1) Write and record stellar music
This one goes without saying, but if your songs aren't (at a minimum) catchy, provocative, unique, and meticulously recorded, then you need to invest as much time and effort as it takes to get them that way. The days of getting picked up by record labels on the basis of extremely low-budget demo recordings are pretty much over. So you basically need suck it up and spend some cash. Speaking of which….
2) Manage your finances effectively
It’s pretty much common knowledge that record labels no longer have huge stacks of money to invest in “artist development.” This means that you absolutely must manage your music career like you are running a business, watching your cash flow very carefully and keeping yourself in the black. Artists who fail to demonstrate responsibility and discipline in financial matters will simply get passed over by the labels. Period. Bottom line—you need to resist the urge to live the rock star lifestyle until you've got the bank to support it.
3) Play lots of gigs
The benefits of playing out on a regular basis are numerous. First of all, it helps to improve your musicianship through practice & repetition, forcing you to perform well under pressure. Secondly, it helps you to establish and refine your brand, personality, songwriting, and unique sound. Thirdly, it will help improve your charisma and social skills because you’ll be constantly fielding comments and questions from fans. And lastly but certainly not at least, it will put money in your pocket, which of course helps with #2 above.
4) Develop and streamline your social media presence
In today’s all-digital music industry, this is an absolute must. You need to have a solid social media marketing plan in order to reach the maximum number of people and get as many ears on your music as possible. So how do you do you go about developing such a plan? I'm so glad you asked. :) Here are a few tips:
- Create consistent and professional-looking branding. Unless you’re super-handy with Photoshop and/or Illustrator, bite the bullet and hire a graphic designer.
- Design an eye-catching (but tasteful) Twitter background, YouTube Channel, and Facebook page using your custom branding.
- Upload your music to sites like ReverbNation, SoundCloud, and the BandPage app on Facebook, and promote it on all of your other social media channels
- Create (and stick to) a regular posting/tweeting schedule to remain “top of mind” with your fans. Keep them informed of your upcoming shows, share pics & videos, and occasionally share off-topic items that you think they’ll enjoy.
- Set weekly goals for increasing your following, and constantly engage with fans. Never let a question or comment go unacknowledged.
- Remember that achieving success with social media is a journey, not a destination.
5) Get some truly amazing promotional photos
Time and time again, the first thing that potential fans (or talent scouts, venue managers, or even <gasp> A&R reps) will see typically see when they come across your stuff for the very first time are your photos. Make a great impression, and chances are good that the person in question will bother to click your link, rummage through your press kit, or <gasp> actually listen to your music.
Right or wrong, we all “judge a book by its cover” from time to time, so it’s no surprise that people will instantly make certain assumptions about you based solely on the quality and impact of your promotional photos. It doesn't matter if you spent eleven billion dollars on your album— if nobody’s listening to it because your pictures suck, then for all intents and purposes, you do too.
You might literally only have 2 seconds to catch someone’s eye, and bear in mind that in today’s caffeine-fuelled world of 140-character status updates, there will always be countless other things competing for that same sliver of attention. So the bottom line is that, when given a chance, you better make it count. As the great lyricist Eminem said, “you only get one shot, do NOT miss your chance to glow.”