Writing - Music & Music Business

Rob Rodell

Boatloads of artists are always asking me how to make a sustainable career in the music industry. This is one of those questions that always leads to the search for the pot of gold at the end of the rainbow, but it is a valid question, and it does have an answer, albeit a very difficult one.

The two-step process to becoming a successful artist that still applies today is the following: you have to be persistent and be in it for the long-haul, and you have got to have a hit. This is very difficult, but not impossible.

Let’s start with the persistence. My singing teacher always used to tell me that persistent, consistent work is what makes a voice. Even in soccer, Lionel Messi is quoted as saying that 17 years of hard work is what made him an overnight success. Unfortunately in the age of instant coffee, fast foods, instant pudding and instant life, we also want instant success. This has never been the case in music, and probably never will be, which is one of the reasons the SA Idols never seem to go anywhere after they have won – because the instant just has no staying power. I was chatting to a top 10 finalist recently, who put it very succinctly: Idols is great TV, not great music.

The greatest careers of the über successful have all taken years to forge, and they continue to work, work, work into old age: Bob Dylan. The Rolling Stones. Chuck Berry. Biggie and Pac would be well into their 40s today, as is Jay-Z. The still young Adele went to an arts school and was groomed from a young age. So, the first key to musical money and success is longevity, and the ability to keep your eye on the ball for the many years, even in the face of seemingly hopeless obstacles.

And then of course there’s the hit. This is still the silver bullet, and if you play your cards right, you can parlay it into a full-time career. The truth is, you may very well have a song that is better than what they’re playing on the radio, but if people don’t know about it, then you will battle to make a hit out of it.

So, what do you do? When in doubt, refer to rule 1: be persistent. Then simply follow your nose, and let your instinct lead you down the right path. If you’re persistently making music and getting advice on improving, you will eventually make the hit. And if you persistently keep pushing it into the public eye, you will eventually reach boiling point. Be prepared for the many years of work. And then never give up, even once you’ve made it.

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