By Ethan Schiff
As a new artist, it’s very easy to buy into the mindset that there’s a list of things you must do to compete in today’s music industry. This makes sense. Artists are, in fact, not solely artists as much as creative entrepreneurs.
Your Instagram page might see twice as much traffic as your official website, and your recent Tumblr post about a charity you support might resonate with fans more than your latest press release. The industry is changing. Digital is everything and everything is digital. It’s all on you. All of a sudden, launching your project is very overwhelming.
Typically I see new artists begin their new project with some sort of list. We’ll call this LIST A.
- Make Facebook page
- Make Twitter page
- Make Instagram page
- Immediately ask friends and family to Like/Follow/Share these pages
- Make MailChimp account
- Find a web designer to build a website
- Find a graphic designer to make a logo
- Find a publicist
- Find a manager
- Find a merch company to make t-shirts
- Book as many shows as possible
- Hope for the best
Doing these things is of course not a bad thing. But doing them first misses the point. Creating LIST A is easy because everyone is writing the same list. As an alternative, here’s a list of questions (we’ll call it LIST B) that are much tougher to answer:
- What is my end goal?
- What do I care about, not as an “artist”, but as a person?
- What do my “fans” care about, as people?
- What level of transparency am I comfortable with?
- What visual aesthetic do I identify with?
- What will phase one, two and three of my live show look like?
- Is my current music actually the first impression I want to make, or should I keep writing?
And perhaps most difficultly yet importantly:
- What kind of experience do I want to create?
The most important thing to realize here is that you should not make LIST A if you don’t know the answers to LIST B. The second informs the first. How can you begin talking to your fans if you don’t know what you believe in?
The question of experience is critical. When planning new projects, it’s important to remember that a common thread between many of the most recognizable and successful artists is that they are able to create a world for fans to enter. This concept transcends genre, budget and even your recorded music.
When you see Katy Perry’s live show, you are absolutely and completely in a world that she created. But it extends beyond that into everything she does — from the way she tweets to her weather reporting skills.
Tom Waits does the exact same thing, possibly better than anyone else. If you watch his compelling live performances or this brilliant press conference for a minute, you’ll find yourself almost in a trance, realizing that you are in Tom’s world and not your own.
Beyonce is the queen, shining down on everyone else, and you’re lucky if you’re able to enter her world. Amanda Palmer is the artist of the people. Her world is completely accessible. You can hear the names Radiohead or Jay-Z and associate it with some sort of feeling and environment beyond your own.
As a new artist, your challenge is to truly identify and articulate the experience you are trying to create, regardless of scale. After firmly knowing the answer to that question, you will embark on your journey with significantly more clarity and confidence than ever imagined.
Ethan Schiff is co-founder and CEO of New Torch Entertainment, a New York-based music management, publicity and consulting company. He can be found on Twitter @EthanSchiff.