Being a musician is hard. Whether you’re on the come up, pretty established, or just getting started and eagerly awaiting to unleash your best work to the world, the struggle is real. Correction: it’s hard being a musician who’s trying to make it.
Although the hard-work and the grind never stops, when you get to a certain level, you don’t need to push yourself out there as much, you’ll have an established team in place, so you can concentrate on the music. But until then, it’s a continuous uphill slog, mixed with a hefty dosage of self-belief and skin as thick as your biggest North Face jacket.
We’ll be spending the first month of January profiling some up-and-comers in 2017 who’ve caught our keen eye. But, before we get into them, here’s a few steps to take if you’re an up and comer, to make your ascent into the upper echelons a little easier.
Make good music.
This may sound like a pretty standard requirement, but you’ll be surprised. We’re in an age where the resources to make music are readily available. You can now produce, publish and promote your own music, all within the comfort of your own home. It means virtually anyone can make a hit from the confines of their four-walls. But it doesn’t always mean the product generated is good.
Made a track? Don’t instantly put it out, sometimes quality is better than quantity. Yeah, we all want to be able to post a tweet #workrate or #teamnosleep and yes, you can do that, but it doesn’t always mean you need to release mediocre, below average music. Why not throw it on a private Soundcloud link? Send it to some musical taste-makers or your mates and ask for honest feedback. Get a sense of which parts work and what sections don’t. Should your vocals be raised? Are the lyrics a little under developed? Honest feedback is needed, and should be welcomed. May sound a lil simple, but in the words of Drake, #TrussMiDaddy, you’ll be surprised.
And while we’re on the subject of good music, not everyone will like your ‘good music’. And there’s nothing wrong with that. Similarly to when a new mother coos endlessly about her newborn, and you’re left thinking really? That’s the same way others might view your music. No one has to, or will like your music. Doesn’t mean they’re haters or enemies, just means it doesn’t tickle their fancy. But regardless, there will be people who do, so focus on them and don’t try to please everyone.
Immerse yourself in your specific genre.
While cross-genre mixing and blending is undoubtedly winning these days, when you’re on the come-up focus on becoming an expert in your craft. Whether you’re a producer, rapper, singer… Or spoken word artist… Aim to become the go-to person for that genre. Learn from the greats… Study them. But also experiment with new and inventive ways to switch it up and make the sound incredibly modern. It’s also worth surrounding yourself with people within your genre (but that’s not to say become insular) whether it’s your social media feeds, books you read or just the circles you move in, make sure you’re staying up to date with the trends. Doing this, you’ll not only create and sustain a loyal fanbase, but eventually artists and fans of other genres will respek you for being consistent and being a G within your lane.
Contact the right people, don’t spam.
Here’s a personal one, and slight bugbear of mine. Make sure you’re contacting the right tastemakers, programmers, radio pluggers, bloggers, websites and playlist makers for your music. It sounds fairly simple, but you’ll be surprised. We’re in a period where social media has made it really easy to not only find out contact details, but to find out what a person likes and specialises in. So you want your song played on 1xtra? You may have more chance directly targeting specific DJ’s who’d play your sound, rather than approaching the entire station. Similarly, if your music is very alt-indie sounding, would make sense to approach a journalist or publication that directly specialises in alt-indie sounds, rather than sending a mass generic email to a billion different publications.
As someone who receives music submissions regularly, it’s much more appreciated receiving a submission from an artist who’s aware of the sounds you like to write/play, rather than a mass email with a sound so far removed from anything you’d normally play. Same thing goes with Twitter, try your hardest not to spam tweet every blogger/radio presenter/DJ under the sun. WE CAN SEE THE TIMELINE. Targeting the right DJs/writers will allow you to build up an actual relationship with them, they’ll genuinely be interested in what you’re making. I’m pretty sure a direct, personalised reach of 10 individuals will result in a greater response rate opposed to 100 random-ers. Try it.
Have good visuals, please.
So you’ve made a fire song, you’ve sent it to your pals and musical tastemakers for feedback, and everything is good, it sounds like the one… Pause. Now is the time to think about your visuals. Whether it’s a simple piece of artwork you’ll put out when you put the song on Soundcloud, or a picture you use to promote the song on social media, regardless of your personal thoughts on visuals, they will become synonymous with you and your music.
If you’re camera shy, or going for that elusive look, then why don’t you just opt for some consistent, branded typeface? Or a slick distorted image of yourself? Or just a bait Tumblr-type image with some LA-looking landscape. Either way make sure you’ve got a consistent aesthetic or a strong concept to compliment your sound. If you’re not art-savvy or photoshop savvy, connect with people who are – there are a load of up-and-coming creatives out there who could be part of your team. Think carefully and creatively about the image you want to convey about yourself as an artist and how this image connects to your music. Seriously think about this and execute it well before you release the one.
Have a team.
What you need is a squad, your personal set of cheerleaders – both loud and silent – who are continuously supporting your cause. When I say support, I mean more than just RT’s and posting your music on social media. Have people around you who believe in your sound and want you to win. Whether it’s multiple people or just one person around you who can handle the business and logistical side of the ‘industry’, it will give you (the artist) more time to focus on the music. Having someone around you who understands the legalities of music, ways you can actually earn a living, brand yourself and become a full package, will seriously help you. But you want to make sure the team you’re creating has all the right voices, don’t be surrounded by yes people. You want and need people who are going to be brutally honest and tell you when something doesn’t work, when you need to fix up and when you’re acting a fool.
Yeah, this may sound like a bit of a random one, but sometimes it’s easy to forget when you’re focused so much on the end-goal. But the journey to the end goal, will of course be lined with loads of non-stop shit, highs lows, disappointments and set-backs, but you should always remember to have fun and embrace the journey. Whether you’re performing at a live show and the crowd is dead, have fun and experiment. If a potential deal falls through, maybe the timing wasn’t right… Dust yourself off and continue the grind once more.
Sometimes the journey alone is the reward.