When starting out in music, a lot of us make mistakes. Especially those producers who want success.
A lot of the time, these mistakes happen because we’re not honest with both our musical skill levels and our networking abilities.
So we might send our first WIP to a big name producer who couldn’t care less. We might hit a label up with a sub-par electro house tune. We’ll try to become friends with artists who are out of our reach.
But how do you know when the time is right to do those things?
That’s why I created the Producer’s Ladder of Success – a tool you can use to:
- Measure your production skills objectively.
- Gauge your influence as an artist.
- Help you understand your position in an overall system.
- Figuring out what your focus should be for now.
Let’s take a look by first seeing how you can use this tool properly.
How To Use This Ladder
It’s important to consider both how and how to not use this ladder, otherwise you could be in for a world of misery.
It’s also a great tool to use in conjunction with our popular 5 Stages of an Electronic Music Producer article, which helps you gauge the production skills side of things and how you’re growing there.
Here are a few key pointers:
- Do not use this as a tool to compare your growth as a producer to other producers where they are at. You have to make sure that you use this as an objective tool to make rational decisions, otherwise you risk becoming disappointed and burnt out. Comparison is the thief of joy.
- Rank other artists on this ladder too. It will help you identify who you can collaborate with. Normally aim for the same rung as yourself or maybe one higher/lower.
- Notice the proportion of released music to success. You only get somewhere by actually putting out music. The one-hit success story is overrated and unlikely, so don’t rely on it.
- Revisit this every 6 months to a year. Don’t consistently be asking these questions, otherwise you risk doing music for the wrong reasons. This is just a tool to check-in with occasionally.
Note that a lot of this ladder assumes you’re starting from the bottom in terms of production skills and network. If you have either of these things, you may be able to progress through these levels more quickly.
Level 1: Complete Nobody
You’ve just started making music, or you’re stepping into a new genre/scene that you’re not known in.
Or maybe you’ve been making music for a while and you’ve decided it’s time you started your artist project.
Either way – you don’t have the street cred. If you have previous experience, you can quickly work your way through, but otherwise – it’s ground zero.
There’s an overwhelming amount of stuff it seems you need to focus on when you’re starting your artist project. But there’s really only one thing you should be doing.
If you’re at level 1, then you should be primarily focussing on leveling up your production skills. You’re likely in the initiation stage and you’re learning skills in order to make good music.
Do not even think about sending your music out to people yet (except to friends for feedback), because it won’t be good and you’ll be spending time doing that when you could just focus on writing more/better music (assuming you’ve just started producing as well, or haven’t built up skills yet).
You might be here for a while if you’re new to production, so don’t get disheartened. It’s better to spend more time here so you can progress through the other levels, rather than getting confused and stuck.
If you already have the skills, and you’ve got release ready music, you’ll quickly move on to Level 2.
Level 2: Initial Traction
You’ve put out a self-release or two, whether on Soundcloud or officially. Maybe you’ve even released on a very small-time label.
Either way, you’ve now got some music out into the world. A few people have given it a listen, but having that music out makes all the difference.
But you’re discouraged by the small amount of response. You’ve poured your heart and soul into your music, and it’s still not gaining the traction you desire.
You should be still primarily focussing on writing a high quantity of music, and you can start picking the best ones to send to labels or self-releasing.
For everyone, this would look different. Maybe you send 1 in 10 songs to a label, for some it could be 1 in 5, or 1 in 2.
It can be tempting at this point to think you need to switch your focus to your career because you got a tiny amount of attention, but you’re still a small fish in a large pond.
Instead, start finding a couple of producer friends at Levels 1 or 2 (maybe 3) and get them to give feedback on your music. The higher the skill, the better the feedback. You’ll know exactly which areas to improve, especially as you’re going through the ‘exponential learning’ stage of your
Level 3: Small-Time Artist
You’ve broken through a little bit.
You’ve had 2 or more releases on small-to-medium-sized labels, and/or you’ve have some tracks that have performed well on Spotify and streaming services.
You could have even played a show in your local town, and a few people rocked up.
The point is that your name is starting to get out there. You’re not just getting 50 plays on Soundcloud/Spotify anymore, and maybe you’re even getting 100’s if not 1000’s.
You can start to balance your time spent on music, with the bulk of your time still being spent producing, with also looking at expanding your network and promotional skills. I’d say a good 80/20 split (production/career) of your time is appropriate, give or take.
Naturally, if you’re releasing on labels, connections will come. But if you’re self-releasing, you might need to DIY this a bit more by finding your own promotional channels to send to, by seeking out peers so they can hear your music etc.
As you’re focussed on your exponential learning stage, you may begin to encounter the dip, especially if you haven’t been producing for 5+ years yet. This is where a lot of people drop off. Some get carried by the small successes, but some let life get in the way and they give up.
Be prepared to stay here for a while, as the music industry takes its time with new artists breaking through. It might take years before you really start gaining traction.
Level 4: Breaking Through
Now you’re really starting to gain traction. Not only have you released on a few labels and got a back catalog, but you’re gaining your own solid fanbase. A small number of people are starting to respect you and your music.
You’re starting to get noticed by bigger names who may have never previously noticed you, and you’re feeling optimistic about the future.
The hard production work has paid off. Now, in this transitionary phase, it’s key to start seeing yourself as more of a brand as well as a solid artist.
Things like social media, PR, networking, managers, booking agents, and promotion are more crucial here. You’ll start to pick up a lot of these things or people who can help you along the way.
Still, don’t neglect writing music here. You can feel pressured at this stage due to the expectations placed on you by others, but always set that time aside of the studio, without the external worries.
Momentum is still key during this time, as a few missed opportunity windows can slow you right back down.
Plus, making music is the reason we all got into this, right?
Level 5: ‘Newcomer’
Now you’ve grown rapidly, and you’re well known as the ‘newcomer’ of the scene. Even though you might have been around for ages, the amount of attention you’re receiving means that a lot of people have only just heard of you.
Don’t be fooled by this title – at this point, you’ve still garnered some success. Think of Marshmello when he was new in trap/future bass – that’s kind of what this level is about.
You’ve maybe even landed a major release or two at this point, with thousands and maybe millions of plays. But you’re still not one of the heavyweights.
Now that you’re ‘hit critical mass’ in a manner of speaking, you’ll be wanting to give your fans a consistent slew of music and content, so they can keep engaged with you and also so you can gain new ones.
How you go about this is ultimately personal preference. Some artists just write a lot of music while figuring out how to release it. This works well if you’re signed to a label in some sort of exclusive contract.
For others, it might involve spacing out releases and putting effort into Instagram or other forms of social media. This allows your fans to keep up with you even when you’re not releasing music, which can be critical depending on your goals.
Either way, decide on a way you’re going to add value and work with your team (managers etc.) to execute on this.
Level 6: Respectable Artist
At this point, the amount of music you have out is less and less important. You can put out anything and most people will like it.
The ‘newcomer’ tag has worn off and you’re pretty well known at this point. This is where a lot of people start to feel that they have made it’.
The options here are quite endless. Many artists will try all sorts of experiments, such as moving from a DJ set to a live set, trying a new way of releasing an album, making some interesting content etc.
Others simply enjoy being a respectable artists and continue to write great music, making a living off what they love.
Note that it’s possible to still fall off at this stage. Many artists who don’t release music around this time in their careers become what I like to call the ‘remember them’s.
These are the people who blew up and burnt out pretty quickly. Especially with hyped/fad genres. Don’t be one of those.
Level 7: Well-known Scene Staple
These are the standard artists when you think of a certain genre. Perhaps they aren’t the biggest names, but any fan of that genre will know them.
These artists have also been around for a while (5+ years) and are far from new anymore. They’re the kind that always get picked for remixes, or have solid label deals.
Not only do they have sizeable catalogues, but they’ve played a role in shaping the scene as it is today.
Similar to Level 6, once you hit a certain level of success, you can get away with doing any manner of things – even more so here.
People respect you, and you’re now an authority in the scene you produce in. You might start to help build up other artists who are up and coming, by starting a label, finding their music or any other way that you can think of.
Note: For Levels 8 and 9, I have not included a ‘focus’ section as these are special levels of mastery that very few people attain. There’s no formula or prescribed thing to do at these levels.
Level 8: All-time Heavyweight
Think of people on this level like Solomun is to Tech House, Arty is to Progressive House or Flux Pavillion is to Dubstep.
They might not actually be the ‘hottest’ artists right now, but everyone knows who they are. They’ve put in their years and they’re known for what they’ve contributed to their scene and beyond.
But they’re not the top of electronic music as a whole.
Level 9: Legend Status
These are the Daft Punks of the scene. Even fans who don’t normally listen to your type of music know and love you.
You’ve even transcended the confines of electronic music, and you’re just known as a great artist.
These are the people who get documentaries, who have influenced music as a whole, and who will be remembered in history.
- Daft Punk
- The Chemical Brothers
- Aphex Twin
- Armin van Buuren
Where Do You Sit?
It can be helpful to put yourself on this scale and see where you’re at, so you know what to focus on and who you can collaborate with.
Apart from that, I hope you enjoyed this article!
Any questions? Hit me up at [email protected].