The question of the day is how to define success. There is no clear definition, because it comes down to an individuals goals and what they are tying to achieve. There is a Garth Brooks song called Fish. If you aren’t familiar with the song, it is a story. A business man sees a man fishing every day. One day he strikes up a conversation and says to the man, you know if you sold those fish you caught, you could save your money and buy a boat. From there you can work to get a bigger boat and a crew and staff and be in charge of an entire fleet. He than says and when you reach that point you can do anything you want…. and the man says “you mean fish?”
He didn’t have to work his ass off to achieve what he wanted. While someone else would not see that as a success until they had followed the other path. In the end the outcome is the same, and lets assume both are happy.
So as a musician what are you looking to achieve. I can imagine that most would say that would love to see their music on the charts and maybe even a number 1 song. But that may not be success to them.
At this point we come back to defining success. if you check social media there are thousands of songs out for a cause or a specific reason. Unless you listen on social media, you will likely never hear most of them. Is success the number of hits or plays your song got on You Tube, Spotify etc. There is no magic formula for getting a hit record, if that’s what the goal is, it often comes down to luck. Everyone has heard different stories about how someone was discovered. In 1982 a Canadian band called Sheriff released a song called When I’m With You. It was a top 10 hit in Canada in 1983, and barely drew any interest in the United States that same year. We jump forward to the year 1989 and a DJ in a radio station looking through music to play, finds this song, and plays it on his show. They start to get requests, and thing explode from there. The song goes on to hit number 1 in the US. This was also 4 years after the band Sheriff had actually broken up. So what was the difference in 1989 and 1982. Absolutely nothing was different and that is part of the point. If not for a set of circumstances the song would have been considered a national hit only and the band probably rated as moderately successful. Of course to the guys in the band, they were probably thrilled with a top 10 song.
There are many musicians who don’t care or dream about having hit records. They want to perform and entertain. Their idea of success is playing to a crowd and hearing the applause. When you are up on stage and you can see that your audience is into your music. If that’s what makes someone happy there is nothing wrong with that. Just remember the old adage, you have to crawl before you walk and walk before you run. Ask yourself, if I am up their playing night after night without ever getting on the charts will I be happy or see myself as some kind of failure. If it is the latter, run away now and run away fast. Go work in a factory and strum your guitar when you sit around the campfire.
That may sound harsh, and like you would be giving up without trying, but to reach the levels of some superstars, will take more work than you can imagine, and again, a lot of luck. Does your music come from deep inside you or as many would say, from the soul. It is a way musicians express themselves that some can’t put into words otherwise. Maybe not about them personally, but about life in general, events around them or around the world. How many songs do you know the history , and what inspired a particular song. How many songs do you know, but have no clue what inspired them. Maybe as a listener that isn’t important, but as the entertainer, it can be everything.
If you want to be commercially successful I can offer some pointers, on some of the things that need to be done. Plus some things you may not know about what goes into a radio station and why those goals are going to be so difficult. I would suggest a book I read many years ago called, The Worlds Greatest Salesman”. I have no part in this book, but I found over the last 25 years it has proven incredibly helpful many times. The book is a true story by the worlds greatest car salesman. You may be rolling your eyes right now, but his ideas work so well and can be used in many different avenues of life. The book was written before social media, but what you can do, using his ideas and tactics these days is incredible, and I use them myself. I took a small podcast from 0 to more than 12,000 listeners in 11 months. No ego here, but I must be doing something right.
One of the biggest keys is people aren’t going to come to you. Some may, but if you want to have commercial success but as cold as it sounds, you need more than Joe average listening to your music. You need the music played where others can hear it. With internet radio so widely available, it is more than just your traditional AM and FM stations to deal with. There are thousands and thousands of stations. Start by eliminating all that don’t play your type of music. Check to see if any of the internet stations are based out of cities close to you. Start with local and work your way out. Use email or social media to message these stations and point-blank ask if you can send them a couple of songs for consideration. If you don’t get a response, cross them off your list. This is what happens the other direction. If someone is interested in playing your music and you don’t bother to respond to messages, those people will not bother with you or your music.
It doesn’t come down to kissing anyones ass. It’s a term that is a bit older and not practiced much anymore. Courtesy. If someone sends a question you don’t have to write a novel to them. A quick short response will go a long way. Set aside time every day or every other day to do nothing but go through messages. Lets face it, you aren’t a superstar yet getting thousands of messages every day. This is one of the biggest mistakes entertainers, business and so many people make. Slow response or no response. If someone send you a message telling you how much they like your music, a quick thank you, I appreciate the support is all you need. You now have a fan locked in. They will talk about you responding. If its social media, they will share it likely, exposing you to more people. If you don’t respond. That chain is broken and goes no further.
When it comes to the radio stations, the better known or popular ones are getting huge numbers of songs sent to them daily. I have discussed before that process, but it is a time-consuming process going through music. It often comes down to listening to the first 10 or 15 seconds of a song. I personally cringe when a song starts, and you hear the same few bars of music, repeated, and repeated and repeated. it lends nothing to the song, and by the time it hits the 4th repeat without getting to the lyrics, its off, and I am on to the next song in the pile. Radio stations don’t have the man power to have one person who does nothing but go through new music. In fact with so many stations using a music service or running a preset music lineup, one person is effectively picking the music for hundreds or even thousands of stations. Most stations will have someone doing multiple duties and one thing they won’t and can’t do is spend countless hours listening to new music.
But if you have reached out to them, you are no longer just a name in a pile. You don’t have to be a nuisance, but stay in contact, and talk to them. You want to be like that old door to door salesman, and jam your foot in the door so they can’t close it on you. Now here is something to watch for. If the station won’t play your song, see if you can find out why. Diplomacy works wonderful in these circumstances. if you find out the idiot making the decisions just personally didn’t like it, than that’s a problem. I know an individual on an internet radio station who thinks it’s there job and right to tell an artist just how bad their singing and music is. NOT A CHANCE. If your music doesn’t fit the format or quite fit what they are looking for, that’s one thing, but getting personal is wrong. But it happens, so be prepared and if it does, cross them off your contacts list. Work with the people who want to work and talk to you. Find out if they use social media to show what they are broadcasting. It’s again a great way to spread your name around, and it doesn’t cost a dime.
So the key is to be your own best sales person. But be smart in how you sell and promote and make sure you work with people who are interested in working with you. If you are getting held off and delays, than pick a time to say enough and move on. There is nothing a sales person hates more than a tire kicker. Someone who really isn’t interested in buying, just wants to look around and pass some time. Its the same with music. If a station tells you than can maybe play it in a couple of weeks, check back again, and if they still havent, move on. When you find someone who is interested in sharing your music, you will find someone who will work with you. Treat people how you want to be treated, and likewise, if you are not treated well, than don’t deal with the idiots. There is no need.
I will define success to me in a very simple manner. I recently had some technical issues that nearly meant the end of my radio station. But listeners and artists said, NO WAY! They said we needed to find a way to keep broadcasting. It was humbling and heart warming. I took that to mean one thing. What I was doing, was something that was appreciated. That to me, meant it was in some manner successful. Decide what it is that truly make you happy and define yourself as successful. Once you know that, you can work to achieve that target or maybe more.