The 80/20 Rule for Artists
I’m sure you remember Occupy Wall Street and photos with large groups of people holding signs that said “We are the 99%.” - This illustration painted another inverse portrait in my head. I imagine 13 or so “fat cats” laying out on a private beach somewhere that’s too expensive for me to even find on a map wearing T-shirts that say “We are the 1%.”
110 years ago, this same kind of unequal distribution of wealth gave rise to the concept of the 80/20 rule. In 1906, Italian economist Vilfredo Pareto observed that 20% of the Italian people controlled 80% of the wealth. Today this ratio, called Pareto’s Principle, is used in business to also describe these two relationships:
20% of your clients create 80% of your income.
20% of your clients create 80% of your problems.
People often ask me, “How do I get to the next level? I keep playing the same places over and over and I feel…stuck.” The short answer is that they are playing the same kinds of shows. When they add a gig, they almost always add a gig from the yellow part of the chart (the average 60% of their shows).
Imagine a bowl of red, yellow, and green M&M's candy. The ratio of the the candy (in the bowl and in the bag next to the bowl) is 20% red, 60% yellow, and 20% green. If I select one from the bowl at random, it's probably yellow. When I replace that piece of candy from the bag, it too is probably yellow. As I take M&M's out and replace them again and again, it becomes apparent the bowl is always going to be full of mostly yellow candy.
How do I get a bowl full of only green candy? I remove all the other candy from the bowl, and then presort the candy coming from the bag. I only put green M&Ms back into the bowl. Easy right? Of course.
Using this same technique, let me show you how to make at least 25% more income, more fans, and more CD sales in the next 12 months without taking on a heavier touring schedule.
Take 15 minutes and follow these steps.
- Grab two highlighters: one green and one red.
- Make a list of all the venues you played in 2015.
- Count all of them up and divide by 5. (Example: If you played 100 shows last year, 100 divided by 5 equals 20.) This number represents 20% of your shows for the year.
- Think about your best shows. Not just the ones that made you the most money. Think about the shows that made you fans, the shows that you sold a lot of CD’s, the shows you had the most fun at, and the ones that made you the most money. Highlight these shows in green and stop when you get to the number we figured out in step 3. (Example: If I played 100 shows last year, I’m going to highlight my top 20 shows.)
- Now Think about your worst shows. You know immediately which ones go on this list. Venues that didn’t pay you, clubs where people didn’t show up, people that offered you “exposure”, and places where people were not engaging with you and your music. Find these venues on your list and highlight them in red. Again, stick to the number of venues that we found in step 3.
- All the other venues on your list are in the “yellow” center 60%. We are going to leave these alone.
- Now, take a minute to reflect on your list. Take a really good look at it and make sure all the venues are highlighted in the appropriate color.
- Take a deep breath.
- You seriously might want to take a deeper breath. You ready?
- I want you to stop playing every venue on your list that you highlighted in red. Every one. No take backs. All of them. Finished. Why? These places are making you miserable! No money. No fans. No encouragement to continue with what you are passionate about. No time left to grow into the artist you want to become.
- Look at your green list. Imagine yourself only playing at places just like these venues. You can! What do these places have in common? Take some time to compare these venues and find out why they are working out so well. Your next step is to take all the new free time and energy you have from eliminating your red venues, and focus on recreating your green venues.
- At the end of every year, I want you to repeat these steps. This will help you move forward no matter what level of your career you are in.
I know the first step is the scariest, but in six months you will be playing better shows and with less stress.
Send us a note at firstname.lastname@example.org and let us know how you are implementing this.
Instead of saying “best of luck”, let me say “best of hard work”.