The Realities of Launching a Music Career as a Solo Artist
Updated: Mar 5, 2020
In September last year I made the decision to abandon any prospects of a nine-to-
five working life and pursue a career as an electronic music producer and artist. This
choice was both difficult yet intuitive for me, since I have always been involved in
music but knew that it would be an exceedingly complicated career path to follow –
particularly as my eventual goal is to be writing and performing as an independent
Electronic music has reached a new and exciting era, with countless new artists
making the choice to embark on a journey through the sacred art of music
production, hoping to be taken seriously as an artist one day. I have written this
article as an honest and direct guide to some of the realities behind pursuing such a
path, based on personal experience and conversations that I have had with other
There are an astounding number of people out there trying to
do what you are doing
This can be quite a daunting concept, but at the start, whether you like it or not, you
are not unique. Regardless of how much you believe in your own music, you are one
amongst the masses when you first enter the game.
A new generation of laptop producers has emerged, meaning anybody, irrespective
of innate musical talent, can make a beat or a track using nothing except a laptop
and a DAW. There are apps that create complex chords for you at the press of a
single key, sampling has become so advanced that artists don’t need vocalists and
musicians to visit their studio in order to create complex melodies in their tracks, and
social media has opened a whole new platform for artists to promote themselves.
This is fantastic for producers who just want to make music but haven’t had any
formal musical education, but can be very frustrating for musical artists who have
worked hard to build an understanding of music theory and musicianship prior to
becoming a producer. So find your niche!
It is hard to stay motivated and positive about your music when you are competing
for attention with people who, frankly, have a primitive musical understanding. So
make sure your music remains authentic to you, don’t adapt your style for others,
make the music you love that expresses your vision as an artist. People will
Don’t let the cornucopia of bedroom producers out there deter you
from doing what you are best at.
Everything is a learning curve - you will get things wrong and
people won’t hold back on their criticisms
Nobody starts their journey knowing exactly what they need to do or how the
industry works, so expect to make a lot of errors. I personally find that others are
more inclined to tell me that I am doing things wrong (or that I need to do better)
than to complement me on what I have done right, so stay positive and confident in
yourself. This can be quite exhausting when everybody seems to be criticising what
you do, and a lot of these people will have a limited understanding of music
production, but listen to the advice you are given! I remember doing my first
Instagram post as an artist and receiving a series of messages telling me my caption
was wrong, I need to use hashtags correctly, I need to have a relevant story and so
on. This was quite discouraging at first, but I listened to the advice and carried on.
It seems overwhelming when you recognise how many people are trying to be music
producers, but a staggering number of these will become disheartened by their
mistakes and eventually give up.
Have a thick-skin, learn from your mistakes, listen to advice, adapt and try again.
Being a solo artist is a 24/7 job
I have a few friends who perform in bands or groups - and they have all told me
that they couldn’t do it alone. As a solo artist, you have to be prepared to take on a
substantial amount of work that will devour a serious proportion of your time. You
have to take on the role of writer, mix and mastering engineer, marketer, social
media promoter, salesperson, web-designer, performer, DJ, negotiator, and
countless other tasks all by yourself and yes, this is very challenging.
The benefit of being in a band is that you already have a guaranteed support
network that you can rely on to absorb some of the stress and pressures of
launching a music career, a solo artist does not have that luxury. You have to be
multi-faceted, highly motivated, and extremely proactive in order to keep your head
above water as a solo artist. I spend hours on end mixing tracks whilst
communicating my ideas for an EP cover to a designer, sending out emails to blogs
and record labels and curating social media posts to keep my followers interested –
and at the end of all this I go to work, pulling pints at a bar, so that I have the
money to invest in myself.
The work does not stop when you are trying to launch a career as a musical artist.
It’s exhausting, but worth every second.
Your debut single won’t hit a million streams overnight
You are in this for the long-haul. If it’s overnight success that you want, then look
elsewhere. Although it can happen, very few artists will hit immediate success from
the second they release their debut tracks, you have to keep making and promoting
music, achieving a little more attention with each release, so stay motivated. This
can, again, be quite disheartening for some artists, since the hours of hard work
spent in the studio often fail to generate the grand success that you deserve, but it
will all be worth it in the end. Keep telling yourself that.
You may have to let go of your pride every now and then
We all want to keep our pride and dignity and release our music gracefully, but as
an unknown artist you will have to shamelessly promote yourself. This means
posting constantly across social media before, during, and after you release your
music, contacting DJs, artists, music blogs and record labels telling them about
yourself and your music, posing for artist photographs, asking your friends and
family to share your music, and telling the world that you are an artist worth
listening to. Be careful not to come across as arrogant or one of the many pseudo-
producers out there, but don’t be afraid to inform the public that you have talent.
I struggled with this at first. I didn’t want to be just another “Instagram producer”
begging for attention, but the age of social media has made it possible to promote
your craft in ways that were unimaginable fifteen years ago, so exploit it for all that
it is worth, let go of your pride and promote your music. As your music starts to gain
attention, you can rely on relevant music blogs and record labels to share some of
the promotional responsibilities.
Remember, this is a “don’t ask don’t get” type of format, you will hear a hundred
No’s before that one, beautiful Yes.
You will need to be adaptable and say “YES” a lot
When trying to launch a career as a solo artist, you may find that you can’t always
be doing exactly what you want. As with any industry, you have to be flexible,
outgoing and proactive to demonstrate your value.
If a musical opportunity presents itself then, in the vast majority of cases, you
should say YES. This may involve being adaptable with your musical style, working
to a brief or a deadline, collaborating with another artist or simply doing something
that you wouldn’t normally do. My advice is to follow your gut instinct; you never
know where an opportunity may lead.
There are very few sincere people in this industry
Now this is perhaps my most cynical point, but it is important nonetheless.
Sincere, honest people in the music industry are hard to come by. Everyone is in it
for themselves with no obligation to do you any favours, so don’t expect too much
from other people. I understand that this may sound bleak and depressive, but there
is a positive message to be taken from this.
If you find someone who is willing to help you, then make sure they become a part
of your network. If you find a producer who is happy to listen to your tracks and
give you feedback, then do the same for them. If a random artist who is doing what
you are doing supports you on social media, support them back (you aren’t above it
all), if a friend lets you borrow a sample pack or a synthesiser, return the favour! We
are all trying to make something of ourselves and we all need some help in doing
this. So create a trusted network of support and do the odd little favour for someone
else here and there. Trust me, the favours will be returned and word gets around.
It is all worthwhile
The intention of this article is not to be discouraging or pessimistic about the
prospects of launching a career as a solo artist, it is simply to shed some light on the
music industry and unveil a few truths that I wish I had been told before I started. If
you are truly passionate about music, and if you really believe that your music is
good enough, then all of this will be worth it in the end. Keep grafting, stay
motivated, and continue to create great music.
We are in this for a reason.