Emily White knows a thing or two about what it takes for artists to build a sustainable music career. In her new book How To Build A Sustainable Music Career And Collect All Revenue Streams, White peels back the layers on years of working with some of the most notable independent artists and entertainers to shed light on how to truly build a meaningful career in the new music industry.
- Don't put the cart before the horse
- Be genuine
- Decide how you want to make the music you have in mind
The very first step before anything else? "Get your art together," White says. That's because time and time again, she sees newer artists try to "put the cart before the horse" by trying to get their music in front of industry professionals and potential "gatekeepers" — even the artist themselves knows it's not putting their best foot forward.
“Pitch sessions,” where artists can play their music to industry types like me, happen frequently at conferences. More often than not, the artist says, “I really need to work on my vocals, get a new drummer,” or some other additional issue that they know they need to resolve before the music is ready to share. In this instance, I understand that they’re excited to play the music for an “industry” person, but regardless, this happens all too often. It’s cliché, but don’t put the cart before the horse. Your music is the horse, and the cart isn’t going anywhere without it.
—Emily White in Chapter 1 of How To Build A Sustainable Music Career And Collect All Revenue Streams
It's important to remember, though, that having your art together doesn't mean you have to spend exorbitant amounts of money trying to get the most pristine product in the world. It just means you need your art to genuinely represent your truest intentions. As White says — artists who enjoy lifelong careers are typically incredibly genuine in their art. They "aren't making music they think they're supposed to make," she says.
But plenty of incredible careers have launched off the back of budget productions because the underlying content was so genuine and unique to the creator. That's the kind of stuff that builds long-term fans who will stick around if the "hits" never come (or when they inevitable fade away).
"This may sound counterintuitive, but never in my career have I set out for an artist to have a 'hit' song," White says in her book. "When it happens, it’s awesome. And when it happens, my mind immediately goes into data-collection mode, running around ensuring we are capturing as much contact information as possible for fans and tastemakers who are now exposed to the artist. This is in hopes that we can entice said fans and tastemakers to support the artist for the long haul, especially if the next track isn’t a hit."
And just ask any artist who relied on radio to build a career: getting a hit is hard, and relying on them to stay relevant is a recipe for disappointment.
So what's the message? Don't try to "write a hit." And don't try to write something you think will just take off if you get in front of "the right people."
Write something genuine and authentic to you, because that's how you build fans who will support you even when none of the "industry" is there.
Editor's note: This article is one in a series detailing Emily White's advice for independent artists