I had the opportunity to speak with producer and music artist Jonathon Eley as well as singer/songwriter Jaycob Curlee about their experiences in the music industry. Both building their music careers from the ground up, these two artists know exactly how it feels to try to make a name for themselves in this fast-paced world.
If you’re struggling to make yourself stick out from the crowd, learn from those who have gone before you:
1. Let the music grow organically
According to Eley, music is “the most authentic part of it.” Ryan Lewis taught him that “good music will spread.” He tends to go with the flow when it comes to making music, but he tries to stick to a strategic plan when promoting and marketing himself.
2. Love it
Eley encourages artists to do it for more than just the dollar. You have to love the music because this industry is unstable. He says “love it like a girlfriend…it can seem like a real relationship.”
Like any relationship, it takes love, but it also takes hard work and dedication. Eley loves his work, stating, “I can’t wait for people to see what we’re doing here because it’s only going to get better.”
3. Appreciate the fans
Eley’s upcoming concert in Atlanta has fans coming from hours away. He prides himself in knowing his fans by name.
“I’m connected to them on a personal level…One day it will be too big and I won’t be able to talk to everyone, but while we’re here, I’m going to appreciate the people who are here early,” says Eley.
Curlee’s favorite aspect of performing is seeing his fans sing along and knowing that he has that emotional connection with them. He attributes the growth of his fan-base to social media, but he believes that face-to-face interaction makes a bigger difference.
4. Don’t get a big head
Eley originally struggled with wondering why his music didn’t “blow up.” He knew he was good and he did not understand why he was not growing his fan-base right away. He encourages artists to “keep your head down and just work.”
He advises artists to be patient, always holding to the mantra “If the music is good, it will spread.”
Although booking can be a struggle for independent artists, Eley encourages them to push through the pain. According to Eley, “It’s all about perspective and how people see it.” Eley believes “I don’t think I put out bad music. I think it could be respected on a good professional level…it’s all perception. You just have to meet the right person.”
He encourages patience during the time between starting out and “making it.”
6. Make yourself known
Artists struggle to make a name for themselves when they do not have a label backing them. Eley has personally experienced this while trying to book shows in Atlanta.
He says, “One in particular was Center Stage. They were going to charge me $3,000 for a 300-cap room, and when you think about, it I wouldn’t make any profit whatsoever.”
Because he does not have a label behind him, the expenses seem unbearable and venues sometimes do not even contact him back. He has discovered that making himself known is the best way to go.
He prides himself in his work, stating, “Every show I’ve done has been a show that I’ve created for myself. I’ve made the opportunity. I’ve put the money into it…and we’re expecting a sold-out concert this time (in Auburn, Al.).”
7. Avoid Complacency
Eley advises, “Don’t overthink. Just start. Always put out music…Love what you do and everything else will follow. It will all come to fruition.”
Curlee admits to falling into the trap of complacency. He has taken a few breaks from music since his debut on America’s Got Talent and has previously regretted it, but he also believes in finding a balance.
8. Focus on more than the music
“I love music and it will be a continuous part of me, but it has been very beneficial to free my mind,” says Curlee.
He believes that focusing on more than the music allows him to find more inspiration when he dives back into it.
9. Surround yourself with the right people
When entering the music industry, finding a mentor is vital. Curlee says having someone who has “been there, done that” has significantly influenced his career. Eley was that person for Curlee.
Curlee believes, “Your friend group should be people who are going to support you musically.”
Eley also has some connections in the music industry, like Algee Smith, who has contacts otherwise unavailable to him. Although he does have a few connections Eley says “Everything else has been us…it’s been slow and tiring at times, but I haven’t really had any handouts.”
10. Collaborate… but not too soon
Even though Eley felt like he had really made it when he was able to collaborate with Ryan Lewis, he feels that his most recent album ‘After the Internet’ is gaining the momentum that he wants to see. He attributes some growth of his fan-base to his collaboration with Jaycob Curlee, but both artists believe establishing a personal foundation and sound is vital.
Eley warns, “It’s a good idea, but don’t lose yourself.”
If you’re struggling to make a name for yourself in the music industry, don’t lose heart. Although it’s a competitive field, it is an attainable goal. People like Jonathon Eley and Jaycob Curlee and so many more know how you feel. They are cheering you on.