Jumpstart Your Career in Music

Need to jumpstart your career in music? Your success has everything to do with your willingness to set goals, says Keith Hatschek, a 30-year veteran of the music and entertainment industry, author, and director of the Music Management program at the University of the Pacific Conservatory of Music.

Here are Hatschek’s tips for goal setting, to assist you in moving forward. While he uses songwriting for his examples, this information is relevant to any career in music.

Why is goal setting so important for musicians, especially while getting started in their careers?

The habits we develop early on are often the ones we’ll stick with for much of our entire career. So getting in the habit of setting and achieving a series of goals will, over the long haul, lead to a much more productive life in music.

That may sound obvious, but I’ve known many musicians who focused with laser intensity on developing their musical chops but never actually sat down and mapped out a concrete game plan as to where they were going and the steps along the way that they would need to achieve to reach their goals. As a result, they were often frustrated, and wondered why things weren’t happening faster to arrive at the career they had envisioned.

When you talk about goal setting, people sometime roll their eyes, but goal setting is really quite simple:

  • Identify a goal. Ex: learn a new piece that requires you to stretch yourself musically.
  • Set a deadline by which you will have achieved that goal.
  • Use a calendar to mark and measure progress.

It’s easy to give up on goal setting when realistically, as a musician, you’re already so busy trying to figure out how to make ends meet. Plus, what you’re envisioning for yourself probably won’t materialize over night.

How to keep the faith and also see some returns sooner than later?

Ah, yes, the eternal struggle between paying the rent and pursuing one’s musical dreams . . . anyone who has a career in the arts has faced this dilemma frequently!

For musicians who have finished school, it’s likely most will need some sort of “day gig,” a way to pay the bills while exploring how to get enough music work to support yourself. I encourage musicians to seek out opportunities that will offer some flexibility while also allowing you to expand your skill set.

For instance, perhaps your local performing arts center, night club or music store could use some help with marketing events. Or there may be a local recording studio, Indie record label or music publisher that could use part-time help. Any of these would be opportunities to earn some money and enhance your skills. The added benefit is that in each case, your musical knowledge will be an asset to your employer and you will be expanding the network of people who may be able to help you further your own musical career goals.

Instead of looking at a day gig as a jail sentence keeping you away from doing what you love, seek out a day job where you’ll be able to develop new skills that you can apply to market your own music and build your connections to your community.

Let’s say my dream as a songwriter is to quit my day job and make my living from songwriting. What are some concrete steps I can take, along the lines of goal setting, to try to bring this about?

While it’s important to keep the long-term goal in sight, it’s actually the short- and mid-term goals that will be most critical to address.

Divide a sheet of paper into three sections and put your long-term goals and expected date to achieve them on the far right side.

Then go to the left side and start listing short-term goals and due dates there, and when you have 5-6 of these, move to the mid-term goals and due dates in the middle section.

Short-term goals are ones you plan to achieve in the next 6-18 months. Mid-term goals are those you aim to complete in 1 1/2 – 4 years. Anything beyond that is a long-term goal.


Long-term goal: to become a full-time songwriter,

For short-term goals, you could:

  • Start gaining knowledge from reliable sources
  • Subscribe to some songwriting magazines, such as “American Songwriter,” as well as some blogs and other sources.
  • Enroll in a songwriting class and joining a songwriting organization.

Set a “due date” for each short-term goal and check it off as you achieve each one.

For mid-term goals, you may decide to:

  • Meet and build relationships with music publishers, artists or music producers looking for new songs.
  • Publish your first songs.
  • Join a Performing Rights Organization (a.k.a. “PROs” including ASCAP, BMI and SESAC).
  • Record original songs.
  • Explore co-writing with established writers.
  • Build a network of producers, writers, lyricists, publishers.

Once you have a sheet with the 3 time frames and your goals and due dates noted, you basically have a career development plan. You can start using it as a working document. Every musician should have one of these and update it 3 – 4 times a year.

Networking is essential in every area of music. What are some specific ways as a songwriter I could include networking in my goal-setting plans?

Keeping up with trade magazines and industry-specific websites can be helpful. But so much of the important day-to-day information about the music industry is not available anywhere other than through conversations.

If you want to work as a songwriter, you have to meet and get to know anyone who works in that field. Songwriting organizations host workshops, clinics, annual conferences and a host of events where you can meet like-minded individuals pursuing their songwriting careers. There, you can also meet people who are further along and have established a successful writing career. You have to get out from behind the piano or computer screen and show up and meet people.

The PROs mentioned earlier also host ongoing workshops and events for their members that focus on professional development, skill-building and networking.

Set a monthly goal for meeting and connecting with new people. Mark it down on your goal-setting list. Example: Meet and connect with two new people each month who are involved in songwriting business.
Use a digital address book on your computer to transfer information from business cards of new people you meet. Sync the address book with your phone. You’ll be able to get someone’s contact info to share whenever you need it.

What tools are especially useful in goal setting?

In addition to the 3-column document with your short-, mid- and long-term goals, the most essential tool is a calendar program like Outlook or iCal to track your progress.

By the way, I like to post my 3-column goal list where I can see it, near my workstation in my home office. This provides a visual reminder of what I’m aiming to achieve.

Any other tips you’ve found useful when coaching musicians and music students on goal setting?

Balance your enthusiasm and passion with some patience. There are very few overnight success stories in music. Most successful musicians and music professionals have worked their way up over time, building their skills, knowledge and connections.

Take the 26-year-old singer/songwriter Kacey Musgraves, who broke onto the national scene in 2013. She has just released her second major label album. She started songwriting at an early age and eventually went to Nashville at the age of 19 to compete on the TV show “Nashville Star.” She started meeting other songwriters and getting to know people. She found co-writing with more established writers helpful for meeting more influential people. Eventually, two of her more established co-writers, Shane McAnally and Luke Laird, decided to help produce some demos that led to Musgraves’ signing a record contract with Mercury Records and releasing “Same Trailer, Different Park” in 2013. She accepted a Grammy for Best Country Album in 2014.

Although it reads a bit like a Cinderella story, Musgraves made connections and kept refining her songwriting skills. If you mapped it out on a goal-setting page, you’d see how achieving her short- and mid-term goals led to the accomplishment of some of her life-long goals.

Any final thoughts?

No one in music makes it on their own. You need a support system of family and mentors to nurture and guide you, give you brutally honest feedback when necessary, and help keep you grounded, especially when you become successful.

Keith Hatschek is co-author of “How to Get a Job in the Music Industry” (3rd Ed.) and directs the Music Management program at the Conservatory of Music, University of the Pacific, Stockton CA.

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