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5 Steps to Success as an Artist

It was 2003 when I enrolled into the University of Arizona School of Music when I first began pursuing my career as a musician and artist. This also was a time in where the digital age was on the rise in it's earlier stages, which impacted the music industry at large on a catastrophic financial level.
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It was 2003 when I enrolled into the University of Arizona School of Music when I first began pursuing my career as a musician and artist. This also was a time in where the digital age was on the rise in it's earlier stages, which impacted the music industry at large on a catastrophic financial level. All that being said, I guess all I really knew at the time was that I was deeply passionate, committed, and dedicated to making music. Beyond that, I was clueless as to how I was going to make a career doing so.


Fast forward about 10 years since then, and I can humbly and proudly share that I now earn my living full-time in music as an artist, social entrepreneur, and educator. The journey up to this point has been nothing short of relentless hard work and sacrifice more than I ever imagined it would be, but I still love expressing myself creatively and empowering others today, more than ever before. I've learned so much so far, but the most exciting part for me is that I believe that what I have discovered is not unique to just my experience, but in principle, could be accessible by any musician or artist... anywhere.

So, here are the 5 steps I that I believe can ensure you will be successful as an artist as well:

1. Clarify your purpose as to why you are entering the creative industry.

Start by asking yourself a great question, "Why are you really wanting to make a full or part-time career as a creative?" It's likely that there is a wide variety of answers to this question, and there should be. But it is very important that you are being honest and clear as to what your sole reason for pursuing a profession that includes creating and sharing art. No matter what that answer happens to be for you right now, understand that you will have a tough time achieving and sustaining any level of success in a creative field if your core purpose for doing so isn't eventually about anything other than a raw, pure, full dedication, and love for your craft. By ensuring you are resolute with this at the end of the day, you are setting yourself up to win no matter what does or does not happen. The reason being is that you will ultimately go back to what truly motivates you at your core when things don't go the way you hope they do, and when people let you down - which will most definitely happen at some point. If you're ok with this first step, don't worry!... it's the toughest one.

2. Mind your business.

With a lot of my career involving producing music professionally and developing companies, I am constantly finding myself in conversations with my colleagues within the entertainment industry as well as the startup world. From everyone I've spoken to who has achieved any level of success in either field, I've come to discover that there's one very fascinating thing in common they all share and that's the "Pareto principle" (also known as the 80-20 rule). It's the law of the vital few, that states that, for many events, roughly 80% of the effects come from 20% of the causes. This principle has been beautifully reinvigorated and made popular by one of my favorite thought leader, Tim Ferriss.

For the case of a creator, this rule would translate into that 80% of your effectiveness as a career artist or entrepreneur will come from the top 20% of your most significant total efforts in which you output. Even though the the creative content and your ideas you produce must be great at the core, I would go so far to say that your top 20% of what you output which will result in you being successful, will predominantly be made up of the business side of things. (I.e. branding, marketing, distribution and sales.) Yep, I said it. For most artists, "business" is a dirty word and they typically don't want to deal with any of "that stuff". This is normally rooted in a lack of knowledge and understanding that business not only one of the most empowering skillsets to have, but it is actually just as (sometimes if not more) creative as making the art itself. Think of all the skills required to make art; inspiration, critical thinking, problem solving, strategy, collaboration, energy, etc. Those are pretty much the exact same criteria for any effective business.

Take the time to educate yourself on the economics of the arts and entertainment industry from a macro to micro view. Elevate your awareness of the value system of those who make leading financial decisions within your specific field of the industry you subscribe to. Most everything you need to know can be found online for free, or at the small cost of treating someone you admire and further along than you to a latte at their favorite cafe' in order to pick their brain. If you have an interest in the music space, be sure to check out my friend Steve "Rennie" Renman and the amazing music business platform & web show he has created.

3. Decide what your best definition of "success" is.

One of my favorite questions to ask people is, "What is your dream scenario?" It not only helps you learn a lot about a person in a very short amount of time, but it also reveals their criteria for success. Just like in step 1, the answers to this can and should vary widely. But no matter what that happens to be for you, it is imperative that you are constantly evaluating and clarifying your own definition of "success" - one that will serve you and your vision best. It will be your guiding light and set you up to win throughout your journey, instead of ever contemplating failure.

Personally, I think one of the very best, most specific, and clear definitions of success I have seen was coined by an incredible thinker and author, Kevin Kelly, in his blog, "1000 True Fans". Maybe it will help spur your ideas along.

The gist of 1,000 True Fans can be stated simply:

A creator, such as an artist, musician, photographer, craftsperson, performer, animator, designer, videomaker, or author - in other words, anyone producing works of art - needs to acquire only 1,000 True Fans to make a living. -Kevin Kelly (1,000 True Fans)

To make this even more practical and real, let's run through this scenario: Imagine for a second how many people in the world right now... now, how many of those people are connected on the internet via computer or mobile device?... out of those people, how many of them do you think interact with similar social media or websites as you do?... Now, without being a professional researcher, analyst or mind reader, I can be certain you are imagining a very large number of people who you could potentially be connected to, whom span all across the globe. If this is true, do you believe you capable of earning 1,000 "true fans" of your own; those who would spend maybe 50-100 dollars per year on supporting you and any of the products of your creativity? Let's hope you answered this with a resounding "YES", because with the first 2 steps in the clear, you most certainly can.

4. Connect and build real relationships.

Now of days, no matter what you do or are trying to accomplish, the new paradigm for scaling any idea or product is all about how well you or your brand is connecting with others, period. it's not a novel idea by any means, but in a world extremely oversaturated by all things that are fighting to get your attention, your ability to engage with other in relevant and meaningful ways

Here are just a few of some newer mediums that I have seen in this past year alone that you should be aware of for different reasons. Remember, your first big goal is to achieve 1,000 true fans, whom could come from any platform online or offline. True engagement, reactions, and financial investment earned through building relationships is the ultimate measurement of growth from your fans and supporters. Here are just a few newer social tools that have caught my attention in this past year that I would recommend to any budding music artist or entrepreneur to be aware of, engaged with and be inspired by:


I love MeerKat for a lot of reasons. Mainly because I believe they are on the forefront of what the future of social media will be all about.... real engagement, in real-time. Think of it as an actual conversation you can have with thousands of people through live video. You can ask questions, give answers, learn something. You literally can experience any kind of moment, with anyone across the world. If you're a budding artist of any sort, I would encourage you to get on Meerkat ASAP... because, why not??


weeSPIN is a live music app that lets you share music together in real time. Again, this is the future folks. You basically can Invite your friends to join your music queue or hop into a friend's queue to listen together, wherever you are. This not only provides a different sort of listening experience for the user, but their grander mission is to generate new revenue streams for independent artists through brand partnerships. This is obviously exciting for music artists, but also for any brands who could benefit from aligning and collaborating with them. Musician or not, weeSPIN is worth poking around and paying attention to.


NextRadio is a potential massive game-changer for both music artists and their fans. It combines FM radio broadcast with the internet where the user can have interaction and a creative experience with album artwork, song details, station logos and program details. It's also the first of its kind to utilize your phone's built in FM receiver hardware with 3X better battery life and 10X less data usage. Basically, it won't drain your data plan or battery... crazy, right?! Again, whether you're directly involved with music or not, this platform represents yet another platform where valuable interaction and engagement can happen between makers, their supporters, and ambassadors. Breakthrough innovation like NextRadio is so inspiring and exciting as they provide a glimpse of how bright the future possibilities are for creatives and artists of all sorts.

5. Set scalable expectations.

My music manager, Eric Von, is an incredible mind, and overall great human being. He and I have been "dreaming and scheming" (as we like to call it) for the past two years together as a team ever since the inception of my solo artist project I am currently in the heart of. We have spent countless hours in conversations casting vision, strategizing, examining current trends, exploring our own potential, and pretty much anything else you can think directly or indirectly connected to the music industry. We aren't afraid to think really big, and we do it often. However, one the most powerful things I have learned from Eric is that no matter how large or unique your dreams happen to be, it is vital to set "scalable expectations" for yourself, your vision, and those you come accross all along the way. This sort of principle allows you to have it all basically; you get to hold fast to your grand vision, but get to balance it with a sequence of milestones throughout your growth process so that you are constantly feeling successful and energized throughout the entire journey. Again, this sort of strategy will diminish you feeling disappointed or as if you are failing, which are the most notorious enemies of achieving success or greatness.

I hope this was helpful and I look forward to your feedback. If you are interested in seeing more of what I have shared on Artist Development, check out my contribution to TEDx Talk.

Love and Light,

Corey Ferrugia

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