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7 Steps to Reaching Your Music Career Goals in 2010

It’s not only a new year, it’s also the beginning of a new decade! What a great time to renew your commitment to letting your musical light shine and living to your fullest potential.

People who succeed at greater levels don’t have some secret code and aren’t immune to the everyday obstacles we all encounter. What they do have is a different mindset and a different approach compared to the masses that get lulled into accepting stagnation as a way of life.

Since this is such a widespread issue (and one I wrestle with myself), I wanted to share my version of the Cycle of Success — a concept I first heard from Jack Canfield. It’s a bare-bones outline of the simple steps you must take to accomplish worthy goals. It may appear simplistic at first glance. But I ask you …

Honestly, how well do you embrace each of these steps … and on which ones do you typically get hung up?

1) Decide

The first step to reaching any goal is to know where you’re headed. The clearer the target, the more purposeful your actions will be. That’s why the first step to accomplishment is to set a specific, measurable goal (or set of goals). “Be a successful musician” is a nice idea, but it’s a fuzzy goal. A more concrete goal would be “Perform four live shows a month that generate $3,000 in total revenue” or “Sell $1,500 a month in live show CD/merchandise sales and $1,000 a month in digital downloads.” Decide what you want and be crystal clear about what it is.

2) Plan

Once you know exactly what you want, the next step is to craft an action plan that will move you toward it. Take some time to brainstorm on paper. Make lists of the different types of activities you will need to engage in to reach the goal. Who will you need to contact, what do you need to learn, and what tools will help you get there? Work backwards from the goal and determine the specific steps you’ll need to take.

3) Start

Now it’s time to dive into the step that holds back most human beings: taking action! Look over your grand plan and ask yourself, “What’s the very first thing I need to do in each category?” Focus only on those initial things and … do them! Don’t worry about the entire project or the immensity of your goal. Just do the very thing that needs to be done today: make a phone call, send an email, design a web page, repair your equipment, or sit down to write a new song (or finish one you started).

4) Continue

Taking those initial actions in the Start phase may actually come easy if you’re exciting about the goal. Your enthusiasm is running high and you’re eager to get busy. But what happens after a week or two, when other life demands grab center stage or when you don’t make as much progress toward the goal as you had hoped? This step is another biggie that trips up many musicians. But people who succeed muscle through the distractions and “continue” taking action, even when they’re short on time and energy. If your goal is truly important, you will find time to chip away at it and make progress — on a consistent basis.

5) Evaluate

If you get this far, congratulations! You’ve accomplished more than the majority of creative people (as sad as that is to say). You have decided what you want, created an action plan, started taking action, and have continued to work toward it, despite many temptations to do otherwise. Now you must take a little time to measure the results of your efforts. Don’t just stay busy for the sake of movement without knowing how effective your actions are. Are you moving closer to the goal, or further away? What has brought the best results? Now is the time to evaluate your progress.

6) Adjust

Once you look at the actions you’ve taken thus far and measure the results (as in number of live shows booked, number of new fans on your mailing list, amount of music and merch sold, etc.), you’ll have a clearer picture of where you stand. Then look over your plan and tweak it. How you do that is super simple: Do more of what’s working and less of what isn’t working. Also, this is a good time to introduce a new goal or strategy that makes sense based on what you’ve learned from your actions so far.

7) Continue

Once again, consistent action and progress is key. So with your adjusted plan in hand, continue to move forward. Another trait that will help you in this phase is the ability to simultaneously see two contrasting perspectives: 1) Keep the big picture vision alive of where you are headed — the specific and measurable goal you have set, and 2) Focus on the micro task at hand and realize where you actually are on the path. There will almost always be a wide gap between where you are and where you want to be. But don’t let that disparity frustrate you. Instead, let it pull you toward the goal even more fervently.

Bonus Step: Repeat Steps 5 through 7. From here on out, your progress will be a series of evaluating your efforts, adjusting your goals and action plans, and getting busy pursuing them again.

There you have it: 7 Simple But Effective Steps to Reaching Your Music Career Goals.

Are you truly incorporating all of the steps? Where do you get hung up the most? Did I miss anything? Let me know in the Comments section below.

Happy New Year … and Happy New YOU!


Reader Comments (16)

Great post.

January 11 | Unregistered CommenterJ. Smith

I think the steps above are real enough to carry over attaining many types of goals.

In music, which is of course an art form, the key is to be passionate about what you are creating and to try to keep in mind that art is terribly subjective.

There is no formula we can all follow. What worked for The Stones may never work for Guided By Voices, it is timing, it is luck, it is perseverance, but it is so variable, there is never a "how-to" formula that is repeatable.

Alternatively, if you remain passionate about music and continue to create music you love, you will attain a greater satisfaction than trying to chase a career, a fickle audience, or fame.

Write the music you love, perform for people for feedback, and keep your perspective that the business of selling art might be more about compromise than about creativity. Look at Hollywood movie making, as an example.

Play because you have to and enjoy what you play - Cheers, Toby

January 11 | Registered CommenterToby Elwin

Were you awake when you wrote this, Bob?

January 12 | Unregistered CommenterJustin Boland

Yup. I was very much awake when I wrote this. Why do you ask, Justin?

January 12 | Unregistered CommenterBob Baker

Number 6 is unfortunately, one of the most overlooked. This is where you fail to realize that what you're doing isn't working, only to find that another year has passed with little to no results.

Why not put a mere 20% of your energy into doing these steps - that in the long run - will increase your effectiveness by 80%. Work smarter, not harder!

The only garunteed outcome is that if you do nothing then nothing is what you achieve.

This is great post for those that need a framework to rationalise thier working towards thier goals. To back up the post I have found that both in education and outside in the big bad world the real motivator is achivement and that only happens when you set small achivable goals and go step by step.

January 13 | Unregistered CommenterAndrew Atkins

That's a good set of basics, and well-rendered.

I've been doing my own goals for this year, following a fairly similar process that incorporates the same principles. I like what I'm seeing about how 2010 is going to go, based on that, and it's definitely helping me focus my day-to-day activities.

January 13 | Unregistered CommenterLoren Davidson

If you can play 4 times a month and generate $3,000 from those are definitely a successfull in socal most bands I know are asked to pay that amount to the venues inorder to play.

January 13 | Unregistered CommenterTaz Taylor

Your points are clear and comprehensive and as you suggest "keep doing 5, 6 and 7". In fact I was just about to sit down and review last year's goals and set new ones for next year. It's too easy to get diverted. I will post this out to the newsvine with your permission,Bob, where I have a column that references good articles for indie musicians. It's amazing how far musicians could get with these simple steps even before they look for a manager who is more than a babysitter.

January 13 | Unregistered CommenterJackie Henrion

My husband is a mucisian. He sent this to me for him to look over later on tonight...little does he know that I will use it too!! I think this outline is excellent even for those that aren't musicians! I am going to start my own business soon and I am getting hung up on exactly where to start. I keep looking at the huge picture instead of the little details, thinking it will be impossible and get discouraged. I can see now that my dream IS obtainable! Thanks Bob!!

January 13 | Unregistered CommenterKat

I love this post. Just what my music friends and myself needed. Im a producer, singer/songwriter, working in my first solo project. Producing, writing, and performing everysong is verrryyy hard on me. Not to mention work I still do for other artists. Its discouraging at times feeling like Im moving in a circular motion, like im making no REAL progress. This post reminds me that small goals make big ones, and foresight manifests visions. This was reassuring/refreshing. Im thankful. Peace

January 14 | Unregistered CommenterChaz Vqn QUeen

I think you forgot to add: Rule #8: Don't suck. :)

January 14 | Unregistered Commentermypetrawk

Awesome post!
I am not a musician but I am writing and taking on several challenges that I am discovering I need to set goals for. Your post has helped me streamline the process! I am going to re-evaluate my 2010 and set much more concise goals for what I want to achieve in it. I am doing well so far and I dont want to lose the momentum! Thanks for your thoughts.


January 16 | Unregistered Commenterjeanie

Excellent Post! It was clear and suprisingly simple! Ill let you know what my results are when in a few months.


March 29 | Unregistered CommenterXj

Liked your post alot mate, good work!... I'm currently in a 3 piece rock/alternative/grunge band (I play drums, we have a bass and rythm guitarist (who only plays simple power chords and is still very much firm footed in the grunge era, plus they cant sing at all) and have been following the guitarists plan for about 2 years now with no success. He wants to spend $1800 on an EP that will hope fully (bring more fans and get 'our name out there')

I read elsewhere, that success is not doing what 97% of people out there are doing but taking that 'risk' and doing what might seem 'completley and utterly a waste of time or money' becasue that 3% of truly sucessfull people know what it takes.

I started envisioning a long term goal for my band to be able to play at Woodford Folk Festival (semi pro festival - many styles/genres :)) within 3 years, now this seems impossible to the other two members but i told them it sort of forces us to work together as a well oiled team towards my/our vision (?)

I suggested we get on board a lead guitarist to further our musical taste/melodies etc. also making the music a bit more enjoyable to listen to :P....

Although the guitarist who disagrees with me on this idea 100%, Im thinking of just taking action, finding a lead guitarist - bring him to the jam - and let the whole thing blend together.

Even though we had plans to make an EP as just a 3 piece, I do not think that a world of clever marketing or any sort of tour will bring us to success unless we actually sound good. (in my opinion).

What does everyone think? Should I do things how i think they should be done or follow the plan of doing the EP as a three piece and hope that the next 8 months will solve our problems?


This post has given me a big optimistic boost! Thanks a bunch!

September 26 | Unregistered CommenterOttsworth

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