50 Common Artist Challenges and Traps and How To Fix or Avoid Them – Part 1

Copyright 2015 Vinny Ribas

I have been in the music business for most of the past 40 years. In that time I have hit some very hard brick walls, been faced with seemingly insurmountable tasks, embarrassed myself and found myself turning out to be someone other than who really I was deep inside. I have also seen many others face the exact same challenges and traps. So here is my personal list of the top 50 ways artists get themselves in trouble or off track. I would have put them into categories, but then you might be tempted to skip the category that you actually really need to read the most!

  1. Please don’t let this list discourage you. Simply use it as a periodic checklist to make sure that you’re not embarking down wrong or dangerous roads, or even unknowingly sabotaging your own career. This list can be especially important as you move into both unfamiliar territories and higher rankings in the industry. Also use it as a source of encouragement. You know you’re on the right track if you’ve dodged or overcome these critical obstacles.
  2. Not mastering their craft. This includes always striving to get better. Never stop taking instrument or voice lessons. There will always be someone waiting in line to take your place.
    Not taking their career or even their shows seriously. This runs the gambit from not rehearsing as often as they should to not warming up before a show, and everything in between. Take your work seriously, and people will take your commitment more seriously.
  3. Being arrogant. Many artists are full of themselves, believing deep in their hearts that the word revolves around them. They believe they can do anything they want, good or bad, and treat people any way they want to, without repercussion. I call it Rockstar Syndrome. The only solution is to practice humility. Let someone else have the spotlight for a change. Better yet, be the one who shines the spotlight on others (on and off stage).
  4. Not embracing technology when your fans and/or the venues you play do. If you’re trying to reach a younger crowd, you probably need to learn how to use Twitter, Facebook and other social networks.
  5. Having a poor website. A poorly designed website is NOT better than no website at all. There are plenty of fill-in-the-blank website templates online that you can access for free.
  6. Not having a newsletter and/or text message marketing program. The best thing you can do to increase your fan base is to get your audiences to sign up for your mailing list and then send them a newsletter at least once a month. Also send them text messages.
  7. Not booking themselves, or doing it poorly. Until you are commanding a decent price for your gigs, it will not be worth it for a booking agent to take you on as a client. If you make $100/night, and they get 10%, they only make $10 for what might take a few hours work. If you’re trying to book yourself but not having adequate success, I suggest 2 things. Be sure that your act is saleable and your marketing materials represent you well. Secondly, learn the basics of sales. Booking yourself means that you are a salesperson, and you need to act and communicate as such. Read ‘How To Be Your Own Booking Agent’ by Jeri Goldstein and watch the video “Booking Yourself” on IndieConnect.com.
  8. Getting into bad agreements. Many artist get stuck in less-than-desirable contracts, including record deals, publishing contracts, performance (gig) contracts and more. Even more common is not having a contract when they really should. This happens with songwriter collaborations, band member relationships and anyplace else where agreement is either implied or verbal. Use an attorney for all contracts, and always get agreements in writing. And if it looks too good to be true, or your gut says ‘you’re making a mistake’, definitely don’t sign it!
  9. Not protecting their intellectual property. This includes song copyrights. Name and logo trademarks, set design, master recording copyrights, CD/album design copyrights and more. Ask an attorney what things you should legally protect in your particular situation.
  10. Treating their music as a hobby and not a business. Whether you play music part time or full time, if you’re getting paid it is a business and should be treated as such. This ranges from getting a business license to keeping accurate financial records to taking responsibility for booking and marketing. It also includes being prepared for rehearsals.
  11. No insurance. Too many artists get knocked out of the water because their equipment is stolen, or their car is in an accident, or they get sick and need medical attention, and they don’t have the appropriate insurance. If you look hard enough, you can find reasonably priced health, equipment and car insurance. You might also inquire about liability insurance in case someone trips over one of your wires or a speaker falls on them.
  12. Not paying taxes. I know artists who have lost their houses when the IRS caught up with them. Be honest and you’ll never have to keep looking over your shoulder.
  13. Not promoting themselves, or at least not effectively > Music is not a ‘build it and they will come’ business. You have to attract fans, and that requires constant marketing and PR. It also requires building relationships with your fans, not just broadcasting that you exist. You need know your fans and what their preferred methods of communication are, and then use them. Stay up on technology so you’re not missing out. It is up to you alone!
  14. Not staying in touch with fans, venues etc. Many artists refuse to put in the time and effort required to get fan email addresses, send out newsletters or text messages. It’s important to keep your name and music in front of your fans. Remember, out of sight, out of mind!
  15. Having a ‘broke’ or ‘starving artist’ mentality. Far too many artists believe that, as artists, they are meant to live a life of poverty. Nothing could be farther from the truth. You have a right to get paid and get paid well for your talent. If you believe that, you won’t be afraid to ask for an acceptable wage for performing. You deserve success at the highest level. Don’t ever let anyone tell you otherwise.
  16. Not respecting other people’s time. I don’t know why, but many musicians are notoriously late. They are late for appointments and even late to start the gig or the set. Maybe it’s just their laid back ‘artist mentality’, or the fact that their clocks are the opposite of most other people’s clocks because they are up all night. But the bottom line is that it is very unprofessional and shows a total lack of consideration for other people who have time constraints. Set your watch 20 minutes ahead if you need to, but make every effort to show that you take care of business.
  17. Not managing their money. Most musicians never budget their money, nor do they set aside money for the slower season. They also don’t set up a budget ahead of time for their recording projects to determine if they are actually going to make money or not. Often artists who do make money spend it recklessly instead of investing it. If you’re not good with numbers, ask for help in this area. have a bookkeeper do your books and an accountant do your taxes. Proper money management is vital for your short-term and long-term success. If you’re constantly worried about money, you can’t be performing at your best.
  18. Trying to be something they are not. I have seen rock guitarists try to fill in with country bands and country bands trying to play jazz. I have had bands claim that they have enough fans to fill a local club only to find out that no one knows them. This is especially a challenge when it’s done just for the money, and they don’t tell anyone the truth until it’s the middle of the gig and obvious that they more than stretched the truth. Of course, there are times when it’s good to expand your horizons. There are also times when you’re thrown into a situation unexpectedly and you need do something that is not your strength. Just be honest with yourself and with the people you’re dealing with. It will save you a lot of embarrassment, and will prevent you from burning some very important bridges.
  19. Not being team players. Many musicians refuse to share their equipment when more than one band is on the bill. I have seen egos break bands up right when they are in their prime. I’ve seen lead singers refuse to help the musicians in the band carry their equipment, preferring to cop an ‘every man for himself’ attitude. No one wants to be around someone who is not a team player. The more you help others, the more people will be willing to help you. And if let others shine, you will certainly get your fair share of moments in the spotlight.
  20. Not asking for help. No one knows everything there is to know, nor can anyone physically do everything that needs to be done. The wise person knows when to ask for help. If doesn’t matter if you need coaching, advice, critique, insight or physical labor. Don’t be afraid to admit that you’re not superman (or superwoman)!
  21. Not building a team. It is impossible for both solo artists and bands to move their careers forward without a team. By a team I am referring to everything from band members, business managers, coaches, an attorney and anyone else that can take care of the things that the artist can’t. It also includes mobilizing fans into a physical street team as well as an online marketing machine.
  22. Cutting corners in the wrong places. There are times when it’s OK to cut corners, but some artists take it to extremes. Some examples would be not keeping their equipment and vehicle in good repair. It can be fatal if something breaks that keeps you from performing a scheduled gig. Other examples include not getting insurances, not using attorneys for contracts, buying cheap equipment etc. Study where you spend your money and where it might be better redirected to allow you to be consistently great and professional.
  23. Doing things out of sequence. All too often artists don’t think before they do their homework, do their due diligence or study a situation. A perfect example is not thinking about how you’re going to market your CD before releasing it. Another is not being totally rehearsed and prepared when going into the recording studio. Think first. Map out a plan for your career and stick to it. Analyze it to be sure that it is a logical progression of steps and milestones. Then be sure that each move you make is consistent with your goals.
  24. Not challenging themselves. Many artists get very complacent being a big fish in a little pond. Musicians tend to play in bands where they can shine instead of playing with players who make them work harder and thus play better. Bands get comfortable playing to the same audiences or in the same kinds of venues, and never push to keep playing bigger, better and higher paying gigs. Always have higher level to reach for, and don’t quit until you reach it!
  25. Inaccurate assessment of themselves. I have seen far too many artists who truly believe with every fiber of their being that they are much better than they really are. Asking friends and family what they think of your singing, playing or songwriting will get you friendly and sometimes enthusiastic approval. But it’s always good to get critiques from professionals about every aspect of your music career. And if you’re hearing the same thing over and over about something you’re doing, consider the fact that it just might be true. Even superstars ask for coaching, advice, criticism etc. so they constantly get better. In fact, that’s how they became superstars in the first place.
About The Author

Vinny Ribas

Vinny Ribas is the founder and CEO of Indie Connect, an artist management, consulting and training company. The company also hosts networking and educational events and has published an app that connects people to the Nashville Music Industry. During his 40+ year career, Vinny has been a full time musician, artist manager, booking agent, songwriter, studio owner, producer and the Entertainment Director for the NV State Fair. He has also coached over 1000 artists and songwriters. He is a sought after speaker and has authored over 400 music industry articles. Vinny is also the CEO of Top 4M Entertainment, an independent film and television production company.