Blogging Til I Win a Grammy: Day 668

Post #36 of ANNIE B.’s D.I.Y. MAGAZINE:  Is It Harder to Learn How To Be A Successful Artist Than To Learn How To Be A Neurosurgeon?

I recently had this conversation with another musician friend of mine who had owned his own label, and the label did not last as long as he wanted it to.  This guy has been in the music business for years and years, and with the people he knows and the experience he has under his belt, you’d think he could have a successful record label.  Well, the fact is, there are no proven courses or degrees at any schools on how to have your own successful career in the music business.  Sure, there are classes you can take at colleges all over the U.S. (especially in Los Angeles), there are seminars and conferences (such as SXSW) and workshops and speaker events and all sorts of resources.  But after everything is said and done, it’s actually easier to learn how to become a successful neurosurgeon (provided you get accepted into med school, and you subsequently get accepted through all the different hoops you have to get through).  If all I had to do was study my behind off & get good grades and pass all the tests I had to pass to become a successful artist, even if it took me 12+ years to do it, I would have started on that path right after high school, and I’d be there by now!  But that’s just not how it works.  Every time an artist decides he or she wants to learn how to make a living with their music, they kind of have to re-invent the wheel.  They have to come up with creative ideas on their own, or by reading what other artists have done, and find their own success.  OK, they can also look for a record label that already has a wheel in place, but that does not guarantee they will get anywhere.  One time I heard, for every act that “makes it big” on a major label, there are 99 that don’t.  Those 99 get dropped, shelved, or even worse, they end up owing the label thousands and thousands of dollars after getting shelved or dropped.  Even worse than that, they can’t do anything with the music they wrote & recorded while under contract with that label.  They are in limbo for years.  It’s really pretty scary when you think of it.  Why would anyone want to put themselves at risk like that?  If you do want to be on a label, work with a small, local record label who you have done your research on!

So, I think it’s actually easier to become a successful practicing neurosurgeon than to become a successful musical artist.  Even the neurosurgeon that graduates LAST in his class gets the diploma and the credentials and the ability to practice medicine and make lots of dough.  There is a system in place that he or she needs to get good enough grades to be accepted into, and the rest of it is following the rules and studying hard.

But there is no such system in place for the artist.  The system in place (record labels) can be very scary, and lots of them can put the artist in a worse place than when they started.  And lots of artists think the answer is to start up your own record label, and so to those folks, I say, “Good luck!”  That would be the ultimate in re-inventing the wheel, and I believe artists would serve themselves better by just concentrating on making great records, playing shows, and…

selling merch.

Studying the industry and learning about which record label or labels would be right for you are also good ideas, and then you can go after those labels if you are so inclined.  But the best case scenario is to be so successful on your own that the labels are coming to YOU.

One of the reasons for this lack of a learning system in place for us artists is because, especially now, the industry is changing so fast that people in the biz, even those who have been in it for a very long time and seem to know A LOT, can’t keep up with how fast it’s changing.  Yesterday, I heard about this guy who JUST graduated from college with a marketing degree (or some other business degree) and he started working with a company who makes this tongue brush that gets rid of bad breath and other germs.  He was the guy who never listened in class… he was too busy researching the in’s & out’s of the workings of Facebook, learning how YouTube can reach more people with less marketing money spent, and all the other blogs & online news about how it all works.  He got hired to get a YouTube video up as a commercial for the tongue brush, and it has sold millions, with NO marketing dollars spent except the $500 spent to produce the video.  Figuring out how to use YouTube as your ultimate marketing tool is one of the things this guy concentrated on while he “should have” been paying attention in class, and now he’s going to that same school to speak and share his expertise.  But he figured stuff out on his own.  That’s the challenge that we as artists all have.  We are  challenged with learning how to survive and succeed in an industry that is changing & presenting new concerns and considerations EVERY SINGLE DAY.

“Going Viral” was the key with this guy.  As it has been with other success stories.  But, how can you “make” a video on YouTube “go viral”?  I guess THAT is the ultimate question for the day.

How do we deal with this?  Well, the tongue brush guy got smart and could see how powerful the internet is, especially YouTube, and he researched it daily and came up with a plan.  For the musicians, last year a group of business people got together to figure out how to help an artist “Make It”… 6 different “expert” groups who are supposed to know something about how to help musicians succeed banded together to create a basic, actionable music marketing plan designed around simple strategy, prioritization of tactics, easy to use tools, and a reasonable budget.  The hope was that any hard working, talented musician can utilize this plan to grow their fan base and help lay the foundation for a sustainable career in music.  Well, this plan did not result in any measurable increase in success for “Indie Artist X”, as he was referred to during the project.  I wrote about it here:, and it was very disappointing.

Is “going viral” on YouTube our answer right now?  Even if it is today, that could change tomorrow!  So, I urge all indie artists to continue playing, and continue researching what they can do to keep moving forward.  Do at least one thing every day (or, better yet, spend at least one hour every day) working on getting better gigs, e-mailing your fanbase about your goings-on, blogging, putting a video up on YouTube, creating event pages on Facebook for your gigs & inviting all your FB friends who live in that area, and working on the business (& promotions and marketing) side of your career.

Today, I did four things so far: I called a manager about a potential gig, created a FB event for my show this week & invited all my Milwaukee friends, I blogged on my website (obviously), and I sent out an e-mail to my regular e-mail list about the “Annie B. Holiday Happenings”!!  (Unfortunately, I have a limit and can only send e-mails to 500 people a day, and now I have reached my limit so I can’t send out any more e-mails today!  Ugh!  Guess it’s time to pay for an e-mail service like MailChimp!)  All this stuff took me much longer than an hour, but every little thing I do will move me forward just a little.  And at some point, there will be a snowball effect, and the avalanche will start!!!

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One Response to “Blogging Til I Win a Grammy: Day 668”

  1. Bryan December 21, 2010 at 11:48 pm #

    Nice end of year, pre-birthday post!