John C. Maxwell: “Fail early, fail often, but always fail forward.”
So, you just released your new music - and now it’s a few days, a week, a month, 3 months later. You've been checking your stats every day - monitoring the streams for your single, EP, album, etc. And now - low and behold - you can’t avoid the truth.
Your new release has tanked.
Yes, it looks like a bust (well, so far). And you have to start accepting the reality of the “no streams” public shame on Spotify (meaning your music has streamed less than 1,000 times) and let’s be real - there really are no “signs of life” anywhere else i.e. Apple, YouTube, etc.
God. All that time, effort, money - blood, sweat and tears (trust me, I know there are tears, sometimes) - is just looking like - nothing.
Less than nothing.
To compound all of this - we’re in a society where everything needs to happen “right now.” Additionally, we also hear all the fairy tale stories of this artist or that person breaking through on TikTok and reaping all the rewards - literally overnight.
Unfortunately, we compare ourselves to their success. Where are my millions of streams?!
We feel like losers. (I’m being real here and a lot of this post is going to be about - being real). Well, maybe that TikTok artist is really talented. Maybe they got lucky? Or maybe that TikTok artist’s music was total junk.
It doesn’t really matter - because comparing yourself to someone else - just isn’t going to help, and it’s not fair to you.
And by the way, this is probably a good time to point out that perhaps the best way to not have a failed release- is to give yourself the gift of a real music release plan! In fact, you can have mine here. It’s the Teachable Digital Release Blueprint! it’s my own plan which I’ve developed over 100 releases. The Teachable course will show you exactly what to do when, in full step by step detail with over 70 video modules!
And now back to the post.
What the Hell Happened with my Music Release?!
This post is just not for those of us who have achieved under 1,000 Spotify streams status. Because conversely, maybe your first few releases went great, or hell, even your single went viral!
Let’s say you got 10 Million Spotify streams on your first song - or even 100 Million!
And now your next single comes out and hmm - for whatever reason - you haven’t been able to replicate it.
Shit - once again! Either way.
It’s likely you might be having some internal dialogue like “This sucks,” “I suck,” “What went wrong?” “My manager f’d up!” “My label dropped the ball” etc etc.
Well, there’s a couple things we’re going to go over in this post which is basically all about - dealing with the “F” word.
And on that note - here’s the first lesson.
There are no failures. Just lessons.
An experience can be a failure, however, if you didn’t learn anything from the experience then it really is a failure.
That’s right - if you laid a goose egg and you didn’t spend time doing a re-evaluation top to bottom - including your actual music, to see how your next release can do better - then maybe it was a failure because you didn’t learn anything from the experience.
Often we need to just look at these events as lessons...so we can learn, improve, modify, rethink, reshape and push through to the next challenge.
So that’s lesson one.
Now let me tell you something. Hear me and hear me well!
Every successful career is like a vessel - continually filling up with small fails / losses / unexpected bad experiences (my own included). And each setback is a challenge and test of your desire to make it.
My own days are often filled with passes, rejection, and unmet expectations. What we’re doing - isn’t easy - at all.
But all of these small losses, sideways events, cancellations, deals gone south and … Spotify releases under 1,000 streams --- will be the fuel that changes the tide - so that you’ll have small, medium and large individual wins that tip the scale of success to your favor.
That’s right - it takes time for the proverbial tipping point!
This is the path. That’s just how it goes. Expect it.
In fact, if you view it this way - it’s necessary for those bumps in the road, so they can later be converted - becoming the proverbial fuel of your success.
Note that while part of failing and misses is part of the story and building your foundation, there’s also a time in this re-evaluation to determine if something is actually, seriously broken.
Like - maybe you do need work on your musical direction, maybe it is your management team, co writers, your own strategy - and yes, from a Jocko Willink perspective via his amazing book “Extreme Ownership” - 100% of the time - ONE. HUNDRED. PERCENT. OF. THE. TIME. - any failure needs to be attributable - back to YOU. (But that’s for later in the post.).
And who knows - maybe it is time to pivot, or hell - even quit!
However, for the clients I work with and even my own endeavors, in all cases where I know there is greatness, rarely is quitting the answer.
Moreso it’s about what Seth Godin calls “pushing through the dip.” For more on this topic, I’d highly recommend Seth’s Book of nearly the same title, “The Dip.”
Additionally, I implore everyone to acknowledge this concept from James Clear and his book “Atomic Habits.” The lesson is summed up in the image below. It’s what he calls the Plateau of Latent Potential and here it is (image compliments of James Clear).
What you’re looking at above - is the emotional graph of what every artist, startup, creative person, athlete, business, etc. goes through before making it to achieve their goals and arriving at success!
So, while it may or may not be of consolation - this is what generally happens with a n y o n e - and everyone who has MADE IT! And not just anyone and everyone who makes it...but who continues to make it!
Whether it’s Katy Perry (who made 3 records that never came out before her really big first success), or Alicia Keys (being dropped from her initial label) or Steve Jobs being fired from Apple (from the friggin’ company he created out of his garage?!! - imagine that!), or Colonel Sanders trying to sell his special Kentucky Fried Chicken Recipe - with no takers - at 73 years old (!!!) the stories are abundant.
Repeat after me.
“This Shit Does NOT Happen Overnight!”
And for those TikTok artists or “moment” artists where it does happen overnight - lightning doesn’t strike twice, or the ego gets so inflated, that just as quickly, the next release - their career is often over as soon as it started.
And certainly, I can personally testify to things taking longer than expected. It took me about 7 years after graduating Berklee College of music, working my day job and writing songs at night and weekends - to finally have one of my songs recorded by another artist - (Here’s looking at you LFO - thanks for that). Of course I thought my first cut would happen in less than a year.
Also, this blog you’re reading, launched around May 1, 2017 took me until October 24, 2019 just to get traffic of over 10 visitors a day. Yes, that’s 2 and a half years - to get over ten friggin’ visitors on a daily basis!
And then - It took me until January 2021 (another 15 months) to crack 100 visitors a day!
Translation and reality - with the blog you’re reading now - that’s 4 years of pumping out content, doing socials, making website improvements, SEO, running some ad campaigns, etc...all of that! Just to finally get to a point where this blog (in June 2021) has a legitimate, small but growing fanbase.
So, here’s an honest question you need to ask yourself.
Are you willing to pursue your creative efforts for 1 year, 3 years, 5 years, or more to see just the first sparks of something happening?
Again, looking at the above graph - I can tell you that I 100% thought, in the first month of launching my website - it should be huge. I should have at least a hundred visitors a day.
The reality is that only happened like 4 years later!
4 years in the Plateau of Latent Potential!
But this is N O R M A L !!!
And while this process was discouraging, disappointing and disheartening - seeing nearly zero results to my effort on a daily basis - I also knew that this is what should be expected. Why?
You see, I’ve been developing talent (songwriters, artists and producers) for over 25 years. I’ve seen my client’s growth and the amount of time and effort it takes. I’ve been able to understand and witness the process.
In all cases (including my own) you need to put in the years (literally) to be able to stand back and look at the results.
It always takes longer than what we think it will.
This is also what Seth Godin calls “the dip” and also where most people (I hope this isn’t you) just decide - it’s not worth the struggle, sell their microphone and quit.
“The Dip” is also that point of “I can’t take it anymore” and throwing in the towel - and this is often when success is right around the corner.
In fact, I know one amazing songwriter...he was actually doing quite well, got a big publishing deal, and was getting serious cuts on big artists, but after 5 years, tons of grind - there was still not a hit.
And let me tell you…there’s a ton of grind just to get on a marginally well known artist’s record - let alone a superstar recording your song!
Well, he was in “the dip” - and I know he was just about to give up. Is all of this worth it?
The next month - all of the work he did in the last 5 years, 10 years etc…aligned and voila - he had his 1st #1. But literally - in the meantime he was packing up his apartment the day before.
Sometimes - it goes back to that old adage “It’s always darkest before the dawn.”
Here’s another analogy.
How many times have you been driving on a freeway, a little lost and you’re almost sure you missed your exit!
Then, another exit goes by.
“Damn - I’m sure I missed the exit. Well, let’s go one more exit.”
And when that one isn’t the right exit - you decide to turn around - but low and behold - your exit on that highway to success is literally the next one. If only you just had a little more patience and grit. The analogy here is - don’t let this be your career!
I don’t know how muchI believe in equations or miracles - but one of my other favorite authors, Hal Elrod, really brought it all together in his book “The Miracle Equation.”
Hal Elrod is an incredible author, selling millions of his self published books per year (including another great book called “The Miracle Morning.” But in the early days - his story is probably much like yours.
To share a comparison - here’s Hal’s graph of sales for his book, “The Miracle Morning.”
Hmm, does this graph look familiar from a previous graph shared earlier in the post?
Hal released his book “Miracle Morning” with a pretty strong launch but then guess what?
You guessed it - Hal was in the Valley of Latent Potential for another year or so.
But one thing Hal believed in - was using the tools and lessons he learned in life … not just from (true story) beating cancer but also fully recovering from a head on drunk driving collision!! Facts!
Hal’s formula for having a successful book release campaign (and all other hurdles and goals in his life) has been the following: 1) have “unwavering faith” and knowing innately through and through that you and your project will be successful and 2) putting in extraordinary effort.
There is also a 3rd component to the formula.
The 3rd component is being emotionally unattached to the immediate results.
And note, being “emotionally unattached to the results” is especially hard when “nothing” seems to be happening and the rent is due!
Now, it might not appear anything is happening. You may not be seeing signs of success. You’re not seeing your career moving and the dollars showing up in your accounts.
But success is like an iceberg. All the important movement is happening under the surface.
You’re gaining one fan there, then 5, then 10, then 2, then 14, then 1 then 100...then a compounding effect begins!
Yes...more word of mouth, a few more blog posts, this podcast, this performance, this TV appearance, this social media post, etc. compounded via daily efforts..and then your “wave” starts building and building and building - until you have a tsunami and an iceberg swelling underneath you.
You know how powerful or hard it is to stop a tsunami...or an iceberg? Just ask the Titanic.
That’s ultimately what happened to Hal!
In fact Hal had a whole year where he was promoting the hell out of his book - and on the surface, not much to show for it. The effort was not proportionate to the results!
Hal would do 10 podcasts in a week and his book sales would actually go down! But Hal stuck to his formulae:
Unwavering Faith + Extraordinary Effort = Miracles.
And thus, Hal ultimately had … a miracle.
Today, Hal sells millions of self published books, creating a huge business and brand around his “Miracle Morning” and “Miracle Equation.”
It’s exactly the same for you. Your “graph” of success (assuming you have an incredible product) is likely to be similar.
And by the way, I’m of course telling all these stories and making all these references - to reassure you that it’s normal, and highly likely on your first releases (or 5th or 11th, etc), especially with 300,000 new music releases per week, that no one - really is going to care.
So, if you’re reading this and you’ve had 4-5 crappy releases in a row - this is normal!
Here’s 1 other crazy piece of advice.
Your Career is Happening Over the Next 5 to 20 Years.
Not the Next Month.
This is another tool for your mindset, and I guarantee, if you put this into perspective - it’s going to take the edge off. You’ll be able to breathe a little deeper and have a lighter weight on your shoulders. And the secret is this …
Think of your career in the scope of the next 25 years.
Yes, I said 25 years.
Now, if you’re 15 years old (and I know one 15 year old on my roster who might be reading this, whereby 25 years might just sound ridiculous), just hang in with me here! Because it all can’t happen “tomorrow.” So, at least think of your career over the next 5 years! LOL!
With that in mind, check this out. This is one of my coaches (one of the best in the world), Dan Sullivan.
Thinking about your career in terms of decades (or for myself, building a brand and a business - over the span of 25 years), it takes the edge off a little - and sometimes a lot!
Why? Because we ALL want it to happen next week. Actually ... tomorrow, no, TONIGHT!
So if I'm thinking of my business - I'm thinking about the end game and allowing myself the gift of time to make this end result happen over 25 years, with accomplishments happening year by year and quarter by quarter.
While I'm going to attack every day on this journey, I'm also going to do my best to enjoy it along the way. I'm also going to make sure I forgive myself for not having the success that I perceive should have already happened - like yesterday.
For a note on “enjoying the journey” - I present an amazing video as a collaboration from three of my favorite minds, philosopher Alan Watt and Matt Parker and Trey Stone of South Park.
Remember - it’s a journey.
It’s not the end result.
You have to enjoy the journey.
So please, enjoy it - yes, even if it’s enjoying the delicious Rice-a-Roni and the 4 hours of sleep you got before hitting your nine to five.
I know this might not provide much comfort when you’re in the thick of it - but looking back one day, you’ll probably reflect on those moments as incredible growth periods - and you’ll be glad you stuck with it.
So - getting back to our dilemma at hand, if you did have those handful of stinker releases - where nothing seems to have happened - well, perhaps nothing did. Or maybe you found your first 10 core rabid fans, that just exponentiated to 100, and then 1,000 and well, you know where this is going.
Maybe this was a learning experience. Or maybe staring at your “under 1,000” Spotify streams fuels you even more to make it and crack your own personal code for success.
But another thing to keep in mind, and again, citing Hal Elrod - is to be unattached to those releases - where nothing “seems” to be happening.
Hopefully you learned something from the experience. You found out what worked and what didn’t. You gained some insights on where to get the most bang for your buck, and also - probably - realized that it was just a little too early to hire a publicist for $3,000 a month. (been there, done that).
Whatever those lessons are - write them down, reformulate, try different things, learn also what DID work. Rinse and repeat.
Now, I mentioned “A Rising Tide Lifts All Boats.” You might have to go through your release process like 5, 10, 20 times...and maybe it’s the 22nd song you put out - and not only is it your best work - but it CONNECTS!!! YAAAS! Your new single lights up! You get some Apple Editorial, maybe the labels start calling, you have a “TikTok moment”…whatever it is.
Your spark just went off. It’s happening - finally!
Now - not only do you just have your one song taking off. You have a BODY OF WORK!!! And maybe - just maybe - those stinkers of releases - aren’t smelling so bad anymore! Whoa!
That’s right! Hopefully people are now diving more into your work and all your songs are streaming exponentially.
Yes, those stiffs of a release from 2 years ago - are starting to cross the finish line and stand up for you! Maybe some synch and music supervisors are requesting some of your old releases, etc! As I mentioned, “a rising tide lifts all boats!”
Yes, this is what it’s about - it’s building the whole story and building the whole foundation and pie - so that when you do have that moment - your past work will pay you in the future.
And that’s a beautiful thing.
There’s one last concept I want to share here…and that’s the idea of Extreme Ownership: How U.S. Navy SEALs Lead and Win. I’m reading this book right now by Navy Seal, Jocko Willink and Leif Babin.
Just one chapter into Jocko’s book - epiphany upon epiphany hit me harder than a ton of bricks (or a WWE wrestling champion).
In short, Jocko tells a story where he and his warrior SEALs were deep in battle...and everything went SNAFU (situation normal all f’d up).
Through a series of miscommunication, wrong data and bad decisions - Jocko found his crew in a life threatening situation with heavy fire, casualties and one death.
The tragic thing is that this was all “friendly fire” - meaning it wasn’t even from the enemy … allied units were shooting at - each other!
There were probably a dozen things that went wrong on the mission. However, when asked by his superior command - “how did this happen?” - instead of Jocko blaming his subordinate officers or the “fog of war” or a list of other excuses - Jocko took the high road and said “This is 100% all my fault.” “There is no one other to blame here than myself.”
Even though it clearly wasn’t.
However, Jocko took the philosophy of what he calls Extreme Ownership. He was the leader here - he was in charge.
He was the CAUSE IN THE MATTER.
It’s All On You
With that being said, Jocko, in front of his SEAL team and commanding officers, stood up and took full responsibility for the failure. This not only leveled himself in front of everyone’s eyes - but everyone on the team pulled themselves up and each took on a whole other level of personal responsibility.
And while most officers in this situation might have been demoted, Jocko won respect and kept command of his unit.
Translated to real life - what happens most of the time, myself included - is (and yes, I have my fair share of bombs) when something doesn’t work out - we immediately try to find someone other than ourselves to blame.
I’m reluctant to expose this, but it’s my personal experience that executives, creative people, writers, artists, producers, etc - especially those that are a little (or a lot) out of touch…do this ALL. THE. TIME.
Here’s an overheard list of excuses - of people blaming everyone else, except themselves.
You get the idea.
Now hear me and hear me well.
The only person that is truly responsible for your non success (and future success) is - you.
Instead of trying to find blame with others - and even worse - comparing your success or lack of success to others - it’s time to both identify what went wrong - and for you to take full responsibility and ownership of the issue.
You can start with the music.
For example - Was the song / production, etc. really something that demanded to stand out of the 300,000 music releases that week?
Is your voice really that great?
Was the production amazing, etc.?
Did you annihilate the competition?
Could you have marketed your music differently, did you really exhaust every possible opportunity and option to get your music heard?
Did you give the publicist enough time and ENOUGH OF A STORY to set this record up, etc....the list goes on and on.
The truth is, I felt compelled to write this post as a few artists and writers in my circle, recently have been going through this - and yes, it happens to even the pros…even when it’s in the context of - my last 3 singles went to #1 and this last one only went to #63!
So, I hope this blog post was helpful for you to push through the dip and thus, make it all ultimately happen.
I also HIGHLY encourage you to buy those books I just mentioned, dive into those mindset pieces - and also, most importantly…the last lesson of the post:
Forgive yourself a few times a week for whatever it is.
Forgive yourself...for not having 1 Million Monthly Listeners on Spotify.
Forgive yourself...for only having 100 followers on TikTok and that - it’s OK if that feels really crappy.
Forgive yourself...for your big launch that fell on complete deaf ears.
We all tend to be (if I were to guess) too hard on ourselves. So forgive yourself because…
THE PAST DOES NOT EQUAL THE FUTURE!
What happened on your last release - does not mean that the next release is going to yield the same results.
That last co-write session that was a complete waste of time - doesn’t mean at all the next one will be!
Start and launch all your creative endeavors with this mindset and you’ll be on your way to having a winners mindset.
So again, remember - at the end of the day:
I really hope this was all helpful and these mindset pieces will help see you through to the other side, where the wins and successes are so abundant that you’re literally tripping over them!
One day you can look back and have a laugh, smile and give yourself recognition and marvel at just how far you have come and the success you’ve unlocked by:
Staying true to yourself,
And the process.