The Best Thing You Can Do For Your Career Right Now Is…

Make great new music. It’s simple, really. No amount of marketing, licensing knowledge, recording techniques, equipment, social media following, views, clicks, or anything else will help you today as much as just making great new music (the pictured band above, Gaytheist, makes amazing music – go listen now).

I know you read this section – and this magazine – for insight and tips on how to tame this beast that we call the “music business.” (And we thank you for doing so) That is an important function, to be sure; you will not make a career without it.  But, we all too often forget the ultimate important of the music itself.

You know the saying, “The music business is 95% business and 5% music.”  That actually used to be somewhat true, but no longer. There was a day where someone could make incredible music and toil in obscurity forever because they had no idea about the business of music. However, times have changed. Today, you can record a song, put up a video on YouTube, and boom, you have worldwide distribution. It is that easy. Of course there are other places to freely post and promote your music: Bandcamp, ReverbNation, music blogs, your own page, etc. And trust me, there are literally hundreds of industry people scouring thousands of sites every day for any new song posted (I’m one of them).

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Understand that the industry constantly needs new music. We really do. That’s why your album from two years ago is not really moving the needle. You may think that if only the right person heard it, if only you had more views, if only your follower count were higher, maybe something, anything, would happen. It is my experience that it won’t.  Now, “the right place, right person” scenario WILL help you build upon success; but the music, the song, comes first.

And let’s not forget about the fans. With so many choices and channels to receive music now, music fans are even more rabid than before. When fans can listen to all of their favorite songs from the past, at anytime, on multiple sites, it actually increases their need to find new favorites. And when I say, “favorites from the past,” don’t think Led Zeppelin, Van Halen, or the Beatles – think more like Coldplay, Muse, or The Fray.  Let me crystallize that for you; I recently had a conversation with a 26-year-old who said, “I do like the classics, like Disturbed and Godsmack.” Some of you will agree with that statement, some of you will scoff, depending on your age. But I think most would agree that those are not dinosaur bands. What’s important to understand is that the list of music considered “old” or “classic” grows daily.  So, too, must new music.

This all sounds so simple, doesn’t it? Just make new, great music. I’m not telling you to stop focusing on the other important parts of being in the music game. For instance, “how” your music is produced, mixed, and mastered, absolutely will have an effect on whether or not you find success; but, once again, only if the song is great. No one cares about a low master on a shitty song. How you go about monetizing and distributing your music will obviously determine whether you can do it as a full-time job, but only if your songs are great. No one is making a living on shitty music. They’re not, and neither will you.

And for those who believe that the business of music is more important, understand that the new music business will be one of more singles. It already is. It will be dependent upon your producing newer, better music more frequently than ever before. Your career (and your fans) will demand that you give them fresh new art to experience. Revenue streams will be tied to larger catalogs.

So, if your music career is stalled, stop worrying about your business. Go back into your bedroom or rehearsal space and make new music. We must get back to the wonder of making music and stop getting so caught up in how we sell it, promote it, and exploit it. Being a creator is a gift, but also a responsibility.  Realize that you are a special person, that not everyone can even do it at all. Realize that even fewer can do it well. Realize that at every show you play, someone in the crowd would give up everything for the chance to do it just once. So, stop playing the same songs for years. Stop trying to write the perfect song, write your way to it. Start by writing a song, any song, TODAY.

Tomorrow you will be better.

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

photo by Sheila Ann Lacey

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