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To Be Successful as an Independent Musician, Work a Lot

I write about a lot of musicians for my work and I’ve never been able to help but analogize it to the musicians I’ve known in my own life working in the music scene here in the Triangle.

Very frequently I can see the parallels between the opening days of a now-famous musician’s career and those of my friends (and, more truthfully, my former friends.)

This has given me a pretty keen insight into where exactly these successful artists diverge from our contemporaries who have, let’s say, failed to find similar success.

And to be reductionist, though not to the point of uselessness, the difference between the people whose albums have hit the Billboard charts and those whose albums sit and gather dust next to the checkout at your favorite cafe?

Manhours. Whether it’s work done by the artist themselves or the community the artist built around themselves, the defining element, the continuity between those who find success can be boiled down to how much work they put into it.

It isn’t whether or not your music is innovative, technically proficient, or culturally insightful. Those things help, but only if you’ve otherwise invested the labour into creating and curating your art.

And I don’t mean “work” as in hours spent practicing or time in the studio but “work” in the pure business sense of it. Collecting potential clients and leads. Building marketing materials. Those things which you’ve viewed as secondary and tertiary to successful art? You’re wrong - they’re at the heart of it.

The story is frequently the same: A musician creates a song, or album, what have you. Then either they or someone who finds them puts the work into cultivating their art into a product. That’s the use of getting discovered - not suddenly having some patron who can cut you a check for that week’s groceries but having someone who can help (or help finance) the creation of a business around your art.

Notions of artistic integrity often sabotage that approach, though. In an effort to maintain some notion of “purity,” artists cripple themselves out of the gate, ultimately limiting and removing any sense of control they might have had over their art had they been willing to “sell out.”

Which is a shame; art shouldn’t need to be created as a necessity for your survival but as a consequence of your life.

And if you’re going to try and turn your life into art, and make a profit off that art, please, for the love of god, understand that you’re an entrepreneur and businessperson at heart even if you don’t feel like one. So expect to be required to invest as much time in your product as any other small-business owner - or paying someone else to invest their time for you.

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<2015-11-05 Thu>: Created as a Facebook post

<2018-11-05 Mon>: Added to Personal Record

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My name is emsenn and I wrote this essay for the benefit of the commons. To the extent possible under law, I have waived all copyright and related or neighboring rights to it. If you're viewing it on a remote server, you're encouraged to download your own copy. Essays like this are made possible with financial support from readers like you. Thank you. To read more of my work and to learn more about me, visit