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 - the preparation for an actual Mountain climb is undeniably necessary. As a literal Mountain is risky to climb without education, so is your music career Mountain. You put your well-being and dream goals at risk if you rush in without any preparation. Preparation isn't something complicated or crazy expensive though, it's not even a pitch for a MIC service - it's just getting your head right.
Step 2 is your now-perpetual pursuit of knowledge - it's training that prepares you for your climb: collecting Perspective and 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.
“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.
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) 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, and they cannot easily relabel you. A prophet has no honor in his own country.
We say this in a lens of acceptance, because fighting it is a losing battle. Understanding this natural law 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. 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.
80/20 Rule - Pareto Principle - Law of the Vital Few - Critical Few (CF)
You don’t need to learn everything, do everything, or be excellent at everything - you just need to identify and nail the 20% of the activities that yield 80% of the results.
The Pareto Principle is a natural phenomenon that was identified by Italian Economist Vilfredo Pareto when he observed that 20% of bean pods create 80% of the yield. He applied this observation to his own research and found that 80% of the land in Italy was owned by 20% of the people.
This helpful principle about uneven distribution is translated into many industries to understand where to focus: 20% of customers yield 80% of sales (hence customer loyalty programs), 20% of employees cause 80% of an organization’s success, 20% of criminals commit 80% of crimes, fixing the correct 20% of computer bugs eliminates 80% of related errors, etc. This rule of thumb is less about specific statistics, and more about understanding the general idea that a small amount of something can produce a large amount in some situations.
In a music career, 20% of the activities you do (releasing music, touring, social media, etc) account for 80% of your progress (fans, income, feelings of personal fulfillment) - the rest are distractions, or necessary Infrastructure maintenance (Step 3). Think about how much time you spend on activities that all relate to your career, and how while they might all be necessary, some of them are way more directly related to bigger gains. In this self-aware way, ultimately, the Pareto Principle can provide a beacon for you to decide where to allocate your scarce resources.
Home Runs are a corollary of the 80/20 Rule: strategies of big gain. Since your resources are limited (time, energy, money), you need to choose strategies with the biggest ROI (Return on Investment).
Home Runs are strategic moves that boost you up the Mountain, like path shortcuts (Step 4). It might’ve taken three months of intense, clever networking to get Pitchfork 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 with few impressions. 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 just 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 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
Challenging the listener’s ability to label you (a variation of the psychology term “chunking”, mentioned in Step 4) engages a deeper level of experiencing your music. It's like an ear perking up, because it couldn't classify and toss the music into one expected bucket. 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.
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 the Id.
1000 True Fans
Malcolm Gladwell's book "The Tipping Point" brings a calming concept to the table: you only technically need 1000 True Fans in order to tip into your fill potential fanbase. True means they're not passive - they would spend money, time and energy on your music and your live show. Gladwell explains that naturally this 1000 will include 3 types of fans that create the tip by spreading the word about you in different ways (Connectors, Mavens, Salesmen). Another way to envision in action is when tastemakers (who decide and tell everyone what is hip) in the music industry keep momentum driving forward, pulling in the late adopters (casual listeners) later. The goal of this entire concept is to remind you that don't need to panic trying to win over ever fan - focus on gaining True Fans consistently and it will build up and tip over.
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 Music Career Diagnostics 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 - Value of Humanity
Competitive Arena Choice
Easy Monetization - Money saved is earned
Urgency and Call to Action
Malcolm Gladwell Tipping Point - 1000 True Fans and Faking Social Media Numbers
Law of Large Numbers
The Universal Sports Press Conference 3 - Process, Focus, Inch by Inch
Understanding Principles - Psychology and Music Product
Power in Every Position
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 - Neuro-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
Performance Goal - 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.