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FACT #1: Nobody knows, or cares, who you are when you are starting out. You’re on your own.
FACT #2: No matter how good you are, you are not going to make it on your own. You need to attract people who can see your potential and want to help you make the absolute best of it.
FACT #3: There are plenty of other fish in the sea. Thousands of musicians who want to make it just as much as you do.
How are you going to stand out and grab the attention of managers, record companies, publishers and live agents who can supercharge your career?
Why should busy people invest their time, effort and money helping you?
Do you know what they are looking for?
It can feel overwhelming when you look at the mountain of things you’ve got to do when you are on your own. As well as write songs, make and release records, play gigs, you’ve also got to build an audience and make enough money to keep the wolf from the door and the show on the road.
Are you even sure you are doing the RIGHT things at the RIGHT time?
Could you do with some help working out:
Exactly what you need to achieve to catch the eye of people who are in a position to launch a rocket under your career?
How to keep on top of all the things you need to do to get there?
What progress have you made already and what you need to work on next?
If so, Phil Nelson could be just the person to help you.
A successful, long-time music manager, who also researches and lectures on the music industry, Phil has come up with an easy to follow game plan for the do it yourself (DIY) musician which shows you what you need to do to climb to the top of this mountain. (You can listen to my conversation with Phil where he talks about this in some detail))
This game plan does not guarantee you huge success, nothing can do that.
It’s not going to be easy doing what Phil suggests, but nothing worthwhile is.
Phil does however lay down a path that has been taken by others before you and has worked. If you follow his suggestions you will be headed in the right direction.
It does lead to the top of the mountain, where you will stand out from the crowd and grab the attention of people who can help you supercharge your music career.
It might be a challenge, but you can climb this mountain.
So let’s get to work.
THE 3 SECRETS TO BUILDING YOUR MUSIC MAKING CAREER
Before you start your climb, here are 3 things for you to write on a piece of paper and pin on your fridge:
1. You are on your own (to start with)
Nobody is going to help you at the beginning. Don’t expect help. Do It Yourself is where you begin.
You’ve got to start climbing on your own.
Your job is
And then find people who can help you get where you want to go.
Get ready for them - become so interesting to them that they might be willing to invest their time, money and reputation helping you develop your career.
How do you show them you are ready?
By making great music and building an audience.
2. You have 5 areas to work on:
Improving your skills in the 3 R’s - Writing, Rehearsing, Recording. (I call them the 3 R’s because if you say them aloud they sound like they all begin with an R, even if they don’t) (It’s a kind of joke…) ((The not particularly funny kind))
Building your audience
Getting money to fund your career
3. Your aim is to get to what Phil Nelson calls DIY10
Phil explains there are 10 stages to go through before you are realistically going to attract the attention of the industry. He calls them DIY1 (short for Do It Yourself One) through to DIY10.
DIY1 is the very beginning. If you have no music, no following and no live experience you are at DIY1.
DIY10 is the top of this mountain. You have a ton of online followers at this point, your streaming numbers are strong and growing and you can sell out small shows in your hometown and beyond. You are becoming visible to the industry. Significant people will be sniffing around and listening to your music. You will be taken seriously.
Are you anywhere near DIY10 at the moment?
Does the journey there look intimidating? Of course it does!
So how do you get there?
When you have a huge task in front of you, I recommend you always spend some time defining what it is you want to achieve and then break it down into small actions and start doing them.
How do you eat an elephant? One bite at a time.
How do you climb a mountain? One step at a time.
And the most important thing is that you start doing something. Actions not words.
Here’s how Phil suggests you approach the ascent.
HOW TO TO BUILD MOMENTUM IN YOUR MUSICAL CAREER
Image1 - Momentum planner:
Start by reading the list of activities down the left hand side of the table.
These are things you are going to have to do to get to the top of the mountain
Look at the columns that go from DIY1 to DIY10. The activities fall into different areas and the chart shows each area in a different colour:
Working on the 3 R’s - Writing, Rehearsing, Recording - is black
Playing Live is red
Releasing recordings is green
Building profile is blue
Getting money is purple
If you are in DIY 1 to DIY 5 and looking for funding you would be considered to be at the Early Career stage of your career by PRSF (which is the PRS Foundation) and HMUK (Help Musicians UK) when they are considering funding you.
If you are in DIY 6 to DIY 10 and looking for funding PRSF consider you an Emerging Creator, whilst HMUK would call you “Mid Career”.
How to use the Momentum Planner
Look at the first activity. “Writing, recording, rehearsing” - the 3 R’s. It’s the only activity which is in all 10 stages of the journey from DIY1 to DIY10. I know that I keep banging on about this but it is the essential truth of the industry: your ability to write, perform and record music is what will define whether or not you are able to make a living making music. If these skills are good enough you have a chance. If not, it’s Goodnight Vienna, no matter how excellent you are at social media.
Without the necessary level of musical skills, you are almost certainly wasting your time trying to break into the industry. So - work on these musical skills regularly and endlessly. They are the core skills. All the rest of the steps on this planner are about getting your music in front of people and building a following.
The Momentum Planner is a guide. If you are at the very start of your journey, look at the DIY1 column and do the things in that column. For example:
Practice your “Writing, recording, rehearsing”
Start playing live “Open Mics and short “first on” sets”
When you have done that, move to DIY2 column and start doing the things listed there:
“Release Music via Soundcloud”
Create “DIY Videos, Photos”
Develop “Word Of Mouth”
“Establish “Social Media” presence
Start building your “Email List”
And when you have completed those tasks move to DIY3 and then DIY4 and onwards until you have reached the summit of DIY10.
WHAT IS THE VERY BEST THING TO DO NEXT TO ADVANCE YOUR MUSIC CAREER?
The Momentum Planner is a great map of the sort of things you need to do to get to DIY10. But it doesn’t give you the details of the specific tasks you will perform to get there. For example, how exactly do you build your social media presence from DIY2 to DIY10?
What Phil comes up with next helps fill that gap. He breaks your job into three main areas:
grow the number of your followers,
grow the number of listeners to your recordings, and
grow the number of people who pay to watch you play live, buy your merch and/or crowdfund you.
In each of those areas he looks at specific activities and sets out the numbers you will need to achieve in each activity to move from DIY1 through to DIY10 in a table.
He calls these Progress Ladders and I include extracts from them below
Health warning: This is not an exact science. These numbers indicate roughly where you need to get to. They will also change over time and other social media will come into the picture (for example Tik Tok is missing at present).These are however very good guidelines. Treat them as such, rather than as absolute rules, set in stone.
What number of social media followers do I need to break into the music industry?
Image 2 - Progress Ladders / Followers
Each stage from DIY1 to DIY10 is written down the left hand column. The numbers in the table show the levels you would be expected to be at for each category and for each DIY stage. At DIY4, for example you would be expected to have 300 people on your email list, 900 Facebook likes, 900 Instagram followers etc.
What is great about these ladders is that they point where you will need to do more work. For example, you might find yourself at DIY9 levels for Instagram and Facebook but have less than 100 people on your email list which is back at DIY1. This is a great indication that 1) you are good at building a social following (well done!) and 2) you need to do some work converting some of your thousands of social media followers into people on your email list.
This ladder shows you immediately which activities you are a bit behind on and require more work from you. This is the work you should be doing next.
How many listeners should I be aiming for?
Image 3 - Progress Ladders / Listeners
This works in the same way as with the social followers ladder. In this case we are looking at your progress in getting listeners on the main streaming services and through sales of CD’s and vinyl. Work out what DIY stage you are at with each of the streaming services. Are you doing particularly well with any of them? What can you learn from what you are doing here that you can apply to the other services? Which services are behind the curve? Make it your next project to do some work driving numbers up in those areas where you are not so strong.
Finally, how many paying fans do you need?
Image 4 - Progress Ladders / Paying fans
Yes I know that some active listeners may have bought your CD but most of your social media followers and your listeners show that they are interested in you just by giving you a digital thumbs up or clicking play on a stream. It doesn’t cost them anything to do so. In many ways this Progress Ladder tracking paying fans is the most important one because it shows people who have actually put their hand in their pockets and splashed the cash to support you, either by buying tickets to your show, buying merchandise or even crowdfunding you.
This ladder works on exactly the same principles as the other two. Use it to work out where you currently are strongest and where you need to do more work. Your next step should be to do something to improve your weakest numbers.
London is very important if you want to break into the UK music industry. It might not be fair but the reality is that most of the people in the industry are based in the city. If you want to get noticed and you want major players to come and see you play live, your chances of getting them along to the gig is much improved if you play London.
START WORKING ON YOUR CAREER RIGHT NOW
Does that seem like a blizzard of information? Are you feeling snowblind with too much to do?
Don’t worry. You are not alone in feeling like this. There really is an awful lot to do. And it’s never going to be easy.
The beauty of Phil’s method is that he has clearly laid out how you can get to DIY10 and it's there that you will grab the attention of the music industry:
His Momentum Planner tells you the activities you need to concentrate on.
His Progress Ladders show you how close to DIY10 you are in those activities and what specific areas you need to work on next.
Remember the best way of eating an elephant is one bite at a time.
You can’t get to the top of the mountain in one leap, but you can climb there one step at a time. Other people have - so why can’t you?
Start by doing these 3 things:
Work out what stage you are at using the Progress Ladders and the Momentum Planner.
Identify one area where you are behind the curve and start working on it right now.
When you have completed that first task, pick a second and begin work on that. And if you have friends who want to help you with any of these tasks, get them involved. (Are they good at art, could they make you a logo? Good at taking photos or making little videos, can they film you?) A lot of people don’t want to be up on stage but love being part of something. Put them to work! It’s one less thing for you to do.
Congratulations. You are on your way.
Develop a habit of working on something every day.
If you are ever not sure what to do, go back to the 3 R’s and spend time Writing, Recording, Rehearsing.
Fix your eyes on the top of the mountain.
One step at a time.
Start right now.
It ain’t easy but you can do this. It Ain't Easy David Bowie