I don’t think anyone would argue with me that the music marketplace is more crowded than ever. With the advent of digital audio workstations like ProTools and Logic, almost anyone with a computer can create a record and sell it on iTunes. This comes with both positives and negatives, which is not the aim of this article to explore. But what I do want to briefly dive into is how you can stand out in a very crowded room without resorting to crazy antics.
So yes, this is a lucky 13-point list of thoughts to chew on for people in music or considering venturing into it more seriously. I want to see my friends behaving in such a way that they set themselves apart from the masses. And in all reality it’s not by only writing better songs. It’s by having a good attitude and maybe tweaking our approach to music. Disagree if you will, but these are my opinions that I’ve formulated of desirable traits to push towards that will help propel you in your career.
1. Be YOURSELF - If your music is inauthentic, or attempts to copy something that’s already created, it will struggle to connect. If you attempt to be anything other than who you are, your potential audience won’t be able to pinpoint it, but they will just “pass” on your music. I’ve watched it happen time and time again. Authenticity is attractive to everyone, and authenticity can even transcend “style” preferences.
2. Be EXCELLENCE - Don’t release everything you write. Be big enough to understand the mass population should NOT hear every song you write. Believe me, we have not heard every Taylor Swift song she has ever written, nor should we hear all of yours. Songwriting is an interesting animal…you win some, you lose some… and that’s okay! And when you do have a song that you believe in and that represents you well, invest in it. Record it the best you can afford, with the best creative people you can access.
Think of it as getting ready to go on a blind date. You want it to be well dressed and inviting. Lastly, just because you recorded it, doesn’t mean you should release it! If it’s your best, then launch it. If it’s not your best, hang on to it and don’t waste your first impression in a bad outfit. Pursue excellence not only in your content, but also in every aspect of your career down to emails.
3. Be RELATIONAL – Most people (especially in your early career) support your music because they believe in YOU. They believe in YOUR ministry. Your music is merely an extension of that. You won’t have a lasting music career without being relational (and not just trying to snuggle up with people who can open doors for you). And as naturally introverted people (like a lot of creatives are), this can be a challenge. But as someone who has poked his head out of the shell a few times, it’s not so bad out there. People generally like being loved on and talked to. Pursue genuine relationships.
4. Be HUMILITY – I almost didn’t include this one because it’s so elementary…. but something told me not to breeze by it. Don’t be a punk. If you think you know everything, good luck getting people to work with you. Would you want to work with someone who already has it all figured out? True humility will go before you, open doors, and get you seated at tables having conversations you probably don’t deserve to have. So stay humble, and keep a servant’s attitude. Serve those around you non-stop, and don’t do it to get “kick-backs”.
5. Be INTENTIONAL – Have a plan. Try to stick to it. Don’t turn on a hose and spray people with content. A strategy will go a long way in helping you avoid distractions, stay focused, and get tons accomplished. Have reasonable short-term and long-term goals. Be aggressive in sticking to them to ensure you are making progress. And, no, “get songs out there” is not a goal. Find quantifiable ways to make goals actionable and hold yourself accountable.
6. Be RESPECTFUL – Anyone who is helping you along the way should be cherished and respected. Producers, co-writers, musicians, mentors, and others all deserve to be treated well and honored for their time and ideas. Never treat anyone with disrespect, because you’ll quickly find out the music industry isn’t that big of a world. If you sow seeds of disrespect you will quickly reap a harvest of it. A disrespectful attitude WILL come back and bite you in the butt sooner or later.
7. Be FAITHFUL – whether or not you see the worldly results you’d hope to see, you must stay faithful to what God puts in your heart. He didn’t put something in you for you to turn around and measure it by the world’s standards anyways. If you become so discouraged by criticism, low sales, or minimal social media attention that you give up, you were never in it for the right reasons. Be faithful to chase the vision God has given you regardless of how the world would try to measure it.
8. Be OPEN – It’s healthy to seek constructive feedback from trusted people. When trusted people speak, listen to them. They are “trusted” for a reason. Be ready to learn and to grow. If you are closed off to other people’s ideas and creativity, you’ll find yourself in a very lonely place with no one pouring into you. Never lose who you are, but be open to people helping shape you, mold you, and pushing you towards your potential.
9. Be PATIENCE – American Idol is probably the worst thing to happen to the psyche of independent artists… ever. Stars are NOT born overnight. I never thought much about that phrase, but when I look at it literally, it makes a lot of sense. It takes about 100,000 years for a star in the night sky to be birthed. And in the same fashion, a career in music is forged over many many many years. Keep your head down, and work hard… period. Stop looking around and playing comparison… it’s pure poison. Patience will be your best friend during this journey.
10. Be PASSIONATE – If you aren’t passionate about it, you won’t make it. Music world is a tough world to live in. It’s full of lots of “BIG TALK” followed by lots of little disappointments. People in music land dream big, and they should…but it doesn’t always pan out like they hope. Find a way to keep your passion burning even when you are in a season where you just want out… and that season will come if it hasn’t already. Always remember WHY you are even on this road to start with. Your passion burns somewhere deep in that cave.
11. Be A TREASURE – I know in a time when giving your music away for free gives you “WORLDWIDE ACCESS”, the temptation is to do everything in the name of exposure. But exposure doesn’t yield good results unless your exposure is millions upon millions strong (Sorry Spotify). Know your worth. And I’ll tell you a secret… you are worth more than free. Don’t be afraid to ask for 99 cents for a song. That’s not at all absurd. When people buy something, they naturally treasure it and value it more highly than if it were given to them. Allow people to treasure what you do… it’s okay. Create something worth buying, sell it, and let people treasure it.
12. Be ENCOURAGEMENT – Celebrate others. When they “win”, shout it from the rooftops with them! When they “lose”, cry and lament with them. We are all in this together; this is not a competition against each other. And when you begin to celebrate others and lift them up, they begin to do the same for you. Don’t be too proud or scared to celebrate other people’s successes, or you will find that not many people are there to celebrate and encourage you. Go out of your way and be encouragement to others.
13. Be RELENTLESS – You must devote yourself to honing your craft. You cannot make a career out of casually pursuing a dream. Chase hard after it. Sweat at it. Bleed on it. Cry over it. Spend hours honing your skills. Write songs, good and bad. Stretch yourself vocally. Try new ideas; note what works and what flops. Know your limits, but always push your boundaries. NEVER STOP pursuing something greater. There is always a vast amount of room for improvement along the way.
Good job counting to 13 with me. Now go. Dream. Create. Inspire. Celebrate. Pursue. All of those fun words.
[guest post by Sean Hill]