Believe in your value
Starting out, it can be tough to have confidence in your work. Jusnah Gadi, founder of Young Music Boss, a platform to empower young music entrepreneurs, says ‘Believe you are what to you want to be. Call yourself a musician, an artist, a DJ’. Introduce yourself as the role you want, and people will believe it.
Music Solicitor Simon Jordon followed this rule himself, ‘I went round telling people I was going to be a music lawyer without really knowing what it was.’ Several years later, he works for Russells, one of the leading firms in the entertainment industry.
Seshie Henry, founder of I AM NEXT, a platform to support young talent, added: ‘Understanding yourself is the most important thing when you’re an artist.’ Your belief in yourself is vital to getting others to believe in you too. Henry has been running the company since he was 17, aiming to continue to ‘push the boundaries and nurture up and coming talent.’ His work ethic is based on confidence. ‘No one is always going to be there to help you. You have to find the help.’
Tony Nwachukwu, producer and founder of CDR Projects agrees, insisting: ‘Believe you have something to offer.’ The company programmes events to build a network of creators.
Make use of what you have
There's a common misconception that to make it big you have to make it in London. Nwachukwu suggested: ‘Rather than try and do the London hustle, build your brand at university. Set a club up, do your own party, do your own flyers and social media. It’s a really good time to cut your teeth not only as a DJ but as a promoter. Build your confidence on your own terms. You’ll know two or three years down the line if you want to continue into a career.’
Singer and DJ Murkage Dave did just that. He went to Manchester University but got kicked out because, he said, ‘all I really cared about was doing music’. But, he made use of the city while he was there. ‘There was something missing from the scene when I was in Manchester so I brought that vibe of pirate stations in London to Manchester and started putting on parties. Since then I’ve booked Ed Sheeran for like £50, and Tinchy for £75.’
Networking is vital. Form relationships with those passionate about music around you. ‘Your opportunity could be right next to you,’ Gadi said. ‘Look at your peer networks and seek opportunities within them.’ Rich Austen-Smith, founder of Giant Artist Management, advises looking for the musicians who challenge themselves with new work. ‘Always look for artists who are pushing culture forward.’
Karen Tillotson, founder and director of creative agency, Week of Wonders, recommends collaborating with other people who have a slightly larger following. She also suggests putting songs out through Tunecore or just taking the leap and making a record label. ‘Make sure you’re a face everybody sees. Be bold, talk to people. They might take your email and need some help in the office one day.’
When asked how a music photographer can get representation when they’re getting nothing back from agents and managers, Tillotson’s advice was straightforward; ‘Forget that,’ she said, ‘go straight to the source. Find new musicians online. Ask if you can come and shoot them. Build a great portfolio of work.’
Focus on the craft
However much you publicise and meet people, it'll come to no good if your work isn't strong enough. Work on the craft first and then work on selling it. Nwachukwu advises artists to stop using package tracks and focus on the craft of songwriting. ‘Work acapella, it’s about you finding the structure and space of the music on your own.’
If you are a songwriter, you also have the ability to sell your work to others. ‘The songwriting part is what’s going to make you the money’, Nwachukwu said, ‘you can think of yourself as a brand that way.’ Murkage Dave added the importance of reflecting on your work. ‘If you’re not getting that result take a look at your work and approach.’ It's a hard balance, he said, between self-awareness and self-confidence.
Don’t fear rejection
‘In this industry the only guarantee is rejection,’ Gadi said. ‘You just have to deal with it.’ Her advice is to have a positive outlook. ‘I don’t see it as a ‘no’, I see it as a ‘not right now’.’
‘You’re always going to get ‘no’,’ said Seshie. ‘It’s about finding your position and your purpose. Think: This is what I can give and this is what I can share.’
Murkage Dave believes the most important trait for dealing with failure is resilience. ‘Always speak to that person. Always send that email. Always send that track.’
Just get started
‘It’s not easy, but make things,’ Austen-Smith said simply. ‘Build your own momentum and opportunities will come. If it’s something you can do yourself just crack on and do it.’ Henry agreed. ‘I really wanna push the message with young people that it’s DIY or DIE.’
Listen to your peers too. Find people you can trust to give honest feedback. Austen-Smith said, ‘If there are people around you who are positive with what you’re doing, go with that.’
All our experts agree that they're winging it most of the time, and are all still learning. To continue to improve, a mix of optimism and practicality is key. Aim high, Gadi advises. ‘I haven’t done anything compared to what I'm aiming to do.’
Words by Kate Wyver
This session took place on Wednesday 31 January 2018