How I escaped the living hell of being a musician in 2019


How I escaped the living hell of being a musician in 2019

“What is the most important platform for an artist to look good on?” Almost all of my seasoned music industry friends responded to this question with “Instagram and Spotify.” I hadn’t released any music in 2 years and I didn’t want my grand return efforts focused in the wrong places.

I began getting more active on Instagram and assembling the hieroglyphic scriptures about Spotify playlisting. All of this seemed par for the music hustle. I have had some skin in the game for nearly 20 years now.

I welcome the hustle. But this shit is different.

A castle under siege becomes a prison.

These platforms are soul-sucking nightmare worms that know me better than I know myself. Every post counts! A castle gets built one brick (like/ follower/ view) at a time!

Vanity metrics quickly became vague shackles, and I found myself spending less time and thought energy on my own normal routines. I saw myself thinking and acting life out for performance on these platforms. Anything to reinforce my dream! After all, this is the most important thing a musician can do in 2019 right?

The trap of social media is alluring. A big open platform offers the possibility of discovery. However, fighting algorithms with the delicious carrot of virality hanging just out of reach gets incredibly depressing.

So I began looking for wider nets to cast. “Spend money on ads”: the most common marketing advice for budding musicians. Translation: Give your art away for free and pay for people to see it hoping that you are worthy. Depressing.

Successfully “converting” a follower on one of these platforms isn’t all that great either. I have about 6,000 Instagram followers at the time of this writing, and my BEST post only reaches 1,900 of them organically.

Spotify is no better. Plays and saves generate opportunities for algorithmic distribution. If my track doesn’t find its way on to a playlist or 10, it is as good as dead in the water. Effectively I need access to playlists (external curators) to get access to playlists.

I started to see and feel the confines of my algorithmic cages. I am fortunate here because I know a lot of artists that just write themselves off wholly based on vanity metrics. This is obviously unhealthy.

These platforms are also subject to their own internal struggles and misgivings. Myspace just lost 50 million songs from over 14 million artists. How much effort was lost there? Not only via the actual works but the blood sweat and electronic tears spent building a profile within their community?

As the fire of my discontent raged on, I started taking steps backward in an attempt to see a bigger picture. I spotted something that changed the game for me.

Platforms should be funnels that lead to my own community.

I noticed a glaring issue: I can’t send a message that successfully finds its way to every single person that really cares about my music. I don’t have a way to consistently communicate with my fans, and my fans don’t have a way to communicate with each other either. I don’t have a community!

Ah-ha! These platforms should be seen as the mouth of a funnel that ultimately leads a new fan into the open arms of my community. A community that I can interact with as often as Id like. This realization provided some immediate comfort. I was missing the entire foundation of my house!

I can promote my work through social networks, and if a new fan finds me they should be able to identify and join my community on the spot! I just have to give them something valuable to sink their teeth into! And most importantly, I have to get them off of a transactional platform ASAP so I can dictate the terms of my communication with them.

Once a community is established, they can help spread the word and assist with organic growth across all channels. Plus, I get to make a bunch of new like-minded friends!

Furthermore, once my community has been established, it is my intention to paywall my exports with a very minimal fee. I feel like this is an integral part of the puzzle. I want to provide valuable commodities, and I also expect to be paid fairly for my contribution… is that so bad?

I feel like I have a fresh pair of eyes looking at the industry landscape. It’s so easy to see who understands this community concept.

Acts like Bassnectar, Griz, Excision, Pretty Lights, and San Holo have been staples of the commercial electronic music scene. While genres and trends have changed the community for these acts have continued to grow and thrive.

Each of these artists wields a different approach to their community building efforts. Griz, for instance, has a community of “liberators” that meet up with him in cities across the world to execute philanthropic tasks locally. The communities are often reflections of the core values of each artist. I think this is really exciting.

Having the opportunity to create a space that reflects my own values and artistic vision to nurture and grow feels so good. Sure, I have a lot of work to do. Building a vibrant community almost certainly requires that I give WAY more than I receive for a long time. But at least the pay off is directly proportionate to my own efforts.

So now here I am asking myself questions like:

What does the community look like? 
What value can I bring to the community?
What are my artistic values?
What are the goals of the community?
Where is the best place for my community to thrive?
What are the best techniques for growing a healthy community?

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I am reading two books right now about the subject. Tribes by Seth Godin and Building Successful Online Communities by Robert E. Kraut.

I hope this helps get the wheels turning!