independent musician en route to a show

Three career lessons for independent musicians

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Making it as an independent musician is difficult enough without you getting in the way of your own success. These three anecdotes provide some real-life lessons for your music career.

1. Don’t be a prima donna

This can be one of the most costly mistakes an independent artist can make. Here’s a story to show you what I mean.

I recently hooked up this independent artist who, to this point, has really no major accomplishments in her career. I helped negotiate a slot for her to open up for a huge artist. The show was a benefit for the people in Ukraine who are getting their houses blown up and are pretty much living on the streets.

After I hooked up this artist up with this deal, she called the promoter and went full prima donna, trying to demand hotel rooms and wanting everything to be paid for, and I’m thinking, “this is for a freaking benefit for people who don’t even have homes and you’re negotiating for free hotel rooms?”

It’s not what you earn, it’s what you learn

To make a long story short, she blew the gig. So remember this: in the beginning of your career it’s not always what you earn, it’s what you learn. You’ve got to be willing to make sacrifices as an independent artist or you’re not going to get anywhere. Consider the bigger picture at all times. Come down off your high horse with that diva attitude, pay your dues and use your head. Don’t blow a career-enhancing opportunity because you want to pretend you’re some big star.

2. Make the necessary investments in yourself

The other day I was working with a student, and as part of the deal, he was required to make a small investment: he had to purchase a music business book for about $30. What’s that? Maybe three Starbucks’ cappuccino-frappuccino-macholanos with whipped cream and a cherry? Three packs of cigarettes? A round of drinks?

The point is, we’re talking $30 for an investment in your career that can potentially help you make lots of money in the future. Instead, the client decided to try to go online and find an illegal, hacked version of this music business resource to take a music business class on copyright law with the teacher who actually wrote the book (spoiler, the teacher is me).

Come on, man. What are you thinking?

Sacrifice and investment

Here is the lesson: if you are not willing to make little sacrifices, prioritize what’s important, and actually make an investment in yourself, then who is going to want to make an investment in you? Who is going to say, “Oh, that looks attractive — here’s a kid who is always cutting corners, here’s a kid who always wants the simplest approach, here’s a kid who doesn’t want to make any sacrifices.”

That’s not the way to do it. You’ve got to understand what’s important in your life, you’ve got to be willing to make sacrifices, and you’ve got to be willing to invest in yourself if you want anyone else to give you a chance and make an investment in you.

3. Hard work and rejection are part of the formula for success

I was just talking to a student who was telling me about how he wants to go out and start making money with his music as soon as he gets out of school. That’s totally understandable, he has to support himself.

The first thing I suggested was to look for things he could do with his music first before looking into side hustles like Uber and other things outside of the music realm. I talked about things like teaching guitar lessons, getting a church gig or a cruise ship gig. These are steady gigs that provide steady money and can actually help you build your chops and pay the rent until you get into something that you want to do, like your original music. I told the student to start calling every single music store in southern California and send out his resume.

You have to do crazy things to get crazy results

At the end of the conversation, instead of seeing a fired-up young man who was like, “Hell yes! I’m going to go out and kill it!” I saw someone filled with fear like, “Oh my god, that sounds like a lot of work. You mean I’ve got to give my resume to every single store out there and I’ve got to go out there and hustle and face the possibility of rejection?”

The freaking answer is, absolutely yes, you do. You’ve got to do crazy things if you want to get crazy results and you’ve got to use your fear like fire to cook for you and not to burn you. You’ve got to get out there and hustle. Of course you’re going to get rejected, but rejection is actually going to lead to success eventually. That’s the way you’ve got to look at it.

Want more music career advice? Don’t just read it… watch the videos on Bobby Borg’s YouTube channel.


Bobby Borg is the author of Music Marketing For The DIY Musician (Second Edition), Business Basics For Musicians (Second Edition), and The Five Star Music Makeover (published by Hal Leonard Books). Get these books at any fine online store in physical or digital format. Learn more at www.bobbyborg.com.


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One thought on “Three career lessons for independent musicians

  1. Wow! All of this is great advice. If students can’t see the value in this, then they aren’t ready to level up yet. They will, once the reality of the “real world” sets in…. For any of us who needs this reminder, I am going to share this with my Facebook community. Thanks for “keeping it real.”

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