What is success?
Success is a slippery term. By definition it is ‘the accomplishment of an aim or purpose’ which doesn’t really tell us anything other than the fact that success is subjective. What is this aim or purpose? It depends on the person. Musicians, like anyone else, can measure success in a number of different ways. For some, it is achieving a sound they have been aspiring towards for years, for others it could be playing a certain venue. Success could mean achieving a certain number of streams or sales. It could be all of these things or something completely different but successful musicians have a clear idea of what their aim is. In any endeavour, not having a goal makes for a confusing journey.
I know it sounds cliche (and it is) but a big contributing factor to being a successful music artist is authenticity. The ability to have your song play on the radio or in a TV show or at a party and for people to know that it’s you. Obviously, there are thousands and thousands of musicians and it’s easy to think that you have nothing new to bring but the simple fact that YOU are the one creating is enough for it to sound unique. Successful artists have mastered their sound by knowing who they are and being comfortable enough to share this with the world.
In the age of nonchalance, it’s easy to feel embarrassed about promoting your own music and openly caring about your craft. However, unashamedly (and sometimes annoyingly) promoting your art is exactly how you’re going to get people to care enough to listen. In an interview with Converse, Tyler the Creator speaks about how important it is to promote your own music. Believe in what you make enough to not let it go unnoticed. “You gonna be passive with your music and put it on your story once?” he questions. And he has a point. On a platform as saturated as Instagram (or any social media platform for that matter) it’s easy for a post to get lost in the abyss and for people to completely miss it. Even once you reach a certain level of success, as Tyler has, promotion is still important – sometimes you have to create your own hype.
The TikTok Trap …
In 2022 it feels unnatural to talk about music success without talking about TikTok. A musician’s best friend and worst enemy. On the one hand, TikTok is a fantastic platform for reaching a large number of people and building an audience but on the other hand, a following can be lost just as quickly as it is gained with a lot of musicians going viral on TikTok for one song and never being heard from again. If people resonate with what you put out, the TikTok algorithm will make sure it reaches like-minded individuals. The downside of TikTok, as previously mentioned, is falling into the trap of short-term success which can be easy when you release music to simply keep up with trends – trends that can change within the space of twenty-four hours. I guess in a sense it comes back to authenticity. As long as you’re posting things that truly represent your artistry, your audience will find you and TikTok can make this a lot easier.
Enjoy the process
Successful music artists are making the music that they enjoy, not music that fits in with the latest trends. Although this doesn’t guarantee instant success, there’s a longevity to this method in the sense that the people that listen to your music truly appreciate who you are as an artist. Frank Ocean fans (myself included) have waited and will continue to wait for his next project despite the fact that it has been over five years since the release of Blonde. He’s an example of an artist that has built a loyal fanbase through releasing the music that is an authentic representation of him. His supporters care enough to wait for whatever he puts out next because they care about him as a musician. An artist’s ability to know their audience is extremely important as, although it shouldn’t determine the music the artist makes, it has a huge impact on how they decide to market this music to their audience whether it be an album every couple of years, an EP every couple of months or a string of singles. A successful artist listens to their supporters enough to know what they respond to but not too much as to stop being true to themselves.
Be a fan
As much as consistently making music is one of the most important things that a musician can do, being an avid consumer of music comes at a close second. The best music artists are ones that study their craft – they’re not afraid to be fans of the artists they love, to listen to their albums, attend their shows, cite them as influences for their own projects. Just as good writing does not come about without consuming a variety of literature, good music cannot be born without the artist first being a music fan.
Talk to people!
As is with many roles within the creative industry it is important to build connections with others. Not just people that are in positions that you would like to be in but people that are at the same level in their music career as you. Having a support network of musicians to relate to is just as important as networking with those above you. It’s amazing how much knowledge and insight you can gain simply by talking to people and you’d be surprised how many people are happy to talk over a coffee. It doesn’t even have to be another musician, it could be someone working in the industry or equally someone knowledgable about the industry. Of course this is easier said than done and most people aren’t surrounded by people that work in the music industry which is why its good to put yourself out there – go to gigs, talk to people at those gigs, talk to people on twitter, slide into someone’s DM’s (respectfully)- the worst that can happen is you get ignored – but you never know until you ask.
It’s difficult to sum up what makes a successful music artist and in writing this blog (and after consulting family and friends much wiser than me), I realised what a big question this is to tackle as it really is so subjective. The main philosophy that a lot of these points come back to is making music that you really care about. The musicians that do this are the ones that are being authentic, caring enough about their art to promote it correctly, and listening to their audience. They are the ones not swayed by the latest trends and willing to take time over what they make even if it means losing supporters along the way. If you’re doing all of these things then you’re well on your way to becoming a successful music artist.