When an artist looks to create a career out of music, they must clearly define success. Is it paying their bills? Is it staying on tour? Is it releasing great records? Is it a combination of all these things and more? Only the artist can define success. Can you be successful and reach a small number of people? I would say so.
There is over 300 million people in the United States. If you can reach 1% of those people with your music, then you're hitting 3 million people. If 1% of those people resonate with your work and buy your product, then that's 30,000 people buying your music, merch, concert tickets, and more. If you release a record and target 1% of the United States population, then you're going to be financially successful if you live within your means. 30,000 records in your first week would put you in the top of the Billboard charts. You must reverse engineer from there.
You can reference Kevin Kelly's 1,000 True Fans. If you haven't read this article, take a moment to read it right now. There's nothing more you can do than start from the beginning and work from there. Do you have your music recorded professionally? Are you playing shows outside of your hometown? Are you selling out shows in your hometown market? Do you have fans asking when you're putting out new music and merch? Start from the beginning and find out who loves what you do. From there, you can begin to build your base. These first adopters will become your voice. These people will champion your music and help you build more followers and fans.
The average household income is approximately $50,000. If you can make $50,000 a year from your music, then you're well on your way to success as an artist. You can double that if you put in the work. If you make nothing from music now, it's time to think about how you're going to get to create the income you want. How will you generate $50,000 in sales? Is it physical copies of your record? Is it digital streams? Is it merchandising? Is it your live performances? The answer is a combination of all of these and more. It might be daunting to think of now, but when you start making strides; you must keep your momentum going. You must work harder. You must create a buzz. Your buzz will lead to your success if you can make sales.
How do you add value to someone's life with your music? Easy! It's the experiences and memories created from attending your concerts. It's the time spent with your record on when things are hard. It's getting someone through the rough patches with your songs. If you write, record, and perform impactful and compelling music; then you're further along than most. It's trying to get your music to others that may be the hardest part. Most artists don't have large marketing budgets or label support, so they have to think of creative ways to reach their fans.
Are you striving to add value to other people's lives through music? If you're not, then get out of the industry. It's not about being a rock star or being a millionaire. Music is about giving people an escape from their day to day lives. Music is about uplifting someone else's spirits through song. Music is about the moments and memories. It's not about making money. Money comes through being great and being on top of your game. If you're not adding value, then you're not giving anyone a reason to believe in you.
Success can be defined by making a living from music. How much do you need to make a living? Find out how to control your expenses and make it a mission to make fans. Without fans, you're nothing. You must never give up. You must always work harder than anyone else around you. By doing that, there's not stopping you or your potential.
Years by go by without seeing instant gratification. If you focus on creating one fan at a time, then you'll be able to turn a few into many. Be true to yourself, work hard, and create memories. Don't sit at home and wait for an opportunity. Create them! If you're lucky enough to have people on your team (outside of the band), then make sure you're working hard to fulfill those obligations. Don't leave them waiting for you. Inspire those on your team to do more by putting in the effort and leading by example. Communication is key, so always let your band and team members know how you feel and what you need to get done. Go get it done. Stop talking, start doing. Do so on a daily basis. Make sure you're always in their line of sight and doing what needs to be done.
If you want to be successful, then stop talking about it and start doing. Not having time to return a phone call, text, or email is a bullshit excuse. You're going nowhere fast if people have to chase after you to get things done. Stop hiding behind your own excuses and start inspiring those around you.
Making a living from music is hard. You're on the right track if you can stay grounded, put your head down, and work harder than you thought possible. Never give up. Never stay satisfied. Always want more. You're going to see the reaction (sales) you want when you are truly all in and doing the work on a daily basis. Your life is what you make it.
Originally published for ENDER Press. Written by Jan Powers.