Numbers. Our entire lives, we’ve been stacked up against them; from our birthweight to our school grades. Regular jobs have metrics built into them, such as monthly sales goals or number of widgets produced by the hour. We’re so used to being graded by numbers in every category, that even as freelance musicians, we judge and compare ourselves with them.
We can’t help it. Our career goals need to be measurable, we need to know how well we’re doing, and we therefore grab onto any numbers we can use to judge ourselves with. The problem with this, however, is that not all numbers are worthy systems to evaluate your worth as an artist.
This article lists 5 categories of measurement to stop attaching your success to, and 5 to look at in new, radiant lights. Let’s begin…
THESE DON’T MATTER:
Plain Old Social Media Followers: The tides are changing in the music industry. Very few big players are immediately impressed by large numbers of followers anymore. Vertical is more valuable than horizontal. Scrolling down, the average amount of engagement per individual post tells potential managers, sponsors, press and labels a lot more about the loyalty of an artist’s fanbase (which makes them take the artist seriously) than simply the numbers at the top of the profile. There are a lot of pretty girls on Instagram with numbers in the millions, but they can’t pay their bills because none of their followers care about them beyond the beach photos. It’s possible to pay actual currency to basement click-factories to inflate social media likes/followers, and just about everyone with the power to move a career forward knows this. And remember: you can have just one view on your latest Youtube video, but if that one view comes from an wonderstruck angel investor or powerful blogger…
Indifferent Email Subscribers: Okay, so what about email lists? Yes, they are a considerable step-up from social media followers. A follow on Twitter is not the same as someone giving you their email address with explicit permission to contact them on a regular basis. Every music industry expert who knows what they’re talking about will stress the importance of collecting your fans emails. However, not all subscribers are equal. Some of you are in a good place, and every email you collect is one from a super-fan who reads everything you send, and will happily come out to your shows, donate to your crowdfunding campaign, and buy your latest merch. And some of you have dead-weights on your email list: they signed up to received that exclusive free song, and have never opened another email from you since (you can see that on your mailing list service’s ranking of them), let alone participated in any of your call-to-actions. This isn’t so bad when your list is small, but once you grow past a certain point, you’re going to have to start paying service fees per name you want to reach. Like any other business, you don’t want to spend money on customers who aren’t spending money on you. If they live far away from anywhere you play, aren’t actively engaged on your social media, and haven’t opened an email from you in over a year, send them an email asking if they still want to be on your list. If no reply within 24 hours, manually remove them yourself.
Deals That Didn’t Work Out: The life of the self-employed, self-making artist is full of business deals that fall through. All small companies juggle various opportunities without putting every egg in one basket. Most people just prefer not to broadcast small setbacks, even though they might happen to them as often as they do to you. Don’t lose sleep at night mourning what could have been. Keep pushing forward.
Mean Comments You’ve Received: If you’ve ever put yourself and your music out there, chances are you’ve gotten YouTube down-votes, rude tweets, or critical album reviews. Some of us have thicker skin than others, but I’m sure we can all point to one particular insult that got under our skin at one point. I used to struggle with my mind playing me a slideshow of every message from an anonymous troll (or ex-best friend hiding their phone number) calling me names. It takes a lot of mental power, but you’ll learn to let it go and keep doing what you were born to do, regardless of what someone too cowardly to display their real name hopes for.
Calories In A Reward: On the happier side, yes, you should go out and order a slice of cheesecake to celebrate hitting that career milestone. We’re not in a career that has monthly performance reports, championships games or gold star stickers. It’s up to us to recognize when we achieved something awesome – may it be releasing the debut EP, getting a five-star review from a prestigious publication, selling out our biggest venue yet, being shortlisted for a major music award, or anything that means a lot to us that we worked hard towards. Don’t dull the moment by feeling pressured to order non-fat vanilla frozen yogurt when you really wanted bubblegum cotton candy rainbow ice cream. For goodness sakes, go celebrate!
COUNT THESE INSTEAD:
Your First Dollar Ever: This was the day the world shifted for you. No longer a hobbyist who practices their instrument and writes songs in their bedroom, you became a professional artist. It’s actually a common tradition in restaurants for them to frame their very first dollar bill or coin on their wall. The first day your royalties came in or you got paid for a show – that’s a big deal.
The Friends You’ve Made On Your Journey (So Far): Even if you are a solo artist, you’ve undoubtedly made friends and connections thanks to your involvement in the music industry. From other musicians to graphic designers, there are so many amazing people out there who are passionate about audio art. Cherish them, and stay in touch along the way to your respective tops.
The Number Of Gigs You’ve Been Offered: Think about it. There are people out there who hold you in such high esteem that they’re asking you to play for them. It doesn’t matter if you can’t take the gig. It doesn’t matter if it’s just a retirement home, or a wedding anniversary, or the smallest of local charities. They asked you.
Business Expenses: A little detour from the warm fuzzy stuff for a bullet point. You should track what you spend money on. May it be to help you pay for studio time quicker, or get a bigger tax return as someone who is self-employed, if you need to count serious numbers, here’s where to do it.
Fans Who Tell You Your Music Changed Their Life: Perhaps the best thing in our world, the fans. At the bottom of our hearts, we don’t just make music for ourselves – we write songs with relatable emotions and experiences for the fans. We aren’t just creating art for money – we’re trying to change the world, or at least, someone’s life. No matter what genre you identify as or what you write about, there will be people out there who will write to you or meet you after a show to tell you that you saved their life. Maybe you’ve met some already. If you’re going to measure your success as a creator of art by any sort of metric, please let it be this one.