Everything You Need to Know About Band Management Part 6: Goals

(photos by Chris Rahm)
This is Part 6 of an 8-part series. Read part 1: Understanding, Part 2: Value, Part 3: Models, Part 4: Revenue, Part 5: Fans or continue below.

Enough advice, where to start?

I encourage everyone, musician or otherwise, to set SMART goals. SMART means Specific, Measurable, Actionable, Realistic and Time-Bound. Every manager does this whether they know the acronym or not. You can’t achieve what you don’t set out to achieve, unless by accident. In order to achieve some measure of success, you must first define success. In order to move forward with your career, you need a waypoint in the distance to focus on, to make sure you’re going in the right direction. Otherwise, you might be busy walking down blind alleys.

A simple goal like “Find a Manager” is not enough. You don’t know where to start or how long it’s going to take, and it’s easy to lose motivation. It’s easy to make “Find a Manager” into a smart goal:

Specific – If you’re going to find a manager, you need their names and a way to contact them. It’s never been easier to find this information or to contact people. Start by listing your favorite bands, or bands you aspire to have careers like, and then make a spreadsheet of all of their names and contact info. Instead of reaching out with something lame like, “check out my music”, figure out ways to make personal connections outside of simply promoting your music.

Measurable – If you can’t measure progress to your goal, you have no idea if you’re failing or achieving. You can measure your progress by setting specific goals, such as contact one manger per week and get at least one to respond every month. At the end of the month, you can review your progress and adjust accordingly. This prevents you from repeating strategies that don’t work, and helps you hone in on what is working. If nobody responded to you all month, it’s clear you need to change your approach. If you haven’t contacted at least one manager per week, you’re not trying hard enough. Add more measurability by setting follow-up dates for people that don’t get back to you. And stay wide open to the advice you get from the people who get back to you, because this will shape your future networking strategies.

Actionable / Realistic – These are two sides of the same coin. You want to set a goal that you can reasonably achieve. Some day you might be on the cover of Rolling Stone, but it’s a horrible goal to try to achieve in the next few months if you’re just starting out. At the same time, don’t set the bar too low. You want a goal that challenges you, not one that’s easy to accomplish. At Google, they use a system like this: if 0 is failure at something easy and 1 is total perfection at something difficult, you should be reaching about a 0.7 in the goals you set. In looking for a manager, aim for your dream managers first, then move down the line.

Time-Bound – If your goals meet the above criteria, you’ll still be at a huge disadvantage toward achieving them unless you set a deadline for your goal. Technically, this is part of being specific, but the time element gives you a carrot of motivation to work towards. It’s just the way the brain works — in order to stay motivated to achieve the goal, it has to be constantly present in our mind, and one of the best ways to do that is by setting a deadline for yourself.

I go a step further: if you’re your own boss, it can be hard to adhere to deadlines. You can always make up an excuse for procrastinating on responsibilities only you are beholden to. I recommend carefully but deliberately putting yourself in a corner. Book a gig to force rehearsal. Announce the album release date so there’s outside pressure to stick to it. Start a crowdfunding campaign on Kickstarter that doesn’t pay out until you reach your goal, and you’ll force yourself to make your goal. I think you get the idea.

Once you’ve got your SMART goals, it’s a matter of breaking them down into tasks, and then delegating those tasks (or, more likely, doing them yourself). Task management is a whole other ball of wax, and I’m not going to get all motivational speaker on you. It’s important to break down all the tasks ahead of you, but you should focus on the short-term. Have a daily task list and be very careful not to overload it. Get all the small tasks done quickly, back-to-back. Set aside chunks of your day to tackle larger tasks. Do the stuff you want to do least first. Get it over with so you can reach your goal.

It’s kind of crazy when you realize how many incredible musicians have come and gone without a trace, how many awesome songs have been written and forgotten, just because of poor goal and task management.

A lot of musicians will tell you their goal is to get greater exposure for their music. When you ask them how they plan on doing that, most musicians don’t have a plan. When you ask them how many fans they want, they just say more. If you ignore everything else in this series, please do one thing: have a goal, have a plan, and be specific.

Two Trains


Don’t confusing having a plan with sticking to it. Plans change, goals evolve.

It’s useful to use the “Two Trains” analogy to think about where you are and where you’re going. Right now, you’re on one track. You’re making music, maybe you’re making some money, but you aspire to more. Your train is moving forward, but slowly. On the adjacent track, there’s a much faster train that represents where you want to be.

Some people make the mistake of dropping everything to pursue music full time. They leap from the slower train to the faster train and hope they make a lucky jump can hold on long enough to ride.

Some people are afraid to even put one foot on the faster train, worried that they’ll lose their balance and fall off both. Some people just give up after a few failed attempts to jump to the fast train, and get used to the slow train.

You want to be the person that straddles both trains. You need to have one foot planted firmly on the first train so that you hold on to the value you’ve built around your music so far, even if that seems like not a lot to you. If you don’t make the jump to the faster train, you’ll have to start from scratch and get up to speed on the slow train all over again.

At the same time, your other foot needs to firmly be planted on the faster train. You need to commit as much as possible to gaining that foothold without sacrificing your place on the slow train. Your slow-train value is what’s giving your the stability and the foundation to gain a foothold on the faster train.

Every time you gain a foothold on the fast train, you’re setting a goal. Once you catch the fast train, you have a limited window of opportunity to push off the slow train and make it to the track you want to be on. If you blindly jump, you have to be at the exact right place and right time to make it. But if you use the foundation of the slow train to straddle and then push off of, you’ve maximized your opportunity to make it to the right track, and minimized the risk/luck factor.

A funny thing happens when you achieve your goal and get on the right track. You notice the next track over, with the next fastest train. The process begins anew.

The point of the “Two Trains” analogy is to get you to start thinking about the value of what you do now, and how to parlay that into the next thing you want to do. It goes hand in hand with goal setting and task management.

There’s a reason why every “how to succeed” book on any topic always has a huge chunk dedicated to setting goals. It’s what separates the successful from the lucky and the failed.

It’s almost like there are two kinds of people in this world. Most people walk around in life following their impulses and running on tracks designed for them by other people. Musicians are definitely not this breed of person, but sadly many remain on a track set out by others all too often. By setting goals, you’re choosing your destination and conducting the train instead of remaining a passenger.

Of course if you’ve never driven a train before, this all can be a bit intimidating. Thats why you need other people. The last two parts of this series will help you find them, befriend them, and build wonderful tracks together with fast-moving trains that carry lots and lots of people. Part 7 is about networking and how to make deals that push your music and career forward, part 8 is about the power of opening yourself up for mentorship and coaching, and resources for doing so. Read on!