5 Steps Before You're Up-And-Coming

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Caroline Kingsbury details what it takes to become up-and-coming, without going viral.

A whisper of unacknowledged expectations lay dormant in my body the night before I released my first song. I was 20. The song I released got some streams and got featured in some playlists. I gained some fans and editorial praise. It was a success by all accounts for an unknown artist's first release. But, the only thing I felt was disappointment.

An overwhelming feeling of failure fogged my brain because the first song I ever released didn't go viral.

Social media is one of the main tools artists must use in order to promote ourselves. And at the time of my first release, I got wrapped up in the toxic comparison game it lulls our brains into.

I’m now 26 and I still experience many negative feelings around the release and creation of my music.

My 20 year old self would look at me now and be so excited about how far I’ve come, but still sometimes the only things I can see are the things that didn’t go right.

With any career these feelings are normal, but in a music career they can stall creativity completely.

LCD Soundsystem, 2 Chainz, Kacey Musgraves, Japanese Breakfast, Blondie, Pharrel, Lizzo, Sia, St Vincent, The National, Cardi B. The thing that all of these artists and bands have in common is that they did not experience overnight success. They actually experienced years of personal and creative hardship before they saw a glimmer of hope for their music. Some were in their 30s and 40s before they saw their dreams start to become a reality.

Despite this, there's a common misconception that newly tipped artists are just starting their music careers. Below are 5 steps most artists take in their careers before they’re considered up-and-coming, none of which include going viral.

1. Work Other Jobs

While continuing to pursue my music career, after not having a viral hit, I worked many jobs. Waitress, grocery clerk, hostess, nanny, cook…

I worked 10 different jobs before I went on my first tour.

I would stare longingly out the window at these jobs wondering what was wrong with me. Did The Beatles have to sweep the floors of a dirty restaurant after a 10 hour shift serving bachelorette parties and drunk college students? Does this make me a failure? Ha. It actually makes you a success.

Working hard for the thing you love is success, so is having your life together enough to pull it off. I worked all 10 of these jobs before I had my first song in a tv show or played a show where any amount of people knew the words to my songs.

2. Get Writer’s Block

You will get writer’s block. Let that just be a baseline expectation if you’re pursuing a career in music. Your one responsibility as an artist is to just try.

Push through the writer's block, give yourself grace if you're feeling bogged down by negativity, but don't let it keep you from trying to create.

If you're not feeling it one day, whatever, at least you tried. Maybe tomorrow will be your breakthrough day. But you will never have that breakthrough day unless you keep trying.

Keep trying. I made a 16 song album with depression and anxiety because I just kept trying. If I can do it (my vice is laying in bed and watching reality tv), you can definitely do it.

3. Be Disappointed

Start getting comfortable with the uncomfortable. Making and practicing your art can be uncomfortable. Releasing your art and opening yourself up to the vulnerability of criticism is uncomfortable.

Releasing music is a lot of effort mentally and physically, but it also brings up feelings of inadequacy you'll want to push away. Don’t hide those feelings. Those will help fuel your art in the most honest way and may help you connect to a wider audience.

If you're feeling particularly negative about something you're making, try to assess those feelings without judgment (one of the pillars of mindfulness).

Are you feeling super negative about your work because you don't like what you're making or are you worried about what people will think? It's usually the latter for me.

Try to see yourself the way your best friend sees you. They are so proud of you and amazed that you can make something so cool. In the cheesiest way ever, can you try to be your own best friend to help get your work done and move forward in your career? I think you can.

4. Practice Self-Care

Caring for yourself is the fuel of an effective creative. Imagine we have a fuel tank inside of us. If it’s empty, how do you expect to create and feel satisfied with what you create (let alone live)?

You’re an artist. Fueling your creativity is going on walks, reading, journaling, going to museums, eating consistent meals, staying connected with friends and family, meditating, exercising, whatever makes you feel great.

I’ve found that when I am taking the best care of myself, I’m less judgmental with the outcomes of my creativity.

If you’re kinder to yourself and less judgmental with the outcomes of your work, you are more likely to keep creating.

5. Keep Going

No one will believe in you if you don’t believe in you. No one will believe in you if you’re an asshole either.

There’s a balance between humility and belief that you have to find in order to make a career in music work.

Sometimes belief looks like fake it till you make it. If you’re scared to death about what people will think about your art, try to fake the confidence you seek. Do a superman pose in front of the mirror and believe in yourself, because no one will believe in you if you don’t believe in you.

I'm still struggling with all of these steps. The most important thing to remember is that overnight or viral success doesn't really exist.

Comparing ourselves to viral and believing that is the epitome of success is only hurting us and our practice of making art. We all claim to know that already, but deep down, as we scroll and scroll, we feel less than because it didn't happen to us. Just as we compare ourselves to the perfect faces and bodies of influencers with full knowledge that FaceTune is the reason they look like that.

You can’t control how other people react to your creations, how the music industry receives you or who wants to work with you. The only thing you can control is you and how you choose to take what is given to you and whether you make something out of it.

Stop worrying about when it's going to happen to you, take care of yourself and enjoy what you're doing because it can be a long road to up-and-coming.

You can read more from Caroline Kingsbury here.

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