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Designing an Artist Life Plan
By Randy Young - 04/20/2010 - 03:16 PM EDT

Alice: Oh, no, no. I was just wondering if you could help me find my way.
Cheshire Cat: Well that depends on where you want to get to.
Alice: Oh, it really doesn't matter, as long as...
Cheshire Cat: Then it really doesn't matter which way you go...

Most artists I meet remind me of this scene in Alice in Wonderland. They have no clear idea of who they are or where they are going. They bounce around from idea to idea, wasting time, money, and energy without any real or measurable progress. Some of the biggest mistakes I often see include:

• Spending thousands of dollars on recording without the guidance of an experienced producer or engineer.

• Printing thousands of CDs without a clear plan about how to sell them or who to sell them to.

• Booking shows and tours with little or no fan base to support them. Most of this lack of progress can often be attributed to the fact that these Artists have not developed a clear vision or plan for their future.

They hope that talent or luck will be the key to success, when in reality, hard work, determination, and focus are more important. If you are not committed to winning, to going all the way and leaning into whatever opposing forces meet you in your journey, you simply won't survive. It's as simple as that. Other Artists, musicians, or songwriters who are more determined will push you aside and fly past you. So the question is, how can you succeed as an artist?

How to be a Successful Artist

“Success is falling nine times and getting up ten.” - Jon Bon Jovi

Jon Bon Jovi went from sweeping floors at the Power Station recording studio in NYC to selling over 100 million records world-wide. When you hear an artist like Jon speak, you immediately see that his outlook on life brings him every bit of success. There is no denying that he is a man with a plan. Your career and life as an Artist has to be designed.

The hardest part about designing an Artist life plan is getting started. At first, the scope may seem massive and the implications can feel daunting, but don't become intimidated – it’s an important step. You must design and adopt a paradigm of principles that will bring you more happiness and success than you could ever imagine. But in order for you to design something, you need to know exactly what you are dealing with and what you intend to achieve.

I’ve assembled 10 principles that I think every Artist should live by as they begin designing an artist life plan. See if these work for you.

The 10 Step Artist Plan

1. Develop Your Vision- As an Artist, you must have vision --a clear and passionate idea of where you are going and what you are trying to accomplish. In times of constant change, it is this foresight that keeps you on course. Take the time to think about who you really are as an Artist, where you are going, what you stand for, and what kind of future you want to create. Know that you won't compromise or settle for short-term advantages. Think about Artists who inspire you and their vision - Bob Dylan is often thought as the “poet-laureate of rock n’ roll” and “voice of the sixties counterculture.” James Brown was called "the hardest working man in show business." Who are you?

2. Commit to Continuous Learning- Make a commitment to constant development of your skills. Keep raising your standard of performance and surpass it. Know that every day could bring something new that can change some aspect of your life. As B.B. King said, “The beautiful thing about learning is nobody can take it away from you.” The Beatles found something that moved them from writing the pentatonic flavoured "Love Me Do" to the colorful songs on "Sgt Pepper's." Sting, already versed in incorporating diverse musical styles in the post-punk/reggae infused Police, started a jazz-inspired solo career. By being open to any possibility -- reading, learning, and fully experiencing life from all angles, we allow ourselves to make a positive influence on our neighbors and to shape and change the world.

3. Set and Achieve Goals- One of the biggest reasons most Artists fail lies in the inability to achieve growth in sales, in their fanbase, or in their creativity. You can overcome this by setting goals related to your output of songs, growth of your fanbase, and specific promotion goals and targets. Ringo Starr looks at his ambition to succeed this way: "Of course I'm ambitious. What's wrong with that? Otherwise you sleep all day."

4. Innovate, Innovate, Innovate- Yesterday’s innovation is today’s standard. An Artist must always innovate their approach to their creativity, their approach to their music, and their promotional techniques. You must continually see faster, better, and cheaper ways to produce and sell your work. Refuse to stay inside a comfort zone. The comfort zone is a killer of hopes and dreams. Jon Bon Jovi described his desire to do something new and unique this way: “Don’t get too comfortable with who you are at any given time – you may miss the opportunity to become who you want to be.”

5. Learn to Solve Problems Quickly- It’s been said that an unachieved goal is simply an unsolved problem. The only thing standing in the way of you becoming more successful as an Artist are problems that you have yet to solve. Identify a problem and immediately move to finding potential solutions. Try breaking down every problem to something you can master within minutes. If you can't, the problem is still too big.

6. Always Take Immediate Action- Make sure that you stay focused on key tasks, but remember that organization and planning alone get nothing done. Prioritize what needs to be done, and do it now. Always be working on what you should be working on. If you are doing something it means you're not doing something else - so make sure it's the right task at the right time. You time is limited, irretrievable, and irreplaceable. Anthony Robbins states it this way: "How am I going to live today in order to create the tomorrow I'm committed to?"

7. Be True to Yourself- Ask yourself questions like "What type of Artist do I want to be?" Align your beliefs and values with your vision and actions. Live as though the world is always watching. If you have nothing to hide - you have nothing to fear. as Kurt Cobain said, “I'd rather be hated for who I am, than loved for who I am not.” This gives you the credibility of authentic and is manifested in the actions you promise AND deliver. Do what you say you'll do - fulfill promises. When people observe what you do and know who you really are, they’ll be able to tell if you’re an honourable and trusted Artist who deserves their respect or a self-serving one who doesn’t. This will energize your fans and motivate them to follow your vision. If no one believes in you or cares about what you say, your career is dead in the water. Work hard to maintain your credibility while you develop a great reputation. Be kind, courteous, and respectful to everyone.

8. Cooperate with Others- An Artist does not and cannot work in a vacuum. Everything you accomplish is associated with other people in some way. Do not be a diva – build and work with a team. Your ability to meet and select key people to work with is essential. Surround yourself with people who take their work seriously, but not themselves. You need to ensure that all parts of your team work together in harmony to achieve the results you desire.

9. Monitor and Review Your Progress- Not only do you need to perform and get results, you need to measure and evaluate your progress as you work on your plan. Find a way to track your progress that makes sense to you, but don't micromanage your work. Periodically ask yourself "What did I do right?" or "What would I do differently?" Look for the good and the bad so you can adjust your approach. It's best if you set up a regular schedule to check your progress. One thing I find that works well is working on the plan daily but checking progress weekly.

10. Simplify Your Life- Your plans need to be easily understood so that they can be easily executed. You must put high value on simplicity in order to achieve it. You need to be able to cut through arguments, debates, and doubts and get to solutions that anyone and everyone can easily understand. The greater number of steps in any plan, the greater chance of mistakes, misunderstandings, added costs. Eliminate non-essential steps in everything you do - whether it’s in developing your Artist plan, posting new music or information online, helping fans access and share your music, or finding the right way for you to write and record. Keep it simple.

Map Out Your Future – but Do it in Pencil

Designing an Artist plan is an ongoing process. Your plan must constantly evolve and adapt to fluctuating circumstances, so stay flexible. You can have the best laid plans and still have things go wrong, get off track, or fail. So make your plan, work on your plan, and modify your plan as you see fit. Also, make sure you talk to others and ask a lot questions. Learn about other Artists’ successes and failures. Research the skills and techniques they use and implement them yourself.

If you can, mentor with an experienced Artist who is achieving the things you'd like to achieve. Dream big while staying grounded and realistic. You don't need to be playing arenas to be successful. You can make a very good living with just 10,000 fans. If you have 10,000 people looking forward to your next song and wanting to come out to your next concert, you're doing something right.

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