Taylor’s Artist Development Stages

In this post I wanted to talk about the six stages of artist development. These are the six stages that I see musicians go through in the course of their careers.


Everyday I'm contacted by musicians around the world and many of them just feel overwhelmed by all the things they are told they should and shouldn't be doing to take their career to the next level. I think a lot of the uncertainty stems from them being told that they should be doing ALL these things. And frankly as you progress in your career as a musician you are going to find that you'll have to do DIFFERENT things.


The first thing I see is a lot of overwhelm in the calls and emails I get from artists.

The second thing I find is that a lot of artists are just trying to do too much. They need to think about the 80/20 rule, the Pareto Principle. 20% of the things you are going to do are going to deliver 80% of the results. I see a lot of artists, because they have no strategy for their career and because they are told they should be doing all these things, trying to do too much. As a result they don't do any of them very well.

So these six stages are really the classic stages of the career development process for musicians and artists. I've worked with artists at all stages of this. I've worked with the artist that is just getting started in their career to the artist that are getting their first albums out. From artists who are getting traction in their career and that are having hits, to musicians and bands that are trying to reinvigorate their career. They maybe hit a plateau in their career or their playing. So let's get started:

Stage 1 - Explore

The first stage that any artist starts on is what I call the stage of Exploring. The Explore Stage is that classic stage where if you are a band you are going to be forming the band, you are going to be getting together to rehearse and write those first couple of tunes. If you are an artist you've perhaps got an idea of the sound that you want but you are really exploring your capacities as a musician. You are starting to build your craft as a musicians or a band.

At this stage your objective should really be to try new things, to discover new sounds, write in different ways and work-up new material. So don't try to feel that you need to start getting out there and marketing in a big way, setting up websites, contacting promoters and doing all the big heavy-duty stuff at this point. You just want to be exploring your creativity as a musician.

At the Explore Stage you may be doing your first shows or recording your first tracks to let people hear. The biggest thing you want is feedback. You want feedback from trusted advisors or friends. You are not looking to go out into the world. You are just looking for some initial idea of is this working? So at this stage just focus on getting feedback. That's your goal at this Explore Stage. Once you've nailed that part you start to move onto Stage 2.

Stage 2 - Validation

Stage two is all about Validation. The idea of validating what you are doing. I'm not necessarily saying validation in a commercial sense. It doesn't always mean that. What you are trying to do is get validation that there is interest in the music that you are creating. There is no point in trying to push to these other stages until you have a sense that your music is connecting in some way with your target audience.

There are two ways to measure Validation. The first is money; people are paying the tickets to go to your shows or they are buying those downloads. The second one is attention; you are getting a lot of likes on your Facebook page, you are getting followers, you are maybe getting initial coverage for you and your music. Those are the two ways you can track interest.

At this point in your career you are probably starting to do more shows. In the Explore Stage you were doing your first shows and demos but at the Validation Stage you are starting to take it up a level. You are adding more shows now, you may be releasing your first EP. You are not looking for it to sell a million copies but you are wanting to find out if the music you are putting out there is being validated in the market. Do people like what you are doing? At this point you also want to find out if your music is connecting with your target audience. There is no point starting to ramp up and move if what you are doing isn't connecting. If people aren't coming to you and feeling really strong about what you are doing then you are not getting a sense of validation. That's Stage 2.

Stage 3 - Refine

Stage 3 is all about Refining. Authors know this. Authors will write their first draft of a book. That first version is just for them to get their ideas out of their head. The second part is that they start editing. They are still internal or maybe showing a couple of people it. But at this third stage you are really looking to refine your sound, refine your songs, refine your live shows.

This may be the stage you get your first agent or you start looking for your first agent. I do a whole course just on the process of how to find agents, how to get an agent, how to build relationships with agents and getting multiple agents. You may also be getting a manager at this point as well. I do a whole module in one of my courses on the process of getting a manager as a musician and providing answers to the following questions:

  • What is the difference between a manager and an agent?
  • When do you want both?
  • What are the roles of the music agent or music manager?

At Stage 3 you are pretty much doing non-stop touring as an artist. In Explore you are holding down a 9-5 job, music isn't your full-time thing yet. By the Refine Stage your music has been validated so your sound is a lot slicker.

At Stage 3 you are really starting to work on your marketing. You are looking to make your marketing as refined as your sound and your live shows. The way you know you are at this stage and doing it well is because you start to see viral growth. You start to get a lot of word of mouth about you, or your music, or your albums or your live shows. That's one of the first indicators that we look for. As an agent you look for this indicator. Agents start to see this happening.

It's also a good time to start looking at new markets. Let's say you are based in Germany. You start to do some touring in the UK. If you are based on the East Coast you start doing shows in Canada or California. You start to open up new markets.

Also at this point this is when we normally see a band or an artist will do their first album. The album can be self-released or it can be on an independent label that is really strong in their style of music or niche. You know that you are getting this right if you've got a slicker sound and your marketing is much tighter. It doesn't have to be perfect but it is certainly much better than at the previous stages. You are touring in new markets. Music is full-time for you at this point and it has to be to make it work.

I see a lot of artists get stuck either between the Validation and Refine Stage or the Refine Stage and this next stage. This next stage is where a lot of artists want to get to.

Stage 4 - Supercharge

The Supercharge Stage is all about stepping on the gas. You've built up an audience by this point. You've got a solid foundation for your music, your songs, your live shows and your fans. Now it's a case of stepping the gas. Really applying yourself and very intensively working on your career as a musician.

At this point you normally see massive fan growth. This is when you start to see the mass-adoption of your music where large numbers of people are learning about your music and buying tickets for your shows. It's also the time you probably have your first hit album.

When I talk about hit albums I'm always conscious here that for a lot of artists when they hear you say 'hit' they think that means a million copies. Depending on what style of music you are involved in that is maybe not the case. I've seen artists have incredibly successful careers and a hit album in their market is 10,000 copies, or even 5,000 copies because they have other revenue streams or are releasing albums at a more rapid rate. It really depends.

I've worked with artists in the classical world, in the jazz world, in the pop world, in the rock world and in dance music. I've seen all these different stages and I've seen it applied to artists in different styles and genres.

The other thing you are going to be noticing here is that you are going to be getting your first sell-out tours. At the Refine Stage you'll probably start having sell-out shows. But now you are going to see an entire tour sell-out. That's when you know you are at this stage. That's when you know you are getting mastery of this stage as well.

Another by-product of this is the growth of your team. At Refine you may have an agent and an attorney to help you with any contracts. At Supercharge you are going to start having things like tour managers, guitar tech, drum tech or a merchandise person on the road with you. I've seen artists do really, really well at this stage because as well as building their fan base they are also able to build a really great team around them and their music. A team that are then with them for years and years. People that can make life on the road much more enjoyable because there is a camaraderie with a team that you don't get at the early stages when you are a lone wolf or touring on your own as a band. That's the Supercharge Stage.

Most of the issues that I see, and artists that contact me, are either trying to get from Validate to Refining or Refining to Supercharge. I teach entire courses on how to take your live career from Validate to Refine or Refine to Supercharge. I'll tell you about that in some future videos.

So you've started Exploring, you've Validated what you are doing and got feedback. You have Refined and gotten much slicker at your marketing, your stage shows, your songs and then you get your first hits, your Supercharged. At this point a number of artists just slide back to earlier stages because they are not prepared for their success, perhaps that haven't done some of these other things and have rocky foundations. If you go on from this stage you progress to the fifth stage in the Artist Development sequence.

Stage 5 - Maximize

It's the idea of Maximizing. It's the difficult second album stage. What you find here is that this is when, as an artist, you are looking to maximize the different revenues. At this point you are maybe looking to do sponsorship deals or endorsement deals. You are adding new products outside of your typical recordings and live shows. Maybe you are having VIP tickets that people can buy to meet you after the show. All these different multiple revenues streams are starting to come into it. At this point what you are doing is consolidating. The whole point of this stage here is to consolidate and end up not moving back. It's like snakes and ladders. You want to stay there or move up to the next level. Artists at this stage are normally referred to as 'cash cows'. What you'll find is that a manager will often have three artists in their roster. They'll have an artist who is just starting to build their career and the manager is helping them refine their career. They'll have an artist that is maybe getting their first hit. That's a really exciting time for a manager when they have their first hit. It's a great buzz to have that and see your artist become successful. And then they'll have what you call a 'cash cow'. This is an artist who has been around for a little while, who can pull in good audiences, sell-out shows, every time they release an album it will achieve a certain number of sales. These are the 'cash cows'. Many artists will stay at this stage or go back. I think it is often difficult to stay at this stage and keep your music the same. You really have to go to the next stage.

Stage 6 - Renew

The sixth stage is all about Renewing. It's about Renewing your music, Renewing your brand and Renewing your live shows. It's about injecting new life and new ideas into your music. I've worked with artists who are at the Maximize stage who have become stale. Their music can become stale. They need to take a risk and they need to Renew their music. The classic examples of artists like this are David Bowie and Madonna who every ten years give a new lease of life to what they are doing. Maybe it's new ideas or new collaborations that they are doing. There are three R's that relate to this idea of Renewing. The first is that they reinvent themselves. They are masters of reinvention. Secondly they look to reconnect perhaps with audiences that with there right at the very start. They have lost some of that relationship with their early fans and now they want to reconnect with those audiences. To reconnect with what makes them. Sometimes it's about reinventing their sound. Finally they are rediscovering. Often artists that are at the Maximize stage are on a bit of a treadmill. Touring non-stop, the releases and the press interviews and they get burnt out. They have to take step back and fall in love again with why they got into music. Why do they right songs? What do they love about playing live? What do they love about being in the studio? That's an incredibly important point.

Also here they are looking to build new audiences. What you'll always find as you work on your next project, your next live show is that you are going to see people leaving. That's fine. That happens. They move onto new artists or they leave your music for a while and rediscover it again. I did this very successfully with an artist that had lots of hits in the 80's and 90's and then kind of went away. They really just needed to Renew themselves as a band. They did it incredibly well. One of the ways they did it was appealing to these new audiences. In this case it was appealing to the children of their original fans so that the parents and the kids would come along to their shows. They were suddenly filling out arenas again, they were having hit albums again, top 10 albums. It was because they reconnected with what fundamentally made them as a band and why they got involved in music in the first place.

I hope these six stage have been useful to you. They provide you with an overall framework to think about your career. As you can see the kinds of things you are looking to achieve at the Explore Stage are very different from the Supercharge Stage. Don't ever be fooled into thinking that you need to do all these things people are telling you to do right now. As you progress in your career you are going to be wanting to do different things. You'll want to put different emphasis on building parts of your career.

At Explore you just want to be spending your time woodshedding. You want to be in there writing new tunes, trying new ideas, new concepts and experimenting as a musician.

At Validate you want to find out if your music is connecting with people. Does it hit them? Does it make the impact you want your music to make?

With Refine you are really polishing what you are doing, the live shows and music you've created.

And then you are Supercharging, having great fun knocking it out of the park.

You are then looking to Maximize all the hard work you've put in for as long as possible and to create new revenue streams.

And finally you are needing to Renew yourself as an artist.

I hope that this video has been useful to you. I'd love to hear your comments and answer your questions. At the bottom of this video there is a section to ask questions and I'm happy to answer those questions as well. I look forward to catching up with you soon.

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