build a successful creative career with Dave Kusek

Dave Kusek is the author of The Future of Music, which has sold more than 50,000 copies. He’s a pioneer in the music industry, and he teaches artists how to thrive and prosper in our high-tech digital society.

This is a great interview. We talk about how to have a music career in the digital age. But it’s not just about music: we talk about setting career goals, the paths you need to consider based on what your goals are, and how to attract an audience with your web presence.

Authors can use the same strategies we talk about for musicians to build an audience online.

Dave grew up as a musician. He was a member of several bands in high school. When he went to college, he began working at one of the first synthesizer companies. He was fortunate to meet many musicians who worked with the company he worked for.

While he was working for the synthesizer company, he decided that he would prefer a role on the business side of the music industry.

He spent a lot of time developing software for musicians to record, play back, and edit music.

Dave got involved in creating MIDI files, which allow computers to recreate the sounds of many instruments. MIDI files set the stage for digital music to take off, and laid the foundation for the digital music revolution.

Dave has spent the last 14 years developing an online school for the Berklee College of Music. Throughout that time, he’s helped hundreds of independent musicians build their careers and navigate the changes in the music marketplace.

What Is Your Definition of Success?

Being able to be successful depends on being able to define what success means for you.

If you want to play gigs a few weekends a month as a supplement to your day job, that type of career is very easy to create.

If you want a music career that earns you $200,000 a year, where music is your full-time job, it’s possible in today’s world—but much harder to achieve.

Once you understand what your personal goals are, then you can put a plan in place to achieve them.

Major Industry Shifts

The major shift in the music industry over the last 15 years is a shift away from the mega-superstars that used to drive the industry to a larger number of people who perform music semi-professionally.

The same is true of the book industry—there are still mega-stars who sell millions of copies of every book, but now there are more and more people who earn a good living writing a couple books and enjoy steady, sustainable (but not blockbuster) success.

Three Major Career Paths for Musicians

  1. If you’re willing to travel and work hard on the road, you can make a decent living touring around the world.
  2. If you plan to make music for movies or commercials, you can make a decent living licensing your music for the use of others.
  3. If you are a really good songwriter and you’re willing to network your way into Nashville, New York, and LA, you can also make good money that way.


Build a Team

As you grow your career, focus on building a team that’s aligned with your vision.

The first thing you have to do as an independent artist is launch your own career. Almost everyone has to do this as an independent artist, because when you’re just starting out, nobody knows who you are and you don’t have the resources to build a team around you.

When you start on your own, you become very efficient in how you use money because you have to be. This skill will pay dividends later in life.

The next step is when you realize you can’t do it all on your own. That’s when you have to attract a team to help you achieve your goals.

The major challenge of building a team at this point in your career is that you’re probably not able to pay them.

That’s when you have to find ways to motivate people to help you. One way you can motivate people is if you’re very clear about your goals and can get other people excited about them, too. Infecting your team with passion for your vision of the future is an effective motivational tool.

As you’re building your team, consider a few key points:

  • What types of things need to be done to advance your career?
  • What are you good at?

Delegate tasks that you aren’t good at or don’t like to do to people on your team.

Go Where the Market Is

It’s much easier to be successful as a musician if you go where the market is. That means you have to move to LA, New York, or Nashville, depending on what you want to do and what market your music appeals to.

You can achieve a moderate level of success without living in these places, but in order to do that, you have to be really good at building a web presence and social media to attract an audience to you.

It’s also easier to grow your brand and business if you live in the community you want to be a part of.


Dave Kusek quote


How to Attract an Audience Online

The best way to attract an audience online is to leverage your social networks.

  • YouTube is a big part of any online music success.
  • Facebook is another major social network a lot of artists use.
  • Instagram can also be a place to find an audience.
  • Many musicians are using SoundCloud to gather an audience.

Choose one or two of these platforms and become an expert on how they work. Use these channels to help build your audience.

If you’re not sure which channels to focus on, look at your goals and what kind of artist you are.

Being clear about where you are and where you want to go will give you more clarity about the best way for you to get there.

Build a Website to Attract and Engage an Audience

Make sure that your social network profiles are leading back to your own personal website. It’s very important that you create a website that you control (as opposed to something like Facebook, which others control) where people can let you know that they’re part of your audience.

On this website, you want to have a place where you can collect your audience’s email addresses. It’s best if you trade something of value, like a freebie download, to get their email address. For instance, you could trade a song or some sort of exclusive access for people to get on your email list.

On your website, you can:

  • Promote your music
  • Promote your tours
  • Promote your merchandise
  • Start a dialogue with fans
  • Set up a point of contact for people interested in working with you

As an author, you can promote your books, stories, articles, webinars, courses, and more. You can also sell tie-in merchandise related to your books.

How to Get Your YouTube Video Noticed

When you create a YouTube video, the first thing you should do is think about your content.

  • How is it going to be unique?
  • What about your video will make people want to share it?
  • How can you make your video funny or provocative?

Using Titles, Tags, and Keywords on YouTube

The title of your video is just like the title of a book or website. It’s one of the first things that gets searched when a user types a keyword phrase into the YouTube search engine.

You want to use keyword phrases in the title so people can find your video. You also want to use keywords in the video description. This gives the search engine on YouTube another way to find what the user is looking for.

You can use YouTube’s suggested search feature to find keywords that would be good to include in your description.

All you have to do is type in keywords related to the subject your video is about and then see what YouTube’s search feature auto-populates with. The search phrases that come up are phrases people have used before.

It’s a good idea to create a call to action (CTA) at the end of your videos to help you let your audience know what you want them to do, like “buy my album” or “subscribe to my newsletter.”

The key to success in today’s world is to build a relationship with your audience—provide something of value and ask them to take another step to cement the relationship.

Time Management for Artists

It takes about 2 to 3 years of consistent effort to go from an unknown aspiring artist to a somewhat known commodity on the internet with a decent-sized fan base.

The three components of business for any successful working artist are:

  1. Craft
  2. Marketing
  3. Networking

In the beginning of your career, the majority of your time should be spent on learning your craft. You have to become really good at what you do in order to get noticed by anyone who matters.

Parallel to that, you want to set up your website and your social networks. You want to have a framework and a system in place so that when you break out, you can begin to build an audience.

The final piece of your puzzle is networking.

At the beginning of your career, when you’re just starting to learn your craft, you want to spend 50% of your time learning your craft, 25% of your time marketing, and 25% of your time networking.

When you’re secure in your craft, the amount of time you spend marketing and networking increases to capitalize on the effort you put into learning your craft.

At the end of this stage of your journey, you’re going to spend a lot more time networking than anything else. Networking will catapult your reach more than anything else you’ve done so far. But you have to have a foundation of talent and skill before your networking can pay off.

Your Team Will Change over Time

Your team will grow and change over time as you move into different phases of your career. Understand that will happen.

Be open to adding to your team when it makes sense, and make sure all of your team is in alignment with each other, and with your goals.

Links and Resources Mentioned in this Interview

The Future of Music: Manifesto for the Digital Music Revolution — Dave’s book about the digital music industry.

New Artist Model — Dave’s online business school for musicians.

CreateBiz — Dave’s new website, where he helps authors, visual artists, and photographers create a content engine around their art so they can start building an audience to sell their work.

Dave’s Amazon Author Page

Social Networks: Use these to Build Your Fan Base

Youtube — A social network built around videos

Facebook — A general-purpose social network built around sharing various content, including videos, images, and text posts

Instagram — A social network based on pictures — An online audio distribution platform