January 08

The Localist: Setting Concrete Goals

The start of a new decade is a good time to start setting a concrete plan for yourself as a musician.  I think a lot of people have a general idea that they want to be “successful” as a musician, but from there things get a little bit hazy.  For many musicians, the plan oftentimes appears to be little more than: (1) release music, (2) get discovered.  Which isn’t really a plan at all.  But how to expand on this?

We can start out by noting that there are many different conceptions of what success can mean for a musician.  For some, success amounts to being financially self-sufficient as a musician (i.e., not making money from a separate day job).  For others, success amounts to having their music hit a certain virality marker.  For yet others, success amounts to garnering critical recognition in relevant music outlets.  For even yet others, success amounts to being part of a vibrant community of musicians.  However you want to conceptualize what success means for you, it is important to come to grips as to what you mean by success, because developing a concrete plan for one type of success is going to be very different from a concrete plan for another type of success.

Take the conception of success that you’ve developed for yourself, and take an afternoon developing steps that take you from the place where you’re at to the place where you’d like to go.  Some of the intermediate steps are obvious – for the most part, you’ll be writing music and releasing it.  But how does the writing process go, and how does the release process go?  It’s important that when you set out the steps in your plan, the preceding steps need to *explain* how it is that you get to the next step.  Say that your goal is to increase your Spotify listeners to a certain level.  You decide to pick a release strategy of releasing a series of singles.  Do you have any reason to believe that the strategy will achieve that goal?  Do you know of anyone for whom that strategy has worked?  If you’re having trouble confidently answering these types of questions, that’s where you have gaps in your plan.

What can you do about gaps?  One thing to do is to look at the careers of similar musicians as a guide to laying out a concrete path for yourself.  Google that musician.  Where did they get their music written up in?  Do they have a management company?  Do they have a publicist?  Do they have a radio promo company?  If that musician has a career arc that you want to follow, these are probably steps that you need to put into your plan.  The careers of other musicians are a good evidence-based guide to understanding the steps that are involved in moving your own career along.  Of course, as you draft out steps in your plan, you will find points where naturally the connections between the steps are still hazy.  Those are the points where additional research may be helpful.  Do you know people who work in the music industry that can answer your questions?  It’s important to note that many musicians play hide-the-ball with steps, so even after doing a fair bit of research, you will end up with gaps.  Talk with friends about your plan, and where the gaps are and see if they can provide additional information.

It’s important to note that if there is any point in the process where a step involves *someone else* discovering or finding you, then that step is, in fact, a gap.  There are many decision-makers in the music business, but as a general rule, they are so overwhelmed with options of musicians to help, that there is no reason for them to make the effort to try and find you.  You have to make efforts to do whatever it is you need to do to get on their radar.  In fact, as a general rule, even when you manage to find people who want to work with you, you will still need to do the work to make sure that they are doing the things you want to get done.  This is to say, there is no point at which you get discovered and don’t need to make a plan.

If you’re able to come up with a substantive plan, then start calendaring and implementing that plan.  Make sure, of course, that the calendaring sounds realistic, and as part of that, make sure that for any step that you’re calendared, you’ve also calendared all of the prior steps that lead up to that point.  Say, for instance, that you are planning a record release – if so, you need to make sure that you’re familiar with all the steps involved in executing that, and have given yourself sufficient time to prepare.  See e.g., a sample Timeline for Scheduling Release of a Record.

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The Localist is a column focusing on issues relating to aspiring local musicians in New York City. In his free time, the author performs as St. Lenox. St. Lenox’s most recent record, “Ten Fables of Young Ambition and Passionate Love” was placed on Best Albums lists at Pop Matters and AllMusic. AllMusic credits St. Lenox with “some of the most unique and unconventionally thrilling pop music in the late 2010s.”