Luck Means Nothing in the Music Business
I meet too many aspiring musicians who tell me they're just waiting for that lucky break for the world to discover their talent. In the meantime, they're usually the same folks watching every episode of American Idol instead of booking gigs and selling tickets.
To me, luck means ordering a drink at Starbucks at the moment the register fails, so they give it to you for free.
Your music business success has very little to do with luck. In fact, what looks like luck to most people is really just the execution of a steady plan to grow an audience through fun and authenticity.
I've got four ways that you can create your own luck as an emerging musician:
1. Stop waiting to "hit the lottery."
Things will be just great, once you win that battle of the bands. Or when you find the perfect manager. Or when you get signed. Actually, no. Each one of those milestones just leads to bigger challenges. For you to get "lucky" enough to hit any of those goals, you first have to get stronger at achieving what you need to work on today.
You won't win that contest if you don't practice your craft. You may not attract that industry bigwig to your success team, but you could help develop a committed street team member into a very strong manager. And you'll recognize that working an audience growth strategy leads to more money in your pocket over the long run than settling for a record company advance followed by a payout period that never ends.
2. Stop worrying about what other people are doing.
So you lost that battle of the bands to that other group that's kinda like yours, but not as good. And now their manager's popping a bottle of Cristal at the afterparty to celebrate their new record deal.
It's so easy for creative professionals to beat themselves up over comparisons that mean absolutely nothing in the grand scheme of things. Even though pop culture lore is full of "battles," the most powerful music has always come from artists capable of rising above comparisons and building on what's come before. It's not a zero sum game. Someone else's success doesn't exclude you from being successful.
3. Start tracking your success.
How will you know you've "made it?" If you define success as riding to your next gig in a limo, you've got it rough. Not only is it tough enough to get to that level, most of the folks I know who routinely ride in limos often complain that their limo's too small. They can't wait to get into the next biggest limo. (I once had a client who reacted to a stretch Hummer at their house with a groan.)
Break down your success into achievable chunks. If your "perfect gig" is a 600-seat venue, you can track your progression over the course of a year. You'll know you're close to 600 when you can book 400. 400 becomes your stretch goal when you've booked 250. 250's gonna seem tough when you get to 150. 150 feels great when you're booking 100. And so on. Start from nothing today, and celebrate when you get your first thirty audience members to a small gig. Then focus on the next rung of the ladder.
4. Align your worlds.
It's okay to work a "day job" and to celebrate your music career at the same time. In fact, if you have any kind of decent relationship with your co-workers, you should be leveraging them into helping you build your initial gigs so you can pursue your perfect gigs. If being a musician doesn't fit in the culture of your day job, get a different one.
Give yourself permission to unify everything that you are and everything that you do. John Legend gave himself permission to be a really good investment banker and an outstanding musician. Kele Okereke from Bloc Party worked at a movie theatre while getting rave reviews in the press. Let your day job incubate your music, so you can be authentic to yourself and to your audience. (David J. Hahn makes the practical argument that you should avoid a day job that could put your hands or your voice at risk.)