Hard work is the "secret" to music success

Stop waiting for the miracle.

As musicians we spend nearly countless hours creating music, only to cross our fingers and hope our latest-greatest songs will magically meet the ears of new listeners.

Or we post Instagram pics with a billion hashtags all day long, because that’s what some social media guru told us to do.

Or we put our faith and future in the hands of the latest flashy tool or iPhone app.

We’re tempted by the promise of the silver bullet, the next thing, the program that will guarantee us instant fans, the trendy marketing strategy that will surely knock down every barrier to our success.

Even an online marketing tool as powerful as CD Baby’s Show.co (PLUG!) is only as effective as the creative energy you put into your campaigns; its reach is only equal to the effort you spend spreading the word.

It’s work. It’s all work. Not magic. Yes, a little luck. But mostly: work.

Hard work means more than hustle.

My interview with instrumental guitarist Lance Allen drove this point home for me. He’s been paying off his mortgage with the revenue he earns from streaming activity on Spotify and Pandora. How? Not by magic and not by chance. The dude works his ass off. Not just on his guitar skills, but on research, reaching out to the right people in the right way, following up, setting goals and keeping after them without letting up until he’s explored every possible avenue. He’s not hustling, which for me always implies either an element of swindle or frenzy. He’s working hard AND smart. His efforts are deliberate.

Yes, it’s tempting to think you can pay some company or some guru $50 or $5000 and have an overnight win, but the truth is that your success — if it happens — will have been the result of many small wins. Ones that YOU struggled for, learning from the failures and adjusting as you went.

How to book more and better gigs. How to tweak your target audience for better Facebook ads. How to find curators who will include your music in their playlists. How to get your album to chart. When it comes down to it, it’s all on you, from planning to execution.

You’re in this music thing for the long haul, right? Dig in.

It may sound sexy to have a radio promoter and a publicist working your next record. But that’s exactly what they’ll be doing, “working” it. Working — for which you’ll pay them thousands & thousands & thousands & thousands of dollars. It could be a worthwhile investment, simultaneously opening doors to radio and press, all while saving you hours of time that could be spent touring or recording or whatever. If you have the budget, by all means…

But you could also keep that money and buy a book like The Indie Bible. Yes, an old-school book, not a fancy app. A book with lists of industry contacts broken up by region, genre, and area of expertise (radio, press, booking, etc.), with names and emails and addresses. All of those ‘contacts’ completely useless until YOU put in the work to connect with them and create a new conversation.

Likewise, you could pay a streaming promotions team a wheelbarrow of cash to get your music onto playlists (if you’re lucky). Or you could set aside an hour a day to connect the dots between Spotify user profiles and LinkedIn, Facebook, Twitter, Tumblr or whatever other clues you can find — all in an effort to identify and contact playlist curators yourself.

You can sit there complaining about how hard it is to find good gigs, or pray and pray for some well-connected booking agent to take you on as a new client — someone who’ll book all your shows for you and handle the nasty business of negotiating guarantees,… or you could log into Indie on the Move right now and put one foot in front of the other.

It’s work. It’s long nights until 3am staring at a computer screen. It’s booking your own tour by befriending bands all over the country. It’s hearing a hundred NOs for every YES, and still holding your head (kinda) high.

It’s work. It sucks. It’s essential.