It’s the 1st thing you think about when you wake up; the last thing when you fall asleep. You want to do it everyday for the rest of your life: write, record, and play your original music. You see the world a bit differently than everyone else and feel compelled to pursue your waking dreams. My encouragement to you: GO FOR IT.

While everyone’s definition of what it means to “make it” can and should be different, the working definition I’d like to use for this article is “providing a consistent enough income to allow for your passion to be the bulk of what you spend your time, thoughts, and energy on.” With that as our qualifier, if you want to make it as an original artist, you’re going to need 3 qualifiers: great songs, strong talent, and dogged persistence.

Great songs.

We’ve all heard terrible albums from well-known artists who had no limit to their recording budgets: the best gear, the best players, the best marketing. And yet, the album just stinks (2 that come to mind: Michael Jackson’s Invincible and Metallica’s St. Anger). Conversely, we’ve all heard amazing records made on shoestring budgets, unknown players, and practically zero marketing (2 that come to mind: Sufjan Stevens’ Michigan and Bon Iver’s For Emma, Forever Ago). I mean even The Beatles 1st album wasn’t exactly hi-fi by today’s standards! It’s the songs that make great albums great.

As both a session musician and producer who’s worked on countless albums over the years, I can tell you that the recordings I’m most proud of aren’t the ones that had the biggest budgets, but the ones that were simply the best songs.

I’m wrapping up pre-production with an artist, Melissa Sandullo, who has incredible songs. I can already tell you that this album is going to be great, and we haven’t even played a single note.

It’s really hard to mess up an album that has great songs; it’s really hard to make a great album from mediocre songs.

If you’ve got good, but not great, songs get in touch with me and let’s hone them until they’re great. Your audience (and career) will thank you!

Strong talent.

No, you don’t need to be Eddie Van Halen on guitar or Liberace on piano (though that certainly doesn’t hurt!), but you do need to have the technical aspects of your craft down enough that they aren’t getting in the way of what you’re communicating: the words, the emotion, the content. Think of it like watching a horrible actor delivering beautifully written lines: doesn’t work. Conversely, even bad lines in the hands of a terrific actor can cause us to suspend belief.

Sure, producers can do amazing things with Auto-Tune and Beat Detective (a tool that aligns sloppy rhythms to the correct beats). At the end of the day though, every artist has to go out on the road and impress audiences. You’ve just plain got to put in the sweat equity to become strong on your instrument(s).

For that matter, don’t be afraid to surround yourself with strong talent. When I produce an album, I surround the artist/band with the best musicians and talent that will complement their music. It elevates the artist’s “game,” and the same thing happens when artists do this live. Dave Mathews has often said that he is the weakest player in his band: he knows that surrounding himself with stronger talent only ups his game!

Dogged persistance.

 “I was an overnight success alright, but 30 years is a long, long night!” –Ray Kroc (founder of McDonald’s)

No matter how good your songs are, or how strong your talent, 99.9% of all successful people still have to persistently put in hard work. Unfortunately, shows like “America’s Got Talent” and “American Idol” have created a false narrative that all anyone talented really needs is to just “be discovered!” Reality just isn’t that simple. I’ve personally worked with several of the “American Idol” artists, and can tell you that even though they all had that brief moment of fame, anyone who is still in the game are working their butts off to keep their career moving forward.

Yep, if you want to make it, you’re going to have to slog it out, play countless shows, be rejected, and fight for what you want. The fantasy of some record label executive coming to your aid like a knight in shining armor is just that: a fantasy. Any of my label executive friends would have no problem telling you that they aren’t looking to jump-start a non-career. They’re looking for artists who are already successful, have years of experience, and a built-in audience. To use an analogy: their job isn’t to put an engine in your car, it’s to put a turbo-charger on it.

So, put on your game face, toughen up your skin, and get ready to make some cold calls. If you are gonna be successful (in any career for that matter), you are gonna need some dogged persistence. No one is gonna work harder for you than you. But take heart: if you have all 3 of these qualifiers (or are at least working on them), you really can “make it” as a musical artist. The world is always looking for the creatives who truly have something to say, are good at saying it, and just plain don’t give up.

You don’t have to go it alone! If you are truly ready to take your music to the next level, I’d love to talk with you. Be sure to sign up for email updates if you’d like to keep getting expert insight on songwriting, marketing, and your music career.