10 Ways to Ruin Your Music Career

There is no shortage of people who can give you great advice on what to do to further your music career, including me. That’s what this magazine and these columns are all about, really. Whether it’s improving your live bookings, increasing your sync opportunities, raising your stream counts, improving your gear, refining your recording techniques, developing release strategies, etc., any independent musician can be overwhelmed by the sheer amount of consulting and hot tips available on what TO DO.

Each of these come with some level of expertise. For instance, I can tell you exactly how to run an FB/IG ad campaign: defining your audience set, utilizing pixel tracking, techniques for ad placement, and so much more. However, I can’t control what your budget is, nor your artistic expertise for the actual creative of the ad content. Similarly, I can help you with techniques to increase your booking opportunities, but I have no control over how good your actual live show is or how hard you hustle to promote your shows.

Sometimes it’s better to tell you what NOT TO DO. It’s just simpler. With that in mind, here are some universal ways to ruin a music career in one way or another.

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Be a Jerk to Other Bands

Spend your time ripping on other musicians. Make fun of what crappy players they are. Poke fun at other bands and their gear when they are starting out. Definitely make sure you comment on how other artists look and the clothes they wear.  Make sure to be that guy who goes to shows, sits in the back, and makes snarky comments about every other band in the scene thinking you look cool. For bonus points, when talking to managers, bookers, or mixers, talk shit about the other bands you are playing with and how much better your band is.

This will make you look cooler and better than all the other bands who may help you in the future.

Be Unreliable

Show up late to soundcheck whenever possible. Your bandmates and the mixer will really love that. Take forever to load in and load out so that it inconveniences the other bands and causes time delays. Cancel rehearsals at the last minute by coming up with lame excuses. Never learn your parts before rehearsals, always come in with questions and waste a lot of time trying to learn parts while everyone else is there. Take a few days, or more, to answer a booking inquiry so that the agent has no idea whether you’re available. Half-ass show promotion by only doing the bare minimum. Run over late on your set times by not actually timing your show and then bitch about how you deserve a headlining spot.

If no one can count on you, then no one ever will.

Don’t Respect Women

When you deal with women in the scene, talk down to them about gear or musical techniques so everyone knows you assume they don’t know what they’re doing. Treat all women as sexual objects, make sexual remarks about their body. Ask if they are married or single, they love that! Try your pickup lines on that booking agent. Flirt with the PR rep because you think that will make her feel good. If you are dealing with a woman who is a producer or mixer, definitely mansplain their process to them. If there is a female band member, make sure you say something like, “She’s a good bass player…and hot.” Oh, definitely treat your female fans with disrespect by not being honest about where you stand on relationships and hookups, and then ghost them. This goes for women in other bands, too.

Sadly, this is so damn prevalent, even now. The lack of respect for women as peers is still a huge problem in our industry (and really the country) at all levels. No matter who you are or where you are in your career, you need to be a force for change. We all do. It doesn’t matter whether your band has women in it or not, women are an important part of the industry.

So, if you really want to screw up, disrespect women.

Only Post About Your Music

Always post about how amazing your music is. Use social media to only talk about your songs and upcoming shows because fans absolutely love that. Beg and plead people to pre-save your new song which they have never heard and have no idea what it’s about. Post about that one big gig you had years ago with something like, “remember this show, that one time we opened for (so-and-so) that was a blast!” Definitely tell your fans to help share your music and upcoming gigs all the time with no incentive or thanks. Continually hammer people to buy tickets to an upcoming show without telling them that it’s going to be the same songs they’ve seen you perform before. Do not post funny or interesting things to entertain your followers. Stick just to the music, especially if you can flog older releases for years at a time.

By only posting about music, you can play it safe and never have a controversial opinion or become interesting as more than just a musician.

Piss Off Music Supervisors

You got a music supervisor or licensing contact’s email. Great, you may be close to a deal which might break your music to millions. You are just sure your music is perfect for them. What do you do next? Well, if you want to burn that relationship, here is your roadmap. Send them an email attachment of music. Send them a piece of music with uncleared samples. Make sure to not have split sheets outlining writing percentages, or PRO information to share. When sending a link to music, make sure it’s not labeled correctly and, if possible, a low-res mp3. Send them a link to your album or WHOLE catalog and say, “I think you’ll find something you like here.” And when you don’t hear back from them, make sure to email or call them multiple times bugging them for an answer. When they don’t answer, send them one more passive aggressive email stating that “it’s their loss” or that “it’s not too much to ask for a response.”

This way, none of these supervisors or licensors will ever work with you again– but the real kicker is that they will never tell you why.

Show Up Drunk to Everything

Drink to excess during rehearsals. Show up to the show a little too wasted and don’t pay attention at soundcheck. Get so messed up on your day off that you forget to answer fan messages or take booking calls. Do too many shots during your set so that your playing or singing is affected and maybe make sure to yell at the drummer on stage. Make sure to party so hard you say something inappropriate at a show, and if possible, get into a fight with other bands, or better yet, fans!

Accountants don’t get drink tickets when they get to work. There are no 3am afterparties for bank tellers after their job is finished on the weekend. So, live it up.

But to truly screw up, perhaps you can get to the point of not being able to function live. That would definitely ruin your career, as well as that of your bandmates. To be clear, we take addiction seriously and urge anyone facing substance abuse issues to seek help. What we’re talking about here are the bozos who feel like they need to be absolutely trashed in order to maintain a BS rock star image that impresses no one.

Be a Major Label Hater

Rip on the big, bad “Major Labels” by calling them gatekeepers or money-hungry scammers. Make sure everyone knows that if your project had that much money you’d be just as famous and popular. Talk about how there’s nothing a label can do that you can’t. Call them “corporations,” but use it as a slur. It’s not just enough to support independent musicians, make sure to keep them from ever growing beyond their tiny scene by dissuading them from growth because they would be “selling out.” Talk down about commercial radio stations, big tour promoters, music marketers, and more. If you can, make sure to really slam music lawyers as blood-sucking vampires, and do it in public.

This will ensure that you never have to deal with national-level success.

Never Change

Play the same set of songs for years in your own scene. Do not change it up and add new music. Use the same jokes and lines in your stage show. See, fans who follow you will become accustomed to paying over and over and over for the same show. Same goes for the bar staff and managers, they will appreciate that same tired-ass gig you perform. Hell, wear the same show clothes too! Never change up your guitar or bass tones on recordings to add texture or personality to certain songs, just set it and forget it. If you’re a singer, do not try to increase your range or the quality of your tone. Do not change up the band promo, update bios, or EPKs. Do not invest in new equipment and keep playing guitars that go out of tune.

If you never change then you never have to grow, and you won’t have to please those pesky new fans!

Waste Your Time

Once you get a little success in your local scene, try not to grow. Don’t do bigger shows. Don’t try to partner with other bands. Don’t go out and support other artists because you are above that sort of thing. Definitely do not work on new music all the time. Prevent your band from rehearsing on a regular basis once you’ve been together for a while so you don’t accidently get better as a unit or come up with new material. Do not release new recordings. Why would you interact online with people and try to gain new followers and fans? You already have a few hundred, I’m sure that’s plenty. Spend no time reading articles or watching videos learning about the business of music publishing, marketing, or recording techniques. If you are a songwriter, no need to write new songs until you absolutely have to. Why be an artist when you can just mail it in? You absolutely do not want to get mired down in being thoughtful about what is going on in the music industry nationally or globally. Just coast.

This all will solidify you as a local act, and therefore, you’ll never have to deal with growing your band or pleasing new fans!

Lie, Lie, Lie

By far, the best thing you can do to ruin your music career is to lie. Lie about the amount of people you can bring to a show when a booking agent is inquiring. Lie about how many people are streaming or buying your new music. Be as dishonest as you can with promoters and PR people about the strength of your live show. Lie to the press about your upcoming project and the plans you have to promote it. Lie to producers about your ability to record quickly and precisely and how talented you are. Lie to your fans about when new music is coming out and how all of these major industry people are interested in your project. Lie to yourself about how little you need to practice. Lie to yourself about your deficiencies as a performer or songwriter. Lie to your bandmates about their performances. Lie to significant others about your plans for the future.

Lie, Lie, Lie. The bigger the better. After all, who’s gonna know?


Michael St. James is the founder and creative director of St. James Media, specializing in music licensing, publishing, production and artist development.

**Main image by Ashley Webb, used under a Creative Commons 2.0 license. 

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