What Planning Could Be for D.I.Y. Musicians

| April 24, 2017 | 0 Comments

This is a guest post by Nicholas Quigley. To submit a guest post to Culture Shock, see our ‘Write for Us’ page.


Nobody likes being asked “where do you see yourself in five years,” “what do you plan on doing after college,” or any other measly excuse for a small talk opener that looks into your future. As artists, or more broadly, independent thinkers, why would we ever stop to ask ourselves such questions? Is it not better to just go and produce as much as possible?

photo credit: goehler.mike music forever - for chuck via photopin (license)

photo credit: goehler.mike music forever – for chuck via photopin (license)

Thinking about big picture goals can make the process of reflection and planning a little more desirable, because when we more broadly address our career goals, artistic visions, and organizational missions, we can take the critical time to reflect and decide on what really matters. This is also how we can avoid and get out of artistic dark spots, in which there appears to be no inspiration to do or say anything, that cause us to question our validity as artists altogether. “Where do you see yourself in five years?” “Do you really think you can make a living doing that?” A lot of people have fantasized about performing their rock star gig, releasing a new record to go platinum, or accidentally hearing their new single on the radio. But what if we started to work backwards from there?

It is clear that planning should begin from somewhere more meaningful than “where do you see yourself if five years?” Deep inside there is a truth that has been there since the stars exploded and set our lives into motion; you know what you want to say with your art, you know what kind of impact you want to leave on your communities, and you know what incredible qualities you have as an artist and entrepreneur that can truly create good for the world—otherwise, you would not be reading this and continuing to think critically about your future as such a person.

Let’s use the example of an album release as our end goal, and work backwards:

Release > Distribution > Marketing > Packaging > Mastering > Recording > Booking Studio Time > Fundraising > Performing Live > Rehearsing > Publishing Songs > Writing Songs

We begin with our art. Everything else will come naturally once we clear the path, stop trying to be cool, and create honestly. You and your following will come from here, and it is okay if you lose people and it is not for everybody—because nothing is.

Now we can begin to forge a path ahead that can slowly but surely deliver us to that goal. Consider your current resources; connections, communities, previously published materials. Consider your goals. Are there any links? Are there any potential links? Consider your current values and ask why someone would invest their time, energy or money into you, and then draw the connection to those links, or potential links. If it seems hard to draw such connections, force them at first. You can edit later.

photo credit: danielfoster437 Calendar via photopin (license)

photo credit: danielfoster437 Calendar via photopin (license)

Once you have taken a self-inventory that considers all of your value, your connections, and have a better understanding of your slice of the tangled web that we are all woven into, we can set forth. “Do I know how to publish my songs?” “Who will record and master the sound?” “What merchandise should I sell, and how do I get merch?” Most questions will be answered along the way, not at the beginning of your planning. What if instead, we asked questions like “who are my fans,” “what do my fans want,” “why are these people my fans,” “if my art categorically speaks to one kind of person, does it categorically not speak to or consider another?” Or, what if we asked more introspective questions, such as “what is it that I want to say,” “why should I make such a statement,” “how should I make such a statement,” or “what would happen if a room full of people knew that I thought this way?”

We should ask big questions at the beginning of our planning. Once we have a clearer idea of what our image is or can be, the path will be easier to create and fill with pit stops along the way. Critically assessing yourself and your art will lead you to more honest work, and critically assessing your following and potential following will lead you to disseminate your work more effectively. And along the way we have Google for the “how-to” questions.


Nicholas Patrick Quigley is a music educator, composer, and cultural entrepreneur in Boston, MA. He seeks to connect artists with the business practices and laws that allow them to live off of their art, and serves as a creative consultant to numerous artists in Boston and New York City.

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Category: Art and Literature, featured, Reflections

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