It's the million dollar question. What separates the very few that find even a small degree of success in music from the many that don't? Is it talent, work ethic, stamina, contacts, luck, money, all of it or something else? There are so many indie artists that have the musical ability to thrive, but they barely get out of the starting block. What is the missing piece?
The easy answer is always luck. Although luck plays a part in every aspect of life, it very rarely is the reason for sustained success. As the saying goes, the harder one works the luckier they seem to be. What does one work towards though? There are so many avenues to consider. The landscape is flooded with outlets such as YouTube, Spotify, Apple Music, gigs, social media, press, licensing, radio and physical merchandise to name a handful. I am of the opinion that the first task at hand is to find a way to simply survive and function within a business where it is difficult to make any money at all. The artist needs to pick a path that they feel they can impact and start walking, one step at a time.
The key to surviving in any business is to generate revenue. The music business is no exception. Most agents and labels will have little interest until the foundation of a viable business has been built. When an artist has the ability to earn, the music business will take notice. The musician needs to understand they are interacting with companies that are driven by profit. They are in the business of selling art. To succeed in the music industry on any level all roads must lead to profit. Where there is profit there is interest from the people that can help a career blossom. But make no mistake, nobody is working for free.
An artist can monetize their work on so many fronts, none of which are easy or guaranteed to deliver a return. Like every business they all require a financial investment. If money is tight, like it is for most start ups, the decisions need to be calculated and laser focused on attainable goals that will hopefully get the ball rolling towards cash flow. Until there is cash flow it is nearly impossible to grow your business.
In order to achieve even marginal success in any business one needs to be able to constantly examine their plan with total honesty and pivot when required. Success is a very small and well camouflaged fast moving target. Every successful business owner listens to their customer base in an effort to grow their brand. If the initial goal is to build a fan base and an income stream through live performance every decision should point to drawing an audience. Give the audience what they want and they will come. If they are not coming, ask yourself why? There is very likely a good reason. If you are determined to find success you need to be equally determined to be honest with yourself about what is preventing that success.
I believe the lack of a focused business plan is one of the largest pieces of the puzzle that separates the few success stories from the many with considerable talent that fall short. Barring extraordinary, once in a generation talent from the discussion, being good just isn't enough. The more profitable that your brand is, the more likely it is to attract people who can make a difference in your career. Unfortunately,there is no blueprint to follow. If there were one, there wouldn't be a sea of talented artists that most of us will never hear of. The cream always rises, but the "cream" is very rarely musical prowess alone.