How to develop the mindset you need for music industry success

Check out some essential advice from our BA Songwriting alumnus on staying productive...


So a lot of the artists I've recently been working with tell me the same thing over and over in terms of their struggle with productivity and being creative.  

When I ask them to show me their song ideas, bodies of work or music career results, they always say something like: “I just don’t have (INSERT REASON) to achieve (INSERT REASON).” 

And as a fellow creative who wants to see them succeed and actually have a career in music, I know this is easily mended. This game is all mindset stuff. How do I know? Because I was in that head space once too, and it’s a dream killer. Procrastination. Like Steven Pressfield said in his book, 'The War of Art', ‘procrastination will bury you’. 

Back in 2017, I used to complain about all sorts of external forces on why I couldn’t make music or earn income from it. But as of last year, that all changed. Something in me changed (a topic for another day), I actually produced results; I took action, persevered and worked hard, and smart.  

So here are some of my 2019 achievements: 

  • Signed with a UK sync agency to represent some of my productions (they work closely with Netflix) 
  • Signed a non-exclusive deal with a boutique music publisher 
  • Produced over 100 tracks (mostly beats) 
  • Launched a music production platform business
  • Worked and collaborated with at least 15 artists/producers from all over the world 
  • Earned over $3,500 from multiple music streams (not much to most of you, but it was a game-changer for me) 

You get the drift. And this was all being done while I had a FULL-TIME job (40 hours/wk) at a famous coffee shop you all probably know. LOL. 

Take that procrastination. 

Now to get to the juicy bits you all want to know. Again, there is no secret tactic here. Like I said at the beginning of the post, this music game and creativity, is 90 percent mindset. Quote me on that. Here are some things to think about.  

Form good habits 

I can’t emphasize enough how making music daily, even if it's just for 20-30 minutes a day builds an incredible sense of momentum. You’ve just got to put in the hours. There are no shortcuts here. It used to take me months to finish one damn track, now it only takes me four to six hours to get a decent song produced.

By putting in the hours, you learn about what works and what doesn’t, you create systems/checklists, and quick reactions in executing your ideas. You become fast and productive." 

That’s priceless. We become what we repeatedly do. 

Set yourself goals 

I like the analogy of goals being just like a captain of a ship. You have to first know where SPECIFICALLY you want to go, what route you’re going to take, a continual re-adjustment on the way there, work and lead the people around you in the right manner, enjoy the journey, and most importantly, be PATIENT.  

Goals are achieved incrementally, not in one day (unless you’re baking a cake or a muffin). If we’re building a career, then realise that it’s a continual chase, and requires layering multiple bricks one by one. This will eventually build your end-goal. 

Take responsibility 

This is a big one. No one gives a damn about your career AKA your business as YOU will. This cuts deep, but it’s true. Build a system where you take all the blame for whatever happens, even if it isn’t your fault. Know the ins and outs of every sector of the music business. Get smart - it’s your business remember? 

And if that means you have to be a control freak (like me), so be it.

All successful artists behind-the-scenes have this sense of wanting to control as many aspects of their career and music as possible (Lady Gaga/Prince/Taylor Swift). That’s what makes them UNIQUE as a leader."

The only caveat to this is always be kind and respectful. I don’t care how talented and connected to the biz you are, if you’re an a**, I am not working with you. The industry is fairly small, especially once you cross a certain threshold - you meet the same exact people you started out with. 

Aim to be practical 

This one’s controversial I know. My point here is you have to learn to walk before you can fly. This is totally separate from having an end-goal in mind. I’m talking about the ability to break down to the bone what it will take for you to achieve your dreams/goals. Here are some expectations you can manage: 

  • You can’t expect to perform a 45-minute set, when you don’t even have material for it. 
  • You can’t expect to get on an active Spotify playlist if you don’t even have an idea what your song’s genre or sub-genre is. How will you even pitch the song to them? Can you contextualize your artist brand? 
  • You can’t expect to gain fans if you aren’t a fan of yourself (not talking about ego here). You gotta love and stand by your artist persona and music! Don’t drift left and right chasing trends. Stay on course but be open to change if necessary. 
  • You can’t expect to gain fans and an audience if you aren’t consistently releasing relevant content on socials. Attention is the new currency. Jump on it now while the algorithms favours free impressions. 

I’m not a financial advisor by any means. But if you’re always saying you can’t invest in your music career, then that is a HUGE problem. I built my music studio and my business from my own pockets without any middle-class parents or connections in the biz to help me." 

I’m not trying to offend anyone here, just want to share my truth and experience. If you have to quit partying on the weekends, get a part-time job, lower your expenses, and stop buying things you don’t need, then do it. Money’s just a game, and you are the player. 

Well damn. That’s that. I know I’ve still got a long way to go as a musician in this crazy biz of ours, so take this all with a grain of salt. We’re all just trying to figure this thing out right?  

I’d love to connect and talk more music to anyone who has resonated with this (no music pun intended). 

Jonathan Milanes graduated from our BA Songwriting program.

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Songwriting courses
by Jonathan Milanes
April 22, 2020
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