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The Importance Of Taking (The Right) Action In Your Music Career

In any industry you go into, there are always two types of people: People that take action, and people that don’t. In fact, let’s not limit that to industries people are in. In LIFE, there are two types of people…

The people who take action are the people who usually end up getting further. They are brave enough to make things happen, and even if they don’t work out as planned, they can always give it another go.

So why am I talking about taking action? Simple, because this is exactly what a lot of musicians fail to do!

Taking Your Music Career Into Your Own Hands

I recently wrote a post about how to get a record deal. I can imaging that a lot of people would have opened that article and thought I’d start telling them exactly how to contact record label bosses and A&R people. In fact, what I advised was the opposite. Focus on your own music career, and when you are ready as an artist, they will come to you.

No longer is it as easy as having a talent, sending a demo into a record label, and getting signed soon after. These days you need to prove you can sell units, draw in crowds, and build a fan base that is willing to follow you through think and thin. Only then will record labels start taking an interest.

This article isn’t about signing to a record label though, it’s more about the steps you need to take in order to start moving your music career forward. I call it your music ‘career’ because that’s how you need to see it. Even if you’re not making money this very moment, I’m sure you want to be doing so at some stage? If so, you’re building up your career. If you’re happy being a bedroom musician, then you probably don’t need to be reading this article.

Whether it’s your aim to sign to a record label or not, you have to take things into your own hands to start off with. You need to do everything that a record label would do to get you out there, and you have to do it without any major help. This is the life of an independent musician, and one that can be very rewarding.

There is one thing I’ve noticed about many people in the music industry: They aren’t making as much money as they could! Now I’m not saying there’s a huge amount of money in the music industry or even that every one of you will get rich from it, but I know for fact that a lot of people can make more money then they currently do. Small things that simply aren’t done can be the difference between earning a part time living and earning nothing at all, and unfortunately a lot of the time these things simply aren’t done. But why?

The Reason Why More Money Is Not Made

There are two main reasons why musicians often don’t reach their full earning potential:

1.They don’t take enough action.
2.They take action, but the wrong kind (A lack of knowledge).

Not taking action is a curse that plagues a lot of people in all different areas of life. We often know that doing something will give us a better lifestyle, but we simply don’t do it for what ever reason. Maybe it’s due to a fear of the unknown, or maybe it’s due to laziness. Whatever the case, we don’t always take action when we should. This in effect lowers our chance of growing, and will keep our music career at a stand still.

Taking the wrong kind of action can be just as damaging as not taking any action at all. If you work hard for a year doing the wrong thing, at the end you’re going to realise that your efforts hadn’t come to much. In effect, you will have wasted a year. Learning the business of music can be trial and error without the right guidance, and lead to you wasting a lot of time and money.


If you have dreams of touring and getting your music out there, remember first that it takes action on your behalf. Daydreaming can motivate you and give you a clear idea of what you want your end goal to be, but it won’t help you get there any faster. Wouldn’t taking action and achieving your goals feel better then just dreaming about them? Without taking action, you will never know.

It’s important to make sure you’re taking the right action however. Don’t spend hours every day adding strangers to Facebook and Twitter, instead get in front of people that have a real interest in your music. Is there a specialist radio station that people go to to listen to your type of music? Then get your songs played on those shows! When you play at gigs, make sure you have merchandise ready to sell. Inform people that you’ll be coming round selling your CDs after your set,and if they’d like to hear more from you make sure they get one. That way, even if you aren’t getting paid for the show, you can still make money. Build a relationship with fans via email marketing, and turn them into super fans (Or a ‘true fan’ as has been discussed recently on MMT).

Small things like these can make all the difference, and will allow you to reach your goals sooner then later. I hope you’re the type that takes action, and more importantly the right type of action.

This is an article by myself, Shaun L. I am the owner of the IMA Music Business academy, an online music business course helping people take the right action in their music career. If you want to see some of my other articles, they can be found on my ‘Independent Music Advice’ music business blog.

Reader Comments (11)

Shaun - I agree - taking action is so important. You say have goals and take the right kind of action. I'd like to add:

Be clear about your goals and know what your success indicators are. As you take action monitor those indicators, eg number of loyal fans, and tweak what you're doing until you get your mix right. This will help you differentiate between the right and wrong type of action for you.

And be self-aware. Your actions might actually be distractive ones. Are you avoiding taking action on something you know you should be doing?

If something feels too big to tackle, break it up into smaller chunks. "Small things" as Shaun says.

Eliza - The Fan Formula

The spirit of this article is in the right place, but it really doesn't add anything that most indie musicians don't already know. I would like to see the writers of Hypebot and Music Think Tank interviewing more indie/DIY musicians who are successful (success in this case is at least making some kind of profit or more from their art). I think readers need to have shared with them more actual practices that have led to success, rather than be told over and over to try "harder" or "maximize your opportunities". These are very general statements that I read and hear all the time.

Honestly though, whenever I dream up new and alternative ways to promote myself or make merchandise there's one thing that always seems to get in the way... money. I'm sure a lot of indies are willing to try "harder", which entails spending more, but simply can't afford to do so like most labels can.

Free album download at

November 15 | Unregistered CommenterChancius

Hi Eliza. Agreed about monitoring your results, without doing this you won't know which actions are the right ones and which are wasting your time. That's why it's important to map out your aims and objectives, and make them S.M.A.R.T (Specific, Measurable, Achievable, Realistic, and Timed). I talked about this in the IMA Music Business Academy Forums just now, as someone was asking more about your comment.

Good point about breaking daunting tasks up into smaller more manageable ones, this has always worked for me personally, and makes it a lot easier to get started on things. Thanks for your comment.

November 15 | Registered CommenterShaun Letang


Agreed, on all points.

In regards to getting more successful indie talent on here, from what I've gathered thus far (which isn't that long) the cross section of the demographic on this site is pretty broad. Hypebot and MTT are by no means skewed towards the independent artist, which is fine, but a lot of info would be more realistic, useful and inspiring if perhaps it was.

That said, there are a good amount of people trying to sell something on here too...

November 15 | Unregistered Commentergaetano

Hi Eliza and all readers, this is in response to Chancius. It is very true that on the face of it the article may seem like more generic info based on the same idea that musicians should try harder, but in fact, that is the only real way to say it..... I am a producer/songwriter and have been involved in making bedroom music for longer than I care to remember (maybe 10 years!) I recently got together with a couple of friends, 1 other producer and a sort of iA&R type person, and this year we have worked hard to get our music out, doing mailouts, free remixes, meeting potential collaborating artists on a whim, sending playlists to sync agencies and production companies, loads of talking to people, licensing tracks to people we know who are putting out compilations etc etc the list goes on. but we have really only had financial success recently in the last moth or so with a few tracks being synced with a major hair-care company through a friend who works with the editor.

But the point is, over the last year and a half we got into the habit of doing things, putting the effort in and talking action. Yes every action should be thought out and planned to an extent, but not over analysed to the point of killing the enthusiasm to complete the task, and many times you will do things that you may only have a broad view of being positive that can actually help in other ways. but the key is not to EXPECT every action to generate a positve and equal reaction. You just have to get into the habit of putting in that hard work and adjusting your efforts according to the feedback and indicators which you should also have in place otherwise you will never know if your making any progress.

Its basically the 80/20 principle (google it) and as you get better at identifying what works, you will be able to manipulate this success rate.

Another little thing I try to remember is that TALENT is a myth, its only those who have learned to make ACTION and PRACTICE a habit.....

November 16 | Unregistered CommenterJ Haiz Blaze

In congruence with comment number two, it's all well and good to encourage action, but for someone who is at the point of action, ready to act, and clueless as to what actions to take, some actual direction would be helpful.

What are the essential first steps when you are trying to begin a career. Also, it seems very difficult to find advice on the true "beginners" stage. Most articles and seminars are geared toward artists and bands who are already ready, to some degree, to actually take certain steps to gaining noteriety. What if you are just trying to establish yourself, a band, a gig, a direction etc?

November 16 | Unregistered CommenterRichia

@ J Haiz

The issue I take with this article is not that there isn't any truth, or tangible useful information, it's just that the nature of that advice is completely subjective at best. Hustling hard is important, but hustling smart is even more critical in my opinion.

It's great to hear that you're having success working a catalog that was more or less dormant, however the nature of your catalog was the basis for what your potential outlets were. The way a free jazz musician hustles will be completely different from an electro pop artist and so on and so on.

Just going through motions will not secure anyone success, whether it be sheer recognition or actual monetary compensation, if that were the case every person would be able to follow the same success equation.

I believe that some of the best "action" you can take is biding your time, honing your craft and watching the way the industry is moving, and how you fit into that. With the right knowledge, and a bit of strategy you can make a first impression the thing that gets you to where you want to be or at least a lot closer than you were.

I wouldn't say that talent is a myth, some people are born with more natural proclivity towards things than others, we all have to work on those things, but the fact of the matter is that there are musicians that are destined to be playing arenas, others will be hobbyists. I think one important thing to do is keep that in mind and manage and temper one's own expectations. This isn't an easy process, in fact it's one that can fluctuate and change as your career goes on, but it's that balance between a healthy pragmatism and your ideal that will help you keep your bearings through the process.

November 16 | Unregistered Commentergaetano

I find this a little mis-leading for many reasons. But the one I am going to broach here is getting played on the radio.

By telling a musician to go get on the radio is setting them up for failure. I do radio promo. Do you have any idea how hard it is to get music played?

Please musicians do not set this as a marker as to whether or not you are doing well, or taking the right action. I work with Indie musicians that have very successful careers and spent thousands of dollars paying very high profile radio promoters to get on radio and only got spun on a few community stations a few times. It's not OK to advise a musician to spend their time/money trying to get radio.

That game has changed immensely along with the rest of the music business.

You don't just have to work harder and smarter. You need to BUST YOUR ASS... to the point of giving up... then garner the strength to get up and keep going. And you sure as hell better be doing this for the passion and love for music and performance first... then the money. And your manager/team better be working just as hard as you. If they are spending weekends in the mountains while you travel from city to city... you have the wrong team. You are soldiers, brothers/sisters in arms.

You are in the trenches daily. Spending 24/7 planning and pushing marketing plans, making phone calls to book shows (getting rejected numerous times), spending night after night loading in and out of clubs Figuring out how to fund an album, video or simply a tank of gas. Creating the fan relationship, talking to fans nightly, fighting with a venue owner for your pay... I can go on. This business sucks! And you better love it despite that fact.

Yes there is a certain amount of strategic business that needs to be done. but, you need to be great musicians, playing GREAT songs, have great shows and keep playing out as much as you can. Work on nailing down good opening slots. People only become REAL fans when they have fallen in love with you and your live show. If you are good enough the public will let you know, and let everyone else know. People will find out about you. Buzz travels from person to person. That's when you know you can take your music from a hobby to a real business.

Here's a good read for you Josh Ritter wrote a series about "making it" in the music business, it's really great, I suggest you read it from start to finish.

Read the story of the David Wax Museum if you can find it somewhere. Not just their bio but the story of how they are making their career. They still have a long way to go before they can count on doing this for the rest of their lives, but they are doing everything right. Starting with good music and a great show, winning over fans every time they play.

Also check out Dispatch. Never played on radio, never written about in the media... until they had a free farewell show in Boston over 100,000 people from around the world showed up. Facebook didn't exist, nor did myspace. Then reunited and sold out three nights at Madison Square Garden and donated 100% of the money to a charity in Africa. Never heard of them? most people haven't. Weird right?

Educate yourself by finding other musicians on a trajectory to success. See what they are doing. Take a really hard look at what sets them apart from all the other acts out there. Study how they are doing it.

*MY definition of successful career: making a minimum of $150,000/year (Gross), constantly touring, solid fan base in various markets around the country where they can go make money and continue to build. Most non-comm/non-comm triple A music directors are playing them or at least know who they are, even if they haven't been played yet (and may never get played!). They do not need a day job.

November 16 | Unregistered CommenterM.M.

This is a good article. However, the challenge that I, among many indie artists, face is the narrow mindedness of the media. When I play at different events, I constantly receive compliments and sell my music. However, when I attempt to approach local radio stations, I quickly discover that they are conformed to play music from their program list. The music has to sound a way that is pleasing to them instead of what is pleasing to listeners. Also, they are not open to any new talent unless they are already signed on a major record label resulting in an exclusion of a lot of unknown talent. I have discovered via conversations with various individuals that the radio stations will sometimes play your music if they have certain "perks." I thought that was bribery but I guess I missed it. They are so narrow that they play an average of 30-40 of the same songs every 3 to 4 hours. Many listeners complain because they get tired of hearing the same music every day. However, that does not appear to be an issue to radio stations. How can indie musicians overcome that?

November 17 | Unregistered CommenterMike

Always ,all the time ,no matter What keep doing "PROMOTION".. never ,wait-slow down or HOPE!,..High level- Quality -PROMOTION & Networking on going is the "TOTAL" key,...yes, there are lots of stories out there, !..if the Powers that be and the Fan base do not know of you , then what!..if you can afford a good Professional they can save you years of doing "Wrong" Promotion.!
any Questions?...Joseph Nicoletti consulting-Promotion 386 Laguna Beach ,California 92652 ph 949-715-7036...feel free to contact us for a "NO" cost Review.. over 25 years exper. with "Grammy" winners as well....yes! we have great ref !,...................

If you are interested in hearing more from a DIY artist, I recently interviewed an up-and-coming independent band from TX and the post will be on pretty soon. I believe it will be published tomorrow.

--Natalie (MTT Community Manager)

November 17 | Registered CommenterMusic Think Tank

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