How to Create a Sustainable Music Career – The Best Places to Put Your Time and Money

Based on the Podcast Episode: “Saying Yes to Creative Opportunities and Living Boldly with Roz Pappalardo” – Episode 8, The Magic of Songwriting with Francesca de Valence

There are more artists than there are managers in the world and record deals on offer.  And so it’s highly likely that most artists will remain self-managed and independent throughout their careers.

How can artists balance building necessary business skills for their career whilst staying open to the magic of creative collaboration? And how can they do this in a sustainable way?

In this podcast episode, discover how you can learn to build creative and professional networks in an effective and authentic way. And explore what goes on behind the scenes for an independent, self-managed artist. This is a fast-paced conversation that is sure to propel you forward in your career. If you’d prefer to skim over the notes, see our blog piece below.

What skills do I need to learn to be a self-managed, independent artist to have a sustainable music career?

Over your career you will learn a series of highly finely tuned skills which you will get better at over time:

  1. Learn to balance planning whilst also leaving space for creative magic

    You don’t want to do just creativity or just business. We recommend a mix of yearly planning, building necessary skills for your career, and allowing space to follow your intuition and connect with people for that creative magic.

  2. Learn to be flexible

    We need to be flexible as artists to be able to tack and change as we go and as necessary to take advantage of opportunities that aligns with our values.

  3. Learn to manage your money

    Learning to manage your money will allow you to be able to pay yourself and your team, and build your business in a sustainable way. We talk about investment versus recouping below in more detail.

  4. Learn to lean into your values and use your gifts

    Do you know what they are? If not, this is a foundational element that is worth getting clear on before moving forward in your career.

  5. Learn to communicate effectively

    It’s important and empowering to be able to articulate your creative ideas, as well as effectively communicate about your music to the world.

  6. Learn to build relationships, manage relationships and work with people

    And do it in a way that feels authentic and genuine to you. Creative careers are really about human relationships and encouraging people to come along on a journey with you. And this happens on all levels – audience, artistic projects and at a business level. Get comfortable with networking and making new relationships for your career. It’s important for your career to grow.

But I Don’t Like Networking…

Most artists don’t love the idea of networking. What if we can shift your perspective about how you see this? What if networking is like making friends? You can totally bring your authentic self to this process. In fact, we recommend this.

Networking is not about handing out business cards, but by being yourself and trusting that your personality is fine as is.

As an emerging artist, you probably aren’t natural at networking yet, but you will get more confident in your ability to do this. We don’t start out confident. The more than you do it, the less scary it is. And as you continue to make great creative work, you’ll gain clarity in what you deliver and the quality of it over time, and you’ll start to back yourself more naturally.

Embrace it. You’re going to make mistakes and learn from this, so do it anyway.

Where are the best places to invest my time and money to have a sustainable music career?

Having a sustainable business is quite simply about managing money in and money out over a period of time. When you’re starting out it’s important to understand the economics of the business models for emerging artists around investments versus recouping on investment, especially around promotion and marketing a creative project.

The record label side traditionally took care of recording costs and promotional costs for the artist, and touring and merchandise was the traditional recouping method.

So as an independent artist, who takes care of these costs now? You do.  And these costs can still be quite high compared to the opportunity to recoup these costs.

Let’s look a scenario:

You might be looking at A$1500 per track to record, mix and master, plus any other assets like a music video, promotional images and artwork (let’s guesstimate A$1500), and at least A$2000 per release to promote if you use a PR agency. These approximate costs are completely reasonable and realistic costs for emerging artists in 2022.

What’s your plan to recoup these costs? Unless you can play a tour and make $5000, you’re likely not going to recoup on this outlay. And if you’re just starting out, you are probably still growing your audience so playing a tour isn’t your realistic next step.

So how can you minimize these costs and maximise your opportunity for business success? How can you have a sustainable music career?

We recommend that emerging artists invest in learning new skills

This might mean you learn how to do some of the record tracking yourself, so you’re paying for less studio time. Barter with some musicians to play on their recordings and ask them to play on yours.

Collaborate with other creatives to make a music video. Use an artwork creator like Canva to save money on album artwork.

And learn to do your own PR, build media relationships, and learn to promote your own work. Especially when you’re starting out. By paying someone else, you’re missing out on the opportunity to learn new skills and build your network. And your relationships are everything!

It’s about realistic and smart business choices at the stage of the career that you’re at, and learning and cultivating business skills for future career projects.

But learning new skills is hard…

If you want to make this a successful career path, whatever success means to you, you have to plan and be prepared to grow. It’s about commitment to yourself and your path.

Emerging artists struggle with finishing stuff and sharing it with others. Acknowledge the feeling, have the feeling, write about it, use it to create. But don’t let it stop you from doing it. Get comfortable and used to learning, as you will have to move through that to have the career you want.

Sometimes it’s not easy to see where the opportunities will come, but with that mix of planning and being open, that will get you on your way to being ready.

In a really simple version of this, Roz shares about her band Women in Docs when they were starting out 20 years ago:

“We would take gigs before we had a set of original songs. And that meant that we had to come up with another 5 songs”

Saying yes when you’re on your way to being ready and getting there but not 100% there can be a push in the right direction. And the opportunities come in that space.

Need some help on your path?

Both Roz and Francesca mentor in Level Up Club – a professional development opportunity for emerging artists. Find out more here.

Timestamps for podcast audio:

3:45 – Plan and cultivate necessary skills for your career whilst allowing space to follow your intuition and creatively collaborate with others.

12:20 – Learn to build creative and professional networks in an effective and authentic way.

19:15 – Investment versus recoupment. The economics of the business model for emerging artists.

24:50 – Roz shares a personal experience of how striking up a conversation at a gig in a new town resulted in her writing her first theatre show.

30:44 – Discomfort leads to blossoming. Find the benefit and opportunity.

40:00 – Embrace your gifts. Roz shares her gifts and how they show up in her creative practice and career, and how these only become deeper and elevate in other ways over a career.

45:37 – We discuss some of Roz’ projects and the process of reimagining how she wanted to be seen as a solo artist with the release of her latest solo album “Won’t Be Quiet”.

51:45 – Follow your own inner guidance. If we can please ourselves, not others, then that is success. There are no guarantees.

58:00 – We go on a rich thread of conversation sharing songwriting insights and magic.

1:18:08 – Roz shares her song “Stand and Step” about unconditional love for her dog, Pebbles. Hear it live at IHSC HQ.

About Roz Pappalardo: 

For the best part of two decades, Roz has been shaking things up, challenging perceptions and very much forging her own direction through the music landscape. There have been rock records, folk tunes, country and more recently a successful move into musical theatre.

In total, she has released more than 10 records in various guises, perhaps the best known though with her much loved duo Women in Docs. It was ‘The Docs’ that brought Roz’s incredible voice and song-writing smarts into the spotlight and a band that has seen her tour the country and the globe more times than she can remember.

After performing nationally and internationally in professional acting roles and in her own productions ‘Rosa’, and her powerful one-woman show ‘Banging on the Door’, the one constant through Roz’s career has been a drive to do her own thing and consequences be damned. And nowhere is that more apparent on her striking new solo album “Won’t Be Quiet” (2021).

Her commitment to arts in her community has also been evident in her work on ‘Beginnings’ a major music theatre work about the town of Cairns, where she is based, and ‘Woven’ an all-woman First Nations musical theatre work based on the female experience.

Contact Roz:





Song Credit: “Stand and Step” – Music and Lyrics by Roz Pappalardo. Performed live by Roz Pappalardo at I Heart Songwriting Club Headquarters.

Episode Show Notes:

Get your creativity, confidence, and songwriting output flowing. Join The Club and receive the support and structure to write 10 songs in 10 weeks and get feedback from a private peer community. This is THE essential writing practice that has changed the careers and lives of 1000s of songwriters worldwide.

Just getting started on your songwriting journey and need more hands-on support? Establish a firm foundation and develop your musical and lyric skills with our Beginner Songwriting Courses. They are the perfect place to begin and cover everything you need to know to write your first songs. You’ll receive lessons from Francesca directly!

Don’t struggle to write your next album – write an album a year with ease! Watch our Free Songwriting Masterclass.

Want more for your songwriting but don’t know where to go from here? Take the I Heart Songwriting Club Quiz to discover your next steps and inspire your way to writing better songs.

Get songwriting insights from I Heart Songwriting Club:




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Podcast theme song: “Put One Foot In Front Of The Other One” music and lyrics by Francesca de Valence

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By |2022-04-28T08:05:15+10:00April 27th, 2022|0 Comments

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