Music is the universal language. It’s understood by every walk of life, no matter if they can put together the lyrics. The appeal is as ancient as communication itself, and when the right notes hit, nobody can control the spurts of tingles that run up the spine. But as much as music is beautiful as an art form, there are some other sides to it that seem a little less appealing. Like all art, for it to sustain on a high level, you’ve got to engage in the business of it. The music industry is notorious for being a shark-like in its approach to getting numbers up. But times have certainly changed since the controversies of the mid-1990s. There’s a new approach to “making it,” and that’s staying relevant.
Focus On Quality
If you’re going to do something, do it right. According to Ernest Hemmingway, the first draft of anything is going to be a big steaming pile of garbage. That’s okay. That’s how the process works. Putting extra effort into the quality of your music, mastering it and editing it, will make sure that you keep your skills sharp. Making music may be about hitting the right notes at the right time, but it still takes polishing in a post to make it perfect. If you ask long-time producer and field expert Jeremy Cox of Jeremy Cox Mastering, he’ll tell you that the quality of the music determines its ability to make waves. People understand quality. Unless it’s purposefully “raw,” you’ll want to make sure it’s as clean and crisp as possible.
Find Your Niche
Before anything, you have to find your niche. Your niche can be anything. But like all things, one cannot just rely on their talent. The talent is overrated. It has to be honed and focused in the right context. That’s what finding your niche is all about focusing your talent to where you want it to go. Once you find your niche, you’ve got an audience. That audience will serve as the fan base that sticks with you throughout your career. Unless you hone in and focus those efforts to be figuring out your niche, the chances of that happening dwindle down.
Make It Available
When it comes to your music, it’s tempting to keep it exclusive. Not exclusive in terms of taste—that’s how you find your niche, but exclusive in terms of how people can get your music. Yes, you worked hard on it. Yes, we all know that music of this quality should never be given out for free. Yes, if people want it, they’ll pay for it. But that’s not how music is consumed anymore. Staying relevant means continually being exposed to new audiences and demographics. The only way to do that is to embrace the ubiquity model of music and start streaming. Put things out on Spotify. Put things out on Soundcloud. Put things on Youtube. Just the mention of those is enough to make the high brow and the loftier musicians wince. But it’s true. That’s how you keep up these days. Adapt or become irrelevant.
Don’t Be Afraid Of Change
Let’s say you’ve established your audience. You’ve got the streaming services on your side. You’ve gone down the road of ubiquity and quality. How do you keep analytics up? How does one keep those numbers going? Remember, The Beatles, from their first album to their last only lasted 8 years—and that’s above average. How do other artists maintain their 10, 15, and 20 year relevance? They’re not afraid of change. Change doesn’t necessarily mean abandoning your audience. It doesn’t mean giving up on what made you who you are as a musician. It’s about experimentation and confident evolution. In the music industry, they keep mentioning the term: “reinvention.” That’s a pivot in the business world. It’s the artistic version or rebranding. If you’re aiming to stay relevant, you’re going to have to be open to rebranding.
Lastly, stay authentic. Audiences can smell a contrived attempt at stardom from a mile away. It’s a hit and a miss. From musicians suddenly breaking apart from the band to do a solo 180 album, to public stunts to keep their name in the papers. Audiences know what it is, and unless it’s pushing the numbers forward, it will end up becoming a dud. So be authentic. Be you. Be the best version of you in every context you can focus in on. And if you decide to take your music in another direction, maintain that part of you in the music that got people to relate and agree with it in the first place.
Staying relevant may seem like a daunting task. But its roots are in the artist’s journey and evolution. It’s the marriage of your personal growth and the marketing and business moves you decide would compliment it. And if you do it right, and continue to deliver a quality sound, you will always be relevant.