7 Things You Probably Don’t Want to Hear as a Musician…

…and four things you probably do. The following comes from Lee Parsons, founder of Ditto Music.  Ditto is a UK- and US-based digital distribution service that counts over 50,000 artists worldwide.     

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It’s 2013 and the music industry is rapidly evolving. You can either keep up or get kicked out. Here are 11 ways to give you the best chance of success in 2013.

1. Major labels and radio are NOT against you.

Don’t get into the ‘us against them’ frame of mind that seems to have hit a peak in 2012. Labels still want to sign good music and radio deejays are desperate for great new sounds.  View labels and traditional outlets as potential partners.

A big reason labels and radio pass on music is a lack of originality. Make sure your music is not only great but sounds original.  Get some honest feedback by people outside of your circle and as hard as it can be, take notice of their criticism.

Understand the music industry in 2013 (and that it needs you).

2. Music may be getting worse, but that’s a good thing.

With ‘Gangnam Style’ at worldwide number 1 and ‘X Factor’ controlling the media, you may have lost all faith in the 2012 music buying public.

Do you spend a lot of time telling people how bad current music is?  Don’t waste your energy. Every major trend like ‘X Factor’ makes real music lovers even more inclined to seek out something good to listen to.

Recognize the music industry for what it is: a business.  There has always been a throwaway product aimed solely at the teenage market.  Ignore this.  Keep your head down and concentrate on what makes you great.

3. Survive as a musician in 2013 (it takes more than playing an instrument).

If you still do not know what the PRS [or ASCAP and BMI] do, or insist that you are a musician and not a businessperson, that is not good enough in 2013.

The good news is that just a small bit of work will put you in the top 10 percent of musicians. Spend some time learning to use social media properly.  Join some organizations (AIM [or A2IM in the US] is a great place to start) and start building solid relationships. Think of your music as a product and then decide how to market it to your audience. Keep your financials in order and properly plan your budgets.

4. Rip off other artists (but be original).

90% of artists seem to be influenced by the most popular 10% of current artists.

Mumford & Sons, Foo Fighters, and Rihanna are all esteemed artists, but if you are only using the biggest artists in the world as a point of reference you will sound second best.  And worse — just like every other artist on the circuit.

Music streaming has opened a whole new world for discovering music. Sites like Pitchfork, amazingradio, and Spotify playlists provide you with new music months before it gets to radio.  So drop your preconceptions.  Go discover something brand new and get inspired.

5. It’s not 2005 anymore (so stop acting like it online).

Faking popularity briefly worked in 2005. Just because Myspace is back doesn’t mean it will work now. 

A label is not going to sign you because you have 50,000 fans, and a music lover is going to like your music whether you have 1 fan or 1,000.

Are Facebook likes important? They are as important as you make them.  Do not spend time collecting Facebook likes; spend time collecting fans.  Whether that is from your mailing list, social media or in person, real fans are all that matter in 2013.

6. Don’t be afraid to start with a clean slate (and have FUN)

Have you been stuck in a rut music-wise? Are you becoming less excited by the music you are playing?

In 2008 singer Nate Reuss was still in his group The Format.  A name change and a new direction and he now leads one of the biggest acts on the planet: FUN.  It’s 2013, a great time to scrap the rules, improve your style.

Don’t be afraid to start again.


So many artists tweet out asking people to get involved, without taking the time to support or interact with others.

Twitter in 2013 means interaction.  There is an overflow of content.  People are more aware of being spammed at.

Take some time to get to know your followers.  Start sharing other artists’ music. Talk to people.  Remember the 9/10 rule.  For every promotional tweet, make sure you send out 9 engaging non-promotional tweets.

8. Don’t spend all your time promoting.

So many musicians spend time all their time promoting music that they have not spent the proper time and effort producing.

It has become a lot easier to make music. This has its good and bad points.  But just because you can mix and master a whole album on Garageband doesn’t mean you should.

Are you handing out music to people that doesn’t sound like your live act? Have you ever said, ‘This is an old demo, we don’t sound like this anymore’?

Do not spend time promoting music that does not fully represent you.  Spend extra time polishing your music and invest in some quality production.

9. Set wildly ambitious goals (but make a plan to achieve them).

If your ambition for 2013 is to sign a deal and sell 1 million albums you are going to set yourself up for disappointment.

However, if your ambition is to record a great EP and triple your fanbase, that is easily do-able.  So make a list of all of your goals for 2013.  And make some notes on each point describing how you are going to make this happen. Stick to your plan and check back each month to see how you are doing.

10. The term “unsigned” is irrelevant (Who needs labels anyway?)

Don’t be worried about signing a record deal, concentrate on building fans and making great music.

Until recently the only way to be successful was to sign a record deal. In 2013, artists are getting their own distribution, doing their own PR and having major success independently. Ironically, once you are successful on your own terms, a label will come knocking.

11. Go Gangnam Style (Please don’t really go Gangnam Style)

At the start of 2012, no one would have predicted (or hoped) that the year’s most popular track in the world would be ‘Gangnam Style.’

You can do the opposite of everything I have just said and still be successful. In 2013, there are no rules. Get out there and make it happen. 

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42 Responses

  1. balbers

    All excellent advice, Lee.
    However, I would debate #7- the 9/10 rule of social network interaction.
    It’s a pet peeve of mine (and I might be in the minority), but I don’t want all that crap clogging up my FB/Twitter feed. I don’t want promotional tweets or non-promotional tweets or conversations or anecdotes. All I want is occassional updates of important news. ‘Important’ to me means an imminent release of new music or newly announced tour dates.
    If I get (what I deem to be) too many status updates from some artist, I’ll unlike them in a heartbeat, no matter how big a fan I am of them, because I know I’ll get the important information one way or another, without getting all the chit-chat that I don’t care about.
    Tool does it right. They’ll pop up on my FB once every 6 months or so, but only with that most important info that I’m looking for. And if there’s no news to report after 6 months, they wait a year. Or 2 years. Or however long it is between important news items. Those are the artists that I’ll keep in my FB feed.
    I guess the rule of thumb is that if any single artist gives me an update more than once a month, that’s a red flag to me because most likely those updates will be superfluous BS of no importance. Those are the artists that I’ll kick off my FB without hesitation.
    I want the info, but I don’t want to be innundated with crap.

    • Chitchat

      Tool is world famous. You can’t compare them to unsigned artists playing shows at the local bar.

      • Andrew

        While it is true that Tool is a popular band, I don’t know too many people that want that enjoy receiving a promo tweet on their Twitter feed every ten minutes over a two hour block. The most important point is: Don’t act lke a nagging child, be engaging and likeable.

    • Ste

      And Facebook’s continuing Edgerank curb for lack of regular content activity will torpedo any page that follows your advice, save perhaps the biggest established acts and brand names.

      Tool is almost always the exception that proves the rule… their mystery is their marketing. Few others can get away with that. By all means, ensure that what you put out there is relevant and adds something for fans, but don’t leave your page a ghost town and expect there to be a welcoming party when you return from exile.

  2. Peter

    I’m sick of the aggressive tone in which this kind of tough talkin’ ‘advice’ is given by CEOs of some tiny company no-one’s heard of who’s barely out of their teens. Especially when said advice consists of a series of poorly written and entirely obvious generalisations. ‘Think of your music as a product and then decide how to market it to your audience’. Yeah, thanks for that – what a game changer.

    • Liv

      That line made me smile. It may not be a game changer to you, but I regularly still have to impress this upon artists I start working with. It seems obvious but, believe me, many artists out there still have not fully grasped this. They want to call it ‘art’, refuse to understand that they need a clear strategy, and want to believe that just making good music is enough. Artists need to hear this advice over and over and over.

  3. DenimShirt

    I played in a band in my teens (early 2000s) and we thought advice like this was poison to our ears. But that’s why we didnt get anywhere. Be a diva when you’re famous – not before.
    Mr Parsons, you ok if i repost this under your name? It’s some good advice.
    @balbers I agree that many people overload their Twitter – but i think what Lee’s talking about is unknown bands. Their releases aren’t going to be sought after news (yet) so i can see why engaging people could be good.
    @Peter Dude. Chill! The Ditto guy is in his 30s and they’ve been around for years. Trolling is a bit 2010 buddy.

    • Peter

      What I object to and what made me bother to comment in such a forthright manner, shall lwe say (trolling seems to be slightly overstating it), is the patronisng/agressive tone that’s taken in such articles. We’re expected to be grateful for these pearls of wisdom handed down from the top of the tree (excuse the mixed metaphor). I honestly found nothing there that would be news to anyone who’d actually thought for more than 10 minutes about how they were going to sell their music or make a career out of it. Which is a nigh on impossible task anyway as the recorded music industry is dying on its arse.
      All that Introducing and all the other initiatives around to promote/discover new talent are doing is to increase the turnover of bands going through what’s left of the industry mincer and offering some faint, false hope of success. Their only function is to prop up the careers of those working in distribution, PR or the media. To think otherwise is delusional IMHO.

      • Music manager

        This is a great blog, very uplifting and true of many of the artists I work with.Peter but you clearly have a personal gripe here. Either way, as much as you think this wasn’t helpful, your comments are of no help to anyone. I think you should look up the definition of trolling

        • Peter

          There’s no personal gripe here I can assure you. I am aware of the definition of trolling, which Wikipedia states is the posting of inflammatory, extraneous or off-topic messages. Not sure I’ve done any of those – some posters seem sliglty over-sensitive to the post so I guess it was inflammatory (I am also aware of the definition of ‘sock puppet’ by the way) Those posters would rather be all ad hominem about it rather than engage with anything i’ve written. I found the original article to be sightly inflammatory to be honest. Ramon, I take your point about the obvious being useful, but whether the obvious needs to be delivered in such a manner as the original article was, I think is open to debate at least. To me it feels symptomatic of the patronising and exploitative way in which what’s left of the music industry treats musicians. As Chris Cutler wrote, it’s an industry that can create nothing, that has ears only for the rustling of money. That’s one of the millions of things that people in the Music Industry probably don’t want to hear.

      • Ramon Gonzalez

        All successful people use reminders of the “obvious” to help keep them on track. It may be trivial to you, but if you keep your eye on the small “obvious” things, you can stay focused. EVERY successful person will agree with this.

  4. Dave Shannon

    Really insightful blog. It’s good to use advice like this to spur you on as a musician.
    I use techniques like this but it’s hard and it does take a long time to see results but its good to hear from an industry professional that I am on the right path in my music career.

  5. Guest

    “radio deejays are desperate for great new sounds”
    Lee clearly lives in some Cool Brittania hipster bubble and knows some deejay that personally wants to hear new stuff.
    In the REAL world, deejays do NOT program radio they just spew nonsense between the tracks. So it makes no difference if they are into new stuff or not. The numbers are completely clear on this. Radio plays almost NO new music and sticks to the tracks that where hits when their core audience was between 14 and 20 pluss.

    • Seth Keller

      “A big reason labels and radio pass on music is a lack of originality. Make sure your music is not only great but sounds original.”
      Some good advice in this editiorial. Radio is still a powerful, influential medium, but the above statement is patently false in the US. While some original sounds get radio play, originality has nothing to do with what labels sign or stations play.

      • radio & records vet

        I don’t know what part of the US you guys live in, and what kind of radio is in your region, but I sent out 8 records on behalf of client-artists last year to an average of 50 djs per record. 6 records got airplay. 1 managed to be a regional year end TOP 5 charting recording. NO, there were no CHR or Hot AC winners… nor modern country radio winners … nor CHURBAN, Modern Rock, Active Rock, or Urband Contemporary stations among the lot .. but there were 15 college, public, and/or community based stations with no centralized corporate programming… and the records covered the gamit from Americana (folk and/or country based), blues, jazz, and adult alternative rock/pop (AAA). Music fans listen to public/community/college radio. MOST of the djs I’ve run into are hungry for good high quality recordings of original music from their regions. I can even document success stories of regionally produced records breaking at local commercial radio… bands like the Lumineers, and others, broke out of stations in their home regions… before appearing nationally.

        • Seth Keller

          Sure, a lot of artists get non-comm, internet and even some commercial AAA airplay. If you’re the right type of artist, NPR stations can even move the needle significantly on your career. But meaningful commercial radio play is still the domain of major labels and some indies with deep pockets, depending on the genre. If you’re an independent artist looking for more than niche airplay, a few spins or rotation on your local station, you need a real budget to make an impact at radio in the US.

          If I’m wrong, please post statistics (spins, stations, etc) on an artist or artists that completed a successful national campaign without spending a ton on radio promotion.

    • Radio DJ's

      What kind of stations are you pitching your music at?
      As the person says below there are hundreds if not thousands of stations. Successful artists pitch at a local level and move upwards.
      If you are trying to get yourself on mainstream radio without doing any research then this article is indeed correct with you going about it the wrong way, and then blaming the radio stations.
      A lot of my local stations play new music. BBC introducing play new music and several songs manage to work their way onto the national playlist.
      Why not spend some time trying to understand the process instead of griping at it

  6. Sam Malmaci

    Good stuff, but i cant agree with you when it comes to music getting worse #2.
    Alot have changed since the internet came, back in the days we use to go to the store, buy an album for 20usd and that was the way the record labels made money.
    Today, we go on spotify listen to our favorite music.. and the labels earn money, we come back again a couple of days later and listen to the same music and the lables keeps getting paid.
    This teaches us one thing, that if you really want to earn alot of money you have to think in long terms. As a lable/musician you need to make something thats timeless, something that our children will come back and listen to.
    Thus music should be getting better?

    • Matt

      You clearly have no idea how spotify works.
      As an independent artist who is on spotify and earns the same rate as everyone else, I can get 200+ plays on spotify in a week and I will earn less than $2 for those plays.
      If you think spotify is akin to people buying albums “back in the day” then you are deluded. Spotify is everything that is wrong with music on the internet today, it’s raping creativity.
      However because it is free to the user and almost EVERYONE uses it, artists feels obliged to make their music available on Spotify in the hope that a small percentage of listeners might actually take their heads out of their asses and BUY the music they’re listening to!
      The labels earn money of Spotify?
      Only Spotify earns money off Spotify…..

      • Ste

        “…BUY the music they’re listening to!”
        Therein lies the problem; you’re looking at one-time sales as the primary source of revenue for a musician. Though it’s not quite gone, it isn’t coming back. Spotify may not be the answer… and the licensing/payment deals are too cloaked in the collusion of traditional recording industry chicanery… but streaming subscriptions, in some form or another, are clearly where revenue is heading.

        You can spend time whining about the good old days (please) or set about finding a combination of revenue streams built on a solid indie artist platform. Yes, it takes more effort and a wider range of skills, but the opportunity to take control of a lifelong career as a musician has never been better.

      • Sambulance

        Actually, even Spotify doesn’t earn any money off Spotify–their income is negligible, but their speculative value is huge, because middle aged people on Wall Street still think the Internet is going to make everyone rich one day.
        Bottom line: the industry in 2013 is so dire, it actually results in negative, imaginary money.

      • Chris

        What absolute nonsense. So Spotify that pays you every time someone listens to you is “everything that is wrong with music on the internet today”. So how much do you get paid everytime your song is listened to by 200 people on Radio? In the US NOTHING, in the UK probably so small a PRS fee that it will be NEXT TO NOTHING.
        Here’s the news for you. You are being PAID for someone to listen to your music and you think that’s a BAD thing?
        Jesus wept man you really don’t have a clue do you?

      • Bruce

        I think the labels must earn money from Spotify…because Spotify needs their permission to use their recodings…but the labels pass very little of this money on to the artists..
        They can get away with this because most of the artists on spotify signed contracts before Spotify existed…so the labels can make up their own rules in regard to payments for this format.

  7. Hey! It's Me!

    “A label is not going to sign you because you have 50,000 fans”…but you might get a Grammy nomination. 😉

  8. Jordan

    I really don’t understand why there has to be so much bashing on this article. It’s an excellent and short write-up of some very important things that should matter to any musician.
    The fact that it is short and to the point is what makes it useful. I wouldn’t want to read a novel on things like this. It’s up to musicians to actually take upon these advice points and then expand them to help themselves. I mean, if you still want to bash parts of this then why not just follow rule #11?
    I really feel like #3 is the most important though. Even the social media and everything from there is always going to compound from the relationships and connections you’re able to build over time by being approachable and outgoing. To me that is always foing to be a main selling point for artists.
    All these things are meant to be built upon over time and can be a good starting point for any musician. Doesn’t get any more solid than that for such a quick read.

    • paul

      “I really don’t understand why there has to be so much bashing on this article.”
      a thought I have on most days…

  9. Versus

    “”A label is not going to sign you because you have 50,000 fans”
    ….but that large fan base means that the label’s A&R is far more likely to actually listen to your music and give it a chance.
    Several A&Rs I’ve spoken to recently @ A2IM essentially said that when they receive new music they check “the numbers” before listening, and only bother to listen if those numbers are impressive. The numbers in question: FaceBook fans, Twitter followers, YouTube hits.

    – V

    • Label guy

      Im sorry but that just isnt true.
      Go on Pitchfork and look up how many fans those artists have. Some have just a few hundred and stil generate a big buzz and get signed.
      Most of the artists in the BBC sound poll had just a few thousand fans. Peace had just a few hundred fans when they were signed by Columbia.
      Stop making excuses and take a look at your music and how you are pitching it. Labels want good music.

      • Versus

        “Im sorry but that just isnt true. ”
        It is true of the people with whom I spoke. Whether it is true of a majority of A&R is another matter, of course.
        (and I’m making no excuses, as my work is on multiple labels)
        – V

  10. Christopher

    This was actually a refreshing article to read. The theme of 2012 seemed to be “the music industry sucks – end of story”. But this at least puts a positive spin on things.
    I certainly have been critical of so called “industry insiders” recently who seem to be more interested in promoting themselves than truely helping any musician, so I can understand why some are quick to be critical of this article. But what Parsons did NOT do in this article was say “The industry sucks, but if you buy my new book, system, etc – then you will sucedd! Just give me your money and I’ll sell you the same crap!” And again, that’s refreshing to see as well.
    One more point – a majority of my “fans” or people discovering my music comes from college radio play. Maybe they go to my social sites later and keep tabs on upcoming stuff. But they hear me on the radio first.

  11. Volume chyle

    Boys Boys Boys, or girls if there were any. The beauty of these blogs/posts is that they are made FOR those who might benefit from them BY those whom have profited from their use or practice. I’m sure each of you has given out either good or bad advice before. We ALL learn differently and find inspiration from things that fit our current needs or lifestyles. Kudos to those who take the time out of their day to share their knowledge and experience in hopes to make a difference in someone else’s life, someone they have never even met before.

  12. Flora Golden

    I found this article really useful, and I am inspired to go and do all the things it suggested straight away! Thanks!

  13. F.G.

    I found this article really interesting. I am inspired to think that maybe there are still people in the industry who want to hear good original music, even if x-factor does seem to be taking over!

  14. Sandeep Shawn-Tripathy

    really nice post, just had problem understanding poin no 5. I didn’t really get why social media doesn’t matter a lot for musician promotions !