3 Music Industry Untruths You Need To Stop Believing
While advice about succeeding in the music industry is certainly plentiful, not all of it is good. Here we pull back the curtain on three all too common lies about the music business we’d all be better off not believing.
Guest post by James Shotwell of Haulix
There is a lot of great advice on succeeding in the music industry, but there are a lot of lies as well. Let’s take a moment to separate fact from fiction before someone steers your career in the wrong direction.
The only thing the music industry has more of than artists is people who think they can help artists succeed. We choose to believe anyone offering advice is doing so because they genuinely want to help others. After all, why would someone purposefully offer lousy advice that could be detrimental to another person’s career?
The problem with offering advice, especially in an industry like music, is how rare any path to success works more than once. Artistic pursuits are built mainly on originality and creativity, which is why artists who become game-changing superstars are so rare. Not everyone has a clear vision for their career, and far less possess the unbreakable spirit needed to risk everything long enough to establish themselves as an undeniable talent. There is a reason we only have one Taylor Swift, one Kiss, and one Elton John. All three are examples of talented musicians that blazed a path entirely their own that has been repeated countless times by gifted people who never took the extra step needed to separate themselves from the rest of those following the lead of those who came before.
Our goal with this blog has always been to keep things as simple as possible. We would never advise you to copy another artist’s career because the likelihood that lightning strikes twice is incredibly low. We choose to focus on establishing a foundation for success with essential marketing and business knowledge in the hope it empowers your creative expression. We cannot make you a star, and anyone who is claiming they can is most likely selling you a lie.
With that in mind, here are three common lies sold to musicians on the rise all around the world. These ideas are discussed at conferences, on podcasts, and through blogs (un)like this one regularly, which is why so many foolishly believe they offer some magical solution to becoming a star. But trust us: No such magic exists.
“All you need is one great song.”
When people originally started telling artists that they only needed one great song, they were probably telling the truth. Before computers and the internet empowered anyone with a melody in their head to quickly release music, one great song could land you a record deal and number one single. If that single sold well, the success of your one great song could propel you into the music hierarchy long enough to make a little money, buy a house, and more or less sustain yourself until people came to their senses. The 1980s and 1990s were filled with musicians who blew up from a single song and never duplicated their success, but those instances became far less frequent with the rise of internet culture.
These days, one great song is all you needed to get started. One great song can turn heads and raise awareness for your music, but it is rarely enough to make you a star. Even Lil Nas X, who came out of nowhere with “Old Town Road” in 2019, needed several remixes of his hit to propel the song to its record-breaking streaks atop the Billboard charts. He also followed that song with “Panini,” which also performed incredibly well (aided, at least in part, by its own series of high-profile remixes).
The reason one great song isn’t enough is due to the marketplace. There is so much music being released all the time by artists from every corner of the planet that one song very rarely can establish a career. There will always be outliers, of course, but believing your song will make you one of the exceptions to the rule is a recipe for disaster. You need more than one great song. It would be best if you as had as many great songs as you can possibly write.
“You need to be on every social media platform.”
We have written extensively about the problems social media can create for artists. Social media is a time-consuming monster that must be fed frequently with original thoughts and ideas that may or may not convince someone to follow you. In the event you do earn a new follower, there is still no promise that an individual will become a financial supporter of your music or even become a fan of your creative output.
Experimenting with social media is the best method of participation. Launch accounts on any platforms that interest, but do not allow yourself to believe existing on social media is a necessity. The only place you need to be is where your fans already are, and the only people you need to worry about entertaining are the people already invested in your music. If you can get your current fans to engage with your tweets, new followers and fans will come in time. If your fans aren’t present or don’t participate, then getting people unfamiliar with your work will be incredibly difficult.
If something doesn’t work, delete your account and move on. You don’t have the time to be creating content for platforms that do not help your bottom line.
“You need to tour.”
Let’s get one thing straight: You don’t need to do anything that doesn’t make sense for your career. If you prefer releasing singles, then you shouldn’t worry about creating an album. If you prefer to record every instrument yourself with the help of a laptop, then you shouldn’t worry about building a band. If you have no interest in touring or it doesn’t make sense financially to hit the road, then you have no obligation to do so.
Will your fans always love your choices? Probably not. Will they respect you for taking care of yourself and consistently engaging with them, however, you are able? Absolutely.
Touring can be incredibly lucrative. Touring can also create a lot of debt. Make sure going on the road is right for you before you begin booking shows. If the numbers don’t add up or you don’t feel ready for it, then you have no obligation to tour.
Never let anyone tell you there is only one way to succeed. There are countless ways to excel in the music business, including numerous methods that have yet to be discovered. The best path anyone can take is the one that makes the most sense to them. That way, even if things don’t work out, you did things your way, and that’s more than many creatives can claim.
James Shotwell is the Director of Customer Engagement at Haulix and host of the company’s podcast, Inside Music. He is also a public speaker known for promoting careers in the entertainment industry, as well as an entertainment journalist with over a decade of experience. His bylines include Rolling Stone, Alternative Press, Substream Magazine, Nu Sound, and Under The Gun Review, among other popular outlets.