career tips

100 Best Career Tips of 2019

Music Connection readers know that MC is the place to go for career advice and industry insights from experts in the field. Listed below are what we believe to be the very best career insights we've published during the past year. Each quoted tip cites the month it first appeared on our website. 

 

BUILD A SOLID BRAND

There has to be a story… That creates the brand as long as it’s consistent. It should relate to everything you do––bios, press releases, videos, photos, blogs. You need to let people know ‘who you are,’ in addition to your music. Artists need to understand; it’s not just about their music. It’s about everything they do.
– Jonathan Wolfson, Manager
(Hall and Oates, Huey Lewis and the News)
June

There are tons of places you don’t have control over. The places you do control, make sure it’s high quality and what you want your brand to look and sound like.
– Amy Stroup, Composer
January

In this era, media gravitates to artists who have already been validated by other outlets. You need reviews, playlists and social media all working together. You have to be consistent across all platforms to establish a strong brand.
– Mitch Schneider, SRO PR
June

[Entertainment] involves your clothing, your look, the way you move, everything about you. You have to be consistent, in all aspects of your art, to establish an identity. If you’re all over the place, you will confuse people.
– Larry Butler, Live Performance Coach
March

I think I entered [the industry] being obsessed with having a certain brand, but I think you cultivate that as years go by.
– Dano Cerny, Director-Filmmaker
November

You need to find some connection with your audience. And sometimes that’s about your interests and things you care about…Those things will help establish your brand.
– Amanda Blide, Trend PR
June

 

STAY TRUE TO YOURSELF

I would rather fail and be who I am than be the biggest pop star in the world and not be me.
– Madison Beer
May

There are no absolute do’s and don’ts, especially on YouTube. That is why it has opened so many doors because [people] can be themselves.
– Reneé Dominique, Songwriter
November

I can’t be someone that I’m not. There’s no sense in trying to sing songs that don’t speak to me or reflect what is in my soul.
– Myoa, Singer-Songwriter
July

Remember why you started and stay true to that reason—get out on the scene, make friends and figure out who you want to associate with, do your own thing, telling your own story and it will find an audience.
– Joe Normal
September

I get a pang of fear: Does my story even matter? But then I listen to a deeper voice within and hear the truth: Yes, yes it does.
– Birch, Singer-Songwriter
April

When I was nine years old, I used to take lyric books from CDs and copy the lyrics down verbatim. I would think I had written a song. What that transcended into was figuring out that songwriting was creating something of my own.
– Nick Furlong, Songwriter
(Diplo, Steve Aoki, Avicii)
June

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The composing world is a very complex one now, and the most difficult thing is to find yourself. You have to dive deeply into yourself. You have to find what’s good for yourself and define your direction.
– Ludovico Einaudi, Composer
(Seven Days Walking)
July

I got fired from my first TV show after four episodes because I needed to learn that confidence and simplicity were key.
– Christopher Lennertz, Composer
(Sausage Party, Agent Carter)
September

Always be yourself. Don’t try to copy anything. Create music that is your sound and then, if you send it to a label, do a quick introduction.
– Maykel Prion, Co-Founder/CEO, Armada Music
July

Criticism is not judgment. You do need to be self-aware and objective about your art and performance, but you can’t let someone else’s opinion sway you from your mission.

– Storm Gardner, Singer
March

Focus on being authentic on all sides of your career.
– Tommy Stalknecht, CEO of Single Music
May

 

SONGWRITING IS AN OBSESSION

A lot of my songs and compositional elements started life as either licks I’d play in improvisation, or groovy vamps I’d riff on when practicing or jamming with mates.
– Johno, Songwriter
March

The most important thing in the room is the song—not the people. They are all working for the benefit of the song, not for their egos and ideas.
– Richard Harris, Songwriter (BBC, ABC)
September

In my earlier days, when I was waitressing, I had drawers full of cocktail napkins with lyrics written down on them.
– Sarah Burton, Singer-Songwriter
May

What’s cool now is understanding the process. Maybe if I write something on piano when it’s time to try it with a rhythm section, I might switch to guitar. And based on what guitar I’m using, this might determine the arrangement. I’ve set myself up by going through each step in the process.
– Nick Waterhouse, Songwriter
April

Whenever I feel inspired, I try to capture that much of it. That’s how I’ve written since I was 13. It’s where the seed of inspiration is.
– Steve Vai, Producer
(David Lee Roth)
July

A lot of times, the songs start life on my laptop. I’ll start writing and producing sort of at the same time, so a lot of the musical parts and the meat of the idea I’ll program as I’m writing the tune.

– Dan Smith, Bastille
September

What I like to do is take a first pass at it and then get everyone’s opinion.
– Suzi Quatro
May

Lyrically, I just wanted to be as honest as possible and use music to tell the story of my life. I began incorporating organic instruments and EDM elements. I realized that to be authentic, we can’t shy away from writing about all we’re going through.
– Elle Winter, Songwriter
June

You won’t always hit the bullseye, but that’s part of the process.
– Kevin Teasly, Composer, Music Director
April

“I’m mostly a phone writer, it’s super handy, and the voice memo is amazing. I tend to write in transit, so it’s handy.
– Sarah Burton, Singer-Songwriter
May

I wasn’t hearing the people I was working for, who were looking for emotion and storytelling, and I made it too much about the music. I learned that story is the answer, story is the boss.
– Christopher Lennertz, Composer
(Sausage Party, Agent Carter)
September

 

BE ORIGINAL

If you want to succeed, you must come to life with original thoughts, style and attitude. The best artists enlighten the world.
– Storm Gardner, Singer
March

Be innovative. That’s why I got into this field; because I wanted to take a different approach to audio. Stay humble and curious. Teamwork is crucial.
– Yao Wang, Composer-Producer-Entrepreneur
April

I always create from my heart. I don’t chase trends, sounds or styles. I just do me and that’s the best way to create because you give an artist your heart and soul.
Amadeus, Producer
Chris Brown, 50 Cent)
November

Singers need to develop their own vocal style; otherwise they’ll sound like every other good singer. There’s nothing special about that. They need to develop two voices, one for ballads and another for up-tempo numbers. Most importantly, they have to connect emotionally with the material. Audiences don’t care about perfection––they want to feel something.
– Larry Butler, Live Performance Coach
March

Each artist has to set their own trend that’s true to their music. With streaming services, we may see consumers peruse more genres than they would have in the past. With Florida Georgia Line, I’ll bet a lot of country fans now know who Bebe Rexha is.
– Allison Jones, SVP of A&R at BMLG
January

Building unique sounds has always interested me. A straight, up the-middle pop song can get boring. I need something to take it out of that zone and make it a little bit unique.
– Christian Medice, Producer
(Halsey, Pink)
March

You need to learn how to listen with your ears and eyes. Influences can help you, but they can also get in the way. You need to add your own personality and perspective to make what you do special and unique.
– Storm Gardner, Singer
March

 

KNOW THE MUSIC BUSINESS

With technology today, it doesn’t matter where you live. A lot of [the work] happens online. Many records I’ve created, I wasn’t even in the studio. But to actually be hands-on and in the studio collaborating, I’d say that LA would be the place.
– Amadeus, Producer
(Chris Brown, 50 Cent)
November

I recommend the MIDEM Convention to anyone who can afford it! And the NAMM Convention. Introduce yourself. The people there are the people you need to meet. The face-to-face is so important. People remember you.
– Karolina Rose, Songwriter
April

In the beginning, experience as much as you can; chase the ones you know you’re a good fit for, but also the ones that you think might be a creative mismatch––try it. You might learn something.
– Tony Morales, Composer
February

It’s in your best interest to create a business entity such as a Limited Liability Company or S-Corporation. A good accountant or business manager can help you do this, and will not only simplify your budgeting and taxes, but will also protect you in the event of a legal conflict.
– Joshua Martin and Reggie Gooden , 818 Talent
September

Before you even consider entering into a contract to perform, you need to do your “due diligence” and investigate the person or company you will be contracting with.
– Glenn Litwak, Music Attorney
October

Coming up, no one schooled me on the business. I had to figure it out on my own. Years ago I picked up a book called Everything You’d Better Know About the Record Industry by [the late artist and producer] Kashif.
– Amadeus, Producer
(Chris Brown, 50 Cent)
November

Attention to detail before you get a label, or a manager, or a booking agent is paramount to getting those things.
– Jason Hawk Harris
April

Reading music changes is key. Understanding what the trends are and moving that into your language.
– Richard Harris, Songwriter (BBC, ABC)
September

 

SOCIAL MEDIA

Social media allows artists to connect with people they may never have met before. If you do it right, it can create a community that follows and supports you for years.
– Hunter Scott, Founder, Trend PR
March

[In] social media culture, we can curate what we want to represent us as artists and not advertise things we’re less proud of.
– Dano Cerny, Director-filmmaker
November

You don’t want to merely be a follower on Instagram. You want to be a leader and experiment with ways to engage and grow your audience. Learn from other successful accounts, but come up with ways that showcase your personality and skills best.
– Sam Blakelock @pickupjazz on Instagram
April

With social media and online platforms, everything is possible.
– Mattia Esposito, COO of Rehegoo Music Group
October

You can get attention online and build a decent fan base. But, you still have to play live for fans––that’s where it is today. Social media can maintain an audience, but playing live can build one.
– Jonathan Wolfson, Manager
(Hall and Oates, Huey Lewis and the News)
June

Originality, talent and a large social media following are the main ingredients that will attract labels and publishing companies as well.
– Josquin Des Pres, JoNa Music Group
November

Before I was signed, if I was going to cover or remix a song [for posting], it would be a song that was big at the time. Then, I had to make sure that whatever I did with the song was as different as could be. I would make sure my version sounded completely different.
– Conor Maynard
October

 

PRODUCING

It’s important to differentiate yourself. It will help you build a career. Otherwise, you’ll be just like everybody else. It’s especially important for producers to differentiate themselves with identifiable sounds and productions. For example, you can clearly hear the difference between Dr. Dre and Timbaland.
– Al Shaw, Machinewerk
March

Songs and melodies don’t exist in isolation. There’s generally some kind of sonic aesthetic that’s required. That’s where the production comes in. Usually you can tell if you’re pleasing somebody. If you want to please them, you’ll do more of that. I get into what I think somebody wants and then try to push them way beyond it to see what’s too far.
Jacknife Lee, Producer
(Taylor Swift, Weezer)
January

One problem was when do you try to reinvent the song and make it your own and when do you say “This is what the song is and we need to respect the original?”
Joe Chiccarelli, Producer
(Morrissey, Vance Joy)
August

The great thing about collaboration is that if you put five producers in a room, what you’ll come up with is epic because that’s five different points of view.
Amadeus, Producer
(Chris Brown, 50 Cent)
November

I don’t want speakers to be too flattering. I don’t want it to sound great in the studio and then pay it on the kitchen stereo and it doesn’t have that vibe anymore. My mix test was my rental Hyundai [car stereo].
– Mr Hudson, Producer
(Kanye West, Duran Duran)
September

The ultimate expression of recording as an art form is to capture and document [the feeling when they wrote it] perfectly. To get as close to the bone as possible.
– Jack Antonoff
October

Listen more than you talk. Check your ego at the door.
– Rob Jaczko
Berklee College
May

I have a big toolbox of stuff, in the same way that a serious photographer has a lot of lenses and camera or a serious chef has a lot of knives and the pots and pans they adore and feel lost without. I’m like that with gear and instruments and microphones. But it doesn’t mean I’m going to use all of them. If the song is great, the song will tell you what it needs.

– Greg Wells, Producer-Songwriter
(Katy Perry, Adele)
February

Mixing something you’ve produced is a challenge, because you don’t have fresh ears on it and you’re attached to certain performances or parts.
– Mr Hudson, Producer
(Kanye West, Duran Duran)
September

 

RELATIONSHIPS ARE KEY

I think the unique thing is bringing [co-writers] in, fostering that relationship I have with them and letting them know that I appreciate their input.
– Luke Combs
August

You may have more of a personal relationship with an independent [label]; you may feel they “get you” and afford you more creative freedom.
– Glenn Litwak, Music Attorney
March

Any free time I have where I’m not working on our new stuff, I’m just meeting new songwriters and meeting different artists, producers and just trying to see how they do it and work with them and learn and have fun writing songs.
Dan Smith, Bastille
September

You have to be technically savvy, and you really have to develop your team from the beginning.
– Kevin Teasly, Composer, Music Director
April

You can go to school, learn every program, but at the end of the day, this is a people game. I’ve had interns that know more key commands than me, but not how to deal with five people in a room, recording a song, especially when things get tense.
– Charlie Waymire, Engineer-Producer
August

I played my first open mic in Nashville three days after I moved here. I was terrified, but once I got used to it, it’s pretty similar––making a connection with the audience.
– Lucy Isabel, Songwriter
November

Your business is only as good as the network you have. You have to build relationships.
– Richard Harris, Songwriter (BBC, ABC)
September

It’s a social business. You’ve got to deal with people and you have to keep your ego in check. You never know where stuff’s going to come from.”
– Shawn Clement, Composer-Producer-Engineer
May

Make strong connections with the fans you have at the very beginning. They will follow you through all your highs and lows, so make sure to let them know how much you appreciate them. They will be the most willing to share your music and watch you grow.
– Caly Bevier, Singer-Songwriter
August

It’s good to establish a relationship with the mastering engineer and to ensure that an artist is comfortable with them.
– Colin Leonard, Sing Mastering
October

If you’re not playing music because you love the people that you’re being creative with, and you just want some awesome version of expression...you’re doing it for the completely wrong reasons.
KW , Vile Creatures
May

There are some amazing groups [on LinkedIn]—music industry groups––that you can put questions to and be involved in. It is overwhelming and the amount of people willing to help is outstanding.
Lena Tufenkjian, Musician, Career Coach
April

Above all, it’s important to get honest, qualified people on your team, but it’s also a good idea to hire people you get along with personally. Your team should be with you for the long haul.
Joshua Martin and Reggie Gooden , 818 Talent
September

 

WORK HARD, WORK SMART

Don’t be lazy. Get out there, do the work. Don’t rely on just social media to promote. Pound the pavement. Hand out stickers and flyers. Canvas shows after [the crowds] come out. Create the scene in your local hometown. Build up your following. Build up the noise. Build up the buzz.
David Draiman , Disturbed
January

We’re kinda realizing that if we put something out there in the air, if we ask for it and work hard enough, it comes to us.
– Tarriona “Tank” Ball, Tank and the Bangas
November

The more you combine [the label’s work and the work that you do,] the more you’ll be able to break.
– Mattia Esposito, COO of Rehegoo Music Group
October

Music is a lifetime commitment––it’s the thing that called me. A great chef knows how to make a lot of types of food and that informs the food he makes. A classical conductor plays a number of instruments very well, but when they’re in front of the orchestra they’re not playing anything. That’s how they got the gig––by being experts.
– Greg Wells, Producer-Songwriter
(Katy Perry, Adele)
February

You have to have thick skin in this business. Don’t have feelings when it comes to what people think.
– Sean Paul
June

[The door] wasn’t going to stay open forever. And I had to work my ass off. I still feel like that every day. None of this is permanent.
– Jack Antonoff
October

It’s the most difficult period of time to ever try and become a commercially successful musician in the history of music. Prepare to sacrifice everything for your art and then be prepared to sacrifice a little bit more. Because the chances of you breaking in this environment are about equivalent to winning a Powerball lottery.
– David Draiman, Disturbed
 January

 

BE PASSIONATE

Ask questions. Ask for the details. Find that one person with passion and ideas. They make the most amazing things.
– Adam Grahn, Royal Republic
July

Making music was the only thing that kept me from going insane. Even though I still went a little insane.
– Alyse Vellutro, Pronoun
May

It can take time before you get any results, and you have to really love it because there will be times when it’s not fun, and the constant rejections are going to add up.
– Tony Morales, Composer
February

At one point, I believed basketball was my calling. It didn’t pan out the way I wanted to––but I’ve always been an artist before I picked up a basketball. Even though I feel free on the basketball court, art is a connection to my soul.
– Maez301
June

It’s a matter of committing: I try to get in, learn as much as I can, make decisions and just go for it.
– Lucy Isabel, Songwriter
November

There would be no reason to be in the studio if it wasn’t a group of people trying to reach [a common] place. That’s the glory of it, to have this crazy idea and chase it.
– Jack Antonoff
October

I made myself a promise when I left the military that I would pursue music. If you risk your life for a cause you don’t fully believe in, why not risk everything for what your heart tells you to do?
David Macias, Songwriter
July

 

PRACTICE, PRACTICE, PRACTICE

Rehearse. A LOT. The more you know, the less is unknown, and the less you have to fear.
– John M., Singer-Songwriter, Author
May

If each band member does his or her homework and learns the material before coming to a rehearsal, things will go much faster and much more smoothly.
– John M., Singer-Songwriter, Author
May

Break up your practice time instead of spending all of your energy at once.
– Reeve Johnson, Performer
May

Practicing is what all musicians and performing artists do, (or should do) every day to maintain their technical skills on their instrument.
– John M., Singer-Songwriter, Author
May

When I’m not singing, I’m doing scales.
– Josh Todd, Buckcherry
May

 

MARKET YOURSELF

[Lucidious] is an artist who utilized direct marketing strategies on Facebook and Instagram to find his audience and get them into his world…He mastered the Facebook Business and Ads Manager and ran all different kinds of video ads targeting fans of similar artists. They came pouring into his world and eventually he was getting fans to click on his ads at around $0.02 per click.
– Ari Herstand, Artist, Blogger, Author
April

We really push our fans to pre-save us on Spotfiy, things like that. We’re focusing on branding, marketing and getting the best songs out each month.
– Chris Evanko, The Stash
November

The way in which you build your audience on Spotify is very different than the way you build your audience on SoundCloud.

– Jeff Ponchick, Co-Founder/CEO Repost Network
June

The best way to find and grow your audience now is through direct marketing. Not PR. Not playlists. Not touring. Not blogs. Marketing.
– Ari Herstand, Artist, Blogger, Author
April

TAKE A BREAK

Often when we come back [to the studio], the answer is right in front of us. It’s a good way to get out of our heads for a minute.
– Christian Medice, Producer
(Halsey, Pink)
March

I’ll give myself 15 minutes and do three ideas. That breaks the cycle, and one of those ideas is going to be cool and I’ll want to run with it.
– J. Worra, Producer
October

If a writer hits a wall while recording, one option is to put [whatever they’re working on] away. Another is to sit and be still for a short time. You don’t try to figure out what the song means. You have to stop the voice in your head and be present for a moment. You listen and the song will tell you what it needs to be.

– Steve Vai, Producer
(David Lee Roth)
July

 

AND FINALLY…

Stop trying to be cool, stop trying to be relevant. Just focus on making the best music you can make.
– Jason Hawk Harris
April

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