‘New’ – I think this might be the broadest term in the music industry. It can mean writing your very first songs, or perhaps taking your earliest steps into performing live. These would certainly define you as a ‘new’ artist. However, equally you can be a ‘new’ artist if you are newly signed to a major record label (and perhaps not even for the first time), at least by the wider music industry and most definitely by the media.
There is of course huge disparity between this first type of new unsigned artist and the type of artist that the media and mainstream often refer to as new; artists who are signed to a major record label, and have gone through years of development with a manager to get to that stage. And that’s not including the many years of early development they had to do by themselves first.
For the purposes of this blog, I am referring to the former of these two differing stages of ‘new’. The newest of new artists – unsigned and unmanaged. If this is the stage you identify yourself as being at right now, keep reading.
Where to start?
This stage of newness can last quite a long time. Throughout your musical career (where development never really ends), this is often the most intensive period of growth you will go through. It’s also often the most bewildering because everything is, well, new.
So when you’re feeling a bit uncertain and at times overwhelmed, where do you start to build a successful music career?
1. Musical Development
The very first thing you should be focused on is your musical development – mastering your craft as much as you can. With that in mind, investing in lessons for your instrument or a vocal coach is never a bad idea. You might want to attend songwriting courses, or learn how to record and produce your own music – anything you can do to challenge yourself and expand your music skills.
Regular practise and performance will also help to get (and keep) you match fit, as well as increasing your comfort and confidence on stage. If you’re also a songwriter, attend open mic nights to help you test out new songs, and ensure the final arrangements are right before committing them to recordings.
NB You may find some local open mic nights here, here and here.
Go to gigs and see other artists play. Connect with them whenever you can, and ask them about their career experiences so far – peer support is vital as a new, unsigned artist and will make you feel less isolated.
Better yet, collaborate with other musicians, songwriters and music producers whenever you can – of all types and genres. Experiment, become adept at styles you’re not yet familiar with, adopt versatility. Again, not only does this help further hone your craft, but it also helps you to form your musical identity as an artist.
Doing so is a process and you may find your musical identity jumping around quite a bit during this time. But that’s what this stage of musical development is all about – learning who you are as an artist, what your musical strengths are, and where on the musical spectrum you feel most comfortable.
Crucially, for the day when record labels do come knocking, you want to become crystal clear on who you are as an artist and able to stay confidently rooted in that.
2. Business Development
If you’re a regular to AR Artist Management content, you’ll know that I am a strong advocate for artists learning as much as they can about the music industry and it’s business aspects. Empowering yourself with knowledge is essential to give you the best possible chance to succeed, and sustain, in music.
This is especially true when you are a new artist and are working alone, without mentorship or guidance from music industry experts. This book is the perfect place to start learning (make sure to get the most up to date edition – the music industry changes frequently and quickly).
Over time, this knowledge will prove invaluable once you are a more established artist, so you can make informed business decisions alongside any managers, labels, lawyers, agents or publishers you work with.
Make sure to look up music industry networking events in your area too, and attend when you can. These are the perfect place to make contacts (whom you may need to call on a little further down the career track) and pick industry brains.
And while you’re at it, learn as much as you can about how best to use social media…
Even as a new artist, you can begin building and growing a substantial audience if you know how to use social media effectively. It’s an area the music industry, even very established artists, often don’t get quite right. With that in mind I’d like to direct you to business, digital marketing, and social media do-it-all Gary Vaynerchuk for guidance. What he teaches is absolutely applicable to music artists.
The more you know about how to manage social media as an artist and utilise it to reach an audience, the better position you’ll be in. Start today.
3. Say yes to all opportunities
Yes, all. Ok, almost all. But basically, if you get the opportunity to practise/play/perform/sing/songwrite/collaborate/network/learn/meet/grow – take it. Don’t worry too much whether or not they are the ‘right’ opportunities yet. At this early stage of your career you’re unlikely to be able to clearly identify which opportunities are ‘right’ for you as an Artist, because who you are as an Artist is still forming. You will take many detours along the way to discovering that.
Instead, challenge yourself to learn and improve consistently for the time being. How else will you gain the experience you need to progress to the next stage of your career? And with that, I reach my final point – make sure you don’t plateau or get stuck at any one stage of development. Look to set yourself goals to strive towards so you can ensure that your development is actually moving you forward, rather than becoming a place of procrastination.
Keep learning, keep investing in your musical craft and industry knowledge, and keep taking steps forward. Be patient but don’t get comfortable with being ‘new’ for too long.
All of this is simply preparation for your future music career.
Want to learn more? Enrol on our FREE 5-day email course ‘How To Get A Manager (Or Be A Successful Independent Artist)’ here!