How to Be a Successful Musician: The Total Guide for Music Artists, Bands & Musicians

Ed Sheeran Rocks His Hard Earned Success   

Ed Sheeran Rocks His Hard Earned Success


While many dream of a successful music career, success can be measured in many different ways. Some have their sights set on the ultimate superstar lifestyle, complete with sold out shows in the biggest venues around the world, #1 songs on the radio and Grammy awards strewn across their mantle. For others, success simply means making a decent living while pursuing their passion and doing what they love.

While this guide is generally geared toward the aspiring artist or band looking to "make it big", anyone aspiring to any level of success as a musician, artist or band will find the information here invaluable.  

CHAPTER 1 | How to Hone Your Skills Like Michael Jackson Did

When it comes to musical success, it doesn't get any bigger than Michael Jackson. Michael virtually grew up on the professional stage, firmly planted on Top-40 charts as part of the Jackson 5 and honing his vocal skills from the best of the best. But even after taking the crown as the King of Pop in the 1980's, the self-proclaimed perfectionist continued to take voice lessons. Anyone serious about making it in the music industry should take a cue from the legend. Be teachable. Keep your skills sharpened, never stop learning and always strive to be better.

These great resources will inspire you to keep growing with further insight on how to be your best.

Michael Jackson's hotel room voice lesson with Seth Riggs

CHAPTER 2 | Versatility & Adaptability Bumps Up Your Game


To be versatile means you might play more than one instrument in more than one style. Perhaps you are a skilled guitarist who can also sing background vocals, or you're a keyboard player who can shift from rock to jazz to country. The more versatile you are in your musicianship, the more opportunities will come your way.


To be adaptable is more about your character and your willingness to change things up as needed. The guitar lick you just shredded may be rival that of Eddie Van Halen, but if it's not what the producer is looking for, then it's gotta go ... along with your ego. Be humble enough and respectful enough to play whatever is asked of you. (And hopefully you're versatile enough to do it.)

Versatility also comes into play when looking for ways to earn money. Sure, you might be on tour with Ed Sheeran for a while, but what happens when you come back home and the phone isn't ringing? Well, hopefully you get some studio gigs. You might also teach lessons. And perhaps you run sound for other bands. In short, you expand your skill set and earning potential.  So think creatively and check out Chapter 7 on How to Manage the Irregular Income of a Musician


Renowned bassist, author and educator Jayme Lewis reviews six important characteristics that all successful working musicians must have, including adaptability 

CHAPTER 3 | Ways to Get Experience, Experience and More Experience

There's nothing like experience to make you great. The more opportunities you can take advantage of the more chances you have to get so comfortable with your skill that it becomes second nature.  Play anywhere you possibly can. Clubs and bars are the quintessential venues where many bands and artists pay their dues. But think outside of the box. Street performers can make a pretty decent income while getting valuable experience pretty much any time they want, without having to book and promote. Church musicians have a weekly in-house "audience". Talent contests not only get you experience, but have the potential to thrust you into stardom. Just ask Carrie Underwood and Kelly Clarkson how their last talent contest worked out.

By the way, getting experience applies to song writing too. If you're a song writer, then write, write and write some more. You'll grow as a writer and have a treasure trove of songs to choose from when you record that brilliant album that will take the world by storm.

How to get gigs - use this simple 4 step process as described by professional singer and vocal mentor Nicola Milan 

CHAPTER 4 | How to Make Connections that Propel You Toward Your Goals

How many degrees are you from Kevin Bacon? In the music industry, it's often about who you know ... and who they know ... and who they know. Actively pursue connections with anyone you can. That DJ you met at that party who works in the local clubs, make a note—a literal note—of his name and contact info if you can. Friend him on Facebook. While you don't want to be stalker-esk, you need these connections. You never know which connection will put you on what stage in front of what record label who will beg you to sign with them. Well, that's the dream, right? It happens!

5 Foolproof Ways To Make Music Industry Contacts 

CHAPTER 5 | Persistence and Rock Hard Thick Skin

It's a rare music success story that doesn't include a heavy amount of rejection, criticism and disappointment along the way. Here are three examples:

  1. Star Search rejected a young girl named Beyonce. "At that time, you don't realize that you could actually work super hard and give everything you have and lose," the music icon shared in her YouTube video Imperfection (see below) . "It was the best message for me."
  2. Kicked out of the Grand Ole Opry, Elvis Presley was told to stick to his day job driving trucks.
  3. Decca Records rejected a British band called The Beatles, saying guitar bands were on their way out. 

The ones who make it develop a hard shell. As a musician you will always be judged and, sadly, not everyone is going to think you are God's gift to music. Ludicrous, I know. But your job as the emerging superstar is to brush off negativity and keep on keepin' on. Let the negativity fuel you to improve. Let it make you the most amazing you you can be.

Beyonce reflects on how her loss on Star Search made her better, and on the importance of finding beauty in imperfection.

CHAPTER 6 | How to Get Noticed: Be Nothing Short of Amazing

If you're gonna be a superstar you have to, well, be a superstar. Do what does it take to get noticed. Make them do a double-take and go "Who IS that?" followed by "I want more".

  1. Be Talented (kind of goes without saying - see Chapters 1 & 2)
  2. Work the Stage (fascinate us beyond all reason with your mesmerizing performance ability)
  3. Look the Part (looks actually do matter in this case, so put serious effort into your image)
  4. Stand Out (set yourself apart from the rest)
  5. Get Exposure (be seen and heard ... in concert ... on the internet ... anywhere you can)

Like I said, be nothing short of amazing. Here are some more resources to help you get noticed.

The Internet's busiest music nerd discusses how to get noticed in the music industry


CHAPTER 7: How To Manage the Irregular Income of a Musician

Learn how to handle your money so you can still pay the bills between gigs. You may be on tour with Sam Smith for three months and living off that income for the following three. And even when you ARE Sam Smith, you would be shrewd to follow sound financial advice. 

Here's something to chew on. It's one thing to be a musician living on your own. You can handle the highs and lows of an irregular income and don't mind sleeping on a friend's sofa when you don't have rent money. But add a spouse and kiddos to the mix and the pressure to provide increases dramatically.

Chad Jeffers, who has toured Keith Urban, The Wreckers, Kenny Loggins and Jamie O'Neal offers wise financial advice to aspiring musicans

| CHAPTER 8 | This is What Record Companies Want From You

Profit. That's really the bottom line. As a potential artist of theirs that a record company intend to pour a lot of money into, you better be able to prove you have what it takes to make it worth their money, time and effort.

For starters, they want everything listed in this guide. They want a highly talented and experienced musician with superstar potential, including a magnetic image. They want someone who has honed their craft, continues to grow as a musician and is teachable. They want a performer who commands a live audience, as well as the video camera. They want a tough person with thick skin, who can take the kind of criticism they, among others, will be dishing out. 

Record companies want artists with a good reputation in the industry, an inviting personality and who are enjoyable to work with. The bigger your fan base the better, and the more fanatical your fans ... even better. They want someone committed to success, who knows a thing or two about the industry, so do your research. Oh wait. You are!

The difference between Majors and Indie Labels? Explore what's right for your music at Record Labels and Companies guide.

Nick Gatfield, CEO of Sony Music (UK) provides insider tips on what record labels are looking for. Sony's diversity runs the gamout from  1Direction & Justin Timberlake to Barbra Streisand & Kings Of Leon.

|CHAPTER 9 | How to Tap Into The Power of YouTube

Just think Justin Bieber. Loading videos on YouTube for family members who missed his singing competition propelled him to superstardom. YouTube is the new radio, the new record store, and the new music magazine. YouTube is today's MTV and it's a medium that every aspiring musician needs to tap into in their attempt to connect themselves to the rest of the world. There are 7 billion people on this planet, many of which surf music on YouTube, including record labels and music industry giants. If you don't have a presence on YouTube, you won't be taken seriously.

Justin Bieber talks with Ellen about how the videos he uploaded for family propelled him toward stardom


| CHAPTER 10 | How to Develop a Strong Work Ethic Like Will Smith

Study the traits of highly successful people and you'll probably discover they all have a highly robust work ethic. The bigger the dream, the harder the work. Musicians with a strong work ethic strive for excellence in everything they do, even when it means playing small venues with crowds more interested in their beverages and loud conversation than tuning into the brilliant music oozing from the very pores of your being. Stay focused on your goal and give everything you've got to making it happen.


Will Smith shares his philosophy on work ethic

| In Conclusion |

Success as a musician takes serious dedication. Glean all you can from successful music artists, bands and musicians, get yourself out there on a consistent basis, be the kind of person others want to work with, leave your ego at the door, strive for excellence, and always remember that you love music. 

Written by Jenna Dawn Dexter
©2015 Dexter Music