps you solve a critical issue in your production workflow. Or you could read a blog post on how to get better at mixing your own songs(and then actually implement the tips in your next session).
I recommend you do a so-called 80/ 20 analysis of all the things you do to move your music-career forward. Simply ask yourself what are the 20% of what you put in that will give you 80% of the desired outcome.
10. If you don’t work on your productivity and time-management skills, you won’t stand a chance
I guess this is a music industry secret you didn’t expect to be on this list. Productivity and time-management are super important meta-skills for achieving everything else. The more efficiently you work on your artist career, the quicker you’re going to see the desired results.
The good news is that you aren’t born as an unproductive procrastinator. You can learn this stuff, even as a creative person. I’ve taught these techniques to many of my coaching clients and they’ve all crushed their yearly goals.
Time-management is also a big issue for most upcoming music producers. If you’re feeling like your day needs to be twice as long in order to get things done, you have a serious problem. I’ve been there myself, so I know how this feels.
Success in the music industry is only possible if you strategically work on the essential building blocks of your future. But don’t forget that you also have a life besides that. Organizing all of these aspects can be a big challenge and source of frustration.
Putting it into action: What you can learn from these music industry secrets
This was a pretty big list so where should you start? I don’t want you to walk away even more overwhelmed so let me give you three action steps, as always.
1. Rate yourself on these ten dimensions
- You can see these music industry secrets as different dimensions of your future success.
- Try to go through them one by one and rate yourself on a 1-3 scale (1=pretty bad, 2=okay, 3=pretty good).
- Some of the points above refer to mindset, some have to do with things you can implement right away. Whatever the case, you should still be able to rate yourself.
2. Take action where you have the lowest score
- Let’s say you give yourself a 1 in the dimension on “hype” because you believed that this is exactly what you need. Try to adopt a different view on it and come up with ways to promote your releases in a more humble and grounded way.
- If you’re done with your 1s, move on to the 2s and see how you can improve there.
3. Re-visit your goals for this year
- Take a look at your goals for this year and see if they are in line with what you actually need to do right now (considering your score on these dimensions).
- If necessary, adjust your goals and start moving in the right direction again. Make sure your energy and time are being used as efficiently as possible.
Alright, that’s it for this week’s episode. Now I’d love to hear from you: Which of these music industry secrets do YOU think is most important and what would you add to the list?
Let me know in the comments, I read everything.