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The Ultimate Musician’s Guide to Navigating the Entire Internet

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Just because you know some online basics, your high school friend is your “manager,” or your Rap Genius page is pending verification, does not make you a Professional Musician. What follows is a jumping-off point for those looking to make the leap, five New(-ish) Rules written for amateur artists looking to go pro.

#1) Educate Yourself

Those who create remarkable things are rarely the same people who are good at selling those things. While promotion and sales are critical skills for musicians looking to go pro, knowing where to start and who to trust along the way can be tricky. Part of the problem is that everyone with an interest in the “music industry” and a business card can tell you they know What’s-What and are willing to help (for a fee). The answer here isn’t to immediately hire someone else to promote, manage, or book your act: You’re better off just educating yourself.

While hiring marketing and promotion assistance could be beneficial, don’t forget that every dollar you spend on your music is one more dollar you have to earn just to break even. And while many don’t have finances in place for this sort of help anyway, most have (at least a little) spare time to spend educating yourself. There are countless online resources to aid in that process, ranging from Digital Music News to Hypebot. Do yourself a favor: Check the technique being spread around online, and monitor evolving technologies, services, and trends. If music is your job, it’s also your job to never stop learning.

#2) Ask More Questions

With or without anyone’s help, artists need to figure out a way to differentiate themselves. If you’re struggling with this, yourself, it might be helpful to begin asking some questions: Why should people give me their attention; why should they care enough to listen to my “elevator pitch” (let alone 30 seconds of my music!); what am I doing to differentiate myself?

If you’re thinking about sending emails to media: Great! But as The Smoking Section’s David D. wrote back in January, “[W]hat song do you have prepared to drop next week? What videos have you filmed? What can you do to stay on everyone’s mind? Because in this warp-speed era, if you disappear for three months it’s like you never existed in the first place.”

What if you’re successful with your pitch? Are you even ready for that? What resources do you need to reach your goals from there? Do you need money? How will you budget any expenses? Have you considered a budget? What are the steps you need to take to make that happen? Can you perform live? Can you tour? What are you doing right now to help work toward that? What, exactly, is your plan?

#3) You Don’t Need an Amazing Website

You don’t have to revolutionize the platform, but that doesn’t mean you shouldn’t have a functional website. The must-haves are standard: It must be mobile-friendly; it must be browser-compatible; it must be easy to use; it must speak to your goals. Strategy surrounding that last point comes back to planning: iTunes sales, free downloads, mailing list subscribers, or social media interaction… What do you want visitors act on when they see your digital business card? It’s easy to go overboard here, but only give visitors what they need. Anything beyond that may detract from your website’s goal.

#4) Social Media is (Sort of) Useless

Chances are good that you won’t be “discovered” through Reverbnation. But simply going where more people are isn’t a recipe for success, either: A well groomed Pinterest account, for example, probably isn’t the one thing standing between you and a successful career as a musician. It’s easy to get caught up in playing with Twitter and Facebook — and they can actually be helpful — but don’t be surprised when third party platforms fail you.

TIME recently published an article reporting that (unpaid) content posted on Facebook pages now only reaches around 6% of followers. Think about what might happen if you invest all your energy into Twitter, only for it to limit the reach of “unpaid” tweets? What are your “followers” and “likes” actually worth?

One simple tool to help avoid this problem is a mailing list. It ensures that artists can reach out to fans on their own terms. No different than any of the other tools you can use to reach fans though, a mailing list isn’t going to do you much good without purpose, strategy, and consistent execution.

#5) Your Music Can Be a Hobby

The web has created countless avenues allowing individuals to innovate their way to an income, but chances are good that your music will never pay your bills. This isn’t about being “good enough” to be a professional musician; this is about looking inside and asking whether or not you’ll hate every step of what lies ahead as a “professional musician.” Which brings us to a vital question: Are you ready to sell yourself?

This doesn’t mean “selling out,” or fundamentally changing your music to cater to some broad commercial market. What this means is, are you prepared to regularly try to convince strangers to give you their money in exchange for something you’ve created? More importantly, will you be able to keep trying in the face of broad-stroke disregard? Are you ready to reach out to that thousandth person even though the first nine hundred and ninety nine ignored you?

Just because you make music, and enjoy making music, does not mean “professional musician” should be your trade.