Goals on paper in a typewriter

What is your goal in music? How to work it out, and how to use it!

Have you ever felt like you have no clear idea where it is you’re trying to get to with your music career? You want ‘success’ – really want it – but have no idea what exactly you’re supposed to be doing day-to-day or even what ‘success’ looks like.

Even if you do have a clear idea of your day-to-day, a part of you maybe wonders whether you’re doing the right things. Will they lead you to where you want to be?

I’ve struggled with these questions and many other similar ones for the entirety of my musical life. What I want is:

(a) a way of identifying what ‘success’ looks like – i.e. what the ‘dream’ actually is
(b) turning that into some kind of long-term plan
(c) turning that plan into a manageable to-do list

Below, I’ve laid out the steps I took to solving these challenges. Hopefully this will give you, if not a step-by-step process for yourself, at the very least some ideas for how you can tackle the question of ‘goal setting’.

Motivational cup of coffee on a table saying "begin"
by Danielle Macinnes on Unsplash

Step 1 – Understanding your dream: what are your ‘needs’?

First, I spent some time identifying the ‘why’ – what is it that drives me to do music? What am I wanting to get out of it.

I frame the answers to these questions in terms of needs.

In particular, I have three needs I try to fulfil with my music:

1. A need for relevance – in another words, a need to have a positive impact on the people around me
2. A need for progress – to see myself grow and improve as a person
3. A need for order/stability – this is where money comes in, i.e. I want to earn enough to live comfortably and stress-free

These needs are a useful roadmap in working out the next step…

Step 2 – Work out what your ‘dream’ looks like in practice

Next, I used the needs above to work out what a ‘successful’ music career looked like to me.

Firstly, I thought in more detail about the ‘positive impact’ I wanted to have on my listeners.

I asked questions like:

How do I want people to feel when they hear my songs?
What do I want them to do?
How do I want to interact with my listeners?

What drives me to do music is the effect that other people’s music has on ME – I want to have the same effect on others.

When I love a song, it helps me see the world in a different way.

Sometimes it brings me comfort to know that others are struggling with the same emotions as me – I feel less alone.

Sometimes I am taken by surprise by hearing someone describe something I’d never thought of before, but in a way that I can instantly relate to.

Sometimes I just love a good story, whether happy, sad, mysterious, or whatever.

This helped me understand that what I wanted was: a defined number of people listening to every new song I released and feeling things like my examples above.

What is this ‘defined number of people’? I come to that below.

I also continually want to improve the quality of my songs (in my own opinion) and want my audience of listeners to grow constantly – both because of the need for progress.

Finally, I want to have a two-way engagement with my listeners – I want them to be interested in the process and the story behind the songs, and also to learn about what excites/interests them in their own lives and how my music affects them. I love conversation and really value this side of being a musician (i.e. not just making it about me!) 

Blond woman in Bose headphones listening to music on Emerging Artist
by Anya Vero

Step 3 – Working out my ‘defined number of listeners’

This is where money and numbers come in.

How much do I need to live on comfortably (whilst being able to save up and invest into my music)?

I work out my monthly outgoings – rent, bills, groceries, travel, an entertainment budget (based on going out X number of times a week) and other expenses.

I factor in tax, a bit of a savings cushion and the amount I need to invest into new music and my musical education each month.

This is an example (using nice round numbers here for simplicity!):

Per monthPer year
Living costs (rent, bills, food, travel, etc)£900.00£10,800.00
Music costs£400.00£4,800.00
Savings cushion£200.00£2,400.00

From that, I can see that an audience of 1,200 engaged listeners, each investing an average of £20 per year would be enough to fulfill my need for order/stability. Any more than that is a massive bonus!

Step 4 – Turning this numbers goal into milestones

This is where we start getting into breaking down the big target (1,200 listeners) into more manageable chunks.

The way I see it, each body of work (e.g. each single release) is an opportunity to push myself towards this target.

Rather than trying to get there from zero on Day 1, I break it down into milestones, so:

‘Forever Lost’: 20 listeners
‘Berlin in the Spring’: 50 listeners
Single #3: 100 listeners
Up until I reach: 1,200 listeners

So, let’s imagine I am at the 3rd single release, I basically need to reach 50 new people that I think will really like my music and want to engage with it going forward, whilst also keeping the previous 50 people engaged.

Step 5 – For my next release, what do I have to do to get to these 50 new listeners?

The next step involves breaking down that plan – to reach 50 new listeners – into specific tasks (projects or ideas for content).

I split these tasks up into two types:

1) Previous content ideas that can be improved

This involves thinking about the things I did before, choosing what worked well and then working out how to improve it.

E.g. Imagine I created a music video for my previous music video and the song reached new listeners because of it. How can I do another music video for the new single but improve it this time? Maybe I want to develop my visuals to make them more eye-catching, or tell more of a story with the video… If I think these improvements would help the video reach more people they’re worth the effort!

Can my newsletter be improved? Did I write a blog about the song and could it be improved?

2) New content ideas

This involves coming up with new ways of reaching potential listeners. Maybe I could create a video about the writing/making of the single as a way of getting more listeners interested it (as well as enhancing the experience of my current listeners)

Once I’ve thought through these two types of content, I should have a list of a dozen or so new or improved content ideas for promoting the song.

Overview of objects like camera, sunglasses, a compass, a notebook, pencil and a cup
by Rana Sawalha on Unsplash

Step 6 – Turn this list into a to-do list 

Now we’re into the nitty gritty. I break each content idea on the list into specific tasks.

The aim is to have a to-do list that is so clear that you know exactly what you need to be doing every day when you get out of bed.

I have a golden rule to ensure this.

Every task on the to do list has to be EITHER something that would take less than fifteen minutes OR something I’ve done before.

The point of this rule is to remove the excuse that any particular task is too long/complicated and I don’t know where to start with it.

For example: if my to-do list includes ‘making a music video’, this is fine as long as I’ve made one before and already know what I’m doing. If I don’t, then I need to break that down into smaller and smaller tasks. Even ‘write a script for a music video’ might be too complex at first – what about ‘choosing a location for the music video’ and ‘working out where I want the video to start and finish’.

Of course, you can also outsource a lot of work, depending on costs/budget – in which case you need to include on your to-do list a task to check in with your filmmaker, designer, etc.

Once you have this list, which has come directly from an understanding of where you want to get to in your music career, there will be new challenges to overcome – e.g. you’ll need to avoid procrastination, and not give up when things don’t go well (we’ll be talking about these in subsequent articles!).

But at least you’ll know what you need to do and why you’re doing it!

Thanks for reading and please leave comments or questions – especially if there are any areas you want to understand in more detail! We love researching any new challenges you’re facing so please send them through! 

Leave a Reply