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« How to Structure a Company to Succeed in the Current Music Industry | Main | Call To Indie Artists: Stop Giving Your Music Away Free »

ODDS ARE… (A response to What are the odds of succeeding without a record label?)

Odds are if an artist has to calculate their potential for success based on statistics – regardless of veracity – they are doomed from the start.

Really.  Think about it – the only formula known thus far to work with any predictability is BEING an act REMARKABLE enough (thanks, Bruce, a favorite word the past year or so), to spread by word of mouth.

A formula NEVER out of date.

You certainly don’t want everyone to like you – but you do want everyone to talk.  BE something they must remark on. 

And have a live show that makes people FEEL IT.  Then word will spread.  Only ten times faster now with all the sharing capabilities.

So seems pretty clear:  Use SM to grow a fan base through right cliks.  Think EVERYONE CLIK.  Everything you do should be done with that goal in mind.

Then your tribe really will find you.  Work that ‘til your fan count gets high enough to land a distribution deal.  No bloodsucking production deals.

But if word’s not spreading to where you see measurable growth at least every month – well you know the truth – you ain’t ready yet.

It’s extremely difficult to be “ready” for success in anything – music included.

Oh yeah, and best to come up with some unique aspect to your act – nothing travels faster than a good story.  But smashing instruments, capes, moonwalking and meat dresses are taken.  Ditto for being shot many times and disrupting awards ceremonies. 

However, no matter how talented you are and how good your promotion is, getting to MAJOR success will take MAJOR media…which will take MAJOR bucks.  Which means eventually either a label or outside investment (including crowd funding – and while indie artists may not have raised in the six or seven figures that way yet, I suppose it’s possible for one remarkable enough).

No way around it – cash is still king, and to think otherwise is literally delusional.

One step at a time it can be done.  Ain’t that the truth?

DG Gutekunst, author of the forthcoming book, Artist 3.0  A Career RoadTrip Manual:  From Zero to Stardom in Simple (but not-so-easy) Steps, can be reached at , and welcomes all input! And if helpful in any way, feel free to re-post content to your blog or website.

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Reader Comments (21)

I agree whole heartedly, great article!

I'm having a problem locating your website though.

I'm on twitter at @behyped if you wanna link me up.


July 7 | Unregistered CommenterMarko

This is the perfect rebuttal of the original article and really I don't see how it can be argued with.

Nice one.

July 7 | Unregistered CommenterIan

"But smashing instruments, capes, moonwalking and meat dresses are taken." What about playing great music or doesn't that occur to anyone these days? Oh yeah, the problem with that is you actually have to learn to play an instrument or be able to sing and that involves hard work, silly me.

July 7 | Unregistered Commenterjazz dude

jazz, I think you make an excellent point. Let's pull back and look at the big picture.

Step 1 is learning to play an instrument or learning how to sing. (REMARKABLE Talent/Skill)
Step 2 is learning how to use that instrument to write songs. (REMARKABLE Songwriting)
Step 3 is learning how to perform those songs. (REMARKABLE Performance)
Step 4 is learning how to capture those moments in the studio. (REMARKABLE Production)
Step 5 is marketing all the previous steps so people pay attention. (REMARKABLE Marketing)

Obviously, this is a gross oversimplification with thousands of steps missing, but the message is this: making great music is the foundation of everything else.

Once you have the whole "making great music" thing down, it would be wise to think about what else makes your act unique.

You hit the nail on the head with "cash is king!" - regardless of whether it is record label cash or some other large source of cash.

July 7 | Unregistered CommenterPranav C

This is so true. And simple.

Be REMARK-able.

Because if no listener then remarks to friends, there is no viral spread = no new fans.

AND...something that is remark-able stops being remark-able once everyone is doing it. It has then become commonplace, average, and UN-remark-able.

July 7 | Unregistered CommenterGlenn Galen

Thanks for the post. This article is really centered on fame and fortune as the main objective. Seems to me that really depends on how you are defining success.

I haven't read the original article though, where do I find that?

There are musicians finding it easier to scratch out a living now. This opens the door to a number of definitions of success. The point that it all starts with a remarkable product is certainly true. It is hard to get anywhere with crap (although, it seems that some have). But, becoming a household name doesn't have to be the goal. I would think that anyone who is able to nail down the median household income (around $45,000 to $50,000 per year) in their music career has become successful to a degree.


Tom Siegel

July 7 | Unregistered CommenterTom Siegel

Please just focus on making great (sorry, "remarkable") MUSIC first and foremost. Who is the Bach of our times? Who is the Miles Davis of the 21st century? Where is the Pink Floyd of our generation?

Develop your art. This also requires that you develop yourself as a human being.There is no shortcut.

- Versus

July 7 | Unregistered CommenterVersus

>Use SM to grow a fan base through right cliks

what is SM?

July 7 | Unregistered CommenterPete

SM is Social Media ie Facebook or this blog

July 8 | Unregistered CommenterQuinn

@pete SM = Social Media

I agree with this article if your main goal is mainstream success or big dollar amounts on your bottom line. However like Tom Siegel said, if your goal is to carve out a realistic living then it's a lot more attainable.

I know my band only wants enough cash for a plot of land and initial supplies to build a house on it. The goal is to eventually take our living off the grid and live as self-sustainably as possible.

Not everyone's main objective, but it's a way of life none-the-less.


Finally someone tells it how it is! All of the clever music marketers that I've followed over the years seem to leave out simple fact that NONE of their ideas or techniques will work unless your remarkable. Either that or they gloss over it. This has been a hard truth for me to learn. I think a simple rule of thumb is how much interest you can generate WITHOUT promotion. If you email 10 people a copy of your song and they are EXCITED enough about it to forward on to OTHER people (without you asking) THEN you actually have something worth promoting! I can't count how many hours I've spent focused on promoting UNREMARKABLE music!

July 8 | Unregistered CommenterAmen

Pete...SM is Social Media. correct me if i'm wrong DG.

Great article. Really enjoyed reading it.

Thank you for your article. I agree that SM is the tool for marketing, not necessarily success. However, Artist / Repetoire Development is by and large the first step, before one can consider themselves a sustainable product. Secondly, like the Rolling Stones and all the other legendary musicians of yesterday, regular live performance is crucial in shaping who or what the performer will become at their fullest potential. Success is only a matter of definitions. Time, faith, discipline, vision, execution amongst other factors place us all where we end up.


July 9 | Unregistered CommenterVvCrossover

To Versus:

Actually, there is a shortcut. A very simple shortcut. But first, let me say that tastes in music have changed. Great skill and musicianship isn't what makes "great music" anymore. At least not in the mainstream. It's all about being catchy. And that's the shortcut. If you can write a song that's catchy, sticks in people's heads and gets them humming it until they buy your CD to listen to the blasted song, then you've tricked them into thinking you wrote a musical masterpiece.

July 9 | Registered CommenterRiley Smith

Dear Riley -

Thank you for the response. A few comments:

I, as a listener, do not want to be "tricked" into believing I am hearing a musical masterpiece. Eventually one will realize the deception and this destroys trust in the artist-audience relationship. Rather, I want to hear music of real substance and depth. Even in pop, there is a place for depth of feeling and conviction (and there are new artists who show it, like Joss Stone and Adele).

As a musician myself, I also feel a social and (for lack of a better word) spiritual obligation to aim higher than trickery, even if manipulation and trickery might actually lead to more income.

Finally, regarding musical tastes. Have they changed so much, or is it just that what is being constantly fed to people is the most vapid music, and most listeners do not have time or inclination to actively seek out music of more depth? This is an open question. It's possible that most people find deeper music to require too much effort, and prefer aural "junk food" which gives the quick sugar high.

Even if tastes have changed, they can change again. There is, and always has been, a place for light pop confections, but there should also always be a place for music of more serious intent. The long story of the death of artist development (circa 1992 or so), consolidation of major labels and radio, etc., has tipped the scales so far in favor of the former that it is very difficult for the latter to thrive. So this is my vote for a re-balancing towards more art and less entertainment.


July 9 | Unregistered CommenterVersus

Riley & Versus - you got a good debate going on, and you did throw in some extra factors that affect the musician's success.
I think that what differs the "Rolling Stones" of the different eras from today's musicians is the fact that we have so many accessible ways to reach the audience, while the listener is flooded with so much music (and a great part of it is not bad music). This confuses the LISTENERS who are lost within the multitude of music and the fan base becomes fragmented.

So that's in my opinion the biggest problem - we have lost the centralized point of contact with the fans. They have so many options that our mutual discovery has become very difficult, and it's tempting to think that "money can buy me love (of the fans)"…

July 10 | Registered CommenterMike Daniels

This is not a article. It's not written as one. This is a brain dump text expressing an opinion.

This contradicts what happened to bands like "Enter Shikari" (as well as many others) that surfaced from underground because of YouTube and other Social Networks.

The fact is that in the XXI century, you don't need money to be noticed, you just need quality and hard-work on advertise/politicize your work at the right places. Make your work being noticed and your thing will take-off.

Money is not issue anymore. You can release an entire album digitally at almost zero cost.

And as far as live gigs case you don't noticed, there are many, many music genre bands/artists that never made a live gig ever, and still sell to the thousands and millions.

This is music we are talking about. You just have to be good at what you're doing, with a clear goal on what you want to head to, and be persistent with your goals. The rest will come as a effect...

July 12 | Unregistered Commentersomeone


You missed the main point. And the main point is EXACTLY what you are talking about with YouTube: viral spread by word of mouth.

He said:
"the only formula known thus far to work with any predictability is BEING an act REMARKABLE enough ... to spread by word of mouth."

That's how YouTube spread works: people share the link. Word of mouth.

You point about the band Enter Shikari is exactly what the article is saying.

July 12 | Unregistered CommenterGlenn Galen

That's why there's a slurry of businesses that do artist promotion. it's a full time job and you've got to have the connections. not saying an individual can't do it but it's tough as a side thing.

July 13 | Unregistered Commenterchillout ugo

Great discussion and clarifications - wanted to stay out of the way but thanks to all for participating!

Clearly an artist's initial emphasis should be on becoming remarkable THEMSELVES.

A key consideration is that there are no gatekeepers to RELEASING music anymore - which means an artist must judge for him/herself when they (and their material), are ready.

The 10,000 hours concept may be a place to start - although quality of practice is also paramount.

Then BE LIKE A COMEDIAN - even top tv/movie/ touring pros appear at the L.A. comedy clubs to TEST NEW MATERIAL. If it doesn't get an immediate positive reaction they refine it or let it go.

How many artists keep playing the same material even when people aren't responding - in this case by TELLING OTHERS!?

July 15 | Registered CommenterDG Gutekunst

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