Let’s be honest with each other: just knowing how to start a career in music, or a career in any industry, can be the first major challenge that deters us and makes us decide that a 9-5 job doesn’t look so bad after all.
Making the decision to set out on a journey to establish a sustainable and profitable music career can be both exciting and frustrating. The music industry is a dynamic and competitive landscape (and that’s putting it nicely), but with the right strategy, dedication, and a dose of creativity, you can pave your way to success.
Whether you’re a singer, songwriter, or instrumentalist, here are the first three crucial steps to master when starting your music career. And when I say master, I really mean master. Just merely “doing” so you can check them off your to-do list will result in an immediate loss of momentum, leading to failure before you even begin.
Take the time to learn how to do these things right and well. The payoff will be well worth the effort.
FIRST: Discover You and Your Unique Musical Identity
No one experiences overnight success, going viral instantly, or instant fame because of their social status. Knowing how to start a career in music that’s rooted in your heart, intuition, soul, and life experiences is how you establish the human, humble, and relatable aspects of your music.
Before you even begin to think about or tinker with the world of music promotion and networking, you have to figure out 2 core things:
- YOUR PERSONAL WHY: Why are you doing this? Why are you so passionate about music? Being clear and understanding your true purpose for pursuing music will keep you grounded when the journey gets tough, or you need to make decisions about opportunities that may seem amazing but don’t respect the reason you chose music as a job. This also helps you get into the right mindsets that act as the load-bearing wall for your career: “growth” mindset rather than a “fixed” mindset, and a “ready” mindset rather than a “not ready” mindset.
- YOUR UNIQUE MUSICAL ABILITY: It’s required that you have a clear understanding of your unique musical identity. What sets you apart from other artists? What is your distinct sound or style? Defining your musical identity will not only guide your creative process but also help you attract a dedicated fan base.
Here are some baby steps you can apply to work through these two requirements:
Take time to explore your heart and soul, musical preferences, influences, and strengths.
- What outside of yourself draws you to this industry or skillset?
- What type of music resonates with you the most? Do you feel more connected to acoustic melodies or electronic beats?
- Are your lyrics introspective or storytelling?
Understanding yourself, your connection with what you are truly meant to do with your life, and your musical preferences will shape the foundation of your artistic journey. That’s how to start a career in music that you will never get bored with or distracted from.
Don’t be afraid to experiment with different genres and styles.
This can help you discover unexpected elements that resonate with your personal style. Collaborating with other musicians or producers who align with your personal values and “why” can also expose you to fresh perspectives and ideas, all while working toward the same vision and purpose.
While experimentation is encouraged, consistency is key to establishing a recognizable identity. Your audience should be able to identify your music even when you explore different genres. This consistency will make it easier for fans, especially your True Fans (those who truly subscribe to your “why” and support you unconditionally), to connect with your work and gifts over time.
NEXT: Pull Your Art and Brand Together By Creating High-Quality Original Content
Once you’ve honed in on what aligns your musical identity with you as a musician on a personal mission, it’s time to focus on creating compelling and high-quality original material. This content will be the cornerstone of your music career, allowing you to showcase your talent, share your gifts, and attract an engaged and devoted audience that resonates and understands what you are trying to do.
Give Your Heart to the Songwriting and Composition Process
Craft well-written and emotionally resonant songs. Focus on both the lyrics and the melody, ensuring they work harmoniously to convey your message. Don’t rush the songwriting process; give your ideas time to develop. Remember you are creating art first and an offering for generating income second. Your music shouldn’t be created solely for financial gain.
Care About Your the Quality of your Recordings
The quality of your recordings can make or break your music career. Invest in a good home recording setup or work with a professional studio to ensure that your music sounds polished and professional. High-quality recordings will make your music more appealing to casual listeners and your True Fans alike. It’s a bonus if the music industry professionals take notice, but it shouldn’t be one of the criteria for your record quality.
Establish a Solid Visual Identity and Brand
In today’s visually driven world, your image and branding play a significant role in attracting attention and awareness from casual listeners looking for new music to resonate with and enjoy. Design a visually appealing logo, album artwork, and social media graphics that reflect your musical style. Consistency in your visual identity will make you more memorable to your audience, so ensure all your profiles and visual representations match. When someone sees you on Spotify and again on SoundCloud, they should know immediately that it’s the same artist.
LAST: Become an Influencer By Building an Online Presence
Building a strong online presence is essential for any emerging artist who wants to survive and thrive in the digital age. The internet offers a powerful platform to connect with fans, share your music, and gain awareness for your brand and art.
Meet and Engage with Your Audience on Social Media
Create profiles on popular social media platforms that resonate with your target audience. Whether it’s Instagram, TikTok, Twitter, or others, engage with your followers by sharing behind-the-scenes content, updates about your music, and personal insights. Respond to comments and messages to foster a sense of community.
But at the end of the day, remember that social media platforms are only the parties you attend to meet and network with potential fans and True Fans. You should always build your own home to invite them back to after the party is over.
Use Music Streaming Platforms as a Tool, Not a Revenue Source
Utilize music streaming platforms like Spotify, Apple Music, and SoundCloud to distribute your music to a global audience. Take advantage of playlist placements and algorithmic recommendations by optimizing your song titles, descriptions, and metadata.
But a word of warning when it comes to streaming platforms: if you’re like every other musician on the planet, you are going to default to seeing these platforms as a revenue source, even if they don’t make you any real money.
Instead, look at these platforms as if they were Google’s organic search for music. They are great for discovery and allow you to associate your music with playlists, pre-saves, and other features that help people learn and hear about you. But they are awful revenue channels, so don’t treat them that way. You will be far less disappointed in them if you do.
Be Present Where Your Fans Are With Creative Content Creation
In addition to your music, create other types of content to keep your existing audience engaged and allow new listeners to find and experience what you have to offer. This could include vlogs, acoustic performances, cover songs, online music lessons and review, or even tutorials related to music production. Diversifying your content can attract a wider range of followers.
As an artist, remember that you are naturally creative! Come up with fresh and innovative ways to deliver value to new and True Fans alike. The more human and personable your offerings, the more community you’ll build. If you never act like a major brand, but an approachable human being, your brand will influence many people and fans. And that’s how to start a career in music that will last for years to come.
By mastering these first three crucial and essential legs of your journey, you’ll be in a much better place when establishing a strong foundation for your music career.
Remember that success in music takes time and dedication. Stay true to your unique musical identity, consistently create high-quality content, and actively engage with your audience online and offline.
As you continue to grow and evolve as an artist, these foundational steps will serve as the bedrock of your flourishing music career.
WORDS OF ADVICE FROM MY HEART TO YOURS: If your heart and intuition are truly in it for your unique musical identity, your desire to share a gift with the world, and your love of building community with your fans, I highly recommend (maybe even require) that you do this for the length of your career without a record label or any kind of contract with larger representation.
The reason why you set out on a music career will change and/or be taken away from you almost immediately, so I encourage you to stay true to yourself and your art. You will ultimately be happier doing it for the music and fans, not for the money and fame. That’s how you start and grow a career in music you will love.