Performers. Music journalists. The Starbucks barista. The mailman. Everyone who learns that I work as a coach for emerging musicians ultimately asks me the same question: "What's the most important thing an emerging musician can do for her music career?"
Frankly, it's my favorite question to be asked. In my one-on-one work with over 50 emerging musicians in the Boston area, I've watched local artists grow their fanbases by hundreds, win international competitions, and perform shows beyond their wildest dreams. I've learned that the most successful musicians have one thing in common: They set goals for every action they take.
Goals bring intentionality, strategy, and momentum to an artist's music career. The real secret lies in the process. When setting goals, musicians should always ask these two questions:
Question #1: What is the primary goal of this show/release/radio appearance/etc.?
If your show accomplishes your primary goal, you'll consider the event an overall success. The most effective goals are SMART - specific, measurable, achievable, results-focused, and time-bound. Some examples of primary goals include:
- Sell out Venue X.
- Collect 25 mailing list sign-ups the night of the show.
- Receive 2 album reviews in Boston-based music blogs within one month of my digital release.
By setting and achieving a measurable primary goal, you guarantee that you leave the show having accomplished something meaningful for your career. And folks, for the record, "Having a good show and rocking out with the other bands" is not a meaningful career-development goal. It's a lovely goal for the soul, but if you want to watch your career climb, be sure to design primary goals that are specific and growth-oriented.
Setting a primary goal is important work, but the magic really happens when you ask Question #2:
Question #2: What door would I like this show/release/etc. to open?
Door-opening goals encourage you to think two steps ahead by positioning each action you take as a meaningful milestone to achieve future career goals. Most musicians are familiar with the empty "What now?" feeling that strikes after a major show or release. Door-opening goals help you avoid the post-show letdown; you won't need to ask "What now?" because you'll have been planning this exact moment for months!
Some examples of door-opening goals include:
- As a result of this sold out show, I will secure a monthly residency at Venue X.
- As a result of this airplay, I will be invited to give an on-air live performance at Radio Station X.
- As a result of this album review in Music Blog X, my Facebook Page will get 20 new followers.
- As a result of this sold out show, I will be offered to open for a nationally touring act by Booker X.
Here's The Deal: Goals Affect Your Process
Goals aren't arbitrary; they influence your entire process from the outset. The moment you set a goal for your action, your promotional and behind-the-scenes processes become meaningful and strategic. By setting the primary goal of 25 mailing list sign-ups, you're guaranteed to ask a friend to pass your mailing list at your show. By setting the door-opening goal for a future residency, you're more likely to begin building a substantive relationship with the booker ahead of time. And by setting the primary goal of getting an album review in a certain blog, you're more likely to do some research and engage with that blog on social media before submitting your request.
Unsure Where To Begin? Start Here.
Setting specific and meaningful career goals can be challenging at first. If you're unsure where to begin, consider setting goals within one of these categories:
- Audience Development (Draw, mailing list sign-ups)
- Relationship Development (With industry gatekeepers, other musicians)
- Virtual Engagement (Page likes and followers, engagement with posts)
- Press, Radio, and Industry Buzz (Album reviews, radio airplay, award nominations)
- Live Opportunities (Venues, opening slots, festivals, college shows)
Goal-setting is the most effective way to build a successful and sustainable music career. Want help devising clear, strategic goals as your climb the career ladder? Apply to join Talisman's Career Coaching Program or sign up for a Consultation - or ask a question here!