We tend to be in “highlight” mode lately. After all, a brand new year is approaching and overflowing with new opportunities for independent artists. To gear up for 2012, we’re recapping some of the most essential topics and tips we’ve discussed with Michael Blanton throughout 2011. This month follow our guide below, and advance your musical career with Michael’s key steps to artist development.

1. Start with a song.
Finding the right songs can either open or close the door for your career. Virtually anyone can be an artist today, given the available technology and resources, so it’s critical your songs stand out and present something different from what everyone else is doing. Learn to ask for feedback and develop yourself from constructive criticism.

2. Interpret yourself vocally.
Never get lazy with your vocal training. Always push yourself, and do more than what you think you’re capable of doing. Be creative, and do something original with your vocal presentation. Realize there is no voice like your voice. Work with what you’ve got.

3. Find a producer.
And not just any producer – form a true partnership with a producer who can envision how your talents fit into the big picture. Find someone who can listen to you as an artist and can blend with you creatively, not overtake your vision. This will help ensure your creativity is made bigger, better and brighter than it could ever be on its own.

4. Advertise yourself.
Think outside of Facebook, MySpace, YouTube, iTunes and Kickstarter. These are all fantastic and necessary outlets to promote your music, if not the best, but how do you truly promote yourself? Think visual, and specifically concentrate on local and regional markets. Get broadcasted on local television, get featured in a local filmmaker’s documentary, use college campus networks, or book a gig at a local event or music festival. Making these small milestones will put you closer and closer to accomplishing your big picture goals.

5. Network, network, network.
Even the most talented musician can’t get very far without knowing the right people. Educate yourself about all facets of the music industry, and meet as many people as you can. Go to conferences and meet other artists, worship leaders and organizations. You are only as powerful as the network of people you know, so make it count.

6. Consider hiring an artist manager.
A good manager can make your career, just as a bad manager can seriously break it, so don’t esteem this decision too lightly. Being a successful musician goes way beyond the music itself – you need to book gigs, schedule tours, negotiate deals, sign contracts, find licensing opportunities for your songs, and give interviews. Get to understand this process and know where you stand in your career. Your ideal manager is someone who can seamlessly align your artistic vision with your business operations.

7. Also consider hiring an agent.
The right time to hire a booking agent is not a matter of “if” but a matter of “when”. Judge where you’re at in your career. You may not need an agent now, especially if you’re just starting out. However, when you do get far enough along in your career, an agent will play the biggest role in organizing your tour and making it successful.

8. Social networking is big.
In today’s music business, the Internet is changing everything. But don’t worry, this is good news. That little “Like” button on Facebook and “Share” button on YouTube can connect you to any listener in the world. That’s more than any artist has ever been able to do before, so embrace this new age of technology and make it work for your musical career.

9. Make your music as accessible as possible.
Integrate your Facebook page, website, iTunes, and all other platforms to create a seamless brand for your music. Listeners don’t want to work hard when it comes to new music, so hand it to them. They’ll like you for spoiling them and will pass your music around because of it.

10. Be ready to resolve the tough issues.
When difficulties arise in your career, have people on hand who can help resolve it. The subject of rights and credibility can be one of the trickiest matters in the business – who owns what, and who gets paid? You probably don’t have all the answers, and you rightfully don’t need to. Consider hiring a lawyer to help you with agreements. Taking the extra step into making things legal may cost you a little money now, but can save you a lot of money later.

As an independent artist, there are a lot of things to think about to make sure your career shines brightly. Do what you do best and surround yourself with people who can fill in the holes where you may lack. Believe it or not, being a successful musician is a team effort. Accept this, and you will be well on your way to making 2012 your best year yet!

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