80/20 Rule And How It Can Make You A More Successful Musician
The principle that 20% of all input and activities produce 80% of the output and results has endured for many years in the business world, and can be also be incredibly effective when it comes to your music career.
Guest post by James Shotwell of Haulix
One of the oldest business principles has music applications that can help artists save time while developing their careers.
Vilfredo Pareto was an Italian engineer, philosopher, and economist who died in 1923. Before his death, Pareto developed one of the most enduring principles in business, the 80/20 rule. The idea is simple:
According to Pareto, 20% of all input and activities produce 80% of the output and results in almost every situation.
The 80/20 rule repeatedly appears in every field. Generally speaking, 20% of the pages in a book contain 80% of the story. People typically wear 20% of their clothes 80% of the time (while the rest remains in their closets and drawers waiting to be worn).
Society conditions people to believe that the only way to find success is through constant work, but there is a difference between being busy and productive. You can sit at a desk for eight hours and accomplish nothing. You can also focus your efforts for an hour or two and achieve more than you otherwise might in a full week.
The key to the 80/20 rule is figuring out where your time and efforts are most beneficial to your goals. When we isolate the 20% that produces the best outcome, then we can begin focusing our future efforts to create better results in less time.
There are a few ways the 80/20 rule applies to the music business. For example, when we think of albums, most of the songs on any given record will not become hits. One, two, or maybe three tracks will stick with consumers, but the rest will have far less of an impact. That doesn’t mean the bulk of the material is terrible per se; it merely means the few songs that stand out are superior.
The most successful artists learn from their previous recordings and apply those lessons to future songwriting efforts. They pick apart their most liked songs to see what themes, structures, and ideas resonate with listeners and seek ways to leverage that understanding moving forward. That is not the same as writing the same thing over and over. Instead, it’s a form of professional evolution where the best elements carry over while less successful ideas remain in the past.
A similar application exists in music marketing. Artists can post one-hundred times a month on social media, but only a fraction of those posts will generate meaningful engagement. Rather than continuing to waste time creating content people don’t want or enjoy, forward-thinking musicians study their analytics to find recurring trends in their most popular postings. Why post a dozen times a week when you can elicit the same engagement level from half the posts?
It’s also important to recognize that the 80/20 rule applies to fans. Most listeners are passive. Those fans will stream music, watch videos, and possibly see the artist live. A much small portion of the fanbase will buy records, buy merch, attend every tour, and actively promote an artist’s career.
The goal of the 80/20 rule is to simplify a person’s workflow without sacrificing productivity. It is not one excuse to repeat the same behaviors endlessly, nor is it an argument against experimentation. There is nothing wrong with trying new ideas, but the most successful among us know when and how to pivot their creative and promotional efforts to engage consumers best.
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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.