By Helen Yu
Making it in the music business is hard work. After all, talent and determination only get you so far. In this line of work, lots of people have both in spades.
It’s enough to make you want to throw up your hands in frustration.
Here’s the thing. Like all professionals, artists have good days and bad days. Some days, you’re going to feel like giving up entirely; on others, you’ll feel like nothing can stop you.
For starters, you’ll need to get used to the prospect of these ups and downs, because they’re going to happen. More importantly, though, you’ll need to adopt a proactive approach to your workaday life as you work toward your music goals. Reactive simply doesn’t cut it, not in this business.
Setting some ground rules for yourself is a good first step — like taking pains to avoid these six things that can really get aspiring musicians down.
1. Trying to Keep Up With the Joneses
You’re making your own way in this business. Yes, you need to get “out there” (see number two, below), but that’s no excuse for not keeping your head down and focusing on doing things your way. Slow and steady wins the race.
2. Getting Your Name Out in the “Right” Circles
There’s a difference between doing what’s necessary to gain exposure and shamelessly ingratiating yourself with the “in” crowd. You absolutely should focus on cultivating a serious social media following, building your YouTube followership, and booking shows at on-brand venues.
You shouldn’t obsess about hobnobbing with tastemakers, at least not to start. This is a tough business; you’ll need thick skin to handle the inevitable snubs.
3. Landing a Major LabelRecord Deal Before You Have An Audience and Real Demand
Don’t put the cart before the horse.
“Focus on building a committed following through organic digital channels and live performance. Work with a seasoned IP music attorney to explore licensing strategies that protect your work product.” — Helen Yu
And try to build buzz on your own terms, not anyone else’s.
4. Trusting the Wrong People
One could write an entire book on the pitfalls of “trusting the wrong people,” whatever that means. Indeed, “trust but verify” is sensible life advice that’s served both artistss and heads of states alike.
In the music business, it’s particularly important for aspiring artists to remain skeptical of anyone who promises the moon. If it sounds too good to be true, it probably is. Placing your trust in someone who doesn’t have your best interests at heart is a sure route to disappointment, heartache, and potential financial loss. Young artists have been manipulated many times by those whom jus to control the artists money and career.
5. Focus on One or Two Revenue Streams to the Detriment of Others
Banging your head against the wall to make one particular revenue stream work — say, live performance — is a recipe for disappointment.
A couple of generations ago, working artists could support themselves with revenue from performances and record sales, although it’s important to remember that many of the acts that transcended rock n’ roll’s heyday — The Beatles, The Monkees — earned serious money through licensing, film production, and merchandising as well.
These days, every serious artist must pursue a multifaceted revenue strategy. No, you don’t have to produce your own feature-length film, but you’re selling yourself short if you’re not rocking a dedicated YouTube channel.
Helen Yu is the principal attorney of the professional law corporation Yu Leseberg. She is an accomplished entertainment lawyer with more than 25 years of experience in the music business.