How can I make a career out of music?

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Answered by: Elbereth, An Expert in the Music Careers - General Category
If you're reading this article then you're probably looking for an answer to this question: "How can I make a career in the music business?" Whatever your particular goals may be, there are three rules of thumb which must stay with you if you'd like to make a career out of music.

Rule number one: never say never. This is by far the most important thing an aspiring musician, composer, producer, you-name-it-here career oriented person must do. This doesn't mean you're sitting around wishing on a star in the hopes that a big record company will “discover” you and make you a star. What I mean is, you must have stick-to-it-ness. It may take you a few decades to get anywhere in this business. Just look at Jonathan Coulton, the guy who wrote Code Monkey and other popular songs: he didn't “break in” as a musician until 2003, approximately a decade after his first attempts to do so. It could easily take you longer than that.

Rule number two: define you goals and (back to rule number one) do your best to stick to them. What is it you see yourself doing in your ideal music career? Choose a few specific, easy to visualize goals. Maybe you want to have regular, paying gigs that bring in such-and-such amount of money per month. Define it clearly: how much money, how many gigs, and when this goal should be reached. Maybe the deadline is two years from now. In that case, define actions that will put you in that position, and set some smaller deadlines to get you there.

As an example, if you're just starting out, you could scope out the open mic scenes around town and make a point of regularly showing up to perform at those venues. Tell yourself: “I will go at least once a week to perform, without fail.” That can give you the opportunity to observe other aspiring musicians, and begin pulling together a band. At some point, you'll want to look at venues where you could get booked, despite having no fame to your name. Maybe you'll need to do some free shows, or open for a more popular band. After some performances are under your belt, you might start looking at local music festivals, and create an online presence for yourself. Making and keeping clear goals will help you make definite progress toward whatever your ideal music career is.

Rule number three: be able to analyze yourself and change what isn't working. This could apply to your music, your attitude around other people, your stage presence, etc. Take what you're bad at and make it a strength. Maybe the financial side of things is a weak point for you. In that case, dig in and get well acquainted with that aspect of life. Your enthusiasm for your ideal career must be stronger than whatever it is that needs changing about yourself, otherwise that career will never progress beyond a certain point.

This is one reason why you see so many talented musicians who never make a career out of music: they are lacking something about themselves needed to make them a success. Maybe it's your musicianship that needs work. Practically everyone can improve, after all, even the most talented among us. Have you got a song you love to death that no one else seems to appreciate? Maybe you need to take a hard look at it. Never be afraid to re-write your stuff. Never be afraid to receive serious criticism; in fact, seek it out. Maybe your guitar playing has some serious weakness, and you need to spend some dedicated daily practice time. In any case, you've got to develop a thick skin and understand that what you do can be improved. Otherwise, you're probably better off leaving music as a hobby.

There is, of course, one last unwritten rule for success in this or any other business: love what you do, and do what you love. Without a strong, practically obsessive love for whatever it is you do, you're never going to find the initiative to stick it through, to define and keep goals, and to really dig in and constructively change yourself in order to change you dreams to reality. A successful career in music is kind of like a successful marriage: you've got to have love and commitment.

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