How to Become A Successful Musician in The Contemporary Music Scene

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Throughout the years, the music industry has been changing drastically. In just about every decade or so, you can really feel the change in how it operates. Whether it’s the type of music being made, how money is being made from it, or even how it’s being played, nothing has stayed the same.

If you’re a musician in these times, it may feel like you have to get accustomed to change quickly. What qualified for success a couple of years ago may not really apply today. And the advice you get from your senior peers might only apply to their own time. 

So how do you make your mark as a musician in the contemporary music scene? Well, that’s what we’re here to try and answer today.

While there might not be a quickset formula to propel to new heights, certainly there are things that you can pay attention to if you want to inch closer to success. With that in mind, here are some of the things you should be looking at. 

Find Out What’s Relevant

The first step to entering something new is always to try and understand it. And, of course, this ties in nicely to the music scene too. It might be easy to feel apathetic or averse towards what’s new in music, but it can really help to try and take a look at it. 

A great way to start is to look at what kind of music is being listened to. This means following the charts, looking at streaming sites, checking out social media, asking around, and just generally keeping your ear to the ground.

Anything that you find can be useful somehow, whether it’s new artists, genres, styles, trends, listening habits, marketing approaches, etc. All of these have a habit of being cycled in and out as the years pass, so it’s helpful to study them. 

Keep in mind that this doesn’t mean you necessarily have to follow the latest trend in music. Even if playing classic styles of music is your jam, it doesn’t hurt to express that music from a more informed perspective. And in most cases, it can even help you grow to be more musically mature.

Know the Right People

It doesn’t matter if you gig, make records, teach, or do session work; networking is the be-all-end-all approach to it. You’d be amazed at how a chance encounter or referral can lead to a career-defining moment for you.

At first, it may seem a bit overwhelming if you’ve never had many dealings with people. That’s why the best approach is to start small and build your way. Before you think of making global connections, you have to start locally. 

Start with one person, branch out with their circle, get a good idea of the local scene, conquer your area, then your city, and so on. You only need to move up the ladder with each step once you feel comfortable.

It helps if you happen to specialize in something. If you’re the only Jazz bassist in a city chock full of guitarists, then you can imagine how that desirability will make you the go-to guy when someone needs bass for their gig. 

Be the Reason People Stick Around

Musical relevancy will always drive different artists to stand out at different times. But there are always examples of artists that never go out of style. Through their creative influence, they make a permanent name for themselves in the scene. And guess what? So, can you.

Sometimes, defining what it means to be a successful artist can start with branding yourself. Regardless of the kind of music that is popular at a certain time, there will always be an audience for something that you can offer. 

The one thing you can do to help that process along is to decide the kind of artist you want to be. Even if you fit nicely into a defined genre, sometimes it’s your specific niche that can set you apart. 

By doing this, you can separate yourself from being associated with a genre or trend. It has helped bands like the Beatles still keep diehard fans today, despite having broken up half a century ago. 

Understand How to Get Your Music Out There

One of the effects of a changing industry is how processes and workflows get altered too. For music, this means how albums get released and promoted, which is why it’s necessary to keep up. 

Right off the bat, you want to explore all the options for releasing your music. Whether it’s Spotify, Deezer, Bandcamp, YouTube, iTunes, or Google Music, you should be aware of the process and experience. 

Alongside this, it’s also helpful to understand how you should be tackling promotion. Since you’re not selling physical records, it wouldn’t make sense to just start plastering posters. Instead, you want to focus on your pre-release and post-release plans for your digital marketing.

 This means posting teasers, having photoshoots, building hype, providing exclusive benefits, etc.

Once you have a good idea of the basic process, you can start thinking about experimenting with different approaches. This will help you find the best tactic that works for you. 

Be Willing to Be Unconventional

Naturally, because the music industry is so rapidly being redefined, so is what it means to be a musician. Today, there are plenty of opportunities for musicians to branch out in different ways. So, it makes sense to try and separate yourself from the herd.

Before you make any definitive decisions, it might make sense to decide where you want to go with your music. Do you want to make music or just play it? Are you more into performance or just recording? Do you see yourself in a teaching position or doing session work?

After you can find yourself landing on a clear answer, you should consider diving into more niche positions. For example, if you want to be a performer, you’re not just limiting yourself to playing gigs or busking. You can also take advantage of streaming platforms like Twitch, making videos on YouTube, or posting snippets on Instagram.

But why stop there? Maybe combine one of your other interests with your music ability. If you’re a gamer, you might benefit from doing something with video game music. If you’re into DIY, you could branch into making your own instruments or effects pedals. 

The point is, there’s a market and an audience for virtually anything these days. Don’t let your fear of acceptance prevent you from doing what you want. Use it to empower your ability to be unconventional. 

Learn to Manage Expectations

In new situations, it can be hard to orient yourself when all you have are dated reference points. Any inclination of success from the previous decade won’t apply as accurately now. And this makes for some confusion when trying to keep expectations. 

A good way around this is to try and keep concrete goals for yourself. Keeping smaller immediate goals will help become your stepping stones for the larger long term goals. For example, you might want 50 plays on your new song to start with, gradually you’d want this to increase to 1000 in the next couple of months, and eventually, you might want to hit a definitive target like 100k.

It’s also important to remember that you can only achieve as much as the cap on your specific genre or niche. Getting 50,000 album sales might not be great for something like a pop album, but they’re killer numbers for a smaller lo-fi artist.

Regardless of your goals, it’s important to keep things like your reach and popularity ceiling in mind. This will help you set realistic expectations without having to needlessly feel like you undershot your goals. 

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Automate the Right Things

Owing to the way things have evolved, being a musician means a lot more than just playing music. You also have to incorporate other roles into yourself like being a producer, promoter, sound engineer, stage technician, tour manager, publicist, and more. 

The big problem with tackling this many roles at the same time is overburdening yourself. If you don’t portion out those susceptibilities elsewhere, you’re risking yourself with serious burnout. For a creative person, this is one of the worst things to inflict yourself with. 

That’s why it’s so important to automate the right things. These can be things like social media posts, publishing songs on different platforms, ticketing services for concerts, etc. Luckily, there are plenty of options today to figure out how to do this on a day to day basis. 

Be Impatient with Your Efforts But Patient with Your Results

In line with keeping the right expectations, it’s essential to know the balance of the crucial ratio of time and effort to get the maximum possible output. So how do you do it?

If you are reading this, chances are you already have some trepidation about your path to success. It doesn’t help that a lot of the advice you might get from your peers is to keep working hard. The only problem with that advice is you don’t know how hard or long you need to keep working.

An alternative to this “as long as it takes” mentality is to accept that you’ll need to have a dual sensed strategy for your efforts. That means trying to be patient with the fact that you will have to see your results over the course of a longer period of time. But also that you shouldn’t let that let you be complacent with your situation.

Applying the mentality means hustling in the short term to meet your goals with consistent efforts. And then being easy going towards seeing those results when they come to fruition. 

Keep Going Out to Live Gigs

Believe it or not, live gigs can make a world of difference in your musical success. So many artists of our time have started their careers off of being found from a live performance. For the contemporary scene, it’s crucial to getting noticed. 

Even if you don’t plan on playing or being a performer, going live on the side can really help things along. Here are some wise words of wisdom from Dave Grohl on the matter of live gigs:

“…I don’t understand where music is headed. I just know that when you walk into a club and you see a band that blows you away, you are going to follow that band. You’re going to either buy their CD or find them online, or you’re going to see them the next time they come to play…”

The right way to get into the habit of playing live is having a minimum time threshold. Now, you don’t necessarily have to follow Malcolm Gladwell’s 10,000 rule here. Just as long as you can dedicate an hour a week, then you should be alright. 

Artistic mediums like music can never exist in a vacuum. An artist that can be seen and heard is able to contribute to the contemporary scene by having their music heard and inspiring others. That’s why it might be a good idea to have your music leave your bedroom every now and then for the live stage.

Be Accessible

Being seen and heard is one thing; being approachable is another. In the music industry, you’ll have to learn how to do both if you want a good chance at success. 

With many artists, the biggest point of contention is not knowing if they’re available to play, collaborate, or sign a deal. Unfortunately, a lot of this stems from just not knowing how proactive you might have to be with your image. 

The biggest habit you’ll need to break for this is being happy with basic efforts. If you do some minor networking or promotion, that’s a great first step. But try to think about how you’ll follow it up. More importantly, think about how that will make you accessible if someone is looking out.

If you’re still unsure, a good first exercise is to try and integrate yourself on as many major social networking platforms as possible. Then, try to operate them based on the individual strategies of the platform. It will help you read the room better and get in a better place of understanding.

Closing Thoughts

Making it in the world of music in any capacity is a wild dream to come true. But doing it in the contemporary scene is a whole other ball game. 

You need to be really aware of where you are, where the scene is, and where you are in relation to the scene. But luckily, if you’ve been reading so far, then you’ll have a good idea to get the cogs in your head turning in the right direction. 

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