Firstly, it depends on what your idea of “making it” is. Sometimes people get so wrapped up what the idea of success used to be (getting signed, having a song on the radio or on TV), that they forget to define their own goals. Set goals for yourself, and keep your eye on those goals. Do the things that get you closer to those goals, don’t get sidetracked. Achieve, then set bigger goals. My band’s first goals included: making a 4-song demo, selling out the Whisky-A-Go-Go, and winning a Grammy (it was a while before we achieved that last one!). Your goals could be: reaching a certain number of fans on your mailing list, selling a certain number of units online, or headlining a show outside your home town. Define your own success, and go for it.
Secondly, get familiar with the industry. Read books like Passman’s “All You Need to Know About the Music Business,” and get to know the landscape. I talked more about that in this previous post: http://www.mikeshinoda.com/blog/How_To-Responses_To_Fans-Music_Business-Featured/how_to_artist_royalties_indie_v_major
Lastly, a major mistake I see young artists make is committing themselves to a contract that they regret later. Usually, it’s a record contract, publishing deal, or signing with a manager. Incidentally, I’ve found that too many managers out there are awful–some are bad at their job, some are just bad people, and some are both–and once you sign on with a manager, you’re generally stuck with them taking 15% of the income of anything you did while they were your manager, which includes writing a song or making an album.
I think the most effective way to protect yourself from this stuff is to get an experienced music attorney before you sign a single contract. Do NOT hire a regular attorney; you need someone who specializes in music. Your music lawyer will advise you on any deal you might sign. The industry is always changing, so contracts are always changing–and too often they’re re-designed to take more money from the artist. You need someone to advise you of your rights, and help you do everything you can to retain those rights. Look at your favorite successful artists’ album liner notes, see who represents them, and contact that attorney’s office. If they like your music, they’ll want to represent you, and you’ll have an expert on your team who can help you make the connections you want to make.
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