Setting Goals for Your Music Career – The Ultimate Guide

Posted by on Feb 4, 2020 in Pick Yourself | No Comments

Setting goals for your music career can be tricky. What should you aim for and how high? How many goals should you choose? How can you measure success in the end? In this ultimate guide to setting goals as a music producer or DJ, you’re going to learn how to pick the right goals and strategically work towards achieving them.

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The problem with goal-setting as an artist

First, let’s make one thing clear. There’s a big difference between having a dream and setting a goal. As a music producer or DJ you might be dreaming of releasing on your favorite labels, touring around the world, and bringing home loads of cash every month. Let’s not even talk about all the love you’re getting on your social media profiles.

While dreaming of big achievements can be a wonderful motivator, we must not confuse it with setting goals. Dreams are usually imprecise and not connected to any strategic foundation. Goals instead have to be crystal clear, strategically chosen, and measurable. How else would you be able to determine success?

Sexy goals aren’t good goals

Setting goals for your music career shouldn’t be about a big, sexy dream. Let me give you an example: Imagine two artists and call them Jamie and Lisa. Both of them have ambitious goals this year: Jamie wants to finally release an EP on “Funky Dream Records” (yes, I just made this up) and play a tour through the UK, France, and Germany. His financial goal is to earn his first 5.000 bucks with his music this year.
Lisa, on the other hand, has the goal of sending three tracks per quarter to a list of ten carefully selected labels. Apart from that, her second goal is to write at least three outreach emails per day to show promoters and clubs. Lastly, she aims for an average fee of 300 bucks per show and commits to setting aside 1000,- per month as an investment in her music career.

While Jamie’s goals might sound very attractive at first glance, they are in fact nothing but vague dreams. Lisa, instead, has put a lot of thought into her goals. They are precise, measurable, and focus on what she has to put in to make stuff happen. In contrast to Jamie, she doesn’t focus on what might or might not be a result of her efforts.

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Setting goals for your music career that move the needle

Now that you know how to discern dreams from goals, let’s talk about how you can set goals as an artist that make a difference in the long run. I’m going to show you four aspects that are going to revolutionize your goal-setting process.

1. Break your big vision down into yearly goals and weekly or daily actions

Don’t get me wrong, I think it’s great to have a big dream or vision. This motivator can be the thing that keeps you going when times get tough. So let’s start with your vision and see how you can strategically work towards making it come true.

Let’s take the example from above and turn Jamie’s vague dream of releasing music on “Funky Dream Records” (our imaginary record label) into actionable goals. So what does it take to make that happen? Here’s my take on it. If you want to release music on a well-respected label, this is the minimum you should have under your belt:

  • Several releases on well-known (but small) underground labels
  • Some articles and interviews on blogs or in magazines
  • A recommendation by a trusted source that personally knows the label founder or A&R person

From vision to goal

As you might have guessed, achieving these steps will take years of work. Even then, there’s no guarantee of making your dream come true. So let’s break it down into measurable goals:

  • 1st goal: Produce one EP per quarter and send it to ten underground labels in the genre niche of “Funky Dream Records”
  • 2nd goal: Create a press release for every new EP and send it to a list of 20 music bloggers & journalists.
  • 3rd goal: Reach out to one artist on “Funky Dream Records” per week and try to establish a personal relationship with them. Additionally, research three music events and conferences this year where you can meet people who work at the label.
Setting goals as a music producer or DJ visual 01. It shows a funnel that leads from big vision to yearly goals to action steps.

From goal to action

Now you can break these goals down further into action steps that you have to integrate into your daily and weekly schedule. For goal number one, it could look like this:

Part 1 of goal 1: Produce one EP per quarter:

  • Block at least ten hours per week for producing and songwriting.
  • Set aside a realistic budget per EP for external help (if needed).
  • Revisit episode 20 on finishing more songs.

Part 2 of goal 1: Send it to ten underground labels in the genre niche of “Funky Dream Records”:

  • Set aside one “label research” day this month to collect a list of relevant labels as well as contact details of the right people there.
  • Revisit episode 18 on how to submit songs to labels and create a checklist for the process.
  • Consider a plan B of starting your own label.

The idea is to create a roadmap that you simply need to follow in order to get closer to your goals (and ultimately, your dreams). Setting the right goals for your music career has the positive side-effect of pushing you from “dream mode” into “action mode”. Yes, it starts to sound like a lot of work suddenly. But hey, if it was easy, anybody could do it, right?

2. Pick the right goals and measure your progress

By now you should have a good idea of goal-setting for musicians and DJs but there’s still one big elephant in the room. What type of goals should you pick to begin with?

Less is more

I highly recommend you focus on a few carefully selected goals per year that make a big contribution to your vision. My personal sweet spot is between 1-3 goals.

My most important goal last year was to launch the podcast and publish at least 20 episodes. I’ve done 22 and even if I haven’t hit another (less important) goal, I still feel like last year was a great step in the right direction.

Lead indicators vs. lag indicators

I’ve come across a great framework in Cal Newport’s book “Deep Work”. It’s the concept of lead indicators vs. lag indicators. When you’re setting goals as a music producer, you can either choose what you put in (lead indicators) or what you might or might not get as a result (lag indicators). To give you an example:

Let’s say your goal is to play at a festival with 10.000+ guests. This is clearly a lag indicator (a result) of other things you have done in order to then be booked for this festival. Writing to five festival bookers per week would be a lead indicator because this is the work you put in so hopefully you’ll get booked for at least one of these festivals.

Overall, you should focus on picking goals that can be measured as lead indicators that will, hopefully, lead to the desired result. There are several advantages to this:

  • Lead indicators are action-oriented, whereas lag-indicators are result-oriented
  • You have more control over what you put in compared to what you may or may not get out of it
  • You can adjust your goals easily if you notice that you’re on the wrong path

The SMART goals method

“What gets measured, gets managed”. Have you ever heard that phrase? It comes from the business world but I believe it holds true in almost every aspect of life. Setting goals as a music producer or DJ is only effective if you can measure your progress.

You might have heard of “SMART” goals before. This acronym stands for:

Specific

Measurable

Attainable

Relevant

Time-bound

If your goals match these criteria, you can easily measure your progress and adjust the efforts you’re putting in. This way, you can focus more on the process and less on the goals themselves (here’s a great video on the difference in mindset).

The SMART method is a pretty good framework for goal-setting as an artist because it forces you to think a bit harder and not slip into “dream-mode” again.

Goal-setting for music producers and DJs visual 02. It says you should focus on lead indicators and measure your progress regularly.

3. Review and adjust your goals regularly

It’s absolutely okay to adjust your goals from time to time so they match with your reality. If you tried to make a full-time living off your music, went all in, and suddenly realized that the money you had saved up was gone sooner than expected, you will have to make adjustments. It’s best to anticipate obstacles as soon as possible and react accordingly. Setting goals for your music career should be an ongoing process.

The power of monthly goal-tracking

If you’ve followed the tips above, you should by now have a clear set of goals that are measurable and focus on lead indicators. Now it’s important to make sure you stay on track and do the work.

Goal-tracking works best as a daily as well as monthly routine. Select a fixed spot in your calendar where you review your goals. It’s important to do this in written form (physically or digitally) because this is the only way you can look back and be honest about what you’ve achieved.

The daily goal tracking is quite simple: Have done the one, most important thing of the day? Needless to say, this thing has to be a lead indicator connected to one of your goals. My “one thing” today is finishing this blog bost (which takes about 4-5 hours by the way).

Monthly tracking works in the same way but involves looking at the bigger picture. If your goal was to write 5 emails to show promoters per week, you should have, ideally, written 20 outreach emails at the end of the month. So you go to your emails, count the number, and enter it in some kind of “goal tracking” spreadsheet. In this sheet, you can compare your performance month by month and see whether you’re getting closer to your yearly goals.

Setting goals for your music career only makes sense if you’re tracking your progress. Otherwise, you might end up shocked and confused at the end of the year, much further away from your vision that you had thought.

“Eat reality for breakfast”

This is really cool punchline by the author Dr. Henry Cloud. In our case, it means we have to accept the fact that some goals don’t make sense anymore and we have to adjust them. If you’re getting signed by an awesome booking agency, it might cause harm to still write outreach emails to show promoters. In this case, you need to shift priorities and focus on another goal that moves the needle.

Even if you find out that you’ve been too optimistic about the time you can spend in the studio (besides your 40 hour day job), you have to accept the fact and adjust your goals. You’re not a failure if your goal tracking shows you that your perception of reality has been slightly distorted. That’s fine, adjust your goals and move on.

4. Get an accountability buddy

It’s quite easy to lie to yourself and feel comfortable doing so. We all enjoy getting a pad on the shoulder, even if in reality, we haven’t performed as expected. Therefore, installing external accountability can help enormously.

Setting goals for your music career visual 03. It says you should find an honest, reliable, and encouraging accountability buddy.

Setting the right goals for your music career is hard enough but it’s even harder to fully commit to hard work every week. The good news is: You’re not alone. There’s a good chance that someone just like you screws up just as much. Why not help each other?

An accountability buddy is someone who reviews your goal-setting process as well as your tracking together with you. In a best-case scenario, this person is straightforward, honest, and doesn’t accept your silly excuse of “xyz got in the way of me doing the work”.

Where to find an accountability buddy

You can find great people in your direct circle of artist friends or join online groups where like-minded people hang out. You might want to check out the Facebook group that’s connected to this blog and podcast: Pick Yourself – Electronic Music Mastermind Group

Ideally, accountability buddies should have the following qualities:

Having this kind of support can push you enormously. I have benefited greatly from it and can’t recommend it enough!

Putting it into action: Setting goals for your music career the right way

You now have all the tools you need to set the right goals as a music producer or DJ. But where should you start? Here are three action steps that you can implement right now.

1. Take a look at your current goals and analyze them with the following questions

  • Are they clear goals or vague dreams?
  • Have you picked a small set of really important goals?
  • Are you focusing on lead indicators or lag indicators?
  • Is it easy to measure them regularly and adjust them if necessary?

2. Define your long-term vision and break it down into a few actionable goals for this year

  • Ask yourself what you can realistically achieve this year and create not more than three SMART goals.
  • Create a monthly goal tracking sheet and set a calendar reminder to regularly measure your progress.

3. Find an accountability buddy

That’s it for this episode, I hope this was helpful. I’d love to know from you: What goals have you set for this year and what has been your biggest issue with goal-setting so far?

Let me know in the comments, I’d love to hear from you!

If you’re now comfortable with setting your goals as an artist, you might want to check out some other areas where you can make progress. I’ve put together a free resource called “The Seven Strategies of Highly Successful Electronic Music Artists“. Simply click on the image below to access this guide.

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