How To Ruin Your Career: Anonymous Case Studies

Before I pivoted to artist development and music production, I spent many years as an artist. I was a guitarist in a band, singer/guitarist in another, and eventually went solo as a singer/songwriter, fronting my own band. Since I didn’t really come from a very musical family, I learned to be a do-it-yourselfer. Although there were a lot of great things that I learned as a DIY’er, I missed out on even more valuable information, which hindered my success at the time. I failed to take advantage of the years of experience and knowledge from many of the industry contacts that I may have met, because I didn’t fully trust in their advice. As an emerging artist, this can prove to be a fatal career move. Sometimes the insecurities of being an artist can manifest themselves in self-sabotaging ways.

Anonymous Case Study #1

I once worked with an artist that had all the right stuff at just the right time. They were young, talented, attractive, hungry, and ambitious.  They worked hard at an obsessive pace for a number of years and were eager to prove themselves. This led to a major management company getting behind the artist, and eventually led to a bidding war amongst several labels, with one of the biggest labels signing them.

Like almost all major record label deals, this was only the starting point. When you start to factor in all of the things that can derail an artist’s career to the top, it’s a wonder that anyone can get there at all- even when success seems imminent.

This artist was up against the launches of what turned out to be some of today’s biggest pop stars, so the environment was very competitive.  Despite these headwinds, this artist still managed to have a minor radio hit and amass over a million fans and critical acclaim. But, the economy at the time was tanking. And major labels being the publicly traded companies that they are, shareholders needed to be appeased- and many artists got pink slips. Even some multi-platinum artists got canned in what was turning out to be the Great Depression No. 2 (although the media would only go so far as to ever use the word ‘Recession’).

When this artist got dropped from their label, things became uncertain. A young artist, faced with having their dream so close but then pulled out from under them (or at least having this perception) is not typically prepared for these kinds of emotional ups and downs. It’s precisely then that an artist should trust in the experience of their team. Where this artist was seeing failure, there was also opportunity.

The timing of capitalizing on any success, regardless of how limited it might be is essential, and a plan to keep the momentum of the artist’s popularity to date at the time, would’ve been the smartest play. This was not to be though.

This artist, in a reactionary state of mind, took too long to release additional material and keep the fan base engaged. On top of that, when new material was released, it was a significant departure from the style, genre, and quality that generated the initial success through collaboration. This squandered the opportunities that were created, and the artist started to blame everyone around them, instead of brushing themselves off and taking responsibility for their failures, regrouping their core team and soldiering on. Sometimes the runway of success is narrow and short. When things aren’t going in your favor, you have to be resilient and steady. The music industry is a game of staying power.

Anonymous Case Study #2

In my early days of artist development and music production, I was hired as a songwriter to help a producer and his team to develop an artist. This artist was also very talented, attractive, and had a strong voice for their genre.

After co-writing several songs with the artist for several months, an upstart management team with some B level connections heard of the artist and decided to get involved. On the merit of the material itself, the artist was able to get strong interest form a major label.

Regular in-person meetings with the label led to the suggestion that another production team, with a massive hit on the charts at that time, work with the artist short term, to see what they could come up with. Record labels are notorious for mixing things up with creative teams- despite the fact that much data points to negative results derived from that strategy. The label paid for a development deal for the artist to work with the alternate production team, spent additional expenses for travel and lodgings, and the project yielded two mediocre songs over a few days that didn’t hold up to the work the original production team had done with the artist. Hardly surprising, as the original work was developed over months of discussion, introspection, and trial and error to get the right fit.  

Nevertheless, after a small taste of some short term, material perks and attention by a major label, this artist convinced themselves that writing with multiple other teams was the best use of their energy. This strategy is hardly a bad one when supplemented to a core team, except that the artist simultaneously decided to abandon the path they were on with the original team. This was despite the feedback that had indicated that the label interest was not only in the their voice and persona, but in the songs that the core team had written- songs that were potentially hits as they defined the artist in an artist-specific way, that only a team that worked with the artist long term, and cultivated a sound with an artist, could produce.

Once again, this artist’s career fizzled and the window of opportunity closed as they refused to heed the advice of the decades of experience they were surrounded by.

Anonymous Case Study #3

This case study is probably the most common ailment of all young new artists- second guessing everything due to a lack of confidence in their own vision. I’ve seen this in very young artists- which is an expected insecurity to some degree as an artist grows. However, it’s also prevalent among artists that seem more skilled and seasoned upon first look.

This particular case study is about a young artist that was surrounded by too many people telling them how amazing they were, and not enough people delivering constructive criticism. Many months were spent on development and production, cultivating the best path for this artist’s success that blended the trends relevant to their age, genre, style, and persona. Unfortunately, the artist, getting swept up in their excitement about new music that was very underground, not very successful, and unrelated to their genre, decided that the direction needed to be changed.

These changes were contrary to the the market conditions that were initially decided on based on all of the input and factors relative to the artist. Because the artists couldn’t focus on a single path, let alone one that was the most advantageous for their success, and the consensus from the experience and expertise of the core team, the project fizzled out. And to date, this particular artist seems to be plagued by the same problems.

It can’t be stressed enough how important it is to trust your team. You choose them and work with them for the value they bring to your career, and if they’ve clearly demonstrated that that’s their core asset, then you have to be open to the process for it to be successful. As an emerging artist it’s common to overthink and second guess. It’s often the biggest thing that will hold you back.

The best approach to artist development and music production as an emerging artist is to give yourself up to the process and don’t grow attached to any one outcome, as the journey will likely be a very different one than you anticipate. Be open to the process, create and release your product, assess, adjust, and then repeat.