Last week, Los Angeles’ Rollo & Grady posted an interview with Seth Godin on the current state of the music industry.  Overall, I think it is very accurate assessment of where thing are at, as well as where those who want to earn a living making music should be concentrating.

One part in particular really caught my attention, describing the new models for success as a musician in today’s market:

…musicians who are making a great living leading a small tribe – 1,000 true fans connecting directly with each other, leaving out many layers of middlemen…powerful musicians like Neil Young who are moving things in one direction, versus powerful musicians who are just sitting back and watching the whole thing fade away…

Success as a Musician: Old School

A lot of people–reporters, industry veterans, your friends and loved ones–will tell you that it is impossible to make a living today working as a professional musician.  You know that they are wrong, but at the same time, they have a lot of evidence to back up their arguments.

In reality, though, none of that evidence matters, because it is all based on an obsolete model of success from the 80s and 90s. Back then, “success” as a musician included:

  • Gold- and Platinum-selling albums
  • Ubiquitous national hits on the radio
  • Ubiquitous national hits on MTV
  • A major label paying you a fat advance and doing everything in-house for you, from marketing to sales to promotion to publicity and beyond (and owning all of the rights to what you create in the process)
  • A “victory” tour headlining Wembley, Shea Stadium, etc (and a gratuitous live release to go along with that tour)

Success as a Musician: New School

Today, you can successfully earn a comfortable living as a musician, and despite what you may think, it’s not that much more work.  However, do you need to have a different definition of success, one that includes:

  • Small groups (tribes) of dedicated fans
  • Regular income from multiple sources (not just full-length albums)
  • Airplay on local radio, as well as podcasts, streaming radio, social networks and more
  • Viral videos on YouTube, Vimeo and other services, made both by you and by your fans
  • Recording your music where and when you want to, and releasing it as you see fit
  • Using third-parties to sell your music (should you even choose to sell it)
  • Marketing directly to your fans via social media and letting them market to everyone else for you
  • Small, regular live gigs in your local markets
  • Understanding that you are not just a musician, but a brand

The list is far from all-inclusive, but you get the picture…

You can earn a living today as a musician, but you just have to know how to do it.  This guy already understands–how about you?

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