Three Ways Musicians Can Level Up Their Creative Career

Three Ways Musicians Can Level Up Their Creative Career

I grew up as a band geek. I found so many other realms in music because I came out in college. I DJed house shows and the queer student union dances, and met some great indie musicians on the 'coffee house' circuit. Later I learned how pioneering they were, but at the time their music was simply...relatable. I really started playing out because of a community of womxn (mostly queer) musicians I met in Hawai'i when I moved back there to work. 

I learned how to set-up and do live sound because I would help my friend at her shows. I didn't really use the internet then (that's how old I am) -- I would hang out by the sound booth or make myself useful to kind of grumpy sound guys (that's not a generalization) who loved to talk about taming the sound beasts. 

When I moved to Seattle, I found my community in the music scene, particularly through an organization called Rain City Rock Camp. I think the common thread has been about seeing something you want or need to do and just finding a way to get going. 

The Level Up advice I'm giving is partly in reference to that—there are so many ways to find musical communities, who are also potential fans - and who will definitely recommend you to their networks if you are solid and show up. The advice might seem basic, but   sometimes just staying organized can keep you from missing opportunities to support developing your craft.

Get Organized 

There are almost always application windows for festivals, events and series. Also, grants and residency opportunities can be a great way to fund some time and space for yourself to develop around a new concept or collaborate. Streaming prep has made that turnaround even quicker and more reliant on the artists in many cases. 

Here’s how to stay organized when you apply for an opportunity:

  • Mark the application release and close. 
  • Note when you might expect to hear back.
  • Unless specifically told not to, follow up with organizers if you aren’t hearing back in the timeframe given (it may just be low capacity, but your initiative may tip the scales in your favor if they haven’t filled all the spots or they end up with a last minute opening.)
  • For pre-records in streaming, mark the final product due dates. Because there is quite a bit of editing and branding that needs to be completed, these may feel a long time before the actual event.

Keep a Calendar 

For grant, fellowships or residency applications you might want to build a few milestones in working backward from the application due date. 


  • April 30: Due Date
  • April 28: Final grammar/spell check/word-length count
  • April 25: Check all components
  • April 20: Time to have someone edit for content or style
  • Read questions and see if your responses clearly address what they are looking for a description of
  • Look at mission, key words or phrases, and/or other language from their website or literature that can be reflected in your responses
  • April 10-19: Finalize draft responses
  • April 9: Assistance/Q & A webinar
  • April 1-8: Development of your narrative
  • March 25-31: Development of  your budget
  • March: 15-24: Research on the funder’s priorities or past recipients so you know what might be appealing
  • March 15: Grant Opens - Create checklist of application materials

For Airplay, Start Local

Consider Community Radio, low power FM or Satellite stations to start to get airplay.

  • Send a professionally finished product (mastered)—even with smaller, more DIY stations, it’s important to sound great.
  • If there are multiple songs, specify a “target” song. Label song lengths. 
  • Your selection should meet the basic FCC requirements in content and is often preferred to be a certain length (for example, no longer than 4:30).
  • Include artist/album info as well as any info about release event(s).
  • If you are emailing or linking to digital tracks, make sure that it is easy to access. The more difficult it is, probably the less interested a DJ or program manager will be to give it a listen.
  • Many community stations have special-interest shows with DJ’s that suit your style or genre - whom you can send your material to. 
  • Some of these DJ’s have connections to venues, events or other parts of the industry, so if they get excited about your music, it can expand your opportunities in other ways. 
  • As with all things, it never hurts to follow-up if you don’t hear back or to thank a DJ for spinning your tune!

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