“What Should I Do?” It’s the most common question asked by independent musicians, and it’s part of our culture in a major way, in every matter from spiritual growth to education. Artists often fail to recognize that they tend to follow the same guidelines and step unknowingly into the same traps as the general public, young business hopefuls, actors, writers, and other creative types. Imitation, not only of content, but another kind that is just as detrimental to anyone seeking success. Imitation of path.
Have you ever noticed that there are endless volumes written by individuals who have “made it”, whether as a self-help guru, a music superstar, or CEO/business owners aimed at sharing strategies? And yet, for the most part, besides very straight forward “life hackers” such as Tim Ferriss’s work, there really isn’t much content. The books are riddled with case studies and the articles are misleading, only optimized for SEO and the benefit of the site. Weekend seminars on how to make more money don’t actually teach you how to make more money.
The public wants a transmission, a quick fix, but the result cannot be transmitted.
It needs to be acted upon. Those who make it, act in their own way, and it usually doesn’t apply to anyone else. The authors actually don’t have a lot to say. It worked for them because they were there, doing it, in their own lives, and they found their own way to a lavish situation. They often have a few actionable tips, but not much in the way of solid help. There’s no plan; only your actual life, and you’re the only one who can work with that.
The art of “selling a plan” or “selling a blueprint” is one of the biggest businesses there is, and it’s also a big hoax, since everyone’s blueprint is, and must be, completely different. It’s important, as a consumer, to realize this as we’re constantly faced with strange promises such as “How To Become Famous”, “Get Rich in ___ Days”, “The ___ Diet Plan”, “How To Walk The Spiritual Path”, “The DIY Musician’s Strategy”. Tips and actionable advice are one thing. They can be used as levers. They’re helpful, because the artist can weave them into their own strategy, which they intuitively build by acting, and through trial and error. The advocating of linear plans, though, leaves no room for true creativity in the promotion process.
They’re dead; artifacts from the past no more useful than diary entries.
The birth of these plans that seem to take route out of every aspect of life is the question “What should I do?” It’s a wrong question, because you cannot know this from the starting line. You must act, and then things will become clearer as you move. Many artists I come across want to quantify everything, analyze everything before they move. They want to project, or guess (because that’s really what projection is all about) what will happen if they make this move or that move. But, as you’d probably guess, although it seems like a smart way to approach things, it’s very much like trying to survey the jungle before setting foot inside. You have to take a walk and react as you go.
That’s not to say you don’t plan. Planning is encouraged, but it should be your own plan. Think of your musical project as an object flowing down a river. When you hum and haw too much or expect others to take up your mantle for you, the flow is disrupted. Maybe the object hits a rock, loses momentum, and that’s that.
However, if you continually act, you’ll see something different happen. Natural growth. Not sure whether to participate in that magazine’s compilation opportunity or not? Research if necessary by contacting past bands who’ve done it, and decide. Or just do it and find out what happens! Don’t be jagged in your decisions. Set up that Facebook or Twitter advertising campaign and tweak it along the way. Make it fun, and drop the negative hesitation. Making moves like this, as well as applying for licensing libraries, joining performing rights organizations, actively promoting your music, using Sonicbids to apply for music festivals (only when your page is optimized with good press, by the way), contacting venues with a smart email pitch, outsourcing duties, working with people you trust who have resources you don’t, and staying on top of mail outs, are all aspects involved in building your musical chi, or flow.
Once again, tips and actionable steps are useful in that they are relevant in the now. This is why I focused my book “Your Band Is A Virus” on actionable ideas, not any prescribed linear path.
No movement means you sink. Confusion is an energy. If you’re confused or energetically conflicted about any aspect of your music or it’s promotion, here’s something you may not be aware of. People can tell. Maybe you’re not comfortable “selling yourself” because you think it’s manipulative. Maybe you don’t trust social networks. Maybe you wish money were not such a focal part of our culture, and you resent it. All of these ideas will ensure you don’t get to where you need to go. If you want to be famous but you’ve got 200 Facebook fans, you have some work ahead of you. It’s a perceptual rat race, and eyes/attention are the new currency.
To give a concrete example and put myself into the mix, if I tried to quantify what would happen before launching Independent Music Promotions, I certainly wouldn’t have gotten anywhere. Instead, I had to act, even when, to others, my actions appeared to result in no immediate ROI (return on investment). I decided to work only with “music with depth” as a long-term strategy, so when I would say no to say, a keen mainstream pop artist, many would shake their heads at my business sense, or lack thereof. I’ve invested a fair amount into Facebook advertising, another long-term strategy. If I were concerned with immediate ROI, this would make for a stupid decision. And yet, if I continually work and build, these tactics bear fruit. However, if someone were to ask me how to run a PR business or a successful blog, I could tell them some great tips, but most would not follow them. It’s hard to move forward when you’re walking into uncertainty. It’s also completely necessary.
So drop any and all concepts and have fun. Music promotion should be creative, and it is certainly possible to have as much enjoyment promoting your work as it was making it.