‘Grunt Work’ is What Building Your Career is All About

Working with musicians of all status on a daily basis has taught me a thing or two about the road to stardom and it’s my job to replace your misconceptions about the music business with a dose of business savvy.

It’s not surprising that so many artists don’t have a clue about how much grunt work is required to build the foundation of their career. We consumers see only the surface of the entertainment industry—we see the results of the grunt work the record labels have successfully orchestrated when they have a hit recording.

But let’s get down to it. If you thought writing and rehearsing your songs was tough, that recording them was more work than you expected, that getting the cover art for your CD was difficult, or that building a great website was easy, and that constantly updating your music blog, and social networking sites was fun and games, then hold on to your hard drive…It’s no coincidence that promoting and selling a record is called “working” the record.

For starters, I’m assuming that you realize it takes money to market your record! Rule of thumb: at least double or triple what you spent on recording your CD, depending on your recording budget. This is recommended for a serious local to regional marketing campaign.

Now, what do you have to do to promote your newly released CD or song? Unless you want it to remain stacked in your apartment or in your hard drive, you have to make industry people and the public aware of your music. You send out free promotional CDs to the music directors at college and Internet radio stations, the writers and editors in the press, the booking people at clubs, and the buyers at distributors and stores. You have to create and maintain your mailing list data and regularly update your website. You may need mailers, stamps, and certainly have a relatively new computer with software that is up-to-date. Then you have to do follow-up phone calls to all those people. You need to schmooze—a lot—on the phone, online, out and about in your local music scene. So, get ready for some serious phone bills.

This work is frustrating and time consuming. The reward is the satisfaction of actually hearing your songs on the radio, reading your reviews online or in the press, landing that first important head-liner gig, or walking into a store and seeing your CD in the racks. Think of the grunt work this way. Every record you have in your personal collection had someone doing all those tasks behind the scenes, or you wouldn’t have been aware of that music, let alone had the opportunity to purchase it.

I can already hear some moans and groans. You’re thinking, “I don’t have time to do all that work,” or “I’m a musician. I just want to make my music.” Well, tough. No one is ever going to care more about your music than you. You must take charge of your own dreams. No one is going to force you to do what it takes to work a record seriously, and no one is going to make you a star, no matter what stories you may have heard. All a record industry person can do is work with a committed artist. The message is this: unless somebody does the grunt work, your record will remain in the closet, unheard by an audience that might enjoy it. In the beginning, that someone is going to be you.

At a music business conference workshop for developing artists, Tom Silverman, the CEO of Tommy Boy Records once said, “Why did you make your stupid record anyway?!” His point was to wake up the crowd to the realities of this business.

No one is waiting for your music!

You have to be responsible for building your career in the beginning. The public will judge whether or not your music is great, not you, if and when they get a chance to hear it. Industry gatekeepers and the public have a chance to hear your music only if you resolve this grunt work issue.

You have another option. Keep your music as a hobby. Music as a hobby can be very enjoyable. We live in a time when the supply of good music greatly outweighs any demand for it.

So, if the grunt work I’ve outlined is something you want nothing to do with, consider keeping your music as a hobby, there’s nothing wrong with that. It may be the best decision you ever made. As your expectations settle down, your music will demand much less of your time and effort. If you make that decision, be clear about it. Be sure you don’t harbor secret hopes of being discovered and attaining stardom and commercial success. You can’t put in a small amount of effort and expect to get the rewards of a serious, hard-working musical career.

Here’s another aspect of grunt work. When you resolve who will do it, and how it will be done, a funny thing begins to happen. You experience what a real record label does. You learn what it’s like to compete for exposure. And should you arrive at the negotiating table for that almighty label deal you once knew nothing about, you’ll be far more prepared. You’ll be on your way to being a respected member of the team, a savvy player who cannot easily be taken advantage of.

I recommend this path. If you have the passion to tackle all the work that needs to be done, you’ll find yourself with a new sense of pride when you see what you’ve achieved with your efforts. You can do it.


Original post by Chris Knab


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