The following is a list of advice I’ve accumulated in my time as an artist.
Disclaimer: I don’t have all the answers. These are simply some things I wish I knew when I began my creative journey as Rinzen, and lessons I still practice to this day.
1. Treat Every Opportunity Like It’s Your Big Break
Every show, every remix, every interview -- no matter how small or big -- is an opportunity to prove yourself. You never know what invisible door may suddenly open because of the extra care and attention you put into something.
Before my career even started, I was given the opportunity to create a remix of Giorgio Moroder. There was no guarantee the remix would be accepted or released. It was simply a kind gesture from a friend giving a shot to an unknown producer.
I had four days to turn around the remix, and you better believe I put everything I had into it. When I turned in the first draft, the label was so thrilled with it, not only did they officially release it, but they began playing it on SiriusXM that week. With less effort, the remix could have easily been rejected and I may never have launched my project.
2. Practice Patience
Patience is the hardest part about this journey. More than likely, when you begin your project, you won’t see the results you want. And if you don’t have the patience to keep going, you might give up before anything starts to happen. You have to accept that things are going to take longer than you think they will in your mind.
When I released my first original track, “Renegade” with mau5trap, for instance, it took another seven months for my debut EP to come out on the label (despite already having the music ready to go after the single). Those seven months were agonizing in the moment. But looking back now, the gap feels like nothing. And because of the extra time, I was able to fully develop the EP concept and deliver something I was truly proud of.
3. Have a Vision That Is Larger Than Yourself
Your goal can’t be to get rich or become famous. Anything that is purely ego-driven will be unsustainable in the long run, nor will you ever find fulfillment chasing that. You must have a vision that is larger than yourself.
With Rinzen, for example, I want to inspire a sense of awe in my fans. I want to awaken their own creativity and to provide some inspiration along the way.
This is a vision that pulls me. It’s exciting to me. I know that the bigger my project becomes, the more people I will be able to reach and inspire. Those people in turn can inspire others with their own creativity, and it becomes this beautiful spiderweb of creative enrichment.
4. Be Remarkable
You have to be remarkable. And I mean that in the literal sense of the world. You have to be so great that people are inspired to remark about it. This is an idea coined by Seth Godin, and I actively try to instill it into everything I do. I’m constantly asking myself: “What is the aspect of this project, this song, this DJ performance, etc., that is going to be so powerful or remarkable that someone will immediately want to tell their friend about it?”
For me, that often involves building out a concept around a release. I enjoy embedding each EP or mix I do with a specific world or storyline. For others, it could be as simple as creating deep house tracks composed entirely with cardboard box samples. “Did you hear that cardboard box deep house track? Damn, who does that!”
5. Consistency Over Intensity
I heard this on a podcast from a former kickboxing champion, and I’ve fully adopted it. You should be looking to avoid a burnout at all costs. Working on music for 12 hours a day sounds like a romantic idea. Yet more than likely, after a week or two, you’ll be so tired and depleted that you won’t want anything to do with Ableton for the next two weeks. And we all know how hard it can be to regain creative mojo once it’s been lost.
Conversely, I’m a much bigger advocate of consistency. The goal should be to create a sustainable practice: something that doesn’t deplete us, but rather, nourishes us. For some, that could only be two to three hours a day, and that’s OK. The important part is to have the energy to keep showing up, day after day.
6. Create a Timeless Brand
No artist likes the “brand” word. It immediately invokes an image of a corporate boardroom with a whiteboard and dry-erase markers. Yet when we talk about branding, what we’re really doing is thinking about our project from a wider lens. What is the identity we’re creating? In what space does our project sit?
One of the most important things you can do is to create a timeless brand, something that you will be proud of 10, 20 years from now. With this in mind, you should be hyperconscious of your branding when you start out. This includes the labels you work with, the style of music you release, the words you communicate with. Your brand is everything, and diluting it early on can have much larger ramifications down the line.
7. Music First
Your No. 1 priority should always be to create the best music you can. It’s a common cliche, but it’s true: Good music is the best marketing. We can study all the tactics and strategies we want, but at the end of the day, a great song can instantly elevate one’s project to a new level of visibility and credibility.
Beyond that, isn’t that the whole point of why we’re doing this anyway? We all began this artistic journey out of the simple desire to create things, to bring forth the ideas that were in our minds and share them with the world.
Never lose sight of that original intention. The goal should always be to find fulfillment in the simple act of creation. Everything else is secondary.
[Editor's note: Michael Sundius is a former contributing writer to Billboard Dance.]