What Makes A Successful Artist?


No matter how good your music is people still like to have human contact with the people who made it.

It’s a big question and you could say that I’m in a unique position to shed some light on it, having both played in bands and spent many years working in the industry. The truth of it is however, that I don’t have a magic wand, or even some incredible piece of advice that will propel you or your band straight into the stratosphere. The music industry is way too complex and fickle an animal for that. All I can do is offer my honest opinion, having glimpsed things from both sides of the musical fence.

So what exactly is the definition of success? Well, it depends on what you want from your musical career. You may well be happy creating music by yourself in your room, or rehearsing and writing with your mates, purely for fun and with no intention of ever playing a gig, releasing an album or getting on Jools Holland. If this is the case then great – more power to you and I’m sure you’ll enjoy the journey every bit as much (probably more!) but for the purposes of this article, let’s assume that we’re talking about commercial success.

I’ve been in bands where we’ve dreamt of stardom but felt like we were caught in a music industry riptide, totally unable to fathom why the entire human race weren’t throwing their knickers at us. Surely our songs were going to change the world and, just like Bill and Ted, alter the course of history altogether.

The harsh reality of course is that a modicum of talent and a few great songs are not going to get you noticed amidst the huge shoal of hopefuls who, by the way, are convinced that they too have written music that will eventually lead them to world domination. That’s not to say that self-belief isn’t a vital ingredient for success — it is. It’s just that there’s a whole lot of other stuff that you need to do as well…

First things first – If you want to be commercially successful you have to start seeing your band as a business. It isn’t the most romantic of notions, but it’s the truth. With this in mind you need to treat it like a business and this means applying some very basic business principles. Your music is your product, your fans are your customers, and just like any business you need a marketing strategy to get your product out there.

So to start with you need a fantastic product. Your songs have to be well-written, beautifully constructed with great lyrical content and you need to be able to perform them flawlessly in your sleep. The simple key to this is practice – rehearse as regularly as you can, once a week is not enough. If you can commit to six or more times a month it will quickly pay dividends. Of course this can be expensive so ask the practice studio to cut you a deal – most will if you commit to practicing regularly during off-peak times.

Just like a business it’s no good having an amazing product if nobody knows about it, so you need a marketing strategy. Decide on your band identity first; this should tie in with the type of music you play. In this way you can identify who will make up your fanbase and therefore who you need to reach. Next, consider your brand – how should you come across on stage; what do you wear, do you stare moodily at your shoes, or stage dive into the crowd? Always relate these decisions back to your music and your potential fanbase and be consistent with your brand.

Make sure you have a great media pack to send out to promoters, labels and other industry types. Make it digital, with photos, a brief biog, no more than a couple of your best songs and keep it simple – music professionals have a short attention span.

And lastly, go out and network with people in the industry and on your local scene; randomly sending demos out rarely works. No matter how good your music is people still like to have human contact with the people who made it.

Now get out there and enjoy it, if you’re not already. And good luck — you’ll need quite a bit of that as well…