The Open Mic in Nashville

What I learned at Folk Alliance International.

I just spent a few days in Kansas City for the 30th Folk Alliance International, a conference where thousands of musicians gather from around the globe — and I got to ask a lot of them a pretty simple question: “Why are you here?”

Simple question. Perhaps tougher to answer.

I noticed a pattern though. The serious artists never answered in vague terms. No “get to the next level,” or “figure stuff out,” or “to see how I can make more money,” or “make some contacts.”

By serious, I mean the ones who’ve already arrived at a stage in their career the rest of us would envy, or those artists who’re on their way, the ones with momentum, buzz, hype, or whatever else you want to call it (I’m not making an assessment about anyone’s skills or intentions).

The serious artists answered with specifics:

  • I want to find the right radio promoter for my next album.
  • I want to broaden my reach on Spotify.
  • I need to see what’s the smartest way to re-issue my back catalog.
  • I’d like to book higher quality house concerts.
  • I want to expand my audience between New York and Maine.
  • I’ve gotta get better press coverage while touring.

You get the point. Many permutations of… a specific goal.

How to determine what your music goals SHOULD be

On the last night of the conference I had a conversation with Green Room Music Source‘s David Priebe who pretty much said the same thing: there’s no “next level” — there’s only specific goals, plans to meet them, and actions taken to get there.

Of course in music marketing-speak, it’s easy to say “get to the next level.” I’ve written those exact words dozens of times on this blog; it’s a catchall phrase for every possible success that musicians can imagine.

And CD Baby doesn’t have a perfect, concise way to say: hey, we’re here to assist with sync licensing, publishing, info on playlist placements, all manner of monetization, distribution, marketing your music online, building a website, and so much more.

So it’s easy to say we want to help you… get to the next level.

But when it comes to YOU the musician, it does you zero good to cast such a nebulous net with your ambitions while doing little to focus your efforts. So stop wanting to “get to the next level,” and start setting specific goals.

But what should your goals be?

Of course it differs for everyone.

You might be able to set some specific goals for your music by asking yourself a few questions:

  1. What do I want from my life in music-making?
  2. Have I succeeded? What would success look like?
  3. What’s currently missing from that picture of success?
  4. What are some possible paths to create that missing piece of the puzzle?
  5. What would be the first logical step along that path? Am I sure? Have I asked around, done research, consulted experts?
  6. Which of those steps along the path interest me? Which scare me? Which steps are most important, and which can wait until later?
  7. What am I good at, and what will I need help with?
  8. What can I contribute to the effort: time, money, contacts, etc?
  9. Am I ready? Are my team members, band mates, friends, and family on board? How about my audience?
  10. Do I understand what will be expected of me AFTER I achieve this goal? And at that point, will I be prepared to approach the next goal?

These might seem like broad questions, but you probably know yourself well enough to give focused answered.

Maybe you’ve had decent regional success building a fan base and selling merch at shows in three or four towns, and you feel like the next piece of the puzzle is extended touring. Well, maybe your goal is to embark on a tour of fifteen markets that you hit three or four times a year? A whole lot of little things need to come together to make that happen. You’ve got your goal, and you reverse engineer from there to create an action plan.

Actions can be measured. Plans can be changed. But it’s gonna be hard to get to the next level if you’re just wanting to get to the next level. Get to the goal. Repeat.