The Single Most Important Thing An Artist Should Do in 2020.
Raw talent, off the charts charisma and likeability, refined performance chops, the ability to light up a room. Striking, powerful, ready…
In the mid-2000s, I got a chance to work with an artist who truly had it all. In those days, I was surrounded by a lot of top tier talent, and she could hang with the best of them. She had the ear and attention of the industry, and there wasn’t an A&R that met her and not been incredibly impressed.
But the number of songs she released from 2000 to 2018? Zero.
The inability, or perhaps just the unwillingness to make a choice.
She was always in pursuit of new advice and opinions about what she should do. Always gathering information and options. Maybe the next meeting would yield the right answer or direction. Perhaps the next co-writing session would deliver the perfect song that would finally make a label want to commit. And of course, everyone she met with had a different opinion on what she should do. Anchoring to each new piece of advice until she got to the next one, she ultimately made one choice: to not make one.
This isn’t a story about what this person did wrong, but rather an observation on the power of choosing. When you linger too long without choosing, opportunities can be lost and valuable career time can potentially be wasted.
Do I work with this producer or that producer? Do I hire this team or that team? Do I sign with this manager or that one? Do I release this song or that one? Do I post this or not? Do I use this artwork or that one? Do I go with this show offer over that one? Do I use my name or a moniker? Do I let go of my dream of making it in music and get a “regular” job and live a more “normal” life (whatever that means)? Do I self-release, or approach a label or distributor? Do I release an album, EP, or just singles? Do I follow the path of every other artist, or do I make things happen on my own terms in ways that feel good to me? Do I keep telling myself that I’m overwhelmed, or choose to finally get organized? Will I allow myself to continue to be paralyzed by the perceived judgment of my peers, or will I take responsibility for my own career momentum and let go of fear, coming to terms with the idea that almost no one is thinking about me in the way I think they are? Should I work on my craft tonight, knowing that I might put in hours worth of work and end up with nothing useful, or just watch NetFlix and put it off?
The music industry has a way of feeding indecision and keeping you on the fence, paralyzed by the reality that there is no one clear cut path to success. There are so many options and no right way to do things. If you find yourself in this position, and making a choice feels “risky,” well, welcome to life in music.
Don’t forget that you chose an inherently “risky” career path in the first place. This is easy to forget since getting started in music has zero barrier for entry. It’s all fun and exciting to start, but there comes the need to make powerful choices during the long, challenging slog that ensues once the honeymoon is over. I will also remind you that there is risk in anything and everything you do, including not making a choice and playing it “safe.”
Regardless of the advice you receive, there isn’t anyone who actually knows what will happen once you make a choice. Your task is to choose — and choose with conviction — without having a guarantee of the results. If it doesn’t go as planned or doesn’t meet your expectations, make another choice and keep moving forward. Straddling the fence and hanging on for dear life is not a choice, at least not a powerful or effective one. I know that we creatives are highly emotional creatures, and we have the unhelpful tendency to attach morality, bad vs good, to our choices that don’t unfold as we had hoped. The choices you make do matter, but it is not a less than ideal outcome that will hurt your career, it is indecision.
So, whatever fence you are on, make a choice to get off it. No one can truly push you off; you must do it for yourself, even if it means you might get hurt. Have faith in your own resilience, and remember that each choice will present you with another one and that bigger, more consequential ones will await you further along in your journey. May your choices reflect your intention and not your fears.
Your path to success can only be seen in hindsight, and each journey begins with a choice. Those who choose are those who move. The single most important thing an artist should do in 2020…
Soundtrack courtesy of “Weapon Of Choice” by Black Rebel Motorcycle Club, included here on The Compass Method Spotify Playlist; updated monthly with a mix of new discoveries and songs I generally obsess over. It pairs well with long stares out the window plotting your next move. If this piece resonated with you please share with other artists who might find it valuable and check out my previous stories on Medium.
Patrick Ermlich is a life-long artist guide, creative director, and CMO of Gramophone Media.