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Music was much simpler before the Internet and smartphones.

But musicians have had to transform from performers on the stage or in the studio. Gone are the days of recording an album, handing it off to the label, and heading off on a financially-supported tour.

Nearly every part of being a musician has become more complex. Musicians today still have to make music fans want. But you’ll often find yourself helping record and produce the album; marketing and promoting across social media and other channels; writing and recording videos; trying to make sense of the bizarre, complicated world of digital royalty payments; and work in a world where the longstanding structures of your industry are in flux.

There are no signs of this slowing down — with the release of Apple Music, musicians might be taking on even more direct management of every aspect of their businesses. As the requirements and necessities of being a successful modern musician continue to evolve, musicians should consider the following:

1. Be Yourself

Professional writers know that the most powerful writing is true. That observation is borne out by decades of songwriters who have success when they are authentic and failure when they’re disingenuous. In art, power comes from authenticity. How many bands flamed out because they tried to write what’s popular?

This is a thread which runs all the way through the business — from writing, to marketing, to performance. At every level, if you’re fake, people can tell.

And these days, musicians are in charge of much more than their performance on stage. Modern fans demand access to performers on social media at all hours, and they can sniff out inauthentic accounts right away.

You’re in charge of your marketing now, and with the power to choose how to present yourself comes the ready answer to just be yourself.

Authenticity is about being genuine, not fake. About sharing what you really think, not what you expect will get lots of likes. Everyone is tired of the false positivity, self-promotion, and obvious pandering on social media. When an artist speaks their mind — like Nicki Minaj on Twitter over her VMAs snub — the response can be incredible.

Authenticity does not mean you must share it all. You’re under no obligation to write about or share every detail of your life. But it does mean that 100% of what you share is genuine, especially when that requires courage.

The very first thing I tell my new students on the first day of a workshop is that good writing is about telling the truth. We are a species that needs and wants to understand who we are. – Anne Lamott

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2. Invest in Your Talent

As a musician, your success is predicated on your abilities. Everything else is icing on the cake. That’s why I argued, in How to Become Exceptional By Focusing on What Matters Most, that if your skill is not yet great enough to draw an audience, then you shouldn’t be building your brand and marketing your music. Instead, work on the fundamental skills of your art until you’re ready.

It’s extraordinarily rare to find a successful artist who hasn’t put in the hours to deserve it.

But even after you are proficient enough to build an audience, you should continue investing in your talent. You don’t need to become great at everything to do with the music business and your musicianship. But what makes you uniquely talented? What is it about your music and your performance that brings fans to your shows and viewers to your videos? Continue to invest in that talent even as your audience continues to grow.

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3. Educate Yourself

Did you know that there are hundreds of millions of dollars owed to artists, but that artists haven’t been paid because they don’t know to ask for it?

Or that major labels acquire equity in streaming companies like Spotify by licensing your music at a discount, but when they cash out, artists will see none of that money?

Or that most record deals give labels a massive cut of streaming royalties, because the deals are still based on old physical formats?

The music business is complex. For decades, artists have lost millions because they didn’t know enough about the business to notice unfair business practices. Now, with the information provided online and in print, you can build the necessary knowledge to manage your career and finances.

For a quick primer, check out the Berklee report on fairness in music, and our recommendations for the best books about the music industry.

4. Overcome Fear, Critics, and Detractors

When I wrote my first article about the music industry, it received thousands of comments from musicians and fans. Nearly all the comments were either positive or were discussion of the music industry, and the vast majority of readers said nothing. But some readers did take the time to tell me how they felt about my writing and my personal character.

One reader took the time to look up my email address and write two paragraphs advising I never write again, burn all article drafts, and stay off the Internet for the next few years.

It’s the negative comments that I remember most vividly. We all do. In a study called “Bad is Stronger Than Good”, lead scientist Roy Baumeister found that we are all viscerally affected by criticism.

In fact:

  • We remember negative emotions in striking detail, but gloss over positive ones;
  • We are much likelier to remember negative criticism over praise;
  • The effect holds true no matter how happy and positive you are;
  • Baumeister estimated that it takes about five positive comments to balance one negative comment

Unfortunately, it doesn’t matter who you are or what you do — you will be judged for it. And if haters can get under your skin, they can completely derail your progress.

The time-honored solution to haters: ignore them. Focus on the road, not the feedback. Whatever you do, keep being authentic, keep being yourself, and keep moving forward.

5. Don’t Give Up

The music business is hard. While there is more opportunity than ever for an artist to stand out without needing millions of dollars, there is also more competition and saturation, too. Making money has become harder, even as making music and reaching fans has become cheaper. Resources for improving your knowledge of the business have grown, but the music industry has become far more complex, too.

Through all this struggle, there is going to be the temptation to give up. The business is too hard. You’re not making any money. Competition is incredible. YouTube comments on your videos are displaying the worst of all humanity.

All musicians struggle with problems like these. Even the biggest stars in the world have to try and navigate the business, constantly compete for attention, and deal with hate and criticism. The members of Grizzly Bear, one of the most successful indie acts of the 2000’s, still have day jobs. This is part of being in the music business.

But don’t give up.

If you still love making music and want to share it with the world, but the music business is overwhelming you, then take this weekend off to rest.

I’ll see you on Monday.

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