Are you a solo artist? Are you trying to figure out how to achieve success on your own terms in the music industry?
That’s what we’re going to be looking at in this episode of The New Music Industry Podcast.
- 00:25 – Finding your path to independent success as a solo artist
- 01:24 – There are three steps to blazing your trail to independent success
- 02:29 – Step #1: Hone your craft
- 04:09 – Step #2: Lay the relational groundwork
- 05:20 – Step #3: Grow and solidify you portfolio
- 06:58 – Episode summary
- 08:05 – The newly renovated Music Entrepreneur HQ
Hey, it’s David here.
So, you’re a solo artist. And you’re committed to finding your path to independent or even major label success.
But you’re not sure what you need to do to get there.
Not to mention, the task seems daunting, because instead of working together with committed band members with different skills, you end up having to take on the entire load yourself – be it social media, updating your website, promoting your gigs, or otherwise.
You’d love to be able to get to the point where you can focus on your creativity, make great music, and engage your fan base without having to worry about all the other stuff.
You don’t want to feel anxious before every gig because you’re not sure whether it will be well-attended, constantly be running errands to ensure you’re staying afloat financially or feeling burnt out all the time because of the demands on your time and schedule.
Creating independent success might seem akin to navigating a minefield.
Fortunately, I’ve been reflecting on my years as a solo artist, as well everything that has worked and hasn’t worked for me. Here are my best tips to help you find your path as a solo artist.
Achieve Independent Music Success in 3 Simple Steps
There are basically three steps to blazing your trail to independent success. I’ll be explaining each step in more detail in just a moment, but here’s a mile high overview.
The first step involves honing your craft. But this means more than just getting good at playing your instrument and singing. The reason this is important is because it increases your collaborative opportunities, which can lead to increased stage time, exposure, revenue, and more.
The second step is laying the relational groundwork. This is all about developing the right relationships and being intentional about the process. If you do this right, you will find that you don’t need to do much of your own booking work. Gigs and opportunities will come to you in the form of referrals and recommendations.
The third step is growing and solidifying your portfolio. The more credible you are, the more people will want to work with you, and this will open doors. The thing is you don’t necessarily know what indicators are going to matter to whom. This step is all about laying your spiderweb to capture opportunities from a variety of channels, and I’ll be sharing how.
Keep listening to find out more…
Step #1 – Hone Your Craft
It might seem obvious that you would need to keep improving as an artist and write great music.
But this goes well beyond that.
In singer-songwriter or solo artist culture, it’s been my experience that collaborative opportunities abound, and if you aren’t taking advantage, you’re missing out.
You can book tours with other solo artists, play on each other’s sets, appear on each other’s YouTube channels, and more. But only if you’re easy to work with and have the skills necessary to back it up.
If you can play guitar, maybe learn piano. If you can play piano, learn the guitar. If you consider yourself a rhythm guitarist, learn to play tasteful leads. If you sing lead, learn to sing backup. See if you can pick up some bass and djembe as well.
Through the years, I’ve been called upon as a rhythm guitarist, lead guitarist, bassist, backup vocalist, and more. And because I was locked and loaded, I was asked to join other artists on stage many, many times. This often led to gigs, opening slots, guest appearances, and more.
At a singer-songwriter open mic night, for instance, you can easily double, triple, and even quadruple your stage time simply by being available and being the kind of musician others like to work with.
If you complement others well, a performance at the local café can quickly turn into a tornado of opportunities.
This also tends to solve the problem of trying to make it on your own, doing everything by yourself, and relying on your own draw and skills to grow your career. You can work with others and leverage their draw and skills as well.
Growing as a solo artist is often a collaborative effort, and if you make it a point to look out for opportunities to work with others, you will go further faster.
#2 – Lay the Relational Groundwork
Like step #1, you might think this is all about collaboration, and while you might be presented with such opportunities, there’s more to this than meets the eye.
Eventually, I got to a point in my solo career where it was extremely ineffective for me to seek out and book my own gigs. I came to rely primarily on my contacts, who usually led bands of their own.
These contacts were either well-acquainted with the local scene or were constantly engaged in their own research and legwork, that if they came across opportunities that were better suited to solo performers, they would notify me.
And because of their endorsement, it was easy booking gigs with venues who already had a sense of who I was.
If you don’t put effort into building relationships locally, and even all over, you won’t ever be in the position where others are recommending you. So, some legwork is par for the course.
You may need to do favors for others. You may need to play in a few bands, even if it’s just to fill in for a member who couldn’t be present.
But long-term, you can get to the point where you rarely if ever need to book your own gigs because of the relationships you’ve built.
Other relationships that can be of immense help include the staff of guitar or music stores, universities and colleges, churches, and more.
#3 – Grow & Solidify Your Portfolio
This is about more than just writing and recording new songs. As you’re about to see, growing and solidifying your portfolio is all-encompassing ongoing work.
The truth of the matter is that you just never know what accomplishments or credentials might end up building your reputation.
Some of it is predictable, like quotes and testimonials from notable industry people, being played on mainstream radio, performing at notable festivals, and so on.
But for others, the fact that you performed with one of their favorite obscure singer-songwriters might end up being the hinge that swings doors open.
One summer, I was looking to book a gig during Stampede time in Calgary. I’d heard rumors of how lucrative gigs could be that time of year.
Once I set my sights on a specific venue, I dropped by and talked to the owner. I came prepared with an envelope in hand. That envelope contained my demos as well as my resume as a musician, which at the time, would have shown that I had played over 100 shows. It also included a list of cover songs that were in my repertoire.
It’s safe to say I got the gig, as no one was willing to go to those lengths to get the gig.
In this instance, my archivist tendencies paid off. I was rewarded for keeping a record of the work I’d done to that point.
The point is that everything you do could end up being the credibility indicator you need to land your next opportunity.
So, play shows, collect quotes and testimonials, record and release more music, do co-writes, get on the radio, get your music reviewed, give interviews, make videos, build out your website, write blog posts… you get the idea.
If you want to create more leverage for yourself, build out your portfolio.
Everyone must start somewhere, but if you’re listening to this right now, chances are you’ve already made some progress in your career as a solo artist.
But you aren’t where you want to be yet because you haven’t honed your craft to the degree that you need to, you haven’t created a strong foundation of relationships, and your portfolio needs to be further developed.
This all takes time and effort. The good news is you can take it one step at a time.
Once you’ve done the work:
- You’ll be presented with more opportunities
- You’ll be able to maximize the results from your live performances
- You’ll be exposed to a larger audience
- Your reputation will precede you
- You’ll get more gigs as result of word of mouth, referrals, and recommendations
- Doors that previously didn’t open for you will begin to open
- You won’t have to work as hard for gigs and opportunities
- Your music income will increase
- Your fan base will steadily grow
- You’ll be able to enjoy your creativity and passion more
- You’ll achieve a greater sense of fulfillment
But remember… If you don’t act, you won’t enjoy any of these benefits. Not to mention, you’ll need to live with the regret that you could have put in the work to make your dreams a reality.
So, if you’re ready to get into action, I want to invite you to the newly renovated Music Entrepreneur HQ. It’s still a work in progress, but we’ve put a lot of work into simplifying the site, helping you find what you’re looking for, and adding a lot of incredible, exclusive, high value music business resources you’re just not going to find anywhere else. So, visit MusicEntrepreneurHQ.com and let us know your thoughts.
This has been episode 236 of The New Music Industry Podcast. I’m David Andrew Wiebe, and I look forward to seeing you on the stages of the world.