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The Most Overrated Things in a Musician’s Career

Sometimes, we need to get our priorities straight. Sometimes, we need to learn to say “no” to the good so that we can say “yes” to the best. Other times, we need to not let perfection get in the way of productivity. How do we sort it all out? What do we need and when do we need it?

Let’s go over the most overrated ideas, services, and opportunities in a musician’s career. Please note: not all of these things are useless. In fact, some are quite essential but they should only be pursued at the right time. So, let’s get this thing going:

SXSW, CMJ, and Other “Industry” Festivals

Don’t get me wrong, I love these music festivals. However, musicians need to stop looking at them as places where they’ll ‘break’ into the music industry. Reality check: you probably will only be invited to SXSW or CMJ if you’re already on the path to ‘making it’. Even if you do play, there’s no guarantee that investors will flock to your show and throw money or deals your way. These festivals are great for artists who have some serious momentum behind them and are ready for the next step. Want to know how to book a festival when you’re ready? Click here.

Record Labels

I’d be happy to take anyone to task for arguing that artists need a record label to survive. In fact, I posted a response against Mike Doughty’s argument, that Radiohead wouldn’t exist without major label funding. Sure, labels can be useful when it is the right time and place but you absolutely do not need them to be successful in the music industry. Remember, it’s better to be the hot, independent artist that labels are desperate to sign, than to be the artist that is desperate to sign with any label.

An EPK Service (such as Sonicbids or ReverbNation Pro)

Let me be clear: there’s nothing wrong with these services. In fact, I think both are great. But there’s no reason why you should be throwing money away every month on something that you aren’t going to take the time to learn or use well. Did you know that new opportunities are added to Sonicbids nearly every day? Usually, the first artists to submit to a gig get the most attention – but are you submitting to every new opportunity relevant to you? Are you utilizing all of the features? Don’t just have a Sonicbids account to submit to SXSW once a year or a ReverbNation account because other artists have them. If you open an account, be sure to invest regular, consistent time maintaining your presence on these sites.

Social Media

Social media has been one of the greatest blessings for independent artists. It allows for direct, transparent connection. Fans can share your content immediately. There’s the opportunity for something of yours to go viral and reach a bigger audience. However, most bands aren’t using the right social media sites or they’re using it incorrectly.

If you are relying on a Facebook post or a tweet to get fans to your show, you’re in for a rude awakening. If you believe that your awesome new music video will become the the next sensation, you’ll probably be disappointed. Social media isn’t just a louder megaphone: it’s a platform designed for engagement. It is not about how many followers you have, but how you are connected.

Booking Agents

Kind of interesting, coming from a booking agent. However, I can’t tell you how many times artists begin looking for a booking agent before they are ready. However, even if you have great representation, you’ll want to know how to book your own tour, you’ll want to know what goes into the booking process, and understand how much your band’s appearance is worth.

Like any other area in the music industry, you’ll know how to work with the people you hire better if you understand what their role is. Any person that you hire should help supplement the work that you are already doing. Very few people want to risk time and resources in taking over your job if it’s being run poorly and not profitable…so you might as well learn how to do it well. Who knows? Maybe you won’t need that booking agent after all.

Pro Music Gear

As musicians, we can all appreciate a finely crafted instrument. They play better, feel better, sound better. Often times, higher-quality instruments also help you become a better musician. But do they help your music career at all? Not really. If you want to invest into a new guitar rug or custom drum set, do so because you want to…but don’t try and justify it by thinking it will bring you fame, fortune, or make your songwriting better (it won’t).

Kickstarter or other Fan-funding websites

Kickstarter, IndieGoGo, and other crowdsourcing/fan-funding websites can be great resources for you to get people to invest into your music career. However, there’s no guarantee of success even if you make your goal. In fact, I often argue that your Kickstarter goal should already be met before you even begin the campaign because it relies on knowing your audience and engagement with them. The best way to create an unstoppable Kickstarter campaign is to have the foundation in place: your fans. Kickstarter is just a mechanism for delivery, it shouldn’t be the service you rely on to get you more fans.

The Big Lesson…

At the end of the day, we have to learn how to sort our priorities: where should be place our focus, how much should we invest into something, determine the things worth chasing after. There is an endless amount to learn, so how do you sort it all? I’d recommend that you begin by asking the right questions:

  • Is this something that I can do myself or is my success depending on someone else’s help? If you are waiting for someone else to come rescue you, that intervention will probably never come. There are three kinds of people in this world: Those who make things happen, those who wait for things to happen, and those who wonder “what the hell just happened?” Be the kind that makes things happen.
  • How will this actually help my music career? Don’t depend on uncertainties. Playing a slot at a huge music industry festival is a great for your music resume but can you depend on who will actually show up (if any)? If you do get a slot, how will you make sure the people you want will show up? Think it through.
  • Could the time/money be better spent elsewhere? Will you get more mileage out of spending $1,000 on a new amp or $1,000 in targeted online ads, or $1,000 in new merchandise? I can’t answer that for you but you should definitely take the time to think about the return on investment, what your goals are, and what will actually get you there.

What are some overrated things you’ve found that can actually become hurdles rather than help a musician?


Simon Tam is the President and Founder of Last Stop Booking, author of How to Get Sponsorships and Endorsements, and performs in dance rock band The Slants. Simon’s writing on music and marketing can be found at He is on Twitter @SimonTheTam 

Reader Comments (8)

You make excellent points and this is a good article. That said, let me add this to the list: Websites such as this as well as the countless musician "how to" books can be overrated as well. They provide great information, as you have in your article - but I know several musicians who seem to know all the info, read all the books and blogs, yet they don't actually use much if any of the advice. Or they take a "do everything" approach instead of choosing a task that will actually help them advance their career.

More to the point, being bogged down with too much information as opposed to just going out there and doing something can be detrimental to ones career.

March 5 | Unregistered Commentermingo

i have to disagree with you about sxsw...kind of. you're right that having an "official" showcase isn't a big deal in terms of marketing. what a lot of bands are doing now is playing as many times as they can during sxsw and letting industry people know about all of them. there's so much going on during that time in austin (including the red gorilla music fest happening simultaneously) that it's unrealistic to play once on a friday at 8pm and expect that you're going to get industry attention when several big name artists are likely to be playing at that same time. but if you play during the day at a party, in the afternoon at a red gorilla showcase, again in the evening, and a couple more times if you can, you have a far greater chance of getting industry types at one of your shows. besides, it's pretty damn inconvenient to drive 1,200 miles for one gig. do your homework and you can make a multi-gig appearance in austin happen during sxsw.

March 5 | Unregistered Commentermason

Great article, thanks for putting things in perspective and the reminder about our priorities!

March 5 | Unregistered CommenterZain L.

Excellent, honest article. I would also add any "Battle of the Bands" opportunity, ever.

March 6 | Unregistered CommenterGino

Great article! However, you might want to correct the following passage under the Social Media segment:"...awesome new music video will become the the next sensation, you’ll probably be disappointed."

March 9 | Unregistered CommenterAP

"Social media isn’t just a louder megaphone: it’s a platform designed for engagement."
Brilliant. Thank You. Seems obvious, but apparently it needs to be said, and repeated until the message is engaged.

March 9 | Unregistered CommenterGirlOnFire

I would tend to agree on most everything you've written here, but it seems you could've said "Everything in the music business is overrated, unless utilized it correctly". Or, "Every tool in the toolbox isn't useful unless you're using it correctly". Well, of course.

Are there any tools out there that you would advise musicians to steer clear of, just because it's overrated and no amount of "doing it right" would change that fact? I would agree that "Battle of the Bands" is a good example of something that's always overrated.


March 12 | Unregistered CommenterMike Corcoran

Interesting article. I'd also love to read one about the most underrated things in a musician's career.

March 13 | Unregistered CommenterAR

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