The Most Important Skill in an Upcoming Artist’s Arsenal is Patience
I’ve been meaning to do this for some time now. This essay is about the necessity for artists to be patient. The role I find myself playing in the music industry is a bit tricky.
Tricky in the sense that it is not as defined as other roles like being an artist manager or a music producer. Yet it is a significant role. So it matters less that people outside of the industry don’t understand it. What matters is doing the damn work.
I’ve not been in the music industry for long. But that is not to say that I’ve not gathered experience.
And from my experience so far, studying the careers of many artists, some of these artists fail for obvious reasons. One of them is the lack of patience.
It can single-handedly mangle your career. To have a better understanding of what I mean, let us look at what patience means for an upcoming artist. Or its application in an artist’s career.
Every industry has a barrier of entry. For the music industry, the barrier is a lot higher. Unlike in other industries where there’s generally a formula for breaking in, the music industry doesn’t exactly have a system.
This is especially true for the Nigerian music industry. What this means is that breaking into the industry requires a lot of grit, and in other cases, an artist’s success is fast-tracked by resources made available by investors or record labels. Na so the thing go.
Because I mostly work with independent artists, I’m privy to the battles that they fight. And in most cases than not, the major battle is non-accessibility to funding.
Music is quite an expensive product to make.
This is because to achieve a proper quality of the product, an artist has to work with a good producer, record in a standard studio, pay a professional sound engineer to mix and master, pay a graphic designer to design an impressive cover art, and on and on. With funding, all of these becomes easier to achieve.
What then happens when there’s no funding? Does this mean that an artist cannot make the product? Certainly not.
Instead it means that creating the product requires taking the hard road. In simpler terms, it means that the artist has to take charge (alongside their team) and improvise a whole lot.
And thankfully, the internet has lowered the barrier of entry. An artist can access free instrumentals, and there are software you can use to record music yourself.
Although this article is hardly about the struggles of upcoming artists, we ought to take this route to help us understand where patience comes in. In the case where an artist has managed to make the product, they still have to sell the product.
Gone are the days when artists couldn’t sell the product themselves. Again, we have the internet to thank for making that possible. Selling the product is easier, it can be done via digital platforms while you build an audience on social media.
It is not often said or maybe we just don’t pay enough attention to it, but the artist is the money.
The music business exists solely because of the music. When an independent artist releases music and begins to generate attention from listeners, then he gradually begins to build leverage.
This happens with many independent artists. A distinct example of this is Buju. It was through SoundCloud that his core fan base discovered him. It is at this point that many upcoming artists get tested.
Labels and investors seek out artists that have the potential to make them their money back. Yes, the deals that they offer artists can be mouth-watering, but the label’s objective is to make gargantuan profits. So you need to get it out of your head that they’re doing you a favor. Because they’re not, and the earlier you realize this, the better for you.
You should know that in this age, labels are on the lookout for artists who have something solid going on for them already. It makes the work easier. And other times, when the artist is barely known, the labels typically have big budgets for marketing and promotion. A good example to cite is Rema.
Now, I’m not against labels. That would honestly be ridiculous. I still think every artist should consider signing to a major label at some point. Even if it’s just a distribution deal.
The takeaway from this is that you are at the better end of the negotiation when it is evident that you have put in the work.
I know an independent artist (I can’t mention his name due to privacy) that was desperately looking for a distribution deal. He entered negotiations with Empire and the deal they offered him was pretty unfavorable. A few months later, after disrupting the charts with a string of hits, guess what happened. Oh indeed, Empire offered him a staggering deal, with almost 15x the advance money they offered before.
Another aspect that’s worth looking at is the distribution deals that many artists hurriedly sign these days, the ones that come with advances.
As much as it is easy to believe that these (foreign) companies mean well, I can almost assure you that those deals come with too many clauses. Before you sign any deal where an advance is involved, I think it’s wise to take a step back and vet the deal with your team.
Many artists seem to believe that they badly need the money and when you’re thinking this way, you are most likely to sign a deal that you wouldn’t be too happy with in the near future. If you do the mathematics, then you will realize that you’re on the losing end.
I’m not in a position to tell any artist what (and what not) to do. Every independent artist’s experience is unique to them. What I can instead do is to remind the artist that if they’re patient enough, they would make money.
The truth is that once you have a committed fan base, and you ensure that the music keeps getting better, it is undisputed that you would make money. It sometimes helps to be aware that it is imperative to play the long game. You should believe in the power of compounding.