Three Common Unrealistic Expectations For Musicians

By | 2022-07-21T17:39:20+00:00 July 19th, 2022|music business, musician career|Comments Off on Three Common Unrealistic Expectations For Musicians

by Kari Estrin

With the continuing fall-out from the pandemic, combined with technology that’s ever evolving, the music industry has been adapting and continues to be reshaped in ways that affect both artists and audiences.  The biggest challenges artists generally face is to how to successfully pivot from our known models to instead reinventing what we need to do, not only to survive, but to flourish in new ways. In this post we’ll take a brief look at three of the most common expectations that musicians believe are true, but unfortunately, aren’t still the norm or realistic in the majority of cases anymore.


1) Talent is enough -talent always rises to the top!

At the core of any artist’s popularity is the talent they bring to audiences and the audience’s ability to relate to it, giving the artist the foundation to rise above the fray to get noticed. Yet many artists still hold onto the theory that if they’re talented, that’s all it takes – someone will come along and discover you, manage you and take care of all the ways you need to get you known. After all, you are the musician, so you just want to write music and perform. We all wish this was the case, that talent will rise to the top on its own. And it used to be that labels went around to “discover” new talent – and that they would then help create the rest of your career foundation while also assembling a team to get you there. This might include finding the right producer, musicians to play on your albums, and a publicist. The label would also take care of basic administrative tasks such as registering your songs and administering your copyrights. In addition the label would design the album artwork, while also offering guidance as to honing your image and scheduling your photo shoot… and this is still just a partial list of the record label’s services.

But as the industry has changed in the last 20 or even 30 years, many record labels don’t function the way they used to – in fact, they may now rely on the artist to already come to them with a bevy of fans and resources already established in order for the label to take them on. Now an indie label may just offer to license your record, instead of recording it for you and fronting all the costs. Of course, larger labels exist to make mainstream stars, but getting signed and discovered is quite hard. To combat the lack of label support, now artists themselves have to become savvy with social and digital media, while continuing to find ways to break through without label support or fortunately, without the hindrance of the gatekeepers of yesterday. This involves recording (sometimes in one’s own home) and releasing projects as “indie artists,” while hiring skilled team members to help navigate through the business aspects. Some artists attend workshops and courses in what they are looking to learn. But the good news is with fundraising platforms; many artists have found a way to record and release projects that don’t involve putting the entire budget, or oftentimes any of it, on a credit card. And fortunately, between your friends’ and fellow artist’s recommendations; supplemented by searches one can do on the internet, there are many resources available to help you on your path.


2) I’ll make a new record, or release new material, and then I’ll book a big tour

Touring has been one of the most problematic issues as a result of the pandemic, and if that wasn’t already enough of an obstacle, the current rate of inflation has increased transportation and other seemingly unrelated costs exponentially.  Those artists with bigger names, who already had full tours booked before the pandemic, are still rescheduling dates from two years ago though they may also still be packing houses. But for many indie artists, hitting the road and making the same kind of revenue is much harder than before. Not only is the pandemic still reducing audiences in some crowds, but as mentioned above, inflation has also put a hold on many people’s budgets, so fans have to choose wisely on where their dollars are going. Even going out to eat is being affected, so choosing what shows to attend and how much merch one can buy is a new consideration. So if you’re planning on touring, first factor in the higher cost of doing so, the possibility of cancelled gigs or reduced audience size and less revenue from the merch table. Define exactly what your goals before committing to your next tour schedule.

For many mid-level acts, in addition to the road, artists have found other ways to supplement revenues through sites like Kickstarter, Patreon, tip jars, doing special events and promotions online, etc. while also taking advantage of which seasons are more profitable to do so in.  Artists discover that by being creative and diversifying what they can offer fans and when, they can still have fulfilling careers. It is really important now to look at one’s own wheelhouse for the variety of talents that might be of interest to your fans, while considering what you need for your bottom line, now setting more realistic expectations about what you want to get out of touring. Continue to look for innovative ways to connect authentically with your fans. Your fans are looking for ways to connect with you as well; help them find an easier path to you and your music in addition to live gigging.


3) I’m just starting out – I need a manager or an agent!

Never say never in the music business – and it is possible that as a new performer, someone with vision hears you and has a passion for your music and decides to take you on. However, in most cases, this is not as common as it once was. As described above about record labels not being full service in helping an artist through their career as they used to, similarly indie managers and agents are looking for artists who may already have a big following, both in person and in social media, and who also can bring to the table significant revenue before signing. Agents and managers are looking at their time versus how much money they can make, so they can afford to earn enough commission your bookings. In many cases more known agencies look to make at least 10 or 20k off your bookings when signing you. So at 10% – that means you’re already bringing in about 100k before they agree to take you on. Of course, there are always exceptions to this. However, once signed, ideally the agent will not only take off your plate all the work you did in the past to book your tours, but with their connections, will increase your bottom line and develop larger audiences on your behalf.

It may seem like a chicken and egg situation, however, in the interim, developing and increasing your social media/live profile and following, artists can often raise sustainable income through a variety funding sources and promotions and by diversifying their offerings to one’s followers. Your fan base is your most important asset and there are more innovative ways to connect and make money on social media and through the internet than ever before. Once your base is built, you have more opportunities to grow you career. Don’t be discouraged, it does take time to experiment how to find ways to increase your audience and non-live revenue, yet connecting and building engagement is one of the most important resources you can invest in.

With this funding and perhaps a bit less time on the road and the expenses that come with touring, you may now have the ability to hire others and at some point, ideally a project manager to help coordinate a new release and assist in developing a team that encompasses publicity, social media and pitching for playlisting, graphic design, radio promotion, etc.  One can ask other artists whom they recommend and utilize the networks they’ve already established to investigate new resources. Even if an artist is just committed to releasing singles throughout the year, the need to increase one’s presence and have all the other elements in place to help take the artist to the next level is still needed. As the music business has become more indie driven than ever before, an artist needs to be proactive, and yes, there is a lot to learn.  And potentially, eventually the artist will now be either able to attract an agent, manager and or record label.


And a note of encouragement…

No matter how skilled you are, it is unrealistic to try to do this do alone. Your time is valuable and can be used in more productive ways, so if there are things that are hard for you to understand, reach out for help. We all don’t want to spend money unnecessarily or think it may be available in our budgets. However, investing in one’s knowledge is also important and it is ok to admit that you aren’t savvy in all areas. If you are miserable working in a particular area or two, reach out to hire someone to take that whole area or part of it on for you.  If it takes you several hours to do a task that someone else can be hired to do in 1/4 of the time it would take you that allow you to use your time more productively and achieve more efficient results. In addition, you also won’t be continually plugging away at what frustrates you and instead stave off burnout and overwhelm.

In order to not stay stagnant, one must always take new calculated risks, push oneself beyond one’s comfort level, as the greatest gains are made when you break out of your current mold or way of doing things, as the world keeps changing around us. Be patient and kind to yourself in exploring new ways to be heard and connect, and don’t be afraid to either ask for help or recommendations of someone you might hire. In conclusion, don’t be afraid to leap – and if you find something hasn’t worked out, then you haven’t failed if you ask yourself how you can do it differently and brainstorm ways to improve the next time you try it. This guiding philosophy was the secret to many successful careers!



Kari Estrin is a groundbreaking holistic artist career consultant who pioneered her system of working with artists who need management on a consulting basis, individualizing career planning to each artist she works with. Kari is a leading acoustic/roots radio promoter for over 20 years, has served many roles in the music business from management/tour management, concert & festival production, is a journalist and founded several music organizations in her over 50 years in the music business. For more information or to contact Kari –


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