20 Reasons Why Performing Artists Don’t Succeed
by Loren Israel
Ever wonder why some talented local musicians never find the audience or get that elusive record deal? Or why some signed artists’ careers stall out just past the starting gate? It’s not just “bad luck.” Here are 20 common reasons why some artists never make it to the next level.
1. Poorly-defined goals. Even if they’re too modest to say so in public, successful artists have a solid answer for the question: “What are your goals in the industry?”
2. Band members with different goals. In order to succeed, you have to be on the same page. It’s tough to stay on track if some band members know what they want and others want different things or don’t know what they want at all.
3. Lack of musical focus. Creativity is good, but in the mainstream music industry, only artists with multiple past successes have leeway to gravitate toward other musical styles. Different musical genres involve different business contacts and working methods. Artists whose styles are too diverse have difficulty achieving consistent contacts and working methods…and it takes consistency to break a new artist. (Newsflash for artists who think playing a lot of different styles makes them unique: it doesn’t. We see artists with this “unique” talent all the time. In fact most artists can play or sing in more than one style but publicly focus on one they do best.)
4. Poor work ethic. The old saying that harder you work, the luckier you get is true.
5. Waiting to be discovered. People who are “discovered” make it happen instead of waiting.
6. Ineffective artist management, or not listening to good management. It sounds simplistic, but it’s where many artists go wrong. In order to be effective, your management has to know what they’re doing. If you have good, experienced management but don’t listen to their advice, they can’t help you.
7. Working with people who don’t have contacts in the industry. Ideally, the people you start with should be constantly building better skills and contacts along the way. If that doesn’t happen, you’ll need to work with people who have contacts at the next level.
8. Signing with a label with inadequate funding or poor distribution. If you want a record deal, the goal isn’t “a record deal.” The goal is the record deal with the most potential for long-term success.
9. Lack of live following. Especially in rock and country, no draw means no deal.
10. Artist “settles” too much; recording quality, image, stage presence, photos, and demo packaging, and overall presentation are all “OK.” Successful artists are more than just OK and never settle for it. Nor do their managers.
11. Poor networking skills. Successful artists constantly seek new networking methods and know how to use them.
12. Hanging onto ineffective band members. Many artists have trouble separating business and friendship, at the cost of their careers.
13. Dated musical style. (Sounding like Pearl Jam or ‘NSync probably isn’t going to cut it.)
14. Dated image. If you still dress the same way you did 5-10 years ago or have the same hair style, it’s time to freshen up. If you’re fond of the clothes, wear them on your own time–not when you want someone to invest money in your music being the hottest thing since sliced bread.
15. Lack of radio-friendly songwriting. No hit potential, no deal.
16. Bowing to peer or family pressure not to change. Doing the same thing the same way brings the same results, so in order to improve something, change has to occur; it literally can’t stay the same. But that’s not necessarily a bad thing: if you put icing on a cake, the cake changes but is still the same underneath. (If it’s bad icing or you do something stupid when frosting it, the cake falls apart. Fortunately, that doesn’t happen too often.)
17. Drug or alcohol issues. Many artists with easy access to drugs, alcohol, and groupies at the local level have the distorted impression that they’ve “made it” and lose motivation to go any further.
18. Spouse / child obligations. Putting together an entertainment career is expensive and requires a major time commitment. The same is true of spouses and children. We’re not saying it’s impossible, but it’s definitely more difficult.
19. Impossible to work with. Being impossible to work with doesn’t necessarily mean the artist isn’t a nice person; one very nice artist has had seven managers in the past ten years. We like this artist just fine as a person, but in order for a team to become successful, it needs time to gel. With a rotating litany of band members, managers, and agents, that’s not likely to happen.
20. Not understanding how the industry works. You have to know how the game is played in order to move the right pieces.