Artists, are you ready for what comes your way?
[This article was written by indie hip-hop artist Gospel Lee.]
A few weeks ago, I had the amazing opportunity to have my music video filmed by YouTube at their Nashville pop-up studio. It was an incredibly fantastic experience collaborating with such wonderfully talented, innovative individuals. The creative energy was electric and contagious, allowing us to play off of each others’ ideas, which resulted in a music video that I’m immensely proud of.
I used to think that opportunities like this are bestowed by chance or luck, or that they go to those with the most talent or the biggest budget/financial backing. But now I understand that luck is often a product of the lazy person’s mental gymnastics to substitute the reality of hard work. I’m not the most talented rapper that exists, and I’ve got a baby shoestring budget to work with, but looking back at some of the highlights of my musical career (Charting on multiple Billboard charts, opening for multiple GRAMMY award winning artists, getting accepted for NACA college showcases), I noticed 3 elements that I’ve consistently employed.
These elements are not a formula that will result in landing every amazing opportunity every time, but they’re three ingredients that will allow more good opportunities to gravitate your way while also putting you in a better position to take advantage of them.
The 3 ingredients behind my collab with YouTube:
1. The Willingness To Learn
There are artists I know that are insanely talented. They practice every day devoting hours to developing their craft. I ask them how much time they spend working on the business side and they either have no idea about it, or reject the idea altogether in the name of wanting to “just focus on the music.”
Your career will only go as far as your willingness to learn music business. Learning the music business is as simple as finding, learning from, and listening to the experts — and then implementing their advice. One resource that curates these experts on a regular basis is CD Baby’s DIY Musician Podcast. Their podcast library contains dozens of interviews with experts that have been really influential to my career.
CD Baby also holds an annual conference featuring many leading industry experts. A few experts that come to mind who have been on the podcast and attended the conference are performance coach Tom Jackson and industry expert, blogger, and best-selling author Ari Herstand.
Implementing Tom’s advice on live performance has had a significant impact on my merch sales at shows (which account for half of my total revenue) and Ari’s advice has been directly responsible for me signing with a college booking agent, playing colleges, and doing NACA showcases. I have been an avid listener to the podcast for a couple of years now, and it was on the podcast that I learned that YouTube was accepting submissions to make a music video for select artists attending the CD Baby conference in Nashville.
2. The Willingness to Invest
One of my favorite sayings is “the greatest investment you can make is in yourself.”
This is especially true for your music career. No one will care about your career more than you, nor should they. If you aren’t willing to invest in your music career, why would/should anyone else?
The biggest commodities when it comes to investment is time & money. Usually if you have a lot of one, you don’t have much of the other, but you do need a little of both. The takeaway here is that often a willingness to learn requires an investment of time and/or money. Also an investment of time/money is required to execute on the knowledge that you gain. Tom Jackson’s book on stage performance cost me $100 (the most I’ve ever paid for a book) and it is 400+ pages long, but paying for and taking the time to read it has had a significant impact on my merch sales at shows (which, as I said above, account for half of my total revenue), and the money I made on merch at one show has covered the cost of the book four times over.
Ari Herstand hosted a 4-hour webinar on how to break into the college market that cost me $200, but after taking it I signed with one of the top college agents in the market generating income from college shows that was five times my initial investment and securing multiple NACA showcases.
I invested a weekend on my life and spent $800 dollars to attend the CD Baby DIY Musician Conference in 2016 (tickets, airfare, Uber, Airbnb, meals, subway passes, etc), but that is where I saw Tom Jackson do his “live band makeover” and was convinced buying his book and DVD bundle would take me to the next level. At the same conference I met Ari Herstand on the street and offered to review his upcoming book. He accepted and has been a really amazing mentor ever since. This year it cost about $600 dollars to attend the DIY Musician Conference (get those early-bird tickets when you can) and we paid extra for our Airbnb to be there a day early, but that early day was the day YouTube was requiring artists to be there to film videos. Many artists see the value in making an investment for new gear, but fail to see that value when it comes to making investments in career developing/advancing opportunities.
3. The Willingness To Be Prepared
The willingness to learn about awesome opportunities and invest time or money in pursuing them means nothing if you aren’t prepared to seize the opportunity once it’s in front of you. Depending on your goals, you should have some or all of the following things ready to go:
- an elevator pitch
- one-sheet/press kit
- quality hi-res photos
- a good live video
- streaming links
- instrumental and a cappella versions of your songs
- publishing and copyright paperwork (splits/royalty info/copyright registration/PRO affiliation)
- website with booking information
- a social presence
Making all of these assets readily accessible takes work, but artists who have a willingness to be prepared will do the work to get it done.
When I got the final cut of the video back from YouTube, there was an issue with the audio track. It was so easy to send them another version of the song because I had it in a folder in my Dropbox account. I recently got asked for my one-sheet because a major artist was going on tour and was looking for openers. It took 3 minutes to send him a one-sheet that was already in my sent folder. There are so many artists to choose from, that if your moment comes and you aren’t ready, whoever is extending the offer will likely move on to someone else.
Talent matters. The songs matter, but a lot of the crazy career-building opportunities don’t go to the most talented, or the best songwriters, but the hardest workers. I’ve accepted that I may not be either of the first two, but I can be the hardest working. A lot of talk is made about hard work, but it’s seldom broken down into what that entails when it comes to a music career. Being willing to learn, invest, and be prepared are practical and tangible things that I’ve done which have positioned me to take advantage of some wonderful opportunities.
Below is the video that YouTube shot & directed for us (myself and my team), and which premiered last week on the underground hip-hop blog Str8outDaDen. I hope that as you watch it you’ll realize that if it can happen to me, it can happen for you. Keep working, indie comrades!