Step 5) Data Climb
A.K.A. "Competing in the Industry"
1) Phase 1 - First Circle Breakout (FCBO)
2) Phase 2 - Positioning
3) Phase 3 - Expansion
4) Other Data Climb Opportunities
Welcome to Step 5, the secret weapon we offer if you want to compete in the music industry. Let's begin unpacking that sentence by asking the questions you're thinking:
- Give me the secret weapons immediately, please.
- No thanks, I know what it means to compete.
- Secret weapons, now please.
That's right, you're probably not asking questions, but you should be. Why? Because most people lunge headfirst into the ocean of "competing in the music industry" and when they come up for air they don't even know what they're doing anymore or why. Competition in the music industry is weird, so get smart about it now with us here. Step 5 will show you what music industry competition is & how to do it - and both of these things are secret weapons in themselves.
(If you're not interested in music industry competition because you're enjoying the Doing of the Thing in Step 4, then skip Step 5 and head to Step 6 because a surprise awaits you there.)
What is Competition in the Music Industry?
- 1) If it's a competition, there's a prize to win. What's the prize?
- Set aside The Mountain's "Definition of Success" concept for a moment (even though it's the real "prize"). Everyone has a slightly different idea of this, but when you compete in the music industry itself, you're competing for something like money, fame, status, attention, recognition, reputation, personal image, access, or privilege in The Doing of the Thing (like playing arena tours, working with celebrities, or something else related to the art itself.)
(To be clear: you're not competing "against" other musicians. Competition is different in the music industry because every human has infinite mental music shelf space, so it’s more about competing for a listener's attention against everything else that wants that attention (in both the real world & the digital world) so you can sit on that shelf space, too. Therefore, continue to stay supportive of your fellow musicians! The most successful musicians who compete and win big tend to be the ones who build each other up and create something truly great in their Music World.)
- 2) How do you win the prize?
- There is no set path to winning, nor is there any guarantee that you will win even if you stack all the possible odds in your favor. Our industry is kind of a crapshoot. However, there are some shortcuts to increasing the likelihood of winning, depending on what type of prize you want (see list in prior answer). Here are a few examples:
∆ Money: Having a good lawyer and accountant sets you up better to collect more money with smarter contracts and tax strategies; signing to a strong sync licensing company and touring booking partner can increase profits significantly; hacking the Hollywood system by, say, dating a celebrity or something would also likely help.
∆ Fame/Status/Attention: Signing to a major label or a famous indie label sets you up for more potential for fame (but the fail rate of artists signed to major labels is higher than 99% so this isn't necessarily going to work); going viral and then capitalizing on that virality would help, as would hacking Hollywood somehow, too.
∆ Recognition/Reputation/Personal Image/Access/Privilege: Similar to Fame/Status/Attention, but you could focus less on attention and outward numeric stats and more on your resume for things like famous song collaborations, niche international touring opportunities, or something else that you care about.
Pay attention though: if you didn't notice, none of those suggestions are all that realistic at the beginning of a normal person's music career, meaning one without essentially being born into incredibly lucky circumstances. Then how does a normal person win? The answer to that question is your first secret weapon: you start by creating a brand image that demands respect through numeric stats, accolades & visuals. Then you leverage that brand image to climb from one lucrative opportunity to the next until you position yourself to get those things listed above that will then lead you to your prize(s). We call this the First Phase of Step 5 "First Circle Breakout (FCBO)".
Numeric stats refers to Spotify numbers & social media followers. Accolades are listed in places like your EPK, one sheet, elevator pitch, or bio. Visuals are professional photos, music videos, and live videos that bring people into your world.
Climbing from one lucrative opportunity to the next cannot happen unless you play the game of this industry: first impressions & bragging rights matter. It's a psychological marketing mind game that leads to other natural laws of psychology and marketing like the bandwagon effect, the "Tipping Point" of 10,000 true fans, etc. If you've wondered why The Mountain makes such a big deal out of learning psychology and marketing, well, here we are.
- 3) Can anyone win?
- Technically, yeah, anyone can win. Dream big and go all the way you can for it! However, most people can't go "all the way" because their life simply isn't set up for that to happen. Meaning, some people end up in the kind of life that starts them off with advantages like the luxury of a big budget (did you know some music careers are built from budgets of hundreds of thousands, or millions of dollars, for activities like playlisting & PR?), gatekeeper connections on the inside (nepotism for example), or massive random luck.
(You're not alone if this is possibly the iceberg tip of what you don't know you don't know about what goes on behind the scenes in our industry - may it remind you that competing in the music industry often has very little to do with the music product itself: all music is marketable because every niche for music exists, you only need to find & pursue it through big data analytics, strategy, and tools. The "music industry" is actually more like the "entertainment industry" and it's a lot more about marketing than anything else.)
On the contrast, other (more normal) people have small budgets, no connections on the inside, and no massive random luck when starting out. As you can see, a lot of this comes down to who you are born as, and where, and that's not in your control. Not to mention the fact that a lot of sidetracking events and tragedies happen during life, so not everyone has as much extra time, energy, and money to pursue this career.
There are some avenues that may set you up better to win the prize, like signing to a label, working with agents, going viral, etc., but those avenues are not necessarily surefire ways to win music industry competition. Even steady, diligent work isn't a surefire method to win, in the sense that hard work does not always pay off proportionally - if you want to compete in this industry, you also need Lifts (Step 4).
There are many, many musicians who follow all the "rules" and bust their butts working hard, and then don’t end up participating in that mystical “next level” they envisioned. It's not inherently a bad thing to not get to some "next level" (it's what we're getting at with Step 4 - life is bigger than this one potential metric of success), but when musicians set up their Expectation Management to hyper-focus on it, they end up bitter or super disappointed in themselves if it doesn't happen, even when it was powers outside of their control that prevented it. That bitterness and disappointment often follows people their entire lives - which is one of the main reasons we at MIC work so hard on The Mountain: we see the massive long-term damage that's been happening, and will continue to happen across human history if musicians aren't given some new perspective & solutions.
Which brings us to the vague term "big break" that we suggest you take out of your vocabulary. It's too ill-defined and implies an air of privilege and destiny to those who happen upon one - and a shoulder shrug and judgmental eyebrow raise to those who don’t luck out. We don’t like using the term "big break” because of the pressure and sadness its connotation carries across history - stories of getting the "big break" don't even often end up with happy endings as it seems like the magical term implies. It's an overall antiquated and insufficient way of aiming for success in the music industry.
Instead of "big break", we recommend you shift your thinking towards pursuing “Lifts” (recall that section in Step 4). It's a similar concept, but with a visualization of boosting you up The Mountain more quickly, yet still with a need to keep climbing once you get off the Lift car, and the understanding that you must hunt them down yourself, but you indeed can do it. Lifts are within your power to go find, unlike elusive “big breaks”. All said, what we’re trying to say here is this: the bitter world is almost right, you can work super hard your entire music career and never land in that “next level” you dreamed of - hard work usually isn’t enough, you need some Lifts.
- Accepting reality is important, so that’s why we had to get that out of the way - but do not mistake all of that reality check for doom & gloom, because MIC does believe the best in humanity wins out, and success can and should be on your own terms. We have solutions to offer you here in Step 5: specifically, strategy to rise above the unfortunate darker sides of our industry, while avoiding the potential disappointment of waiting for a miracle.
How do You COmpete in the Music Industry?
- Step 5 is our method for musicians to methodically pursue industry competition with realistic, limited budgets & timelines & energy levels (as in, you're not super rich, privileged, related to famous people, or insanely lucky). Here is the overall gist of it:
- 1) Accept the game so you can play it
- We can't answer this without first addressing the fact that some people will immediately assume this is going to be about "selling out." Look, not everyone wants to play the music industry competition game. (Nothing wrong with that - enjoy Step 4!) Also, frankly, oftentimes the people who point fingers and judge others as "selling out" are not saying what they actually mean: usually they're scared of losing the game (remember: fear doesn't always look like fear - it comes out as things like aggression and harsh judgement, but it all comes back to fear, we're pretty predictable human beings.) "Selling out" is a vague term with tons of different interpretations over what it means, and the important point here is this: the music industry game is definitely unsavory at times, for different reasons, but there's no shame in playing the parts of it that you feel comfortable playing. In our experience, playing the social media statistics game (Step 5: Phase 1 in particular) is a reasonable, necessary evil, and we don't judge any artist who works it - we simply suggest not changing yourself and who you are to make more money (staying true to yourself is too vital a pillar of life to lose here in a music career.)
- So to answer the question: Music industry competition is a perfect example of "dialectic" balance in life, where two opposites are true at the same time: though few of us love or enjoy the mind game that the entertainment industry plays, it's possible to both disagree with it & also agree that it's the only way to go (two opposites, see?). It's kind of a "if you can't beat 'em, join 'em" mentality that you shouldn't be ashamed of if you really want in on this industry. It's possible to hold your personal integrity intact and still partake in the game! If you can accept this industry's game for what it is, then you can learn it, play it, and win it -- at least at the beginning of your career, so you can break the rules and change the game later on.
- "Change the game later on" means that some of the tactics in Data Climb may be marketing tips you didn't want to do before. (Yes, we're mostly referring to Social Media.) If you find some of these tactics are potentially a little awkward or uncomfortable for you or the First Circle that already follows you, know that you won't have to do these things forever. It's definitely short term pain for massive long term gain here.
- 2) Split up your journey into 3 Phases
- Step 5 is a 3-Phase process based heavily on consumer psychology and observations about our collective experiences as both indie musicians and also music fans. We'll explain each of those phases thoroughly below - but the purpose of having 3 Phases is that there is a time and place for everything, and you shouldn't try to go after everything at once because it's impossible to be successful that way. You only have so much time, energy and money. Be strategic and wise about how you spend them. Go inch by inch, it's the only way.
- 3) Don't Skip Over the Phase 1: First Circle Breakout (FCBO)
- If you skip it, you won't have the currency you need to spend to get some Lifts. This "currency" comes in the form of looking impressive upon first impression through your numeric stats on online platforms like Spotify & Instagram.
First Circle Conundrum is our term for the phenomenon that the beginning of a musician's career is usually marketed towards their First Circle (people who are one degree of separation from you, as in, they know you already) who may sometimes be supportive (or aren't at all), but are notoriously less likely to become true fans because, well, they know you already. Like we mentioned a moment ago, breaking out of that First Circle comes in the form of creating a brand image and numeric stats that make you appear to have a larger following than your First Circle.
Ideally, these would all be new true fans, but we don't recommend going after idealism: just getting the numeric stats high enough to *appear* to be bigger than your First Circle is vital to getting the respect you need to be able to leverage opportunities. In true chicken-or-the-egg form, it'll also be what helps you *get* true fans, because of the "jump on the bandwagon", thumbs-up effect that people experience when they perceive that other people like something else. No one is completely above this psychological phenomenon, it's incredibly powerful.
This is another good example of working with, not fighting against, the reality of marketing's effects on peoples' minds and thoughts. Creating the illusion that you've broken out of the First Circle by increasing your numeric stats to *just* high enough levels (called the MED - Minimum Effective Dose) will make a world of difference at the beginning of your career. This is a potentially controversial topic because it's not talked about out loud in normal conversation, but it's hardly groundbreaking - it's a not-so-secret secret that all the major labels pour unthinkable budgets and teamwork into establishing a musician's brand image. The only groundbreaking stuff here is the fact that we've created a realistic way for independent artists to do this same work without a massive budget and team, here in Step 5.
If you want to compete in the industry, it's a mistake to skip this initial step before going after all your other strategies - because you'll get the door slammed in your face more often, unfortunately, at least for the bigger opportunities that are more likely to be, or lead to, Lifts. Having a MED amount of numeric stats has become a common prerequisite because it suggests your audience might transfer over to the opportunity's audience (here's some marketing jargon for you: that's called "audience cross-pollination".) Everyone has a motive, an end game, and you often can't blame them for it - you want the bigger opportunity for a reason, too, right?
- 4) Hunt for Lifts all the time, and pounce immediately when you find them
- You need Lifts to compete in the music industry. Start trying to go after them, don't wait for one to come to you. It's possible.
Let us now explain your secret weapon action strategy in full:
CLick the following HEADINGS TO OPEN/CLOSE the SECTIONS:
1) Phase 1 - First Circle Breakout (FCBO)
2) Phase 2 - positioning
3) Phase 3 - Expansion
4) Other Data Climb Opportunities
That was meaty. You deserve credit for learning so much. Keep going.
Continue to Step 6, Here.