The challenge of being an independent artist, especially when you’re starting off is that you have no one but yourself to answer to. This of course can be both a good and bad thing. For one, if you’re driven - you can do many things very fast because you don’t have to delegate. On the other hand, some days, nothing happens at all because no one but yourself is responsible for your career (and you decided to just stay at home and comment on all your friend’s Facebook pages.)
A very real issue is that most of what we do as artists does not pay financially (at least not immediately). Most of it is groundwork, most of it is the business side of our careers. This of course makes us comes to terms with the fact that the world is saturated with so much music and talent that is becomes difficult for us to be noticed. After awhile, just getting fellow musician friends to come to your gigs will not be enough and if we want to continue on a musical path, we need to do something different.
This brings me to some of my suggestions, all of which are things that I try to do everyday in some form. Here’s the list:
1. Do Something Everyday
Now, you’re thinking - oh gosh, that’s obvious - why did I need to hear it from this guy? Well, to me being aware of what we do is as important as doing it. What I mean by this suggestion is to do something that would reach out to someone else everyday. It could be as easy as posting a listing of your upcoming show on a local event website or emailing a venue for a future gig.
For me, some of the most significant gig opportunities were set in motion when I used to play in front of the local train station. That’s a different article worth writing, but to make it short - from several of these gigs, I met a guy who gave me a festival gig, another man who is still calling me for jazz gigs - which eventually led me to meeting a current artist I’m working and touring with regularly. Fact is, if I stayed home that one day - I probably would not be doing most of the gigs I’m doing now. So yes, do something, anything everyday.
2. Do Nothing Sometimes
Now, why would I contradict myself? Well, this is really an advice from my dad. One day, we were talking on the phone and he said, “I looked at your schedule on your website and you’re really busy. Don’t you get tired? You should learn how to spend a day doing nothing.”
This of course got me thinking and it took some time but eventually I gave myself a day off and did nothing. The fact is because we’re independent artists, the danger is that we work non-stop. I know that I feel the urge to answer an e-mail at 2am somedays and then not sleep till 4am but it’s not good for your health. In the long run, to have a successful career, stamina is important. Therefore, we need to be healthy to do this. One way is to set workhours like we would if we were in an office, maybe nine to five, maybe less but setting limits like this can be useful so that we have a balanced life. Work is not everything - family and friends are precious and they form a support group for us. We all need each other and spending time with our loved ones is a beautiful thing.
3. Work On Your Art
With the Internet, we can get distracted. I know I do! I’m on some social media site and I’m thinking wow, what a cool link or article or “insert cool web thing here”. Now, whatever happens, we are still musicians - our job really is to work on our art. This could be practicing a new chord progression, learning a new song, writing new music, refining older songs, recording or even listening to the latest album by your favorite artist.
Music has become such a background event in our lives that not many friends of mine actually spend time to listen to music attentively as we used to. The excuse usually is that we don’t have time, but the fact is, we do have time to watch a TV show on Hulu, or a movie or update all our websites. I get caught up in the other work but in the end, all the marketing efforts we do is dependent on the quality of our art. Now, you might mention some big famous artist who might be in your opinion not as good as ‘so and so’ but to me, the real effort is to stop complaining about the difference in our gradients of success and just do our own thing. In the end, as long as we’re happy doing what we do - that means a lot.
So yes: Do Something Everyday, Do Nothing Sometimes, and Work on your ART.
Good luck and till next time!
This post first appeared in Damn Good Tunes.
Az Samad is guitarist-composer-teacher based in Berkeley, CA. He is going to watch the rest of the TV series that he is following now that he’s done something today. Check out what else he’s up to at www.azsamad.com