Now you’ll begin to climb the Mountain by inviting fans into your world while financially supporting that world. You’ll do this by throwing Events that build towards your Milestones. During this time you’ll stay on the lookout for Home Runs to bank on.
That sentence begs the question: What are Events, Milestones, and Home Runs?
Events help you achieve Milestones to get you to Level 2, while opening doors for you to capture Home Runs that could catapult you to Level 2 faster. Milestones and Home Runs are essentially stamps of approval from a source of clout (be it a specific person/label championing you, or the general public), and stamping your work first with your own approval is a highly recommended step so you don’t become dependent on external validation. A strong tip.
We are going to break those 3 things down, but first, a vital reminder of the MIC spirit shared in previous steps and on our website:
Do not lose sight of your personal Definition of Success, your Mountaintop, when aiming at Milestones and Home Runs with your Events. There are an infinite number of ways to pursue a commercial music career, and the Mountain lays out some helpful structures for you to find your own pathway - but it’s not all going to apply to you and your style. We suggest you continue to collect perspective (recall Step 2) to understand where you fall into your specific niche, and what needs to happen to get you there.
For example, perhaps you want to sign with a specific indie label you admire, so you research their history with other artists and find that too much preparation and releases on your part could turn them away, because they prefer to work with very fresh starts. You might have botched your chance to work with them if you forgot your Definition of Success and worked too hard to get a ton of releases and press tractions.
That's only one hypothetical - the opposite could also reign true. Bottom line: if you keep learning and finding yourself within what you learn, then you can apply structure to give you peace of mind in this marathon of a career.
If you want more diving into each specific topic we mention, you can dive yourself (we recommend a lot of good resources in the Intro), or plan a consulting session.
Milestones are the catalysts that enable the move from Level 1 into Level 2 operations (Step 5). Your Events are meant to build both your fan following and money, but they also need to aim their efforts towards completing as much of these Fans/Money Milestones as possible.
Remember, every music career is different, all of these Milestones will most likely not apply to you, but seeing where they lie in the big picture will almost certainly help your brain absorb the big picture.
Let's take you through the Milestones of the Fans Side, then the Money Side.
Fans Side Milestones: EPK, Social Proof, Social Relevance, Social Media
EPK (Electronic Press Kits)
Unlike the other Milestones, this one is tangible. Your EPK bundles up all of the other Milestones for someone to get a quick big picture view, like the music industry’s form of a resume. Whether your Level 2 is signing to a label or building your own team, you’ll need an EPK. EPKs come in different forms as trends change over time, and right now that form is a password-protected page on your website, for access by Press and Gatekeepers (agents, labels, publishers). A complete, meaty EPK is a milestone: build towards it, and it can be a gamechanger for your efforts to work with others.
Your EPK is a password-protected page of your website that includes this info:
Our opinions aren't made in a sterile bubble. Most people depend heavily on Social Proof to decide they should like something, too - think about it: it's a rare personality trait to look at something and decide it's valuable, fully from your own opinion and not influenced at all by anyone else's.Social Proof is when you prove your product’s value through others’ support
Data Analytics will forever be part of the A&R game now, because data like follower counts are Social Proof (unfortunately valuable in the short-term even when they're lies created by bots). A popularity contest plays out on social media and Spotify, so we at MIC do something cool: we learn the game so we can sneakily play it, not get sucked into it. That's why The Mountain's Strategy Plan is 3-Phase, with Phase 1 working solely on upping your follower count - because from here, doors open that can't otherwise.
Some indie labels say Social Proof can be anecdotal, or visibly evident, so here are some examples: heavily-backed crowd-funds, fan clubs, heavily trafficked fan communication channels (like social media posts), a tour history of sold out shows, or a community of local musicians/friends who always come to your shows and get excited about your music.
Social Relevance is subtly different, and we'll explain with a delicious metaphor: while Social Proof is the large crowd inside your bakery eating the goods, Social Relevance is the open door and wafting scents that grab people from the sidewalk and make them think “yes, I want to eat that.”
Social Relevance is how your music is relevant to someone, why they would care (in the baked good example, the potential customer agreed they were interested in a delicious donut). Since everyone has access to literally all of the music nowadays, there must be a compelling reason for someone to want to listen to yours - in fact, listeners are hoping, asking for one. It’s not solely about music being "good" or "bad", it’s about it being something the listener wants to engage in - especially if you want True Fans, not passive listeners who happen to hear your song during a playlist, but don’t learn your name or follow you afterwards.
Social Relevance travels by Lifts (co-pros, collabs), word of mouth recommendations (relevant because a friend suggested it), and press intrigue (relevant because the listener invested time reading/watching an interview about it). The timing of Events is a valuable tool to enhance Social Relevance and get someone’s foot in the door because when something is relevant to other people, it’s hot news, then the listener wants in before it’s old news.
“Being bad at social media in 2020 is like being bad at playing live”
- Chris Swanson
Co-Founder Secretly Group, Music Supervisor
What does "being bad at social media" mean? Why does his opinion matter? Well, it'd be folly to ignore the advice of industry leaders like Chris Swanson, because they see a big picture that musicians cannot. If they say that social media is a non-negotiable in today's world, then you have the choice to fight it, or accept and work with it - and in fact, there are endless possibilities for it to become an extension of your art.
Social Media then becomes a Milestone of its own, because it is such a necessary branding component in this day and age - and follower numbers are indicators of clout and progress. When a potential fan wants to become a fan, there’s an expectation that they’ll find you on their platform of choice so they can actively or passively follow you. Both active and passive follows are valuable: developing your fan relationship with engagement, time/energy investment, and the advertising Rule of 7.
Many musicians have a hard time finding their voice in Social Media, so remember that just like your music, it is an art form in itself - there are no actual rules except the rule of landing your presence there somehow (even as a claimed handle with a redirection of your marketing funnel, showing a certain attitude on your part). The Milestone here is that you own your presence and gain genuine interaction, observed through the ratio of interactions:followers (to prove you didn’t simply buy bots to gain impressive social media stats). For your EPK, your ultimate goal is to build a relatively high number of followers for your respective niche.
Getting to Level 2 means you’re equipped enough to leverage opportunities for Lifestyle Branding, often through working with an agency. Having at least 10k followers per each platform you’re actively engaging is a helpful rule of thumb that you’re ready for these Lifestyle Branding opportunities.
Within these social media platforms, you can find satisfaction in the climb by becoming aware of these general milestone follower amounts. Remember, there is Power in Every Position, so respect and accept what level you’re at, and simply work to the next one (without worrying and therefore draining your energy). This list shows the general idea that artists generally fall within these categories of low-range, mid-range, and upper-range growth on each platform.
This list is not intended to urge you to game the system, to get to these stats and expect some sort of results - nor is it implying you "should" work to any particular level. Instead, it's a big picture view to support your perspective about how there is Power in Every Position. In a way, the list is only an afterthought, only becoming important in Level 2 for Lifestyle Branding negotiations (Step 5). The baselines land status to the beginning musician in proving active effort and relative clout - but they are not required. All of this is more of a "reach for the moon, land among the stars" way to keep you moving forward in your efforts and track how it's going.
We included Spotify because although it's not straight Social Media, it's another online platform to observe, social engagement. Feel free to conduct some case studies on your own for the platforms that apply to you most (keeping in mind that technology is fleeting, softwares and apps come and go - perhaps Email is the only one that will stand the test of time.)
Money Side Milestones: Passive Base Income, Personal Financial Portfolio, No More Non-Music Adjacencies
Passive Base Income
Passive Income streams require minimal maintenance while bringing in consistent income - unlike Active Income, which you have to actively pursue to gain. Identifying how much money you need to live off of each month (rent+bills+groceries+average expenses) and building your passive income to cover that amount is an excellent strategy to create peace of mind, and decrease stress - you don’t have to worry about fighting to survive another month, allowing you to climb that Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs an extra notch.
One major Passive Income for musicians is royalties. In a way, routine gigs/residencies can feel like passive income because you don’t have to actively procure them, but building up to royalty-only passive income opens up your life to pursue much more Level 2 activity.
Personal Financial Portfolio
In Step 3 we mentioned this Business Basic - the more stability you gain in your personal financial portfolio, the more freedom you gain to use all of your assets towards your music career. You can get a financial advisor (we are not financial advisors) to help you build a plan to do some of these basic things: pay off debt, build up an emergency savings fund of 6 months of living expenses, save for retirement (start this young and you will not regret it), get life insurance and disability insurance, and save for specific goals (like vacations or big purchases).
No More Non-Music Adjacencies
This is a common goal: dropping the dayjob to do music full-time. Dayjob are “adjacencies” because they’re necessary for money in the beginning, but are not central to your music career goals.
You’ll see in the Mountain visual that Home Runs run up the center of the Mountain’s heart, because they catapult progress in a career substantially. In a way, these are the new “big breaks”, and sometimes achieving one is enough to push you up to Level 2 (Step 5).
We already visited the topic of Home Runs (an application of the 80/20 rule) in Step 2, but now let’s break down this baseball analogy: While “Singles” and “Doubles" strategies are essential to your Mountain climb because they are easy to pursue, they use up your limited assets (time, energy, money) with much less return on investment (ROI) than “Home Runs.”
The goal is to have a strategy portfolio of Singles and Doubles that support your progress and lead you towards potential Home Runs, preparing you to jump on them. For example, any Press writeup in itself isn’t necessarily a Home Run, but a Press write-up from a renowned tastemaker like Rolling Stone or Pitchfork can be - and you would do well to drop everything and snag that tastemaker review if it’s within reach.
Here is a list of Home Runs, so you can keep your eyes peeled.
Events are Releases, Touring, Sync Licensing, and Press (with Press also pursued within the first 3). Events support progress in both Fans and Money, and your goal is to balance both across all your Events (if you have a couple solely Fan-building Events, you balance by focusing on some more revenue-generating ones.) Events help you visualize that through specific calendar items, you’ll build your progress towards Milestones, while also having active ammo to share with your fanbase (social media, newsletters) - a double-whammy of productivity.
(An insider tip: Timing is everything, and in the entertainment world that means timing out your efforts to compound off each other. This becomes more relevant as you dip into Level 2, but it’s something to consider here: comedians often say they try to have 2 things going at one time, like a new special and a Home Run interview (think late night TV shows), or a major festival and a viral story/video. Something to tuck in the back of your mind.)
Events require you to dip a toe and then dive deeply into each Event’s arena - field experts’ books, blogs, and interviews will help you.
Then, after you understand the gist of that Event, you figure out exactly how you’re going to play in it. Our highest suggestion for you is to create Process Manuals - simplified step-by-step guides of best practices and checklists. You write Process Manuals for yourself, specifically catered to your unique opinion of what to include/not include. These Process Manuals can be small like study guide cheat sheets, reminding you of how you executed events in the past so you don’t have to recreate the wheel each time you repeat an Event.
Begin your Process Manual creation, remembering that you can call us in for consulting if you want personalized help - and continue to Level 2, Step 5.