There are many reasons to start a musical project. Perhaps you love performing or you find writing music to be a creative outlet, maybe you just love the comradery of playing in a group, or the allure of fame and fortune might motivate you. No matter why you started your musical project or career, it’s important to know what you want to get out of it and to align your strategy with your goals.

Too often bands break up and relationships are strained because of lack of communication or a misalignment of goals. Does half of your band want to be rock stars and the other half just want to be hobbyists? That’s going to eventually cause problems. Are you just starting out and have a specific vision for what you want to do? It will make it easier to find collaborators if you can lock down the specifics. Even if you are a solo act, understanding your niche can help you write music that is best-suited to your goals. It’s okay if you’re expectations evolve over time, but you can save a lot of frustration if you take a hard look at your efforts now.

What are you doing? Once you understand what drives you to write and play music, it is easier to move forward. If you do it for the love of art and have no commercial aspirations, you can put yourself in a better situation find like-minded musicians to play with who do it purely for enjoyment and don’t expect commercial success. Are you trying to make it big? What does that mean to you? Does the rest of your band or collaborators understand and agree with your vision? How do you plan to get to where you want to be? These are important questions to answer before you go too far. Making adjustments early is easy, making adjustments once you are in the public eye is less comfortable.

How are you trying to do it? Do you have a plan of action? Too many musicians mistakenly believe that if they just write a good song and put it out there, success and money will come their way. I hate to ruin that notion for you but the odds of it being that easy are similar to winning the lottery. Music is hard work and especially in the commercial music business, you need to treat your band as a brand. Why should people care about you or your music? Why should people give you money or attention or airtime? Make sure you bring them value and understand some business basics or find people who do to help you out. Also, it’s important to understand the inner workings of your project. Are you writing the songs alone? Are you collaborating with others? Are you compatible with them in an artistic sense? Do you all want the same thing? It can be difficult to discuss these topics since many musicians take their art very personally but it will save everyone time and irritation if you can identify problems early and make line-up changes as needed. Communication is key. Be careful who you choose to form a band with; they are essentially your business partners so make sure you connect with them and can trust them.

Build your strategy. Once you know what you want to do, it’s important to strategize. Do you plan to chase a record deal or go it alone in the long-run? What types of venues do you want to play and who is your target audience? Will you tour and if so, how will you afford it and where will you go? If you know you want to be on a label, you should know who the major players in your genre or market are and if you want to go DIY, you may need to figure out where your main revenue streams are so you can self-fund your project long-term. If you want to play locally, know which venues fit your sound and where your target audience attends. If you want to go on tour, plan the finances and know what geographical areas will be best for you to visit. It is wise to set short-term and long-term goals that are measurable and attainable. How many fans would you like to have in the next 3 months? How much money from album sales or merch or licensing do you hope to make in the next year? When will you record your next song, how much will it cost, and what will you do with it to create value for yourself and your fans? If you plan these things out specifically, it can save a great deal of time and money.

Aligning your actions with your goals and expectations can be a hard thing to do. Not only does it sometimes force some hard decisions, but it also probably provides a potentially uncomfortable reality check. It can be overwhelming but stay the course. Success rarely comes easily and effort does pay off, so long as it is focused properly.

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Educated but self-effacing, opinionated but reticent, and unabashedly eccentric; Alex aka Squatch is the lead writer for A life-long musician, he founded the blog in the interest of helping independent artists gain exposure and to provide insight into navigating the creative arts industry.

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