Working Solo: R&D

Last time we talked about some of the problems with goals setting and planning when working on your own. When you're a musician most of the time you're going to be on your own which makes it that much harder trying to get it all done.

What to Do…What to Do

Planning is simply figuring out what’s important, what needs to be done, and how it’s going to get done. The problem with the music industry is that there isn't one way to the top. There are as many ways of getting there as there are musicians. So what do you need to do? What's your first step? What's your next step? What needs to be done first? Of course the answer to any of these questions has a lot to do with where you are now and what you want to accomplish. There is no set approach for artists and musicians; more now than ever since the turn in music industry in recent years.


You are going to have to spend a part of everyday on career development. Most companies spend a good deal of time (and money) in research and development. As a business, you're going to have to do the same. It’s said that in business that you should be reinvesting a certain percentage of your profits back into R&D; otherwise you become obsolete and die. You need to be doing the same. That means spending time everyday doing some research in figuring out what people in your industry are doing to make it. Much like practicing and working at your craft, this is one of the things that you should be thinking about and working on everyday. How do you go about this? What do you do first? If you’re just starting out, you’re going to have to do quite a bit of research and a lot of trial and error.

This process of research and trial and error never actually ends; you just get better at it.

The ‘R’ Part

For a starting musician (or even if you’re not), you will need to do some research first. Go to your library and take out books. There are tons, pick a couple but don’t just read them, make notes and put some of the ideas into action. This will be the beginning of your master plan. Don’t worry if you’re doing the ‘right’ thing yet. It will become apparent what works and what doesn’t soon enough. Do some research online. Don’t spend too much time on this. You could spend years going through all of the stuff online and end up wasting a lot of time. Do the same process as you did with the books. Take some of the good ideas, print them out on a separate sheet so you can access them anytime. This will get rid of any temptation to do any extra surfing while trying to work on your goals. Make a list of some actionable goals from the ideas you got online and then get out there and do them.

People, Places

Get out there and talk with musicians. This may be your greatest resource. Even if they aren’t ‘rockstars’ yet, that doesn’t matter. Every musician has stories and lessons learned. Remember to take it all with a grain of salt. See what ideas you like and try them out. If you hear one piece of advice over and over; memorize it and learn from it. It may save you a lot of pain later. There is no substitute for real experience but with a little research there won’t be as many surprises. Make no mistake though, there will be surprises!

Always have research and development as part of your to do list. No matter where you are in your path, this always needs to be on your list. This must be an ongoing thing.

The ‘D’ Part

The development part has a couple of areas that needs to be considered. Just putting your research into action is part of your development. Tweaking that research and you master plan is another. Remember we’re talking about career development here and not about your art; development of your art goes is another article entirely. Development in your career also involves networking, administration and of course finances. If you’re anything like me, you’ve spent years working on your craft, leaving the business largely alone. There is no place for this anymore. Just as you work on songwriting everyday, you must work on the development of your career. This means that once the research has been done and you’ve written down some goals, it’s time to see what’s working. Most businesses have a method of measuring if something is successful or not. They measure if it was worth their while and check to see if they can replicate that process. If you can do this, it’s a good idea but a lot of the things that you do in your development wouldn’t be so clear-cut. Sometimes the most unexpected things happen as a result of something that seemed arbitrary at the time. Sometimes upon closer inspection, there things don’t turn out to be as arbitrary as you think. It’s all part of the process.

Anything Happening Yet?

There will be times that you can see a direct result of something that you had done as part of your R&D. This may be getting contacts at a networking event, meeting other musicians at a jam night or simply getting sales from a local gig. When you achieve some success, it’s important to take a second and figure out why. If you can trace your steps back and see what you did and how it resulted in that particular success, you’re more likely to do that again in the future. It simply means that this process or goal works for you and it’s always a good idea to build on successes. A lot of very famous musicians have built a career on making the most out of one or two ‘small’ successes.

Your Career Workbook

One of things that you may want to do right from the outset is put together a career workbook. I have one of these for my practice sessions as well but having one solely for your business, planning, career and PR is a good idea. Once you’ve made a list, put it in there. Any marketing ideas? Put it in there. CD release checklists, networking events, etc. Put it all in there. Some people like to have their workbook on their computer. I personally find a binder much better. I carry it anywhere, doesn’t need any batteries or back up, and I have a hard copy of all of the most important items. This workbook should be opened at least once a day and checked. It’s important that this is a vehicle for action and results; not another system that you spend all of your time on tweaking and updating. It’s a WORK book.

Try and Try Again

If you’re just starting out don’t worry too much about getting it perfect. Check out some of ideas that you’ve found in your research and get started. Keep a list of what you want to do and what you’ve done. If something works, make a note of it. Rework the research and the plan. It’s a work in process.

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