When it comes to being a music artist, your job is to be creative and productive and release lots of music. Let the marketplace and your fans judge your music.
Once you start releasing your music, one of the first surprising realizations you might make is that the songs you think are the best and the ones your fans fall in love with aren’t necessarily the same. In fact, just as you can’t judge yourself in a courtroom, you are NOT qualified to judge your music. Only the world can do that.
Music history is packed with examples of famous songwriters who were surprised their biggest hits were what they considered filler tracks. The list is expansive, but just a few examples include Gloria Gaynor’s “I Will Survive,” Pearl Jam’s “Yellow Ledbetter,” and The Smiths’ “How Soon Is Now?” None of these artists could foresee how the world would respond to these songs. What these artists deemed as sub-par music, fans adopted as their favorites, driving these songs up the charts and becoming iconic highlights in their catalogs.
Our own band learned this the hard way during our “Song Of The Day” project where we wrote, recorded, and released 365 songs in a year. The feedback showed the opposite of what we thought our fans would like. It turned out the songs we loved, the ones we poured our soul into and were the most meaningful to us, were met with a “meh.” But fans loved songs that burst out of nowhere, ones we effortlessly produced and often considered filler tracks.
Here’s what this realization about judging your own music means for your own creativity and musical output.
Don’t judge your music while you make it
There’s a reason for every creative urge you have. Critiquing yourself during the creative process is like driving with the parking brake on. Stay in the flow. You can always edit and refine what you created later.
Opportunities come from releasing your music, not sitting on it.
You never know where your music may wind up or who will hear it. Everyone who hears your music will react differently. Our band learned this when a song Disney licensed from us was almost never released because we dropped off the album because we felt it wasn’t good enough. We didn’t feel like the “real” recording captured the energy of the original demo. It barely made the cut.
To our surprise, some six months after release, Disney contacted us about licensing that song for a commercial campaign. They loved it as it was, even though we didn’t. We learned two major lessons: not only did we have no idea what music of ours would wind up where, we realized we should make and release more music to generate more opportunities.
Make a lot of music.
People’s expectations have changed since the dawn of the Internet and mobile phones. They expect constant “feeds” of releases from their favorite artists. If you hide away in the studio for a year to craft your next great album, it’s easy for the world to forget about you. This means when you release your big album, it takes more effort to get noticed again.
Releasing music throughout the year and at regular intervals takes less work effort and money to stay top of mind. Plus, each release can help create its own opportunities. You’ll never know which songs listeners, fans, licensees, music supervisors, the press/media, music reviewers, or bookers will connect with. The best way to find out is to release it out into the world steadily and pay attention.
Every song has a home and audience.
By creating more music, we discovered that beyond having more music out there to generate royalties, sell, and possibly license, we created more opportunities to promote and grow our audience. We found some of our songs spoke to particular audiences. For example, “The Bong Song” found a home on a pot podcast, “Pizza: The Rock Opera” got picked up in a pizza delivery forum, and the talking-on-the-cell-phone inspired “Do You Mind?” ended up debated on a forum about etiquette. Not all songs may have a particular audience, but some will, and the only way you can see if they might connect with those listeners is to release your music and then reach out.
Certainly, put all of the effort into your creative process and make the best music you can, but reserve your judgment about it and release it to see what happens. The world will judge your music, not you. If you can give a song a push in a particular audience’s direction to spark things, definitely do it. You never know where your song may wind up and what opportunities and money it may unlock.
Authors of the critically-acclaimed modern classic, The Indie Band Survival Guide, Billboard Magazine called Randy Chertkow and Jason Feehan “the ideal mentors for aspiring indie musicians who want to navigate an ever-changing music industry.” Their latest book, Making Money With Music (Macmillan) and free Making Money With Music Newsletter, help all musicians — from startups to pros — build a sustainable music business so you can make money in today’s tech-driven music environment.
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