Top 10 Mistakes Musicians Make When Trying To Get Into The Music Industry

If you want to become successful in the music industry, there many things you need to know and do.

Ultimate Guitar

If you want to become successful in the music industry, there many things you need to know and do. But even if you get all that right, you can prevent yourself from reaching big success by making critical mistakes along the way (and there are many potential mistakes one could make, when not being careful). After coaching and mentoring many musicians and bands seeking a career in music, the same patterns of false assumptions, problems and mistakes appear over and over again. Here are the top 10.

Mistake #10 - Not having a compelling image that is congruent with your music. Most musicians (and bands) severely underestimate the importance of their image. Yes, music is about 'music', but music business success is about a total package that includes music, image and visual stage show among other things that need to be fully developed in a congruent way.

Mistake #9 - Trying to 'get your name out there'. Although this seems to be a main goal of most musicians and bands, it is the wrong approach to start with. Before trying to be seen and heard as much as possible, it is often more important to focus on 'converting' the people who hear and see you into becoming actual fans. This 'conversion' is the first key to your promotional success, NOT getting seen or heard as much as possible.

Mistake #8 - Believing that social media websites are the keys to online music promotion for musicians and bands. Social media websites are a tool. They are ONE piece of the online music marketing puzzle. Music industry companies (record labels, artist managers, booking agents, etc.) are far more interested in the popularity of YOUR website, not how many friends you have at MySpace, YouTube, Facebook or any other website that you do not own and control. Want to impress the industry with your band's promotion? Build your website traffic.

Mistake #7 - Not investing enough time into building your music career. Most musicians spend most of their time on music, but put very little effort into the many other critical elements needed to make it in the music business. If you are already a talented musician, you should invest at least 50% of your time into starting or advancing your music career. If you are still developing your musical skills, you should still invest around 25% of your 'music' time into building a future music career.

Mistake #6 - Surrounding yourself with people who are negative, lazy and lack ambition. If you are very serious about becoming a professional musician and building a great career in music, then you absolutely must surround yourself with like-minded musicians.

Mistake #5 - Having merely mediocre live performing skills. Many musicians, who are not yet in a good band, put off developing their live performing and stage presence skills. This is a big reason why talented musicians don't get into really good bands that they audition for. Your music may be good, but a live 'show' requires more than great music. If people only wanted to hear the music, they would listen to you at home. Both fans and record labels want (and expect) to see a REAL show. Neglecting this area results in talented musicians and bands becoming quickly forgotten.

Mistake #4 - Focusing on increasing the 'quantity' of fans instead of the 'intensity' of your fans. The 'number' of fans you have should always be your secondary focus (not your primary one) if you want to become successful in the music industry. The fact is, it is not the number of 'fans' that matters most, it's the number of FANATICS which will contribute more directly to your success (or lack of it). This is particularly true in the beginning of a band's music career. Focus more effort on converting your existing fans into raving fanatics. Learn to do this and the number of your overall fans will increase through powerful word of mouth.

Mistake #3 - Not enough cash flow to support your music career. Like it or not, it takes money to build a music career. Even if other people/companies are paying for your record, tour support, merchandise, etc. you still need to have the freedom to pursue opportunities as they come. Sadly, many musicians miss opportunities because they can't afford to take advantage of them.In addition to a decent income, you also need the flexibility of being able to take time away from that income source to go into the studio, go on tour, etc. That is why learning how to teach guitar is such a great way to achieve both if you learn how to become a highly successful guitar teacher.

Mistake #2 - Not enough depth in your music relationships. There's an old expression, "It's not what you know, it's who you know." In music this is often modified to, "It's not who you know, it's who knows you." The truth is, it's not about either. The most important aspect of connections within the music industry is how deep are the current relationships you have now and will develop in the future. You don't want to simply know people or be known, you want people who know you to have a real deep connection with you so that you are always on the top of their mind when opportunities present themselves. Ask yourself, "What can I do right now to deepen my existing relationships further on an ongoing basis?"

Mistake #1 - Having a fundamental misunderstanding about what record companies look for - and expect from new bands. This is a huge topic, but in a nutshell it's very useful to think of record companies like a bank that lends money to people or small businesses. Record companies make most of their decisions about whom they will work with and what the terms will be in much the same way that a bank will determine who they will loan money to and what the terms of the loan will be. Both record companies and banks basically want to see 3 things:

1. How much value do you bring to the deal right now. 2. How much risk do you bring with you right now. 3. How much potential value and risk might you bring to them in the future after they invest in you.

If you want to buy a house, the bank wants to know a lot about the specific house you want to buy and EVEN MORE about YOU. Record companies are the exact same, they want to know about your music, your talent and your band, but they also care as much (or more) about YOU (and your band mates) as people. What about YOU makes a record deal a good or bad investment for them.

To learn more about avoiding these big mistakes and building a successful music career, get my free music career tips.

About the author: Tom Hess is a highly successful guitar teacher, professional touring guitarist and recording artist. He mentors musicians online to develop their own professional music careers and provides free music career resources.

Tom Hess Music Corporation. All Rights reserved.

52 comments sorted by best / new / date

    The idea of having a few fanatics as opposed to lots of 'fans' is interesting but how would you suggest doing this?
    Eh. I'd rather play a few no-name shows with whoever I can. Being a freshman in high school leaves funds pretty lacking. One thing this article lacks is knowing people that know other people. By myself, I have about 3 people in hardcore bands that if I were to call, we could arrange a show. Sure, 3 people isn't that many. But playing with a band one night, might have another band playing with them on the same night, so then that band might want to play a show with us again sometime, etc. Getting noticed, getting a label and building a fanbase is something you can't be really guided with, either. You have to pretty much do it yourself.
    Very good article! You've given some solid advice to think about and work on. Thanks also for your FREE tips. The first one just hit my inbox.
    its all an industry, and all we do is try to appease the masses..
    I agree there's some good points in here, but there's also some weak points. If all this advice worked so well, how come Tom Hess isn't a household name by now? Naturally this is another example of more classic Tom Hess talking and...well, not much else. Like all his videos are practically useless because it's 95% talking and 5% light speed playing. Just because you can alternate pick at the speed of light doesn't mean a thing. Like how he complicates the HELL outta sweep Tom, all you need to get good at it is practice the proper technique and apply it in creative ways. Not all these strange philosophical views on how to play the guitar.
    Bach was paid per piece of music written. WE can listen to Beethoven because he was a shrewd businessman. Let's not even start talking about Mozart. And the list goes on and on and on. The truth is that to make your living with music OF COURSE you need great music (this is understood in the article - where he does say that you DO NOT need great music?). But you ALSO need to do the other things. Note that to follow these 10 points you do not need to compromise your music at all. In fact the opposite is true: I know too many bands with incredible music who think that the business side is not important. Already a couple of them have disbanded since their members need to pay the bills. THIS is compromising your art.
    James Scott
    Haunt3dAng3l wrote: I agree there's some good points in here, but there's also some weak points. If all this advice worked so well, how come Tom Hess isn't a household name by now?
    I think you're confusing being *successful* with being *famous*. You don't have to be a household name to be a big success in the music industry. There's loads of musicians who make very wealthy livings from the industry without being all that well-known, and Tom Hess is one of those. Likewise, there's plenty of very well-known musicians who are struggling financially. Surely, making plenty of money and playing huge gigs and festivals without being harassed by loonies in the street is the best of both worlds?
    Brad Litton
    Well that sums it up nicely. Awesome short version of how to be successful and what most people overlook.
    When I read this article it just felt like Four Year Strong followed these steps exactly.. They've got their beard-core image, awesome live performances and they recruited me as a big fan after just one song! I think you're totally right about these mistakes
    Perfect article, definitely agree with him about fans. Get even ten people who love your songs like Dick Cheney loves shooting people and they'll do more advertising than you ever could! (...What? ...Dick Cheney jokes are old now? ...Oh, sorry.)
    I'm personally not a dedicated musician myself who seeks recognition, but aren't these guides virtually pointless? Although contributing factors, I suppose there is always few basic recipes to success in the industry, consistent gigs, talent and experience. In the vast majority of cases, you're not acknowledged by your website/myspace profile/demo. There are a mass amount of demo requests that come through, undoubtedly, therefore not all of them get acknowledged, in fact, I'd say under 5% of them are truly heard and evaluated. I personally think that deep involvement in the music industry is being in the right place in the right time. A lot of people do not withhold connections in the music industry (which can be a very large factor to success in many cases), therefore the best thing to do in my opinion is represent yourself well, show experience and dedication and be in the right place in the right time. You will never know when a person who is connected will eavesdrop on your music and hear it, therefore you're going to have to put commitment in your live acts and get decent gigs where there is likely to be important people, so somewhere rich in the music scene rather than a bar/school. Finally, I believe this was already mentioned, but your fan base and charisma will help out so much, I can't even comprehend how much. If someone connected in the music industry happens to see electrified atmosphere and a very interested fan base, your music would be more likely to get publicity, hence why somebody would want to sign you. I know quite a few people from Matador Records (Independent, but signed/has signed great bands such as Sonic Youth and Interpol and trust me, this is what they would predominantly be looking for.
    JSellars wrote: The idea of having a few fanatics as opposed to lots of 'fans' is interesting but how would you suggest doing this?
    If you have a good stage presense and music that should be all you need to get fanatics
    no money, no art. its sad but true
    the points are all interesting and seem sensible but you dont give us any ideas on how to actually carry any of them out so it doesnt relli make any sense at all for instance focus on building a music career 50% of the time what do i do to focus on building a music career? seems rushed to me
    eh this is pretty much common sense, didn't really need an ARTICLE for it.
    #8 was the only weaker point. Everything's legit in this column, but unfortunately for me I already learned this stuff at recording school
    As always, i'm so sad reading this kind of articles. But oh well...the title says Music Industry. Comparing a human artistic endeavor with a House is very disturbing.
    CoreysMonster wrote: wait... a HELPFUL and GOOD article from Tom Hess? I must be dreaming.
    Pinch me
    One day I was watching this rock band from My middle school; There were performing by video, but it was son stage too. The Music was so simple, any one can make a tab out of it and get 5 stars for it (Including for me). Now I thought that I was better than these guys when it comes to guitar (since they played dead simple). But I also realized that they started earlier on joining a band. Because I never been in a band.
    yes, yes- music... the funny little thingy that makes noises from time to time
    oh no! the secret has been released! now every musician will make it into the industry and we're gonna b swamped by every kid who thinks he's rock, metal, punk or indie lol
    taking your time to talk to the fans, have a beer with them, get them a free pass to a show or two. this will get you a fanatic that will bring all his friends to every show.
    JSellars wrote: The idea of having a few fanatics as opposed to lots of 'fans' is interesting but how would you suggest doing this?
    Sleep around?
    very good article and
    CoreysMonster : wait... a HELPFUL and GOOD article from Tom Hess? I must be dreaming.
    LOL =p
    Lol i agree with what has been said! A good Article... from Mr Hess?!
    This is full of really good points, particularly number 4. It's about building a fiercely loyal core fanbase and expanding from there. I will say that it's possible to do this through the internet with people that are across the country/ocean/planet; go check out the Ne Obliviscaris thread in the metal forum for an example of how to do that. Cormorant's recent success as an unsigned band (and one that will probably remain unsigned for a good part of the future) is an example of this as well. You want to give fans the idea that you're just one of them, instead of being the far-off rock star image that a lot of big bands used to get in the past. If you narrow the gap, they feel closer to you and are more likely to support you as a result.
    Very good article! I haven't even considered some of these topics before - I guess I've always had a bit different (wrong) view on these. Thanks!
    Seems very sensible ... haven't thought much about this before, but now that you point it out, it seems obvious.
    Excellent article. Definitely grasped my attention. All of this is very useful and much appreciated.
    James Scott
    Really interesting article, especially as many of these points would have been totally wrong 10-15 years ago - shows how things have changed.
    Draven Grey
    Great article. #3 could also apply to teaching any instrument, which Tom has an incredible course for teachers in general. And the core of #3 could apply to any music-related business that's complimenting and providing financing for your music career. It takes time to build up, but is definitely a MUCH better option than working a 9 to 5 that often conflicts with your music life. @kalamari -- There would be no "industry" or business without the art. Plus, the article IS about being successful IN the music industry. Not everyone wants to make a living (or more) off their music, but this wasn't written for them. However, just because there is a business side to doing so, doesn't mean the art has to be sacrificed.
    Icarus Lives
    Ya this is geared at the industry side of things. There are hundreds of articles focussing on the music, you can read those. Music IS an industry, everyone knows it. I don't have a problem with that, but I always strive towards good music, music that I like.
    This might be the best thing I've seen on here by this guy.. #3 and #6 were my drawbacks of getting anywhere. I don't even have enough money to get through my life lately, let alone pay a percentage of recording an album, or merch, or a decent touring van. As far as #6 goes, I've only ever been in a band with one guy that had as much drive as me. It sorta sucks really, when you're in a band that comprised mostly of goofs who wanna screw off instead of practice and just expect the fans and labels to chase after them.. A lot of people might not even read this due to Tom's sales pitch type of articles that don't ever really give you any kind of good tips, but this is actually a good read. A lot of people who try really hard, fail due to the fact that they fall into a lot of common myths addressed here!
    kalamari, the idea behind it is to be successful at taking your art and presenting it to people. you basically need to be a dedicated, hard working, talented musician that is able to keep a grounded mind about him. Not any different than it's ever been, save that it's probably harder now