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10 Mistakes Bands and Musicians Make

Here’s a post that was posted on MTT Open!  Thanks David.

If you want to get a record deal, get people to your shows, or sell music like crazy, the answer isn’t some kind of “magic pill” website that you post your music on, blindly sending out a bunch of demos, or anything to do with having good music…although good music certainly helps — the answer is to develop a “mindset” that naturally attracts people to what you’re doing as well as an understanding of how the music business game is played.

As you develop as a person, your music career will develop with you.  Sounds crazy, but it’s true…and I’ve seen it time and time again, with thousands of acts that I’ve worked with, from garage bands, to the guys selling out arenas.  Check out these ten common music business mistakes:

10. Being Too Difficult (or Too Nice)

First of all, let’s get this clear…  Just because you wrote a few good songs and recorded them, doesn’t mean that the world revolves around you.  Lots of people write and record good songs, so get in line.

Contrary to what the online rumor mill or media would have you believe, people in the music business are involved because they love music…and they’re not making enough to deal with jerks.  And they won’t deal with jerks.  If you’re a pain, they’re just go to the next guy, who also writes good songs, but has a better attitude.

With that said, don’t be too nice.  You don’t have to say yes to everything.  Pick your battles.  If there is something you really feel strongly about, don’t settle for anything less.

Bottom line: Keep your ego in check and behave with courtesy and respect. At the same time, don’t let anyone treat you any less.

9. Trying to Convince People of Anything…

You play music; you’re not in the convincing business.  Either people get what you’re doing or they don’t. 

So, some reviewer, booking agent or manager doesn’t like your new album. Let it go! Don’t try to convince him he’ll like is better after a second listen. He won’t. And the more you press him to give your music another shot, the more he’ll remember how annoying you were.  This means he’ll be far less open to ever listening to you again.

There are a lot of people who won’t “hear it” when you approach them. So what? Move on.  There are plenty of other people in this business who can help you. Go find the people who do “hear it” and put your energy into building good relationships with them instead.

8. Looking for Industry Approval

There was a time when the “industry” had a lot more pull when it came to breaking an artist, getting them distributed, and everything else.  This is a new time, so we’re playing with different rules now.

Distribution is easy.  Every day, more and more albums are being sold digitally, so you no longer need a label to finance pressing tens of thousands of physical albums (or more) and getting them to record stores.

These days, recording music is easier than ever. You can get a good
recording setup for just a few thousand dollars.  And if you can’t afford recording equipment, there are plenty of people who have some, whom you can hire inexpensively. You are not limited on the number of options for getting something on tape.

But most importantly, once you get this stuff together, you don’t need the industry to tell you your music is worthy.  The consumers, the people who buy your music, are really the only opinions that matter.  And when you have the love of the consumers, the industry will come around.

The thing is, in the music industry, technology has changed faster than mindset. Stop believing you are at the mercy of any record label executive. You’re not. Connect directly with your fans—on your terms. The feedback, loyalty and money you receive from them will be far more gratifying than you spending your time beating your head against a wall trying to figure out a way to get an approving nod from a record label.

7. Not Building Strong Relationships with Fans

People aren’t stupid. They know that they’re being marketed to.  They know when you’re looking to sell them something.

Do they mind?  No.

In fact, if you have a good relationship with your fans, they won’t mind being marketed to and, if you do it well, they look forward to being marketed to.

However, they have to know you care.

Building relationships with fans take time.  You have to show them you care.

Do things like:

  • Give them a few free songs to download
  • Have message board on your website and build a community there
  • Do a “fan appreciation” show
  • Record a holiday album that you give out to your fan club.

Show them in special ways that you, not only care, but that you’re willing to go the extra mile to show your appreciation. In turn, they will buy your music, travel to see you play, call radio stations on your behalf and promote you all over the Web.

Every day, no matter if you’re busy recording, on the road or at home worrying about how you’re going to find the money to make your project happen, do something (no matter how small the gesture is) to reach out to your fans.

6. Not “Getting” How the Fan/Artist Relationship Works

You’re the leader and your fans do the following.  You make the offer, they choose whether or not to accept.

Take charge, record the music, play the shows, print the t-shirts, and let them have the options of buying your album, coming to see you, or getting something to wear.

The average person has enough “leadership” in his day.  He’s looking for somebody to take control, and let him ride along for a little while.  Do it.

5. Laying Everything on the Table…

You’re a rockstar.  Keep that fantasy.  Don’t tell people how broke you are, that you’re still living with your mother, or anything else that breaks the image of you fans have in their minds.

One of the reasons people like music is because they have the opportunity to live vicariously through the people they are listening to.  When you are on stage, they’re up there with you.  When you’re on the road in your tour bus, they’re riding shotgun.  Don’t take that away.

Give them insight into your life and what it’s like in your world. However, be selective with the details. Always remember, you’re selling music, but you’re also selling a persona.

4. Thinking The Key to Success is Musical Talent, Money, or Looks

Yes, if we’re talking about pop music, MTV, or the major label system, a certain amount of a contrived “image” probably helps sell records.

Obviously, money helps things.  And it’s always good if you can sing.

But it’s not “image” that gets somebody on MTV, it’s marketing.  It’s not good songs that get people on the radio, it’s marketing.  And it’s not money, although it helps.  It’s marketing.

You can play well, have money, and look like a model, but if you don’t have the marketing to back you up, none of it matters.

You know what? If you do have a good, solid marketing plan in place (and you’re using it), everything else doesn’t matter so much.

3. Giving Up Power

Keep control as long as you can.  Yes, a major label deal will give you opportunity that being on an indie label won’t.  And a professional manager has connections that you don’t.

But when you sign with these guys, you’re handing over your career to somebody else. Nobody cares as much about your career than you do. When you and your talent are the most important commodity you have to offer, do not give up your power easily and without a damn good reason.

Your music is worth something. You are worth something. Think of your career as being “virtual real estate” which, if marketed correctly, will pay dividends for years to come.  So, treat it like that.

2. Jumping at Every Opportunity

You don’t have to say yes to everything.  In fact, sometimes, saying no to something can be more beneficial to your career than saying yes.

Why do you say yes to things? Take a look at your standards and make them higher. As an example, just because a club has a PA system doesn’t mean that it’s worth playing there.

There are some gigs that just aren’t worth playing.  There are some
connections that just aren’t worth developing.

When you say yes to something, especially something that takes your time, you’re saying no to everything else.  Leave yourself open to saying yes to the opportunities that really matter.

Trust your own judgment. If something doesn’t feel right and you want to say no, it’s ok to say no. At that moment, you may worry you’re passing up a great opportunity and will be missing out. The reality is, better opportunities (that are a better fit for you) will come and you will be ready for them.

1. Not Getting Help

You don’t know everything.  This business has been around for a long time—long before you were involved.

Read books, get advice from people who work in the industry and keep studying every aspect of the industry.

Don’t be afraid to ask for help.  You can bypass a lot of the problems you’re likely to run into simply by asking people who have already been in, and dealt with, the situations you find yourself in.

Remember this:

Time is worth more than money.  You can always earn more money, but you have a limited amount of time. 

Don’t waste your time.  If you don’t know something, or need specific help, don’t be afraid to pay somebody to help you deal with whatever obstacle you face. Don’t let anything stop you from having all the knowledge and know-how you need to have the success you aspire to have.

David Hooper is the founder of and host of the syndicated radio show, Music Business Radio.  He specializes in direct response and new media marketing.

Reader Comments (17)

Thanks for the article David. I like alot of these points but I disagree with the usefulness of point #4 for Indie artists. Yes, being on MTV or in an Itunes commercial requires a signifigant marketing investment -- the kind that 99.9% can never hope to get (and we can still be succesful without it). And your point is 100% correct that many independent artists need to focus on their marketing plan more. But I don't think that because Avril Lavigne has a boatload of marketing dollars behind her, independent artists should invest as little time into their music as she does. Do-it-yourself artists need to spend signifigant time on their music and on honing their image, because they are targeting the scrutinizing early adopters not the trendy/non-music-lovers who will eat up whatever comes through the dance club speakers or is pushed through corporate radio programs. When the only people who are going to listen to you band initially are true music fans, then the music and image matter more than big marketing dollars.

To me, it is a bit like saying because David Beckham can credit alot of his current success to simply having alot of marketing dollars and media attention on him, aspiring soccer players shouldn't spend alot of time honing their soccer skills. That is how it sounds to me anyway.
The article was very good overall though, alot of fundamentals that are easy to forget.

October 17 | Unregistered CommenterPat W.

This was a solid recap, I'll definitely pass this on to people. Thanks for putting the time in to craft some quality content.

October 17 | Unregistered CommenterJustin Boland

Wanted to point out that it's not cheap, easy or free to make your own recordings and nip this kind of assumption in the bud nice and early. A post by Laurence Trifon highlight this very pointedly - I'd definitely add that to the list of mistakes bands make - thinking it's cheap, easy and "anyone can do it" when creating recorded music.

October 17 | Unregistered CommenterNick

Wanted to point out the author said nothing about free, Nick. Here's the quote again: "These days, recording music is easier than ever. You can get a good recording setup for just a few thousand dollars. "

Compared to the cost of equipment in the past, a few grand IS cheap. Also, I've got several hundred high-quality plugins that make recording and mixing easy, and they were all free.

Here's another good link:

Free Professsional Music Production: A Linux Introduction

Although for the record, I use a PC and my plugins were free because I got them from friends/online.

October 18 | Unregistered CommenterJustin Boland

This is possibly one of the best articles I've read here so far and worth keeping in mind all the time.

I too would take issue with the assumption that you can really record music real cheap these days - true, you can, but the results are going to be directly proportional to your experience doing so and, unless you're working with purely synthetic music, to the sound characteristics of your recording space. There is little you can do in this area that is cheap.

Having said that, many more people can afford to go into a studio these days. It may not be Abbey Road, but most of the time it will do a good job. Just be sure to have a listen to stuff they've done thus far, to get an inkling of their engineering and production quality.

P.S. If you want to spend the bare minimum in recording costs and still have the benefit of a studio's superior equipment and recording expertise, be sure to spend a lot of time in rehearsal before going in. Some pre-production recording at home can also be of great help in determining what's going to work and what isn't.

Too few will take too little time with this advice. The smart ones will go back and make it happen. Best advice I've seen in a long time in a concise piece.

October 20 | Unregistered CommenterCharles

So good. So useful. I really appreciate the balanced nature of this advice. I feel like so much of what I read is "Go go go! Sell sell sell! Market market market!" And I have said yes too many times, and given up my power too easily (won't do that again). Thank you for this!

Great article! I'm going to link to it from my blog :-)

October 22 | Unregistered CommenterNatalie

Some good info - a genuine thanks. On the other hand, the body-slam self promo was counter-productive (and VERY 80's)...see the recent twitter post for marketing 2.0 (nary a self- promotional vibe, but - or because of - makes me want to seek them out). Consumers ain't who we used to be...

October 26 | Unregistered CommenterDg.

I have to dispute point 5 massively. I think the nicest bands who I get along with most are the ones that are themselves rather than the ones who act like they're some form of rock stars in the back room of a pub and that it's *really really godlike* to learn a few chords.

So what if a band lives with their mother, they might even write a good song about it. Let's not pretend that we're something we're not eh?

October 26 | Unregistered Commenterdunc

You made some fantastic points, and sadly they're all too true.

Nice to see somebody is blogging about things that are actually interesting.


I think these comments just make apparent the changes ongoing in the music industry right now as people can't seem to agree on the best approaches yet. Great article.


October 30 | Unregistered CommenterScott

I agree in that. Marketing is absolutely important. But I think that many talentet musicians think, that their song is already perfect. Is it? Surfing on the internet I found a site which sonsiders this problem in an interesting way. Enhancing music online and selling it online ...

November 27 | Unregistered Commentersamples

Nice article and definitely agree. You should ask for help when its needed. I am a very gifted musician but theres only one problem. I can't pick out lines and follow along while the rest of the band is jamming! Never auditioned for a band ever because I had this problem. The hardest thing I can play on the piano is Bach Invention in A Minor, Rondo Alla Turka by Mozart and Raindrop Prelude by Chopin. My peak song on the bass is "Money" by Pink Floyd and for guitar, it's "Change The World" by Ten Years After. For vocals, it's "White Rabbit" by Starship. On the sax, it's some Beracuse piece and I can't remember who composed it. Then in school rock ensemble, I played on keys things like "Moondance" by Van Morrison, "Golden Age" by Beck Hanson. BUT I am on SSI. I AM COMPLETELY BROKE and can't cover that up in ANY WAY because people know that already about me - AND I have NOTHING to show for what I can do! I posted on Facebook about my school band concert, pictures, recital dates and NO ONE SHOWED UP TO THE CONCERT(S)! NO ONE! And NO ONE commented on the school band page either. I have SO MUCH talent - minus this little problem about picking out lines and chords from other band mates' songs. So what do I do? I am middle aged and have tried to get connections to bands since I was 18! Should I tell people right up front about this problem or should I just keep waiting for a friend to come along and invite me to play with them? Then once I DO get into the band or get something up online with me performing, what is the best way for me to promote it? I am STILL just starting out. Does that make a difference? HELP! I'M CONFUSED and have watched SO MANY "beginner" teens pass me up in progress with their careers!

May 31 | Unregistered CommenterFrustRated

It irritates me how many people have become lazy when it comes to making a career out of something - in this case; music. I blame it on shows like 'Idols'. They're good but they are money making business. No one can hand you a successful career - musician are the one who have to make themselves a success. Get out there! Record, perform, make a music video and post it on youtube. Build on that.
One person may hear your music and the next day two more. That's how you build a fan base. When you make it on your own - the big boys are gonna come running for you. But the difference and advantage here is that you will be in a position of taking what's best for you and your career without the desperation. And no one will be able to control who you are as an artist and how you should do things.
There's no greater feeling than that.

August 12 | Unregistered CommenterArgenis Mago

Great article! I only wanted to add that ultimately every artist/musician who finds success will have to ultimately find their own path to it, everyone's experience will be different and what works for one may not work for another. Obviously hard work and persistence are mandatory no matter which path you take, so is talent and the ability to pay your dues for years without giving up.

I agree that it is cheaper to record than ever and that making an album is easier than ever, however I definitely notice a difference in albums recorded at home (even when the album, players, songs, mastering..etc are of high quality) and albums that are recorded in a good studio with a producer/engineer with years of experience in making records. Not to mention the potential contacts that can be made if the producer/engineer believes in your band and tells their friends about you.

I also realize that the studio may not be necessary but if your serious about your music I believe in hiring someone who specializes in recording and has some experience, however there are always exceptions. My personal experience has taught me that a great producer and or engineer will bring out the best in your band and give you valuable perspective.

The only other thing I wanted to add is I believe a band's sound and skills onstage as well as their stage presence, song quality and image in general are extremely important. An excellent marketing plan used successfully to market a mediocre band is going to ultimately lead to the failure of that band at a quicker rate as more and more people become aware of yet another band they don't want to listen to.

I think a band should really be exceptional in some way before they get too much exposure.

Just some random opinions of mine that were inspired by your very excellent and relevant article!

November 7 | Unregistered CommenterSR

It was really nice reading you. young people will definitely be happy and enthuse reading your article. I am happy to connect your while searching for an event cause. I believe I follow you.

November 25 | Unregistered CommenterSandip Mahato

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