Artist Development Stages

Taylor's Artist Development Stages

In this full-length video we cover the ‘Six Stages of Artist Development’. These are the six stages that I see musicians go through in the course of their career. This video is intended as a high-level overview to help you assess where you are in your music career and what you should be focusing on.

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Video Highlights:

00:15 – Musician Overwhelm
00:50 – Pareto Principle
01:21 – The Six Stages of Artist Development
01:49 – The Explore Stage
03:38 – Validating your music
04:00 – Connecting with your audience
04:15 – Two types of Validation
04:40 – Live shows and EP’s
05:32 – Refining your sound, songs and marketing
06:11 – Finding an agent
06:27 – Difference between agents and managers
06:40 – Making music your full time job
07:04 – Refining your marketing as a musician
07:17 – Viral growth
07:39 – Playing in new touring markets
07:57 – Your first album
08:50 – Stepping on the gas
09:17 – Massive fan growth
09:33 – Your first hit album
10:27 – Achieving sell-out tours
10:49 – Growing your team (techs, tour managers, merch person)
11:45 – Common issues
12:33 – Pitfalls
12:53 – The Maximize Stage (difficult second albums!)
13:13 – Sponsorship and Endorsement deals for musicians
13:30 – Consolidating your live music career
13:48 – Musicians and bands as ‘Cash Cows’
15:00 – Renewing your music career
15:15 – Taking risks with your music
15:42 – Reinvention
15:54 – Reconnecting with your audience
16:19 – Rediscovering your love of music
16:52 – Building new audiences
17:17 – Case Study
17:58 – Bringing it all together


Hi, Its’s James Taylor from Gigs Academy here.

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:


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 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.

How to measure if your music is connecting?

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.

Live Shows and EP’s

At this point in your career you are probably starting to do more shows. In the Explore Stageyou 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.


Now Stage 3 is all about Refining. Authors know this. An author will write their first draft of a book or a novel. That’s really just for them. The second stage is for editing. That is still really internal, maybe just showing a couple of people it. The third stage is when they are really refining their product. In your case you are going to be wanting to refine your sound, refine your songs, refine your live shows.

So also find at this stage you might get your first agent. I do a whole course just about the process of how to find agents, how to get agents, how to build relationships, getting multiple agents. You may also be getting a manager at this point. I also do a whole module in one of my courses on the process of getting a manager, the difference between agents and managers, when you might want one over the other and when you bring them both into the party.
Taylor's Artist Development Stages

At this point you are starting to do pretty much non-stop touring if you are an artist. At the Explore Stage you might be holding down a full-time job because you want to see if your music  works first and then if it is Validated. At the Refine Stage it’s been Validated and you decide to step things up. Your sound is going to become a lot slicker and you are really starting to work on your marketing. You are looking at how you can make your marketing as refine as your sound and your live shows.

The way you know you are doing this stage well is because you start to see viral growth. You start to see a lot about your music and your live shows. It’s one of the first indicators that agents look for and it’s why you get agents. They start to see this happening in the market at the same time.


It’s also a good point when you start looking at new markets. Let’s say if you are based in Germany and you start doing some touring in the UK or if you are on the East Coast of the US you start doing some shows in Canada or California. You are starting to open up new markets.

Also at this point this is normally when a band or an artist will do their first album. At this point the album can be self-released or it can be on an independent label that is really strong in their style of music, in their niche. You know that you are getting this right if you have a slick sound, your marketing is much tighter (it doesn’t have to be perfect), and you are touring in new markets. Music is full-time for you at this point and it has to be to make it work.

Once an artist goes through these there stages I see a lot of them getting stuck between the validate and refine stage or the refine and this next stage.


The Supercharge Stage is all about stepping on the gas. You’ve got your solid foundation in terms of your music, your songs, your live shows, your fans. And now it’s a case of stepping on the gas. Really applying yourself. Intensively working on your career as a musician.

This stage is normally demonstrated because you start to see massive fan growth. This is when you start to see mass adoption, people coming to your music, buying your albums, buying tickets for your shows. It is 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 you say ‘hit album’ they think that means a million copies. Depending on what style of music you are involved in that is maybe not necessarily 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 they are releasing albums once a year, at a more rapid rate. It really depends.

I’ve worked with artists in the classical world, the jazz world, the rock world, even in dance music. I’ve seen it this supercharge stage being applied to different genres.

The other thing you’ll start to notice here is that you are going to start to get your first sell-out tours. In the Refine Stage you’ll start to have sell-out shows but in the Supercharge Stage you’re going to see an entire tour sell-out. That’s when you know that you are at this stage, that you are getting mastery of this stage.


Another by-product of this is growth of your team. At Refine you may have an agent, manager and attorney. At the Supercharge Stage you are likely to have a tour manager, guitar tech, drum tech and merchandise person. I’ve seen artists that do really, really well at this stage because as well as building their fan base they are also able to build a great team around them that are around for years and years. These people can make life on the road much more enjoyable because there is a camaraderie with a team that you don’t always get in the early stages when you are a lone wolf.

Most of the issues I see are either when an artist is between the Validate and Refine stages or the Refine and Supercharge stage. I have entire courses on the live side on how to take your live career from one stage to the next. I’ll tell you about that in some future videos.

So to recap, you’ve started Exploring. You’ve Validated your market. You have Refined it, you’re getting much slicker with your shows and songs. And then you get your first hit at the Supercharge stage. At this point I see a number of artists just moving back to a previous stage because they are not prepared or they haven’t done the earlier stages well and have rocky foundations.


You got to the fifth stage in the sequence, this idea of Maximizing. This is the typical difficult second album stage if you are a recording artist. What you find here is that this is the stage where you look to maximize your revenues as an artist. At this point you are starting to do endorsement deals or sponsorship deals. You are adding new products outside of just your typical recordings and live shows. Maybe you are having VIP levels that people can buy so they can meet you after the show for example.

At this point you are consolidating. The whole point of this stage is to consolidate and to not move back. It’s like snakes and ladders. You want to continually working to move up to the next level. Artists at the Maximize 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 at the Validate Stage, who is just starting to build their career and as a manager they are helping the artist Refine their career.

They’ll have an artist that is maybe getting their first hit. That’s a really exciting time for a manager whose artist is getting their first hit album. It’s a great buzz to see your artist becoming successful.

And then they’ll have what is called a ‘Cash Cow’. This is an artist who has maybe been around for a little while who can pull in good audiences, sell-out tours and have successful albums.

Many artists will stay at this stage or they will go back. It is often difficult to stay at this stage and keep your music the same. You really have to go to the next stage.


The sixth stage is all about renewing your music. It’s about renewing your brand, renewing your music, renewing your live shows. It’s about injecting new life and ideas into your music.

I’ve worked with artists at the Maximize Stage who have become stale and they need to take risks and renew their music. The classic examples of this are Davie Bowie and Madonna, who every few years will give a new lease of life to what they are doing. Maybe it is new collaborations or new inspirations.
Maximizing Your Music

Now we look at the ‘Three R’s’ of his ‘Renew Stage’. Firstly their Reinvent. They are masters of reinvention.

Secondly they are looking to reconnect with audiences that were perhaps with them right at the very start but have maybe lost that relationship with them. They want to reconnect with those audiences and reconnect with what they feel makes their music. Maybe it’s about renewing their sound.

Then they are Rediscovering. They are rediscovering their love of music. At this stage I’ve seen artists who are on a bit of a treadmill of just touring nonstop, releasing music, the press interviews and they get burnt-out. They have to sometimes take a step back and rediscover and fall in love again with why they got into music. Why do they write songs, what do they love about playing live, what do they love about being in the studio. So that’s an incredibly important point.


Also here they are looking to build new audiences. What you will always find is that as you work on your next project or album you’ll find people leaving you. That’s fine. They move onto new artists or they may leave your music for a while and then rediscover it again.

I did this very successfully with an artist who’d had lots of big hits in the 80’s and 90’s but who had gone away because they had some issues. What they needed to do was renew themselves as a band and they did it incredibly well and 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. And suddenly they were filling out arenas again, having top ten albums. They had reconnected with what fundamentally made them a band and why they got involved in music in the first place.

I hope these six stages have been useful to you. They provide you with an overall framework on how to think about your career. As you can see the kind of things you are looking to achieve at the Explore Stage are very different to those at the Supercharge Stage. Don’t ever be fooled into thinking that you need to do all these things all at once. As you progress you will need to do different things. You are going to want to put different emphasis on building different parts of your career.

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

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

At the Refine Stage you are polishing your music and live shows.

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

Then you are looking to Maximize all of this and create new revenue streams.

And finally you need to Renew yourself as an artist.

I hope this video has been useful to you. I’d love to read your comments and answer your questions. Please leave them at the bottom of this video. I look forward to catching up with you soon.

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