How To Start A Music Career And Break Into The Music Industry
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Do you need some immediate help on how to start a music career?
When you're trying to make it in music and become a professional musician...
... there are many things you can do that help you start a music career.
This is why most musicians feel overwhelmed trying to decide what they should do first, second and third to increase their likelihood to make it in music.
Yet, there are 4 specific things that not only help you to break into the music industry when you're starting out...
... but also help you grow your career over the long term and become more successful.
(No matter at what level you are in the music industry.)
If you do those 4 things - you give yourself the best possible chance to become a professional musician.
(Especially when you are just trying to start a music career.)
Here are 4 key things you can begin to focus on right now to start to break into the music industry:
Tip #1 For How To Make It In Music: Practice To Become A Professional Musician
Continuously work on improving your musical skills. But before you think, “That’s obvious. Tell me something I don’t know”, there are important things to consider about how this helps you become a professional musician.
It’s not necessarily about learning more techniques, improving your guitar speed or increasing the size of your chord vocabulary. Think about what a professional musician really needs to know and do to make it in music.
Playing your instrument well at home is one thing, but playing well consistently in the studio or on stage is completely different. Thus, when you start a music career, the training and practicing required to play well in those professional environments are also very different (if you want to successfully break into the music industry).
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Yes, you should continue to improve your overall musical skills, but if you want to start a successful music career you will need to specifically practice your ability to play well consistently in a variety of higher-pressure situations.
Amateurs (who struggle to break into the music industry) practice something to get it right.
Professionals (who manage to make it in music) practice to never get it wrong.
So, the next time you practice your guitar, instead of trying to play something faster or learn something new, focus on playing whatever you can already play consistently well.
That is what will help you become a professional musician a lot faster.
Think about a professional guitar player like Eric Clapton.
He’s not a great technical guitar player at all, his knowledge of music theory is probably not vast, but one of the reasons why he has been able to make it in music in his early days (and continues to be successful today) is because he can play on his own level ‘consistently well’ every night in any environment.
How do you build musical consistency as you try to start a music career and become a professional musician?
Here are some ways to do it:
Practice under stress.
Play your instrument while standing. Play while walking around. Play with unfamiliar instrument settings and tone. Play with your eyes closed. Practice at slightly faster tempos than you'll need for the show.
Play through mistakes
Nobody plays at 100% during a show. Nobody.
You'd better practice managing your mistakes if you want to become a professional musician.
Practice carrying on and continuing to play as if the mistake didn't happen. One way to do this is deliberately insert mistakes into your musical parts.
This not only helps you practice playing through mistakes, but also trains you to control your emotions when mistakes happen. Which is another one of the musical skills you need to make it in music.
(Note: of course, only insert mistakes briefly. After 1-2 repetitions of a part with the mistake, go back to playing it correctly.
Bonus idea: imitate (or exaggerate) the conditions you will encounter while practicing your instrument as you practice to become a professional musician.
Here are a few examples (not every example may apply to you or your instrument specifically, but the principle applies to anyone who wants to break into the music industry).
Practicing To Perform Music While Standing:
In most real-life musical situations, you will stand to play your instrument. Playing while standing is harder than playing while sitting. So, practicing while standing helps you to train for performing in that way... a skill you need to become a professional musician.
Practicing While Moving Around:
Good live performance requires movement. Simply playing the correct notes is not enough. Moving your body while playing helps you express yourself better.
Practicing With Your Eyes Closed:
Most musicians are way too dependent on watching their hands every second when they play their instrument. You might not always be able to see your hands when playing on stage. Sometimes the stage might be pitch-dark, other times a blinding light might be in your face. Practicing with your eyes closed makes you less dependent on your eyesight. This helps you play well even when you can’t see yourself clearly.
Note: Don’t expect to play perfectly with your eyes closed. You will make a lot more mistakes than usual (especially at first). This is normal. Don’t become stressed out. The goal is to improve your ability to play without looking at your hands. The more you practice with your eyes closed, the more consistent your playing becomes and the more confident you feel as you work to start a music career.
Practicing At A Faster Tempo:
Playing music at a faster tempo to make the original speed feel a lot easier and helps you play reliably without mistakes.
Make a list of common things that go wrong during shows and practice them as you work to become a professional musician and break into the music industry.
Identify the musical parts or situations on stage that cause you to make the most mistakes. Make a list of them. And practice simulating these situations as much as possible during practice. This makes the challenging situations more familiar (and easier to deal with) as you practice to become a professional musician and break into the music industry.
Question: “But Tom Hess, it’s impossible to account for all the mistakes that may happen when I'm playing live! How is this exercise going to help me break into the music industry, let alone – make it in music?”
Answer: Of course, and the point of this exercise is NOT to “account for all the mistakes that may happen when playing live”. It’s to close the gap between your perfect playing (when you practice to become a professional musician by playing music at home) and your real-life performance on stage.
You close the gap by becoming aware of what mistakes do happen and taking action to correct them as you practice to start your music career.
In addition to the consistency factor just mentioned, there are other things professionals practice that most guitar players typically don’t implement in their practicing. This is why the pros are able to make it in music and amateurs are not. For example, having a really good ear is something that professional musicians rely on heavily, yet most guitar players don’t dedicate practice time to develop their aural skills.
Tip #2 For How To Make It In Music: Improve Your Recordings
If your music skills are good and your songs are good it might be all for nothing if your recordings suck.
Yes – your recordings can make or break your chances to start a music career and make it in music.
You do not have to invest huge amounts of money to record in a great studio to make it in music. Nor do you have to invest huge amounts of money in a great home studio to start a music career. That said, you DO need the playing on your recordings to sound tight (making everything rhythmically perfect, appropriate dynamic playing, etc.)!
Do NOT make the mistake of thinking, oh this is only a demo, so tight playing is not that critical when making a simple demo... I assure you, IT IS!
Virtually anyone in the music industry today who hears your music will immediately notice if the performance recording is not tight. And if it’s not, they won’t be interested in helping you break into the music industry and start a music career. Why? Because your “demo” is supposed to show others both your songs and your musical abilities.
The assumption will be that if your demo is not tight, then your live sound will be amateurish. Thus, putting you in the studio will cost a fortune when you have to play something 500 times to get it right. This means (to the gatekeepers in the music industry) that you’re not yet ready to become a professional musician.
So if you want to start a successful music career, you should practice recording yourself frequently in order to make your studio playing as tight as possible.
Tip #3 For How To Make It In Music: Improve Your Live Playing
It’s been said that successful music careers are built on the stage.
While not all musicians start a music career this way, it is true that your live playing and your stage presence is a critical component and can make or break your chances of developing a music career.
Record companies want bands that can sell themselves from the stage.
That means when a band plays live people listening should want to actually buy the band’s music, and all other band related merchandise.
It’s a fact that your fans will buy more during and after a great live show than after a mediocre one even if the songs played are exactly the same. The music industry (or successful bands you might like to join) look very closely at your ability to create a great live show experience for audiences.
Most musicians and amateur bands don’t truly work to improve their live performance skills.
Great live playing is much more than simply playing songs while standing (and hoping not to make mistakes)… yet for the majority of local musicians and bands this is all they really seem to focus on when playing live.
Tip #4 For How To Make It In Music: Build The Right Kind Of Fan base
If you want to get signed to a major record label, which do you think is better?
A. To have 5,000 fans in your country (or around the world).
B. To have 5,000 fans in your local area only.
The answer is “B”. It is much easier to get 5,000 fans around the country (or the entire world) than it is to get 5,000 fans in your local area.
Everyone in the music industry knows this (including record companies).
If you sold 5,000 copies worldwide of your new album on your own, that is good accomplishment, but if you sold 5,000 in your local area on your own that would be a major accomplishment in the eyes of record labels.
Why does it matter?
Record labels know that if you can sell 5,000 copies in one location on your own, then it makes sense that a record company could probably sell even more copies not only in your area but in many cities/countries. By having so many fans in one area you demonstrate to the music industry that you have a lot of proven value to offer and their willingness to invest into your music career will go way up!
Although the internet is a great tool for musicians, many artists are focusing on reaching out to the whole world at once and don’t invest enough time and energy into building a valuable local foundation of fans.
Before the internet, bands typically tried to build a strong local fan base around their city. Those that succeeded in this area where most likely to build a successful music career.
But since the internet has opened up so many new possibilities, many unsigned musicians/bands have forgotten the basics which are still very relevant to getting signed to a major record company.
Obviously, there are a lot of things you need to do to start a successful music career, but this article is designed to get you started now so that you will be in a better position to do the next steps after you have implemented the concepts above.
Here’s a quick summary of action steps to take now:
- In addition to improving your overall musical skills, practice to play ‘consistently well’ with the skills you already have.
- Practice recording yourself frequently in order to make your studio playing as tight as possible.
- Work on improving your live performance skills (stage presence, playing in totally different environments, etc.).
- Build your fan base locally as well as internationally (using different strategies for each)
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