Lessons Learned for the Serious Original Musician
Since launching The Quinn Spinn five years ago, I have come across hundreds of independent musicians in the Lehigh Valley and beyond. No matter the genre, experience level, or location of the artist, one common theme has emerged for musicians or industry professionals trying to achieve lasting success.
In all phases, professionalism is key.
I’ve been thinking a lot about this notion lately. As I talk to more musicians — some of whom are eager to spread their wings past their comfortable confines and take a shot at “making it” — I’ve given thought to some important notes to keep in mind as you chase your dreams.
Check out the list below, and feel free to add any I missed in the comments.
- Put out a quality product, in terms of songwriting and production. Establish a budget to get produced, and find a producer who will provide quality for the value you’re seeking.
- Make your performances stand out. Tell stories and perform. Engage and interact with fans and, if you have bandmates, with each other.
- When establishing your brand, focus on what makes you stand out. There are thousands of “singer-songwriters.” What sets you apart from all of them?
- Once you have decided your brand, everything you put out should be consistent. Establish the look, feel, and sound of your brand, and make sure those things match up and work together through merch, graphics, music, content, and persona.
- On that note, make sure your digital presence represents you well. Hash out a well-written bio, make sure your social media posts are engaging and grammatically sound — please, for this old English major’s sake, STOP WITH TEH ALL CAPZ!!! — and use high-quality, professional graphics, photos, and videos. Little details make a difference, and if you don’t take them seriously, others won’t take you seriously.
- Reach out to the media gracefully. Take the time to research outlets, why they seem like a fit, and personalize each greeting. Anybody can send a link to the media with no context (note: I make a point to ignore these, because they’re effectively spam), but the folks that take the time to make a professional introduction? They stand out for all the right reasons.
- On that note, be respectful, courteous, and professional. Always. Whether you are covered or not. Whether you are selected for a gig or not. Nobody wants to work with a diva, and complaining publicly about “unfair” treatment from a publication, radio outlet, organization, or even other musicians will do nothing but ensure that your bridge remains burned.
- Network, but for more than personal gain. Share a vision with like-minded individuals and build community. We’re all striving toward the same goal, and we’ll get there more easily in numbers.
- One more note on networking: conferences are a GREAT place to do that. Not only can you meet other like-minded musicians from other regions, but you can often learn from and meet some of the industry’s best minds. Invest in yourself and your vision, and attend at least one or two per year.
- When you play out, you are offering a professional service, and you have a right to negotiate your price for that service. Unless it’s for a really good cause, or it’s an opportunity you absolutely cannot miss, do not play for free. Don’t even play for comped food or drinks. You are devoting your time, talents, and energy to this performance — not to mention, years of training and thousands of dollars in equipment. Buffalo wings won’t pay for gas, equipment maintenance costs, or your electric bill.
- Last (but certainly not least), get out of your hometown bubble. Go out, make new friends and fans, and get into other nearby markets. Perhaps team up with a local in another area and arrange a “show for a show” (a co-bill in your area, for a co-bill in theirs). You can only soar to new heights if you first spread your wings.