On the homepage of my website, I lay out (in very broad terms) what I've observed is the 4-step system to success in the music business: Have a great product (song/album/live show), build an audience around it, monetize their interest, and multiply your results. I warn my readers, though, that I don't talk much about the "great product" aspect of things- although I play drums/piano and produce music myself, there are amazing musicians and teachers much more qualified to instruct you on that area than I. However, when Praverb asked me to write on that very topic, I realized that I could bring a unique angle to the discussion, in keeping with my backgrounds in entrepreneurship and startups.
Great music is the foundation for the three steps that follow it. If you've honed your craft and created truly remarkable music, your audience and monetization stands on a solid concrete structure. You'll be able to build exponentially and an almost-karmic multiplication will take place. If you half-heartedly scramble to assemble an album just because you think you should, or put out your first attempt at making a track and think that you now deserve to be famous, well... with a lot of hustling you could build a small audience and make a few bucks, but it's a weak foundation. There's no way to grow off of it, and you'll always have to force, coerce, and spam people into listening or paying, and even then they probably won't care at the end of the day.
A good entrepreneur knows that the same thing goes for the product or service they're creating. Facebook is still the world's #1 social network because they created a truly amazing product, not because they hit people over the head with promotional tactics to force them into joining. On the flipside, think about the hundreds of wannabes who have tried to build mediocre social networks, put thousands of hours and dollars into hustling, spamming, and coercing people to join, only to ultimately fail. I personally know several people who have attempted that same feat and suffered the same fate.
Because of this, entrepreneurs become product scientists, obsessively collecting user feedback, testing new features and designs, and constantly tweaking their product. Musicians, bands, and DJs can, and should, do the same with their music. Here are 3 ideas on approaching and improving your musical craft with this same mindset:
1. Proactively seek criticism from fans and professionals alike
And no, that random guy on Soundcloud commenting "nice track bro" doesn't count. I'm not suggesting you kill your self-esteem seeking out haters, rather, get feedback from your biggest fans and music industry professionals on things that they love and would change about your latest track(s). Ask your fans over social media- maybe some really like when you write love songs but you've only ever made one or two, maybe some are imploring you to work with that great saxaphone player again. Head onto a site like Music Xray where you can actually hire producers, managers, A&Rs, and engineers to offer detailed critiques on your music. One of those professional critiques will offer insight that you could never give yourself!
2. Use open mics, private shows, and other low-risk live venues to test new material
I got this idea from a rapper that I've DJed for a couple times. He pays close attention to crowd reaction during his songs, and after 1-3 performances of any given version of a song, he'll go back and tweak the arrangement, the form, or things he does to interact with the crowd during the song. I've done the same track with him multiple times, and each time the crowd loves it more and more, because he's been adding more of what they respond to, and cutting down on the less interesting moments that kill the vibe.
3. Check the stats!
Nowadays we have a wealth of statistics available to us as musicians, stats we can get from Soundcloud, Bandcamp, Next Big Sound, or our distributor. Go beyond which of your songs are getting played the most often- which of your Soundcloud uploads has the highest ratio of favorites to plays? What track on Bandcamp has the highest % of complete plays, and which has the highest % of less than 10 percent played? You can draw inferences from this data as to what interests your listeners and catches their ear, and what they constantly hit "skip" on.
I hope these three ideas will get you started on taking an objective look at your music and further honing your craft. Remember- amazing music is the solid foundation that you need in order for the effort you put into audience building, monetization, and multiplication to be worth it. Then once you have a product you truly believe in, check out the Music Biz Systems website or my free eBook and hop onto my email list to learn more about the next three steps!