Music Career Killers: Sure Ways to Ruin Your Chances of Success!

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[This post is excerpted from Music Career Killers! 20 Things That May Be Holding You Back In Your Music Career and How To Fight Back!, a white paper released by Music Marketing Reprinted with permission.]

Every hour of every day, there’s a talented musician somewhere on the planet who makes the decision to put their artistic side on the back burner in favor of a more stable career. Although they vow they will pursue music in their spare time, just this simple mindset shift could mean that writing songs and playing gigs will always take a back seat to almost everything else in life.

In a way, it hurts too much to do music when you make this decision because it reminds you of all the dreams you had and gives you the feeling of being a failure. Even the most committed musicians can be ground down to nothing after years of playing empty shows and sending out hundreds of demos with no reply. But once you start to recognize the common mistakes you’re making, you will be able to avoid them and get on with the real work of consistently creating music that your fans will appreciate.

Music Career Killer #1: Not working on your music every day

You can spend your whole life learning music marketing and still fail if you don’t have great music to promote, but you can suck at marketing and still do well if your music is on point. The ideal, though, is to find that perfect balance between marketing and music creation.

Commit to working on your music skills for an hour a day, and do your marketing in any additional time that you can spare. It can help to make this into a little game, so every once in a while go back three months in time on your YouTube channel and see the kinds of songs you were writing then. Over that time period, you can really start to notice an improvement if you work on your music and songwriting daily.

Music Career Killer #4: Not selling anything

So many musicians drop the ball at this stage: they produce great music, but then feel bad and don’t ask people to take the next step to buy something. Or they do try and sell, but because they don’t feel comfortable, they get nervous and do a poor job of it.

So if you don’t currently have anything for sale on your website, then don’t do anything else until you do. It can be as simple as a $5 per month subscription to get a song of the week delivered to their inbox.

Music Career Killer #8: Not taking at least one marketing action everyday

I’ve mentioned the importance of daily progress with your music, but just as important is the power of doing one thing per day that will get your music out into the world and in front of a targeted, interested fan. See, music marketing is like trying to push a car with your bare hands. At first it seems like it won’t budge, but then you start to get a little movement and before you know it, you’re going at a steady and predictable pace. Once in a while, you’ll come across a hill where you can sit back and let things roll, all you have to do is steer. But if you just start to push for five seconds then stop for a few days, then come back and try again for five minutes, you will never build up enough momentum and it will never get easy.

One of the biggest challenges that faces the modern DIY musician is consistency, because things will come up in your life that seem more fun or more important than working on your marketing.

But a little bit of focus on one really cool project can work like magic – all you need to do is remember why it’s important and why you decided to start learning music marketing in the first place. For me, it’s being able to work for myself and staying out of the rat race. I find that idea always allows me to refocus on what’s important.

Music Career Killer #12: Boring your fans and playing it safe

I can’t tell you how many times I have seen this happen. You go to a show and see a band rocking out some amazing tunes, but each time you see them, they just continue to play the same old set over and over again. The bottom line is that one set of good songs does not make a career.

Make sure you write something new everyday, and the gems will come by default. You’ll be showing people considering an investment into your music (a fan, a record company) that you are making a commitment to being consistently productive now and in the future.

Music Career Killer #13: Playing every crap gig you get offered

When you first start out you might as well play every show that comes along because this is valuable experience, and can even save you some money on the practice room. This becomes a career killer, though, when you continue to play every bad show that comes along in the hopes that it might just convert one new fan.

Playing to empty rooms with no pay not only sucks, but it’s also like a cancer to your career because it will destroy your enthusiasm. Next time you get offered a bad show, turn it down and spend the evening connecting working toward getting a killer show. One really good gig is worth a hundred empty venues.

Music Career Killer #20: Getting jealous of other musicians

Nobody feels great about getting jealous, but it’s natural right? You work your tail off for months to try and get hits to your site, and then you see another musician getting featured in the press and you know that in one day they are going to get more hits than you got in the last three months. I’m sure you may have felt something like this at some point.

But if you just make a little mindset shift, you can get a new perspective on the success of others. When you see another musician doing something cool like getting played on the radio, getting signed, or getting press, think to yourself, “Cool, that means I have the opportunity to do the same thing, because this guy has just uncovered another opportunity for me to market my own music.”

If you go as far as to track other musicians who have a similar fan base to your own using Google Alerts, you can get daily updates offering new opportunities for you to connect with people who will be open to what you do because they just featured something similar. This follow up approach is something I call the “slip stream,” because you get to ride on the wave of the work done by other musicians and PR companies and it can take a lot of the guess work out of your marketing.

Shoot For The Tipping Point

There comes a time in the life of every successful musician, when you have added so much value to the world that suddenly your Twitter and Facebook numbers are going up everyday, and your website traffic is increasing by itself.

This is the point at which enthusiastic fans start to become like your automatic promotion machine, and if you give up before this ever happens you will never know what it feels like.

Having reached “The Tipping Point” you can scale back your music promotion a little bit, and focus much more on the creative process.

Diligently promoting your music on a regular basis for an extended period of time will bring you great rewards, especially if you keep these killers in mind and stay on your toes.

As Bon Jovi once said…

“Oh you got to KEEP THE FAITH!!!”

The mission of the Music Marketing Classroom is to empower musicians to create a sustainable income, even with a modest music career, and teaches a simple four-step marketing philosophy to achieve that goal. Learn more at

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  • Great article. Particularly like #13. That being said, to avoid playing those empty rooms, bands need to be more proactive in connecting with those bands that have a good draw in their respective markets. I work with an indie band that has tremendous pull in Mid-GA (USA) drawing anywhere from 300-400 a show. But move into Atlanta, and they are still building. I put them on bills with other bands who draw well in that city and then we bring those bands into our region, where they are more than happy to play in front of the crowds the band brings!

    I am also the owner and editor of Making it in Music ( I wrote a blog similar to this one a couple years ago as an addition to what you have here. The Top 5 Unforeseen Music Career Busters:

    Thanks again. Hugh Hession

    • Hey Hugh, thanks for sharing that link. Cool blog too!

      • hughhession

        Thanks, Chris 🙂

  • I love these blogs from cdbaby…not only do I read them but I pass them on to my artists that I rep. In this one, #13 I am on the fence about… as a booking agent I understand what it's meant to say, but when you have newer bands, sometimes you have to get out and play as much as possible, shake hands and rub shoulders with as many venues, fans, and people in general as you can. Not many new bands have enough favor to get well paying, great gigs straight out of the gate. I think sometimes you have to play to the smaller local pub with 3 people and make fans out of them. Then by word of mouth, things might grow. As things grow, or for the already well established band, I definitely see where you should be careful what you play, cause a bad show at a bad venue can potentially hurt. Anyway, looking forward to the next helpful blog from these guys!! Thank you!

    • About #13…Lifelong Rocker Singer/Songwriter/MultiInst….Totally understand and am torn about this myself because I've been right there, many times with new bands (for me). This is general advice not meant for every band, all the time.
      You have to judge that specific band, because even bands that have been goin' for awhile, need smaller shows to polish new material or maybe new parts of the their show….but once you pass this point, I totally agree that playing for the sake of saying you played a show is a time-waster, moral killer, and if continued is a sure-fire way to split a band (because it just wears people out)
      I've always tried to use smaller venues (with a few regulars) to try and teach others how to hype a show and see if you can get fans and friends to pack a place – the work can be fun for the band and if you do this Bar Owners love you!!! and you pretty much have their support from then on.
      Bands have to learn to "bring their own fun" and that means getting fans interested in coming to shows.
      Another thing that's really cool, as an alternative to playing a small show, is making your own BIG Show, with 2 or 3 other friend bands….Rent a big space (or old warehouse, after hours)
      chip with other bands for keg (watch the local laws, if selling cups of beer!!!!) then everybody can hype the show, pack it out with fans from 3 bands and friends and fam AND now the friends and fam of the other bands might become your fans as well….everybody sells merch, everybody plays their sets and maybe one big jam song….This is a great alternative to a small show that you already know how its gonna go – This is more work, but can pay big dividends.
      Just some thoughts.
      Wish you and your bands the best from Texas.

    • Nicky Engwish

      Well, no, because you can go out and shake hands and rub shoulders by going to other bands' shows. Far more productive than playing a show to an empty room with other bands on your level.

  • Thanks so much for this! Helps a lot and helps to keep going.

  • Emily Reppun

    Please don't link to sites like musicmarketingclassroom that shout at you when you click on the link.

  • Just what I needed to hear today..My business side wants to take over and go back to the 9 to 5 everyday. I loved the business world but put it aside this year to work on my music. Thanks for this encouraging word of wisdom!

  • This was a timely reminder for me. I left the business world this year to pursue my music and it is a daily battle not to re-enter the world of 9 to 5.

  • Thanks for the tips Chris. In #20 you mentioned something which intrigues me and I want to know more about, "tracking other musicians on google alerts" How do you do that, it sounds like a fantastic idea.

  • good nerve striking article. Thanks guys.

  • You don't have to be a mega-star to be successful at originals. I have two products coming out in the next 3-4 months. "THE COMING OF OUR LORD" cantata and "NEPHI AND HIS UNSINKABLE DREAMBOAT" I hope the world enjoys this music which I have been writing since age 17. Even if I change one person's heart with these productions, I am successful.

  • I'm definitely with Emily here… apart from the final link – good article! But imagine if our own websites looked and sounded like that, oof.

  • always bring the love and join the community – torontorox! you get what you give…go to shows and they'll go to yours. support local talent!

  • I like playing to empty rooms. That's the only time I get to practice.

  • Dacesita

    Because that retard shouted at me on his website, I will never go on it ever – I had my computer plugged in in PA system.

    That having said – article is great, for everyone who just starts off.

    • Bradford

      I know some people who in your vernacular are “retards.” They are good people who, like all of us, are just trying to do the best they can. To group them with some jackass with a loud website is insensitive and inaccurate.

  • Straight up advice from CD Baby…but double it up for results with a guaranteed return. Practice 2 – 5 hours a day, commit to a 1 hour paper chase and make a minimum of 2 marketing calls/emails (cold calls) per day and 2 reconnect calls. If things do not start rolling in…re-assess yourself as a product.

  • I'm a fulltime musician for 40 years now – #1 – working on your music every day – is spot on. You could also say play everyday. Not gig, play. When I spend extra time singing and having fun on piano and guitar, everything opens up – my feelings, inspiration, sense of forward motion, realizing that music making is always a fresh thing IF you invest time and focus in it. In other words, PLAY! Alone, doesn't matter, PLAY!

  • Great news meng! I just might start playing live again…

  • It's a good thing I took a career over songwriting as a main course. Otherwise I would not have the money to have raised my family. My songs do get played on the radio, but not too many royalties coming my way.

  • PurePianoBoyz

    Excellent advice. I've had my tracks on the internet for free since 2002 but it wasn't until 2011 that I received a wake up call to start selling my stuff. Musicians also have to be careful about being selective on sites where other musicians will either "fan" or follow you just so you'll reciprocate and "fan back or follow them" They haven't the slightest interest in your music especially if they're into a totally different genre. Once you fan or follow back they'll never visit your page ,buy anything or support what you promote. I recently left a site like that entirely and started promoting my material on a single,isolated page drawing most of my follow support off of "Twitter".
    What I'd like to see is someone give advice to composers and pianist's like me of color in the contemporary -classical and jazz genre. Many excellent pianists and composers of color who have won competitions and secured major performances with distinguished orchestras and composed beautiful works have left this arena and have gone to pursue other area's of livilihood because of a lack of support.

  • Playing to empty rooms is one of the worst feelings and also one of the most destructive in a musicians life and career. I have certainly played my share of those gigs…but I would urge musicians to avoid the temptation of playing such gigs based on false ideas such as "it will get us exposure" or "you have to work your way up"…this is only going to benefit the club owner…not you.

  • David Voegeli

    Music can be a hard task. If you are good at a particular type of music in writing or playing I would say stick to that and practise so that you can get as good as you can get. All the information that we receive from Cdbaby and from other sources can only help us greatly.
    David j Voegeli


    Excellent encouragement…I loved the part about working on marketing every day! Good advice for all of us.

  • king frost

    luvd the insight thanx a ton! 😀 #Chilly

  • David Bradlee Slatto

    Some good points, especially #1 ( anything that can help motivate us to get into the music room and work on what we should be working on….music, is always a good point .And #20.Personally, I see music as a gift that not only lifts us up emotionally and mentally as we work at our music and play our music but touches the listener as well. Music isn't a competitive sport.Music is art and music is a gift that needs to be nourished and cultivated so as to enrich our lives and the life of others.When we learn to see what a beautiful gift that music really is, we then can more easily learn to love and appreciate our fellow musicians…at whatever level they happen to be at, instead of being jealous.

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