The Importance of Purpose For Musicians


Blah blah blah personal branding blah blah blah purpose blah blah blah cause marketing…

I hear several related refrains oft repeated in the world of social media gurus:

  • “Purpose” is important if you are going to do social media
  • “Cause marketing” (eg. The Ice Bucket Challenge) is the best way to get attention in a crowded social media world drowning in selfies
  • The millennial generation wants to know what principles a brand stands for before they will buy a product with that brand
  • “Storytelling” is the heart of marketing today
  • Being “genuine” is critical in getting your message across because trust is everything in social media and marketing

When my friend, social media practitioner and public speaker, Russell Sparkman, guest lectures in my social media class, he emphasizes the important of Purpose (which from now on in this post, I will refer to with a capital letter) with his succinctly worded foundational principle for social media and content marketing:

[Tweet “The path to engagement is paved with Purpose.”]

As Russell says, “the path to engaging content happens when you connect the dots between:

  • The share-worthiness of meaningful content,
  • The share-worthiness of content that offers “utility purpose,”
  • Increased consumer expectations that brands must address social issues,
  • And consumer acceptance of brands talking about the good work they do.”

Create A Marketing Plan With Purpose

In working with artists to create a marketing plan that is personalized to their music and where they are at in their musical career, I think all of these “outbound” marketing reasons around social media effectiveness are great. But there are also very clear practical reasons to be clear about your Purpose before launching into the frenzy of ANY PR, promotion, or marketing of any kind for your newest release, for a single, or for your music video.

To be clear, this post is NOT about Purpose in a religious sense, although that may be related for some people. It is, however, all about something transcendent. Also, I will note up front that I am very aware that the items I am talking about spell POT. OK, enough 9th (6th?) grade jokes.

What is Your Purpose

What Is Purpose?

Before we talk about why Purpose is important, lets define it.

[Tweet “Purpose is what’s on your tombstone.”]

Your Purpose is your mission with respect to your music. It goes beyond being a rock star, making a living, playing Madison Square Garden, or having all the drugs and sex you could possibly want at your fingertips. Is that really what you would want on your tombstone? It doesn’t necessarily have to be as grand as a lifetime in terms of time scale, but it should be something big enough and long term enough to be synonymous with the word “vision.”

Purpose can be very grand and relate to a social cause, such as animal welfare, global warming, or healthy living. Or, it can just be meaningful to you.

Here’s my Purpose (this is just for the sake of example – you should write your own):

I want to write words and music which have a profound impact on people, and I want to share what I have learned with others.

I want to move people – to make them think, or rethink something, feel something, and do something. When I wrote about our first Solveig & Stevie CD prerelease party in 2012, that’s really what I was talking about.

I believe that thinking about one’s Purpose, writing it down, and being willing to state it publicly is critical to one’s success in the music business, or really in any business.

Differentiating Purpose, Objectives and Tactics

Purpose is something that is (relatively) unchanged over a long period of time – at least a few years or life stage, sometimes over a lifetime. That is very different from Objectives, which are shorter term, time-based, concrete, often numerical goals such as, “Within 6 months, I want to have:

  • 6 online reviews of my new album
  • 5,000 downloads of my latest single
  • 10,000 YouTube views of my music video
  • a regular weekend paying gig playing at a local venue
  • licensed at least one song for television or film
  • toured the West Coast with at least 15 shows
  • an email mailing list with 3,000 names on it”

(I recommend picking no more than three reasonable objectives, or goals to shoot for in a six month period, and maybe have a larger list to aim for in a year’s time – these are just examples).

One way to think about Objectives is this: if your music career were a job (which is is), and you were your own boss, what would you say in your 6 month performance review to yourself? Objectives are those things you would write in the “Accomplishments” column.

Tactics are the actions (with deadlines) which you will take to achieve those goals. Some examples of tactics are:

  • Research and email  my EPK to 30 reviewers in my genre by two weeks from today
  • Map out my tour, create a list of 30 venues along the way, and email them by August 1
  • Finish a music video by 3 months from now
  • Find contact information for the music supervisors of three TV shows by one week from now

[If you want to read more about the business principles around goals, objectives, strategies and tactics (GOST), there’s a good overview here. I’m skipping over Strategies because I’m trying to simplify this stuff, and I often find discussion of Strategies to be debatable, complex or just not relevant to musicians I work with.]

Tools For Discovering Your Purpose

As I wrote in my post about Personal Branding, there are three key questions I believe everyone should be able to answer. They are an integral part of developing an Elevator Pitch and Tagline (other important parts of a marketing communications and social media plan, which you can read about elsewhere). They are directly tied to Purpose, particularly the last one.

To help figure out your purpose, answer these questions in writing:

  • Who am I?
  • What do I do?
  • Why does it matter?

If you can answer these questions, you are well on your way to defining your Purpose.

[Tweet “Who are you? What do you do? Why does it matter?”]

Another way to look at this is to ask yourself the following questions:

  • Purpose: Why am I doing this?
  • Objectives: What concrete, purpose-driven, measurable things do I want to accomplish and by when?
  • Tactics: What actions should I take to achieve my objectives?


Why Purpose Matters

Purpose matters because everything else depends on it. Thinking about your purpose, writing it down, and stating your purpose to others

  • Is genuine and personal, not manufactured to fit a fad or marketing campaign
  • Will resonate with people in a way that brings additional meaning to your music
  • Opens doors to opportunities
  • Motivates the creation of your best work
  • Allows your Objectives to roll up (relate directly) to your purpose, and your Tactics to then roll up to your objectives, making everything you do logical
  • Clarifies every task and keeps you focused – if you can’t see how a task fits your purpose, scratch if off the To Do list
  • Helps you to communicate the “big picture” to anyone else you are working with – other musicians, agencies, managers, PR folks
  • Gives you a story that differentiates you from everyone else
  • Will continue to inspire and motivate you even as your music career experiences its normal ups and down
  • Won’t leave you searching for meaning once you have achieved your Objectives
  • Allows you flexibility to modify your Purpose over a lifetime, but is rarely “achieved”

So What’s Your Musical Purpose?

[Tweet “What’s your musical purpose?”]






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  1. Great advice for any business or organization. Reminds me of Simon’s Sinek’s “start with why” Ted Talk – people don’t buy what you do they buy why you do it.

    1. Thanks for the feedback, Laura! You are exactly right – although I would say that people do buy WHAT you do, but what often makes them buy it from you, as opposed to someone else, is WHY you do it. Purpose can be a real differentiator. Whether I take the time to buy tickets and go see a musician’s show and buy their CD afterward – out of all the musicians out there – is often some special thing they do or represent that has nothing to do with their music. And besides all that, having a purpose feels good!

      1. The only reason, plan or thing I knew when I started my music journey was to create an atmosphere. Hopefully the music would be amazing to boot. Think about it that whenever u call upon the music something surrounds you, yes?

        1. So true, Steph. I know many musicians who say the same thing – when they are creating or playing music, it is transcendent and goes beyond the music itself.

  2. A really important breakdown Solveig, thank you for posting. On a personal level, knowing your true purpose is also what keeps you going when the going gets tough. In the past few months I’ve overextended myself and suffered from some pretty real burnout. What kept me pushing was getting back in touch with my true mission. My husband reminded me of one fan (now also a friend) who uses my songs as a lifeline through PTSD recovery. A conversation with a coach I work with, Wendy Keillin, brought me back to how much I love my tribe and want to empower them and inspire them to change the world but not themselves. Your purpose is like the pilot light that fuels your entire fire.

    1. I love that phrase, Rorie: “Your purpose is like the pilot light that fuels your entire fire”! Brilliant! Thanks for the read, and for the comment. I agree with you (I just added that one point about Purpose keeping you going through the normal ups and downs of any music career this morning!). I think what some people don’t always realize about musicians is that most musicians are much more motivated by stories from fans like yours, who are helped by our music in a real way, than we are by counting streams, downloads, clicks or Likes.

  3. Great article, Solveig. Inspiring. All during the read I kept thinking about Studs Terkel. Not a musician in the traditional sense. But he spent most of his life playing the interview process like an instrument. Since his Purpose was finding the essence of the human spirit. There’s a great docu on Studs floating around somewhere on PBS. Check it out if you haven’t already.

  4. I love the intro – yes so many articles out there with a preachy tone or regurgitated rhetoric – but you made a meaningful and succinct presentation, well worth reading.

  5. This is excellent-gave me much to think about. You can’t be your best creative self and share it honestly with your audience unless you truly know yourself and your own personal reason for what you do.
    I am going to devote some more time to sort out the soul of my musical purpose, as best I can. Thanks for this article:)

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