The Mental Fundamentals.
Boots, backpack, sunglasses, hat, compass, sunblock, rain jacket, first aid kit, snacks on snacks, a google search history of tips and hacks, hours logged at the rock climbing studio, notice submitted at work, bills paid in advance, emergency plans configured - we prepare for something like a Mountain climb. Preparing for a music career Mountain protects your well-being and dream goals from things like one-sided contracts and unprepared expectation management. Preparation isn't something necessarily complicated or expensive though, it's not even a pitch for a MIC service - it's more like getting your head right by learning from stories, people, and sources already playing in the arena you want to pursue. Actually, it usually becomes quite the fun side hobby.
Step 2 is your now-perpetual pursuit of knowledge - it's training that prepares you for your climb: collecting that Perspective to build Principles to guide your decision-making along the way. Your Principles are your business fundamentals, and other personal understandings of the way the world works. No one can predict exactly how a Mountain climb will go, and you’ll end up learning a lot more along the way - but if you don’t have years of experience or a business degree to start, Step 2 helps you begin to catch up.
Simply put: expand your perspective to see music careers, the music industry, and life in general from angles you don't currently see. Study the origin stories of the greats you admire, read books, listen to podcasts, watch movies, go to shows - listen, watch, learn and you'll find things to inspire and help you actually understand the gist of music careers.
“Principles” is an umbrella term for different beliefs, natural laws, and heuristics that guide your decision-making. You’ve been picking these up your whole life already; they’re both strategic shortcuts and structures for establishing personal identity. Internalizing greater overarching lessons that can apply to many different scenarios will save you time and mental energy. (Also, noticing sour beliefs inside you can help you identify roadblocks where the negative tricks you into thinking it's reality, not illusion.)
Here are some of what we deem are the most important Principles to get you started:
The First Circle Conundrum
MIC's goal is to identify and defeat the major blockages that hold musicians back. We put a name to a beast that we repeatedly found plagues most musicians (and many people in other professions, especially performance/entertainment): the disappointment that the people in your life don't (usually/often) give adequate reactions to your music products and efforts. We studied this uncannily common occurrence psychologically and called it out for what it is: The First Circle Conundrum.
Anyone who is only 1 degree of separation away from you (in your First Circle) has already labeled you ("Niece", "Cousin", "Classmate", "Brother", etc), and they cannot easily relabel you ("Cool Musician I want to follow"). This is also expressed in the saying: "A prophet has no honor in his own country."
We say this to encourage a lens of acceptance, because fighting it is a losing battle. Understanding this natural law (and perhaps chuckling at its predictability) relieves the scars of discouragement leftover from all those social media posts and invitations to shows that were "ignored" by family and friends. If you don't take it personally, you save a lot of time and energy from going down the rabbit hole of self-doubt along the way - and you shouldn't take it personally, it is simply how first impressions and relationships work. The First Circle Conundrum's discovery motivates musicians to accept this reality and forge through that circle to get to people that have the potential to become fans: those people that don’t already know you.
Power in Every Position
High fame, anonymity, and everywhere in between has its own perks. Anonymity grants you a level of freedom for experimentation that might harm and energy-drain a very high-profile musician due to fan backlash or expectation management. Very famous careers can wield significant financial and team resources to execute Events (Step 4) that smaller niche artists couldn't. There are many more examples of this, suffice it to say that embracing and taking full advantage of wherever you are on the spectrum is a secret weapon.
80/20 Rule - Pareto Principle - Law of the Vital Few - Critical Few (CF) - Minimum Effective Dose (MED)
There are an overwhelming amount of potential activities you could include in your music career, aside from the necessary music production, performance, publishing, and press. You could go after collaborations, contests, festivals, soundtracks, creative commons, for-hire songwriting and performance, the list is almost endless. The good news is that you don't have to do absolutely everything (because that is impossible anyway), you only need to identify and nail the handful of activities that will produce the biggest results aligned with your Definition of Success.
There are a lot of names for this backwards-looking observation of a natural phenomenon, and we listed some of them above. The Pareto Principle is one of those names - Italian Economist Vilfredo Pareto observed that only 20% of the planted bean pods created 80% of the yield. He applied this observation to his other research and found that, in a similar uneven distribution manner, 80% of the land in Italy was owned by 20% of the people.
His principle has been translated into many industries to understand where to focus effort: 20% of customers yield 80% of sales (hence customer loyalty programs), 20% of employees cause 80% of an organization’s success (reward those employees with raises), 20% of computer bugs cause 80% of related errors (identify those specific bugs), etc. This rule of thumb is less about specific statistics/numbers, and more about understanding the general idea that a small amount of something often effects/produces a large amount of something else.
It might be hard to see when you're in the thick of it (it is a backwards-looking principle), so studying other musicians' stories (like we mentioned above in Perspective) will help you see that usually it is one or two key activities they nailed that brought them "success". We'll talk about this more in Home Runs (Step 4). While you build your mountain and upkeep the necessary Infrastructure maintenance (Step 3), keep an eye out for the other activities you're engaging in that will/won't yield big results, and allocate your resources (time, energy, money) wisely.
Home Runs are influenced by the wisdom of the previous Principle, the 80/20 rule - they come from a forward-thinking mentality of understanding that since your resources (time, energy, money) are limited, you need to choose strategies with the biggest ROI (Return on Investment).
Home Runs are specific strategic moves that boost you up the Mountain, like path shortcuts. We list examples in Step 4, but here is the gist: It might’ve taken three months of intense work to get some majorly influential cultural tastemaker (insert Pitchfork, Rolling Stone, etc.) to feature your music, but it’s incredibly more valuable in terms of fan base exposure and EPK clout than spending those three months getting coverage from even 30+ micro blogs. Another hypothetical example: you could spend years building your Music World and then land one sync deal that pays off all your student debt and covers a down payment on your first home.
Every strategy portfolio needs a mix of activities, not simply putting all your eggs in one basket - but when you have limited time, energy, and budgets like most musicians do, Home Runs are vital to look for and prioritize.
Less is More - K.I.S.S. (Keep It Simple, Stupid)
Another extension of the 80/20 Rule, Less is More sheds light on the equal importance of both Action and Non-Action. The activities you choose to *not* do are just as important as the activities you choose to do, because of your limited resources. Less is, very often, More because you are also able to effectively execute strategies to completion if you choose a select handful of them - if you overwhelm yourself with too many, you’ll burn out and not accomplish any of them particularly well.
Differentiation - Category of One and Purposeful Copycatting
In psychology there's a term called “chunking” to explain how people categorize new objects they encounter, to simplify reality and conserve energy. It's like when you hear a song on the radio and think "Oh there's another song like _____" and stop the thought right there, filing it away as "Solved" in the filing cabinets of the mind. Creating something different and challenging the listener’s ability to "chunk" you engages a deeper level of experiencing your music ("I've never heard anything like this before.... what the?").
This strategy will attract, confuse, annoy, delight, turn off, or win over new listeners, which is a stronger and more lasting strategy than offering another commodity to the market that maybe initially grabs attention but builds up little staying power. Through being yourself in your music, something truly different, you increase fan potential to become a long-term True Fan (see 1000 True Fans, below).
Differentiating your music makes the ear perk up, because it can't immediately label and toss your music into one expected, categorized box with other similar musicians. Creating something worth talking about, some truly unique music, creates a new competitive “Category of One” where that music dominates. One often-mentioned strategy to achieve differentiation is to "be yourself", a small phrase that points to a very deep observation that everyone is unique, despite our similarities.
On the flipside, Copycatting (creating music that jumps in with current music trends to attract "The Current Ear" with specific vocal nuances, music theory tricks, trendy instrument palettes, and image) is its own competitive arena via Hollywood's predictable appeals - and it's not inherently bad (few things are). However, if you want to leapfrog-skip-over the Mountain's suggested career path so you can immediately play in that arena, know that you'll need a seriously significant amount of money and some sort of connective Home Run to the industry - and the cutthroat competition that awaits you there often does not value Music Worlds, artistry, differentiation, or the health that supports a personally successful music career. In this way, these types of careers are extremely difficult, especially longterm.
Purposeful Copycatting is when you mindfully notice what's attracting The Current Ear, and apply any of it to your music when it's naturally aligned with your Music World. This can be a very wise strategy to help you connect with listeners and grow your music.
3rd Party Principle - Social Proof
If someone you respect (your friend, crush, big brother, NPR, etc) recommends a musician, you listen. Social Proof diminishes the barriers of entry for you to walk into that musician’s World, because you don't have spend energy conducting the decision-making process of "do I care?". You do care, because someone you like gave it the stamp of approval. On the flip side, this is important to understand as a musician marketing your own music. Think about it, with your feet in someone else's boots: if a musician pushes their own music on you, you’re more likely to put up a wall of defense because “you can’t tell me what to do” is a natural Id reaction. Therefore, having someone else talk up your music is more valuable than you pushing it yourself - Social Proof settles down the defensive Id, it's a workaround.
1000 True Fans - Risk of Faking Social Media Numbers
Malcolm Gladwell's book "The Tipping Point" brings a calming concept to the table: you technically only need 1000 True Fans in order to tip into your full potential fanbase. "True" means they're not passive - they would spend their resources (time, energy, and especially money) on your music and your live show.
Gladwell explains that this 1000 will naturally include 3 types of fans that create the tip-over by spreading the word about you in different ways (Connectors, Mavens, Salesmen). The goal of this entire concept is to remind you that don't need to panic trying to win over every fan (that's impossible anyway, not everyone is going to like your music, and that is a good thing). Instead, focus on gaining True Fans consistently and it will build up and tip over.
While high Social Media follower numbers may help you hit Milestones (Step 4), faking them by hiring bots or doing too many "like"/hashtag tricks kills your potential to see your natural rise towards 1000 True Fans. This doesn't mean that when you hit 1000 followers your tipping point will arrive - but it does mean that the more naturally you allow your social media to grow, the more you can use your followers as a barometer for how much closer you're actually getting to your True Fan tipping point.
Those are only some of the major overarching Principles that give your Mountain climb strength and business savvy. Here’s a list of some of the Principles our Consulting Sessions bring to the table, too. It’s by no means an exhaustive list but it gives an indication of the infinite amount of Principles out there for you to collect. Go find your own Principles you believe in - here and out in the world.
Business Principles - Marketing and Strategy
WIIFM - “What’s In It For Me?”
Push vs. Pull Marketing
MVP/MVQ (Minimum Viable Product/Quality)
Diminishing Marginal Returns
The Long Game - “Last One Standing”
“Coach Purse” Premium Pricing Valuation
Music as a Virtually Competition-less Industry - Endless Mental Library Shelves
Competitive Arena Choice
Easy Monetization - Money saved is earned
Parkinson’s Law for Deadlines
Urgency and Call to Action
Law of Large Numbers
The Universal Sports Press Conference 3 - Process, Focus, Inch by Inch
Understanding Principles - Psychology and Music Product
Intrinsic vs. Extrinsic Motivation
Dualistic Thinking - The Initial Id and The Simultaneous Wise
Philosophical, Ideological, and Religious Interpretative Lenses
Effortless Mastery - Malcolm Gladwell 10,000 Hour Rule
Neuroscience of Belief - Epigenetics
Neuroscience of Trauma/trauma - Neural-Synapse Wiring
The Rule of 7
Theory - Perfects, Minors, Flow
The Current Ear
Adolescent Brain Development - Frontal Lobe Formation and Lifetime Fanism
Wallpaper and Associations
Entry Points - Back Door
Frequency Magnetics - Teaching the Audience How to See You
Underlying Energy Effects - Authenticity and Motive
Product “True Greatness” Measures
“The Boxer” Selective Interpretation and Reflecting
Audience of One
Zone Meditation - Flow State
Performance Goals - Energy Leading/Harnessing (Moment-Creation) balanced with Audience Expectation
Continue collecting your own Principles that you believe will wisely inform your decision-making, and continue to Step 3, here.