Graduating the Indie Music Artist to Reality

Science has a great deal of research about human habits and in reading a few journals and articles in preparation of this blog story, I found it quite interesting that habits that are born out of necessity at the time are often the very behaviors that create and simultaneously prevent growth in a life area. They are an artifact of a past need for efficiency in some task or skill. Something as simple as the way we get ready in the morning, the routine, to the way we unwind at the end of a hectic day. We evolve our method of doing things to create a simplification of a routine we must have in order to have order and time become more effective in our life.

Consider the independent music artist.

Along the way of discovering their craft in music are many influences which help develop habits. Whether it be studying the way a favorite famous guitarist plays a riff ,or how a stage show performance looks with a choreographed lead band member’s moves. The independent artist develops routines and habits that help them begin to identify with who they want to become in the music business when the spotlight of fame finally swings over them from the balcony.

As an Indie Artist Management company, I am still learning how to evaluate talent at various levels to basically assess what habits they’ve formed... both good and bad. Then I decide if those habits and routines have prepared them to graduate in the real life as a full time artist trying to earn a living as a music artist. This assessment may take a couple days to months for me to truly understand them. It is a process that reveals their personal motivations, environmental motivations, creative motivations, their work ethic, obviously their pure and raw skills as an artist, and last but not least, their business skillset and habits in how they handle making money.

The truth is that I’ve not yet found a single artist who isn’t at varying phases of all those areas. The best indie artists are aware of their degrees of competence in all of the areas and want help getting better at them or by delegating them. Others are either oblivious to a bigger picture of the real industry and need a lot of teaching and education to occur before they are truly level to graduate. For whatever reason, those less ready are usually easily identified.

THE UNDERGRAD

  • Has a history of success in a smaller geographic region and maybe little to moderate exposure nationally
  • Has a firm confidence on their creative process and “sound”
  • Has a group of key influencers in their life that prop up their ego and image as being “the next big thing” to breakthrough with a few more breaks
  • Has just enough songs online and/or live show experience to believe they are all set in that area
  • Hasn’t really focused on the business end of the music industry.
  • Name drops to establish legitimacy
  • Is just on the cusp of breaking through to greatness

I could continue the list, but I think it suffices as the typical client I interview who has arrived at the possibility they may want management. Don’t get me wrong, there is a right and wrong time to hire a manager. I wrote a couple blog posts dedicated to that very topic August 2014 and November 2016. But in most cases when an Indie Artist is looking for management, they have mentally or resourcefully tapped out or exhausted their habits to the point they need help.

Frankly, the clients I consider typically must be undergrads in status. I work with artists needing a great deal of A&R but find a better cooperation with those who have been grinding a while. I actually respect those who have come to the point they are ready to graduate. The challenge is like any where habits have been formed, both good and bad. In a sense, some habits which the undergraduate may think are a powerful asset, may actually be what is preventing them from gaining traction. While on the other hand, some habits they have are underdeveloped and need more attention. The worst habit is the brainwashing they’ve gone through about what is true and not true about the real music industry. Another blog worth reading is one where I identify the common lies artists believe which tend to keep them in that undergraduate status.

So the first step as a manager, I spend a lot of time figuring out how much of an undergraduate they really are and whether their habits are able to be improved or removed entirely.

I hinted to some key areas earlier and wanted to list them again since their importance is so high on the list of whether they will find success to graduate to the next level. Working with a management company should help an artist achieve the following important assets and habits:

GRADUATING

  • Teachableness
The one consistent area of successful artists who are earning a living from music is their willingness to be taught by people who they may have previously deemed unnecessary. They have figured out that learning to implement better habits or routines that may have previously been dismissed by them becomes a goldmine of revelation. WIllingness to be taught is like having a magnifying glass or microscope looking at your own musical dna and discovering the real you along the way.
  • Work Ethic
The need for a disciplined self-schedule to ensure every activity you’re doing will have some direct career benefit is important. It’s not just networking, it’s also the old-fashioned hours and hours each day doing at least one thing to improve your craft. Whether it is songwriting, recording in a studio session, rehearsing with your band, vocal lessons, etc. A graduated indie artist is convinced now more than ever they must fill their days with repetition and work toward their craft despite the phone ringing for opportunities. They are aware of the danger of putting out a song or project and just waiting for the industry or fans to respond. In essence they recognize the need to keep the pipeline full of product and ready to release more product 24/7/365.
  • Understands the Music Business... Business
Understanding publishing deals, how tour revenues work, sync deals, copyright laws, mechanical royalties, splits, fair market value for outsourcing production or any other job which helps them move forward is critically important. I’ve always told my artists that it isn’t that you must be an expert and handle these areas yourself, but you should at least understand them well enough that you can delegate it to someone you trust and at any time you can evaluate how they are doing the job in your behalf and know what to look for.
  • Mentoring
This is really the sign of an indie artist who has graduated. They are not only focused on their personal growth as an artist, but find themselves surrounded by fellow emerging artists who are seeking advice and watching them to learn. A graduated indie artist finds time to teach other artists and help them develop. At the same time, they themselves are submitted to more successful artists as a student and being mentored. This is closely related to teachableness, but involves taking the burden of a student on themselves so they stay fresh in the next generation of upcoming artists and what they may be facing in order to get their big break.
  • Always Hungry
A graduated indie artist is always seeking to hear new music and artists that are being discovered. They have become a student of the industry overall. They’re not just focused on their favorite band or artist, but they are obsessed with breaking down songs and mixes to their core level to learn new ways to be creative. They are experimenting in the studio all the time and working on their live show with tweaks. The graduated indie artist is never satisfied with riding the wave of one or two successes. They are engaged in repeating that process with a new song or project.

As a manager of some of the best indie talent under one company, I am always excited to watch the growth each artist experiences when I push them to become the graduate indie artist and not to be satisfied with that undergrad mindset and habits. Like a baseball manager of a team, the talent of a player is evaluated and known. But the player is the one actually playing the game. It’s up to the player to perform at or above their abilities and high expectations set for them. A manager is there to encourage, motivate, and help identify bad habits and get the lined up with resources to help them get better at their craft. I recognize my own weaknesses as a manager and do my best to find partners who will take on management roles I won’t be effective in with my artists. But in the end, I strive to build awareness in the artist of where they are, and where they should be headed. In a way, I’m a human compass hopefully leading them to the direction they need to go.

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