I got a record deal. I did! I did it. I dreamed about it, cried about it, prayed about it and obsessed over it for over a decade, and then… I got one.
I’m not going to downplay my experience, because it was awesome. I got to do things that many a 15-year-old daydreams about.
When I reflect back on that process, I realize that there are principles that can be applied to the building of any business, to the building of any significant project that is worth conquering, to the accomplishment of any worthy goal.
So you’re ready to take action? Here are the 5 ingredients that I believe led to us signing on the dotted line. Here’s a quick hint: there was very little luck involved. So quit telling yourself that. You don’t just have to get lucky. You have to work incredibly hard and do a lot of things right on purpose.
1. Identify Your Calling
If it’s not your calling, DON’T GET A RECORD DEAL (or start a non-profit, or write a book, or build your own house). If you aren’t meant to be a musician, there’s nothing you can do to overcome that obstacle. Don’t ask yourself if it looks like they’re having fun–that’s not the question. It looks like NFL players are having a lot of fun, but I’m certain that I’m not meant to be an NFL player, and any energy spent pursuing that goal would be wasted energy. Drop the enchanting belief that this is the only thing that can make you happy (HINT: it’s not true!), and realize that—and this is crucial—you will be far happier doing the thing you’re meant to be doing! I encourage everyone—and I’ve done it myself—to examine thoroughly and with an open mind exactly what they believe they’re meant to be doing. What are your gifts? What comes naturally to you? Where will you truly thrive? You must believe that the authentic living out of your calling is far more fulfilling than fame for the sake of fame, or any contrived end goal that you’ve convinced yourself that you need. (For a phenomenal book on this topic, check out Jeff Goins’ “The Art of Work.”)
2. Find Your Voice
Now, spend an inordinate amount of time finding your unique voice. How does that happen? Simple: TIME. Ever heard of the 10,000 hour rule? Everyone wants to skip this step, but you can’t! Find your personality and commit to it. You know why Eric Church did well? I can tell you right now it’s not because he’s the best singer in Nashville. He didn’t start as the darling of the industry either. He very slowly built something that was based around peoples’ fierce dedication to him being the brash, independent and counter-intuitive artist that he is. Had he just decided to throw pre-fabricated hits against the wall in the hopes that something would stick, we may not even know his name.
3. Hone and Perfect
I don’t care how good your mom says you are, the people doing it professionally are better. It’s always the same story: those who are incredibly skilled make it look so easy. Here’s a quick insight: it’s not.
If you aren’t practicing, you aren’t a professional. Scrutinize every single aspect of what you’re doing: your website, your photos, your song-writing, your clothes, your social media voice and campaigns, your merchandise and artwork, your videos–everthing. It has to all be great. It has to all make sense together and accurately represent the unique voice we talked about above. The bottom line is, if you want this to become your job, start treating it like a job now. You don’t turn pro and then act like a pro. No, you act like a pro and then earn the privilege of actually being one.
4. Build Your Business
Don’t wait to be chosen. Begin building your business under the assumption that you’ll never get a record deal. Realize that a record deal is simply a loan of money and relationship resources. Have you seen Shark Tank? What do those guys always ask before shelling out millions of dollars? “What are your sales?” They want to see numbers! They want to see proof! They don’t just want to see numbers for the sake of numbers, either—they want to see evidence of hustle, of dedication. They don’t want to partner with someone who’s looking for a handout, for someone else to make them rich while they watch. Don’t be that person. Your devotion to your end goal must be such that you’re going to do it no matter what—you simply view an eventual record deal as a nice bonus, because whether you get one or not, you’re going to make music.
To liken that to what I’m doing now, I intend to grow this blog and business over time, but whether I get a guest post on Michael Hyatt’s site or not—whether I have 50 followers or 50,000 a year from now—I’ll still be writing the best and most authentic posts I can. Period.
5. Build Relationships
The fact is, you’ve got to have relationships to get in the door. It’s a flooded market. Now everyone wants to be famous. Fame-for-no-apparent-reason is an actual career path now. Consequently, John Esposito doesn’t want to hear from anyone unless there is a relationship already in place. And I don’t blame him! He could sit and listen to truly terrible music for the rest of his life and still not hear from all the people who are desperate to be famous at any cost. So, IF you indeed ought to be pursuing what you’re pursuing, understand that it will take relationships. True relationships, not just the what-can-you-do-for-me kind, but the kind that take investment, the kind that take time.
Those relationships can come about a number of ways, and it won’t happen without taking action, without taking risks, putting your neck out there, being involved, asking questions from a place of humility, and being diligent over a long period of time.
So there you have it! It’s that easy! Just go out, recognize and identify your calling, find a compelling unique voice, perfect it to a level of excellence beyond what you can currently fathom, devote yourself to the unquestioned building of your business over a potentially long and thankless period of time, invest in the slow build of meaningful relationships, and BOOM! Overnight success!
Each one of these principles can be applied to whatever your endeavor, whatever your goal. I’m applying these same principles to my own lofty goals.
If it sounds like a whole lot of work, that’s because it absolutely is. Frankly, it’s a huge pain in the ass. When we were building Love and Theft, there were late nights, there was exhaustion, there were fights, there were plenty of tears, empty pockets, moments when we thought it may all be over. This process ought to serve as a filter, a refining fire: are you absolutely certain, beyond all doubt, that the end goal which you’re pursuing is worth all of this? All the work, all the frustration, the time invested?
It’s okay if it isnt’ worth it. It’s okay if the answer is no.
There is a great, beautiful freedom in discovering that the answer is ‘no.’ Because if the answer is no, you may now go seek out that goal which transforms the answer into ‘yes.’