Artist Development

Success as an artist is not one-size-fits-all and can now take on more forms than ever before

There is no universal formula that dictates an artist’s potential to reach success— it’s up to every artist to figure out what they value.

Let's Start Here by Jon Rafman

Music experts have been scratching their heads for longer than I’ve walked the earth in an attempt to create a step-by-step plan for artists to reach success. From artist to artist, the ideals that dictate what success looks like vary inevitably, but the most obvious units of measurement include: fame, fortune, longevity, social associations, accolades, and (for the traditionalists) signing a classic record deal. Today, music industry connoisseurs may also agree that artists’ development requires strategic timing on releases, tasteful creative direction, projects that are authentic to the artist and innovative to the industry, and a good rapport with people who might be able to put the artist into rooms with powerful hands. 

I’ve worked on social media teams for artists with a few hundred listeners, whose project managers have prioritized a constant stream of cheaply made content over more meaningful, quality storytelling. 

As part of the internship on one particular team, my colleagues and I were told to not only restlessly push out social media posts with no cohesion in the narrative voice between various media managers, but also were expected to play the songs from newly released projects on an endless loop while we went to bed at night.

I quickly came to terms with the fact that the internship wasn’t the place for me, as it cheapened the artistry in every single way. I never got to meet or speak to the artist whose persona I took on for a few months on Facebook and thus never got a sense of her defining characteristics. Yet I can’t imagine putting my heart and soul on the line through my music, only to have publicized misrepresentations of me, and not even consistent ones at that. 

With a bit more experience on my resume, I later worked on a major pop artist’s day-to-day management team. I learned firsthand that at this stage in her career, the objectives for advancement centered around opportunities for promotion and collaboration: brand partnerships that reflected the values and proclivities of both her and her following, talk show visits, radio interviews, magazine editorial spreads, and collaborations with other esteemed artists.

Comparing those two work environments, it became clear that through consistency in how an artist represents themselves, audiences and listeners can find something to resonate with. This connectedness is what causes consumers to listen and observe more intently over time, which, to me, is the real token of success in music.

It goes without saying that artist development is not one size fits all, but is dependent on a number of variables: the genre an artist tends to fall under, the stage that an artist is at in their career, their gender, and where their social openness falls on a scale of Frank Ocean [who is known to live a very private life] to Ariana Grande [who frequently updates her social platforms with life updates, accolades, and milestones].

While consistency is at the foreground of considerations for success, it is imperative to note that it is not mutually exclusive with change and development. Lil Yachty, now years into his career as a prominent Hip Hop artist, completely took the world by storm when he pivotally released Let’s Start Here in early 2023, an album that nods to the psychedelic-pop chords you’d expect from the likes of Tame Impala, but not someone whose discography leans more in the direction of youthful rapping over 808s.

Let's Start Here by Jon Rafman

Regardless, Yachty’s discography gives you the sense that it oscillates alongside him through the highs and lows and whatever his musical inclinations are at any given moment. While Yachty’s music isn’t always the same genre-wise, we can be sure that it’ll always feel authentic to him, and merely a reflection of his present self.

On a similar wave of curiosity and exploration, Solange, a beloved multi-hyphenate, can take on many artistic hats with grace and poise. One day, she might be making the [inarguably] best upbeat heartbreak song of the 21st Century, and the next she might have her hands tied up in perfecting a new homeware collection. 

Solange by Larissa Hoffman
“So much of what I’m being pulled by now is making sure that there is physical evidence of my legacy, making sure that I have tangible objects and history that people can hold in their hands as an embodiment of who I am and how I showed up in the world,” Solange told Harper’s Bazaar earlier this year. It’s her sense of authenticity and dedication to pursuing her imaginations that make people like me inch closer, waiting for the next orchestral project or fashion spread. 

Societal and technological advances now present us with limitless choices when it comes to both the smallest and the largest life decisions involving how we interact with the world around us– the careers and interests that we pursue, the ways we interact socially, and the artists we spend our time listening to whose success we, the listeners, ultimately contribute to. 

So while music execs sit around conference tables, preying on acts who have the potential to break into the scene by both surpassing tried and true artists on the charts and fitting in to the latest social media fads, the question every artist needs to ask themselves is, what do I hope to get out of this?

Artist Development

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