Trying to break into the music business or make a living as a musician requires hard work, dedication, patience and not a little bit of luck. In other words, it's tough enough without shooting yourself in the foot by engaging surefire career shorteners. If you want to build a sustainable music career - and yes, give up the day job - that avoid these five music career killers.
1. Chase the Small Picture
There's more than one way to, uh, crack an egg or whatever the saying is, and there are certainly many different ways of building a music career. If you're serious about building a long lasting, sustainable music career that features you making money from your music, slow and steady usually wins the race. Every small step you take for your career is a building block - every new fan is a doorway to the next fan. Every good show is an opportunity to a bigger show next time. Every regional review is a step towards national press coverage. You get the picture.
The danger comes in when you don't see the bigger side of that picture. That means you can't get so wrapped up in assuming some ONE thing is going to be your BIG break that you don't know what comes next. In the music industry, most opportunities aren't so much about the specific thing you're getting right now - they are about what you can use that opportunity to get in the future. So, it isn't so much about landing the feature in your local paper - that is important and worth pursuing with all your might - but it is more about what you're going to do with that feature once it is in print. How are you going to use it to drum up more fans, more sales, more press, more radio plays?
If you don't have that next stage of the plan, and then the next, and then the next, then suddenly you'll find yourself with a cool feature in the local paper from two years ago and not much else. The work is never done, so always have steps two, three and four waiting in the wings.
2. Be a Jerk
So, yeah, not everyone in the music industry is nice. Some people are really pretentious jerks. Sometimes the pretentious jerks are people who have accomplished enough in the industry that they get to walk around being jerky unchallenged, because they've got the track record and the access to things people need enough to put up with their crap.
It might be a little pathetic, but it comes with the territory a little bit. What is a surefire way to get shown the music industry door is to adopt that attitude before you even have any of that experience under the belt. You should believe in the music you're making and be confident about what you're doing - that is something different entirely than being rude, overly demanding, condescending, obnoxious and all those other unpleasant things. It doesn't matter that you're lord/lady of the hipsters in your town or how awesome your friends all say you are or that you roll with a crew of 52 or anything else - and no, that "rock and roll" attitude doesn't make you seem exciting. This is the music industry - you can and will be replaced - that's the blunt truth of the matter - so be someone people actually want to work with.
3. Slack Off
Aiming for a making a living in music is not like playing music for a hobby. Namely, it is a job like any other, and when you don't treat it like one, you'll lose it. Yes, you love music and in the grand scheme of things, you know that getting to work with it day in and day out is a gift. That doesn't mean that they're won't be times you don't want to go out with your friends, sleep or watch TV when you should be practicing or doing something else music career related. Rock and roll fantasy may dictate that you never have to do anything you don't want to do, but the reality is that not meeting your music related responsibilties is a one-way ticket back to day job land.
Whether you're going DIY or hope to land some kind of deal some day, the key to success is knowing what you're good at doing, what you're willing and able to do, and when to find some help to fill in the gaps. Even if you are completely dedicated to the idea of working sans label and such, there will come a time when it really isn't practical for you alone to make the music, record the music, promote the music, book the shows, promote the shows and so on and so forth. If, for instance, you really hate updating your website, and you know you'll just keep putting it off and putting it off until your website hasn't been updated for nine months, than by all means, get some help. Help doesn't have to be expensive - depending at the stage you're at, help can be a trusted friend who either wants to get some music experience of their own under their belt or will work for super cheap. Better to admit what you need help with and get it than to let jobs fester undone - it will ultimately set you way back on everything.
Although the music industry is the one long, extended party you might see depicted in movies, as a musician or someone working in the industry, you will have more than ample opportunity to dabble in life's little excesses. For some people, the availability of alcohol and drugs can become all consuming, and it may even seem like fun at first. The end game is that you become unpredictable, unreliable, unprofessional and just downright difficult to deal with. Your band mates may decide you're not worth risking their own reputations over, people may decide that you're not worth booking if you're going to show up late or not at all, your fans may decide that paying money to see you play an incohereant set is not worth it - and that is all before you even consider the risks to your own health and your personal relationships.
Here's the fact - you will absolutely always be able to find someone to tell you that your overindulgence is ok and to help you convince yourself that something about your behavior is what makes you interesting as a musician/inspires your creativity. These people are so easy to find, but make a point of surrounding yourself with people who really care about YOU enough to tell you the truth. If you don't think your music career can survive you not partying around the clock, then you aren't cut out for this.