Building your music career one small success at a time

Here we look at the small steps you can take on the road to success that will help build the foundation for a long term successful career in the music business.

Guest post by Randy Chertkow and Jason Feehan of the Disc Makers Blog

By building off successes – even small ones – you can ladder up to achieve greater opportunities. Try these techniques to grow your music career.

With the music business, whenever something you do becomes successful, even if it’s somewhat small, don’t let it sit — use it as a trigger to try to get more results. This is a tactic called laddering and it’s a powerful way to grow your career, grow your audience, and earn more money.

For example, a sold-out show should get you (or your booker) to book more shows at other prominent venues. Media/press coverage about your latest single should get other outlets to take notice and write about you. Each achievement you accomplish is like stepping on the next rung of a ladder: with each step, you can reach higher to grab even bigger successes that are now within your reach as you work your way up toward your ultimate goal.

The steps below will help you form the groundwork so you can ladder up your successes. That way, you can make the most of them when they happen. Then, each time you achieve something you set out to do or get recognized for your music and what you’re doing, you can use these techniques to generate new business and opportunities.

The following actions will help you build a portfolio of success for your music career.

Always keep an up-to-date “prospect list” of potential clients who represent your next business deals

No matter what kind of business you have, success comes from having a business pipeline of possible opportunities and deals you’re shooting for. Music is no different. There are key professionals you’ll want to know and build relationships with. If you want to generate opportunities (new shows at more prominent venues, more media/press coverage, etc.) this requires you to connect and stay in touch with key people, even if you don’t succeed in your first attempts.

You can convince them you’re worth their attention by sharing successes that spark their interest. By reaching out and building your circle of professionals, you’ll have a greater chance of succeeding with them later and laddering up to the next level after that.

Here are some examples of who to start to cultivate and build relationships with:

  • Talent buyers and bookers. Get to know the talent buyers at venues where you want to book shows.
  • Press/media. Reach out to the press/media outlets where you want to be featured.
  • Journalists. Write to the people who cover your type of music.
  • Music supervisors. Get your music into the music libraries of music supervisors, directors, and video makers who you think would like to license your music and keep them up-to-date on your accomplishments.
  • Business owners. Establish a relationship with any businesses that might be possible sponsors (even if you’re starting out, you can always shoot to get local businesses to sponsor you).

Save proof of any accomplishment or achievement

Making Money With Music

Each success should add to your chronicle, or portfolio, a concept we cover in our book in detail. Essentially, creating a chronicle lists all your accomplishments to date and makes it easier to send the entire list of what you’ve done to others. Ideas of what to add are below, but there’s one additional point to consider: when you have too many shows or too much press coverage to list, aggregate them. For example: “we’ve played over 100 shows,” “we have over 60 songs,” or “our music has been streamed over 100,000 times.” These are facts and statistics that are useful for articles and fact sheets for journalists.

  • Shows. Take pictures from the shows, note if it was sold out, capture the date and venue, copy/capture any ads the venue put out that promoted you, posters you created, etc. Each time you book another show, either the total number of live shows or some of the key facts (playing at a prestigious venue, number of sold-out shows) can trigger more bookings or ladder up to new venues that were out of reach a few months ago.
  • Press coverage. Track all press/media coverage you get and make sure to capture it since it often disappears off the web. While this is manual, services such as Evernote, Apple Notes, Google Keep, or OneNote can help capture or snapshot coverage as well as store it.
  • Licensing. Keep a list of any licensing deals you make (even ones where you give permission to use your music for free such as YouTubers or student filmmakers) and keep a record of the productions where your music was featured. Each new placement can trigger others to get interested in your music.
  • Sponsorships. Keep a list — or create a “NASCAR picture” — of all of the logos from your sponsorships so future business people can see who has worked with you.

Use each success to ladder up to the next opportunity or deal

Every bit of media coverage, each licensing deal, and every sold-out show and success you have gives you the chance to climb upwards. Use each one as a trigger to remind yourself to reach out to your prospect list you made in step one and see if you can use your new successes to leverage a new opportunity.

You can promote each of these successes to your list of fans and prospects since all of those successes show you’re active and have momentum. For example, selling out a large venue can help create sponsorship opportunities, while press/media coverage can help drive all types of potential deals — more bookings, additional press and media, licensing and sponsorship inquiries, and more. Don’t forget to reach up, not just out. For example, a story or two in a local blog might help you get coverage in a national or international press/media outlet.

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Success generates more success, so you’ll want to turn this into a habit. Use the success to trigger you to create more opportunities and reach for another rung on the ladder. You’ll be evaluating each to help you build the next business deal as you work on the shows, licensing, and coverage you’re already getting. Plus, you’ll be sending positive news to the people who you want to do business with, setting yourself up for the next opportunity.

Authors of the critically-acclaimed modern classic, The Indie Band Survival Guide, Billboard Magazine called Randy Chertkow and Jason Feehan “the ideal mentors for aspiring indie musicians who want to navigate an ever-changing music industry.” Their latest book, Making Money With Music (Macmillan) and free Making Money With Music Newsletter, help all musicians — from startups to pros — build a sustainable music business so you can make money in today’s tech-driven music environment.

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