During my recent interactions with many other independent musicians, I get a sense that it’s easy for intermediate goals to temporarily eclipse the reason you “do music.” Worse yet, the list of “things you need to do” to be taken seriously in music changes every twenty minutes, so those intermediate goals wind up taking a lot more of your attention than they really “should.”
Some things you need to do – like honing your craft – are always going to be valid. But is every short-term goal you are are working on necessarily going to mean long-term success, however you define it?
I do not mean to discredit the value of having 10,000 followers on some “social” platform, or recording enough “singles” to justify e-mailing your fans every three days or whatever you’re doing that’s taking all your time. But how many of them are really just means to an end? And what is the end? What is it about music that keeps you going, even after setbacks and discouragements of every kind?
Do you do it for approval? I admit, there’s something nice about people liking your songs.
Do you do it because you like the process itself? Learning new chords, writing new songs, etc.?
Do you do it because you like reaching other people? As nice as it is when someone says they really, really like one of your songs, it’s even more rewarding when you look up from the end of the last chord and members of the audience are crying “happy tears.” For me, that’s the biggie.
What aspect of music is most important to you? What would you do if money and popularity were no object? Get better on guitar? Write more? Play “out” more? Record more?
But whatever it is about music that you find compelling, recognize that everything else – especially promotion – is a means to that end. And you might need to consider whether the time and energy you’re pouring into those “stepping stone” goals is justified in the “long haul.”
As an example, I now know folks with 1,000 or 10,000 likes, follows, or e-mail addresses who seem to have put playing, singing, and writing on the back burner. If having thousands of “BFFs” is their end game, I guess they’ve achieved it. But I was under the impression that this sort of effort was supposed to be supporting your music, not supplanting it.
I know others who are constantly hyping product, be it CD or online trax. I can’t ask them whether they’re using ultra-light strings on their guitar without the answer including a sales pitch. Maybe they really need the money. But in the meantime, they’ve turned into second-rate salespeople, turning off their friends, scaring off their biggest fans, and – frankly – making less money than they’d make working a real job for a few hours a week. To me, the point of CDs is to get your music out there, to connect with fans and make new ones, and to build “cred” in your region and genre. You also do need to have product to sell when you do “play out;” otherwise some listeners, at least, will be disappointed, and they do help pay for the midnight pizza runs. Releasing the best CDs you can is important. But if you think the point of having CDs is to make money off your friends, you might as well be selling Amway products.
Don’t get me wrong – promotions and product are critical. And your fans actually expect them. But can you do them without taking your eyes off of the real “prize”?
Which goes back to the question, what is your end game, and which aspects of what you’re doing are just a means to that end? They may be necessary, but they are not the end. Also, might there be some way to streamline or even find a “workaround” for those chores in a way that gets you to your end goal faster or keeps you there longer at a stretch?
At the very least, try to find a balance that does not bury your “end game” in an infinite game of – what one might call – “Trivial Pursuits.”