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The Five Elements – Why Musicians Succeed and Fail


We have surveyed and interviewed tens of thousands musicians worldwide. Our mission: Trying to find what makes musicians succeed and fail. In our research we found a series of repeating patterns and best practices we would like to present in this article.

We found 5 elements that all successful artists we interviewed have shared.

The Five Elements are the following
Element 1. Understand why most musicians fail.

Element 2. Understand yourself. 
Element 3. Understand Your Genre
Element 4. Understand your target audience. 
Element 5. Goals, a plan and your strategy.

Number 2,3 and 4 are the CORE ELEMENTS of any succesful musicians strategy.

Element 1: Understand why most musicians fail.

To succeed you first need to understand why artists fail. 99% of times it´s failure to connect to their audience. It doesn’t matter if you want to make money, become recognized as an artist or just want to create art. If you don´t connect with your audience things become can become very frustrating. The reason why artists fail to connect to their audience is always the same. They don´t understand their target audience.  Most artist fail don´t have true fans. Fans that are really passionate about their music. The struggling artists we talked to in our interviews and surveys had trouble identifying their target audience is.  So of course they had trouble connecting to them.

Exercise 1:

Take a look at your favorite musicians – Then think about what makes you like them.  Ask yourself WHY you feel connected to your favorite artists.

Element 2. Understanding yourself.
Before you can find your true fans you must find yourself first. You have to know AND understand yourself as an artist. You need a form of basic self awareness. If you want other people to buy your art, your products or services  you must connect to them. To connect you need to communicate with them. Duh! And to communicate you must first be 100% sure of how you present yourself.  Self knowledge is the most important key to success. Without it you can´t communicate or connect. And it comes with unexpected, added benefits like an increase in productivity and self-confidence. Why?

Because a lack of motivation and confidence can be attributed to a lack of self-knowledge too.

To quote best selling author Terry Pratchet:
“If you do not know where you come from, then you don’t know where you are and if you don’t know where you are, then you don’t know where you’re going. And if you don’t know where you’re going, you’re probably going wrong.”
Lack of self-knowledge is often the reason why artists stall in their careers and procrastinate. It can also be the reason behind why many artists start a lot projects but never finish any.

Without a motivating goal  its hard to keep motivated and productive. And it´s close to impossible to succeed.

Here are two signs that you lack self awareness.

1. You don´t know how your audience sees you or cannot influence how people see you. You´re not 100% sure about your artist image. Alternative you could also feel that you´re not in control of your artist image.

2. You´re not sure if you connect to your audience. Symptoms include but are not limited to:  Lack of fan engagement, low sales and slow growth.

Remember: True fans connect to those artists that have found their true self.

Exercise 2: Ask yourself what motivated you to start out with music.
Do you know why you started making music?  Try to drill down on the answer as much as possible. Don´t just take the first answer for granted. Instead repeat asking yourself why each time you get an answer. This is the 5 w or 5 why technique. You keeping asking yourself why until you get to the core of your answer.

Element 3: Understanding Your Genre
Each genre, no matter how chaotic or crazy it may seem, has it´s own rules – a code of conduct and a hierarchy. If you don´t understand the rules you can´t play the game. Most of us hate to accept that fact – but we all know it to be true. The good news is there are always ways for newcomers to break through.  These artists innovate by creating their own distinctive styles and niches. And from time to time there are even game changers. To break through you need to understand how your genre works.

You need to know why some artists break through while others struggle.

Exercise 3: Ask yourself about the culture and rules of your genre. What are some of the biggest differences between the artists in your genre and others?

Who are your genres most successful musicians?
WHY are they so successful? Are there any patterns you
observed? What are they doing right that you could do?


Element 4: Understanding your target audience.

To connect to your audience you need to understand them. Most artists have wishful thinking about who their audience is and what they want. Realize that to succeed you need a perfect understanding of your audience.  You need to know who they are and what they want. For this you need to stop thinking of your audience as a group of random, anonymous people. Instead think of single INDIVIDUALS that represent group members. Think of your typical fan for a moment. Do you have a specific picture in mind who your typical fan is?

Just how specific is that picture? Is your typical fan male or female? Are your fans younger or older than 30 years old? How old are they exactly? What other music do they like? Success is about understanding your target audience. It´s about connecting to them on a core level.

The better you can describe your fans the more successful you will become.

Exercise 4: Ask yourself who your perfect audience is. What do they want from life?   What are their values? What is their motivation to listen to music? Who is your TYPICAL FAN?
Tip: Download our Fan Cheat Sheet to remind yourself of the three core steps on how to build a True Fan Strategy below.

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Element 5: Goals, a plan and your strategy.

If you don´t have goals and a plan how to reach them you´re setting yourself up for failure. Because if you don´t start to do your own planning you will always depend on the planning of others.  And what they have planned for you usually isn’t´t to your best advantage.

In our surveys we found that most musicians never set plans. But to succeed you need to stop relying on hope, chance or a lucky break. You must take things into your own hands. This means setting up realistic goals with specific deadlines.  You need to develop a strategy that fits your individual situation. Don´t start planning before you´ve found out enough about yourself, your fans and your genre. This is because only once you figure out those key points it will become crystal clear what to do next. You´ll know yourself – which is the most important part.

You´ll know who your fans are.
You´ll know what your fans want.
And you´ll know where to find your fans.

You´ll know how to communicate with them in an affordable and efficient way. So you won´t be wasting too much resources, energy or time. Here is a another secret.

Most artists fail because they either:

A. Can´t FIND their perfect audience.
B. Can´t AFFORD to reach their perfect audience.

That´s because most musicians and labels just “spray & pray” when promoting their music. Meaning they release and promote their music to everyone (”spray”) and then hope for the best. (”pray”)

Why? They don´t know any better – or don´t care. Of course in 99% of the time this approach fails. And then who do they blame? Usually not themselves.  It´s the internet, the economy, the quality of the artist or the fault of the label.And while all factors may play a role, the real reason is much simpler. The failed musician did not connect to their audience. They DID NOT KNOW THEIR AUDIENCE.

Once you know exactly who and where your fans are it becomes easy to get even bigger numbers of fans. First of all by only targeting the audiences that are already interested.  Instead of spraying, praying and annoying everyone with their shameless and ineffective self-promotion. By knowing your target audience you get another added bonus: You attract true fans.And once you recruit your first true fans they will bring in more fans themselves.

Exercise 5: Ask yourself if you have a real plan and a strategy. Do you have a strategy developed based on knowing your self, your genre and your fans?

Are you interested in finding out more about yourself, your genre and your fans?

Check out our free Fan Cheat Sheet and find out more about how to connect to your true fans.
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