What Every Artist Should Focus On Right Now.
The world is changing so quickly, and in the next 18 months, it will not look the same for you as an artist. You can count on it. Here are 10 points of focus that will move you forward, make you look in the mirror, and prepare you for what’s around the corner.
1. Emotionally Detach from Metrics
Emotionally detach from the platforms you use and the virtual following you have built. You are not a profile. Your follower count is not a reflection of your artistic or personal self-worth. I’ve been hammering this point home this year and I hope most of you are starting to shift your internal dialogue. It’s easy to view your artistic life through the lens of platforms that tell you how many people supposedly care about you and your music. For those of you who invested so much time in building your IG following the last 5 years, you can truly feel consumer fatigue and will start to see the rapid shift in audience attention to Tik Tok and things you aren’t even aware of yet. You don’t want to be an artist who gets flustered at the prospects of building a following all over again on a new platform and simply gives up.
You can choose to redirect your emotional energy so that you don’t get consumed by negative thought cycles and feel like a slave to a platform. It’s entirely possible to play Madison Square Garden and yet, have only 8,000 followers on Instagram (true story). So, how much emotional currency should you be spending on such things? It’s only as important as it is important to you. I can argue equally how important these platforms are for discovery and keeping true fans engaged, but when you knowingly or unknowingly, tie it to self-worth as an artist, it gets really dangerous. And that’s the point. You don’t have to look far to find examples of what you would consider successful artists, that have fewer followers than you do. This number obsession is a sickness and achieving a metric as a goal might open new platform features, but it alone will not equate to success. People who tell you that you “just need to get your numbers up” and they will be able to open a door for you are lying to you.
2. Now More Than Ever, Create Something Unique
This point piggybacks off point #1. There are artists out there trying to write songs simply to increase the chances of hitting Spotify’s algorithms. Copy catting is at an all-time high. Challenge yourself, challenge listeners. Write with new people, try writing on a new instrument, develop a new recording process, indulge in your imagination. This is important in social media as well. As platforms keep moving towards hiding likes and vanity metrics, they will start rewarding creativity. Its good news as you won’t feel as much pressure to post only pictures of your face or feel the need to over-sex your content because it’s what generates engagement. On the other hand, now you will need to create compelling, original content. Solid is no longer good enough. Right now it’s time to push your comfort level and expand beyond what you thought possible, you just might stumble upon greatness, and what is great is what moves. If it requires that you go off the grid, throw your phone into a river, and “lose followers”, do it. Nothing is more important than challenging yourself creatively and breaking through to a new level. Everything that comes after will be much easier and fall into place. It all starts with something great, which I know is entirely subjective, however, what got you to this moment won’t be enough to get you where you want to go.
3. Wear a New Hat
Over the last decade, it’s become so accessible to record and produce your music, and now the video industry has fully caught up. It is easier than ever to shoot and edit your own music video content. Video editing software is very close to audio editing and the functionality can be learned rather quickly. You can create a compelling video with an inexpensive, or free, software and some focused time. Log 10 to 20 hours of video editing, just cluelessly messing around, and you will be surprised. Partner with a videographer for content capture and take your stab at editing the video in parallel to them. You may not make the final cut, but you may create some great teaser content or short vertical videos for IG, Tik Tok, or Spotify’s canvas program. It’s just another creative outlet and can be a fun new way for you to explore your music from a new perspective. I am seeing many artists getting particularly good at this skill set very quickly, and they are truly enjoying it. The future is in the hands of the autonomous artist who has all the tools to create their vision across multiple disciplines. You can do more.
4. Rethink Your Team
If you are a one-person unit, consider building a team of the following, or adding these to your existing team if you have a more traditional setup.
Content Specialist / Creative Partner:
Having someone on your team that understands your artistic vision and can elevate it with content creation skills that you don’t have is super valuable. Content is king and having a team member dedicated to translating your vision into picture and video is a must-have. This person can come from your inner creative circle or be someone that you hire. As a starting point, look for photographers in your area on Instagram that match your aesthetic. More and more photographers are getting into video and expanding their skill set as a necessity. Rolling out new releases requires lots of picture and video content for social media and press campaigns, so having someone steadily available and invested in your project is key. Think of this team member like a swiss army knife. Can’t find one? See point #2 and become your own.
Having someone objective to hold you accountable, call you out on your BS, and help you find clarity in this often cloudy life in music, is incredibly valuable. The music business has always been a place where everyone has an opinion about who you should be and what you should do. Contradictory and often condescending advice from all angles, each with an agenda. Perhaps it’s time to have a sounding board that has no agenda and is focused solely on supporting your personal growth. There is a lot to navigate in a career as an artist, the most challenging, and I think the most important, is your mind. I believe that your thoughts generate the words that come out of your mouth, which create the actions you take that form the world around you. Your career will go as far as your mind will allow, so consider having support in an area where you are most often alone and unchecked.
5. Treat What You Are Doing like the Business It Is.
If you are looking for someone to purchase something from you (music, merch, tickets, etc), then you are engaging in a business transaction, so you should treat what you are doing as the business that it truly is. If this rubs against your romantic ideology that artists aren’t good at business and shouldn’t have to deal with that aspect, I understand. However, if you want to maintain the ability to create art and have aspirations to make a living doing it, you can’t have it both ways. A career in music that is based solely upon the hope that something will happen or someone will discover you and it cosmically will all come together, is a recipe for delusion and frustration. Get down to business and take responsibility for it.
6. Dial-In Your Story
Ask yourself what story you want to tell over the next year. What narrative do you want to be tied to? What do you TRULY care about? “Artist releases new single” is not enough. It’s important to find your unique way to get fans (current and new) emotionally connected to you. Women empowerment, mental health, gender equality, are all very important subjects. However, a general alignment with a cause isn’t enough. What is the unique angle that you bring to the issues you care about? This also ties back to point #2. When you set out to create something unique, it becomes part of your story development. Think about this as the backbone or the calling card for your brand, the primary narrative that anchors everything. It can be simple, or deeply emotional, it just needs to be clear and easy to pick up on with even limited interactions.
7. Get Out
When you don’t, you become a bedroom artist and you develop major blindspots. You need to see and understand what’s happening on the ground. The satellite view doesn’t always give you the full picture. Every show I’ve ever been to I have learned something. Even the ones when it was a Tuesday night at midnight and I was one of 3 people in the crowd. Especially those nights. There is something to learn from how other artists interact with the crowd, shape their set’s emotional arc, use lighting & staging, etc. Gather information, open your eyes, and oh yes…enjoy yourself and remember your love of live music. Don’t forget about this! You are forgetting about one of the great joys of life, a communal experience with live music. Going to a concert with your eyes open will provide more value than spending hours researching tactics and shortcuts on how to increase your follower count on platform x.
8. Become a Reverse Engineer
Reverse engineer your own habits as a music consumer to better understand your audience. Which artist has caught your attention lately? Where did you discover that latest thing you are obsessing over? What was the context that you consumed it in? What made you share it with others and who did you share it with? Why? What did the sharing say about you personally? Did the listener or view count influence what you thought of it before consuming? Why did you go back for repeat listens? Was it the lyrics or something intangible you can’t put your finger on? The more time you put into asking yourself these questions with the things you fall in love with, the more you will understand the mindset of those who consume your music or content. What is it about what you have created that would make someone react to it the way you have to others? Are you thinking about the consumer context when you release your music? Are you thinking about tone, feeling, messaging, storytelling, sharability? Reverse engineering your own experience will also remind you how patient you need to be when releasing your own music and making judgments about how it is doing. As consumers, we have all heard something new that we obsessively listened to, and taken a year, or longer, to look deeper and start actively following the artist. Being an artist with highly tuned self-awareness will give you a big advantage moving forward.
9. Create a Brand Bite
This ties into point 2,3,6, & 8. With consumer attention being so fragmented and short, it’s important to have a quick way for people to understand who you are and what you are all about. Create an easily consumable piece of video content that captures your spirit as an artist, or captures the spirit of a particular project you are rolling out. Think unique, think tone and feeling. Imagine this almost as a mission statement, or elevator pitch, told via video. After working on your reverse engineering skills, and with sharability or generating an emotional reaction in mind, what does your project look and feel like and can you articulate that in 1 minute or 30 seconds? This “brand bite” will be a multi-purpose tool that can be used for a variety of purposes from social media content to press & booking outreach. Here is an example of this concept done at a high level by a now-famous artist, so you can see what I’m referring to. This could be cut-down into countless short teasers, trailers, etc. What is your version of this?
10. Go All In
If not now, if not right now with everything you’ve got, then when? This is your only life, and it’s not a long one, so get on with it. People think about you a lot less than you think they do. All that judgment that keeps you from letting go and being fully you, it is 99% in your head and the other 1% of people who are actually judging you — well that judgment they project on you has everything to do with them and not you. Make sure you surround yourself with people who encourage all-in behavior. As the saying goes, “you can’t do epic shit with basic people.”
Make that album you have always wanted to make. Reach out to that producer who made your favorite album of all time. Hire your favorite musician to play on your album, if for no other reason than the experience. Whatever all-in looks like to you, do it. Perhaps all-in means just working distraction-free and with real intention. Maybe it means traveling to Iceland and hiring a local orchestra to play on your record. Or buying a one-way ticket to another country to find inspiration. Is this practical? No. Does that matter? Not at all.
Creating a fulfilling life in music is to always to be walking the delicate line of being radically pragmatic and completely and utterly unreasonable. That’s what makes this whole journey so awesome. The outcome of being all-in is not what’s most important right now. It’s what you learn about yourself, and who you evolve into, that matters most and ultimately what you will measure yourself by.
Soundtrack courtesy of “Atacama” by Canadian electro-pop artist Panqueque. A vastly underappreciated release from this summer included here on The Compass Method Spotify playlist. This playlist is 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 an artist guide, creative director, and CMO of Gramophone Media. Click the link below to be notified about the release of the upcoming book: