By NationWide SourceEstimated reading time: 4 minutes
The countdown to the giant mirror ball dropping in NYC has begun. People are buying gym memberships in droves, and Facebook is full of sappy year end posts. It’s a time for reflection, and a time for looking ahead.
So let’s take a short look back at your music career in 2015.
Did you hit a new high note, literally or figuratively?
Was this a year of creative incubation, or bold forward motion?
Did the needle move at all, or do you feel stuck in a rut?
At Source, we want 2016 to be your best year yet. Take 5 minutes and choose one thing to focus on from each of the three topics below to help you move your music to the next level in 2016!
Chances are, some important things happened this year. Maybe the highlight of the year was playing a sold out show at your favorite venue. Maybe your major milestone was your crowdfunding project totally tanking.
Analyzing major career milestones can help you repeat your successes, and avoid future failures.
If this was a year with a lot of forward motion, think about how you can translate that into the new year. If you felt like you were a little behind in 2015, don’t let that stop you! Start brainstorming one or two significant goals you would like to hit in the coming year.
Examples of Major Milestones:
Music Video Release
High-traffic Press Features
Opening for a “bigger” band
Playing in a certain venue
Meeting a Crowdfunding goal
Usually major milestones are the product of lots of micro-milestones paying off. The bigger goals might more fun to reach, but they will remain unattainable until you commit to the smaller ones. Take stock of where you were with the small stuff in 2015.
How did your commitment to micro-achievements affect your major achievements over the past year? Did your consistent email newsletter drive up sales? Or did your organic reach on Facebook take a dive because you didn’t post enough?
If 2015 wasn’t the best year for your career, I would encourage you to commit to reaching a few of these “micro-milestones.” See where they take you! Often a focused effort in one “smaller” aspect of your career can help other pieces fall into place.
Examples of Micro Milestones:
Consistently releasing video content
Growing your email list
Cold emailing/following up with industry contacts.
What was the best part about your music career in 2015? It could be a specific event, a great song you wrote, or an awesome moment with a fan.
What made you feel alive and excited about music last year?
If you are trudging along, not sure if music is the right choice for you, try locking onto those things that made you fall in love with performing music in the first place. Keep those specific things in mind as you move forward into 2016. Try to find ways to create more of those moments that inspire you, and remind you why you play music.
On the other hand, what frustrated or discouraged you this year? What made you want to smash your guitar against the wall?
Pinpointing the negative can help you prevent those things from happening in the future. They could be a red flag, letting you know where you might want to enlist help.
If you hate shipping out merch orders, why not check out a fulfillment service like Bandwear? Bad at posting on twitter? Take 10 minutes to schedule a few posts in advance. Often there are simple solutions to problems we feel overwhelmed by.
Knowing both the good and the bad of your music career can help you strike a good balance. Keeping that balance can help you have a more positive, successful career in 2016.
No matter what happened in 2015, you have the choice to take your career into your own hands.
By NationWide SourceEstimated reading time: 6 minutes
In the music industry, there’s a saying that gets tossed around pretty often. Though there are different variations, the basic mantra is this:
“It’s called the music business for a reason.”
This is what the pros are saying when they toss that phrase around:
For recorded music to reach a listener, 98% of the time, some kind of business transaction was involved. For every beautiful song, for every masterful lyric, there was a person doing business behind the scenes making things happen.
Lets put it this way- if you want an electric guitar to be amplified, you have to plug it in. If you are only playing to a few people who are about 3 feet away from you, you might not need to use the amp. But if you want more people to hear what you’re doing, you have to plug that bad boy in and crank up the volume. Your music(the awesome creative stuff that comes out of your brain) is the guitar, and the business (the money, the marketing, the networking) is your amplifier.
Unfortunately, many independent musicians I meet are only plugging the guitar in halfway. Sure, they look like they’ve got everything right, but a guitar that’s only partially plugged in still isn’t going to make much noise.
So if you’re just getting started on the business side of “music business,” we’ve outlined the first three things you should do to plug in, power up the amp, and start your journey in the music industry.
Step 1- Be Professional
This may seem a little obvious, but the way you present yourself is important. You need to be professional in every different facet of your music career, but a good place to start is your web presence. This means creating a nice looking website with a custom domain, a simple electronic press kit (EPK), and making sure your social media profiles are up to date. To add an extra touch of professionalism, it’s also a good idea to choose a font or 2 and try to stick with those when you are making your website, EPK, and creating graphics for social profiles. Creating a website and EPK show industry professionals that you are willing to put some effort and energy into your music, and updated social media profiles will help your fans get to know you, and know where to find you and your music on the web.
You also want to invest a little time in the way you present yourself to people face to face. It might be a good idea to have a few business cards made up (after you’ve already decided on a website domain!) to give to other musicians and pros you might meet. You also need to decide if you’ll have merchandise to sell, and make sure your merch set-up is functional and visually pleasing. And as much as we hate it, go ahead and take a look at what you’re wearing. Whether you like it or not, many people’s first impression of you is going to come from what you’re wearing, especially when you’re onstage. So take an extra five minutes before your next gig and think about if what you’re wearing is a good visual interpretation of who you are, and what kind of music you play.
Step 2- Be Organized
If you want to be a part of the music business, you have to treat your music like a business! Most well run small businesses started with a plan that detailed a mission statement, legal structure, and how daily business will be run. I’m not saying you have to have a complicated business plan. But there are two things you need to keep careful records of.
You need to know what you are spending money on, and what money is coming in. Not only will this make your taxes way easier at the end of year, (yes, you do have to pay taxes on the income you earn from music!) but it will let you know how your business is doing. If you make a profit for six months, and then the next three months you are losing money, you need to find out why, and detailed records will help you with this. You can use a spreadsheet (like Microsoft Excel or Google Sheets) or a more complex accounting program like Quickbooks.
It’s also vital that you keep track of your contacts. You need to know who you’ve talked to, when you talked to them, and what you talked about. This helps you define and expand your network. You can easily create a spread sheet, or a word processing document to keep track of these things. I recommend Google Docs, since you can access it from anywhere as long as you have a Gmail account. This is the place to keep the phone number of the graphic designer you met in line at the grocery store, and the email of the booking agent of that festival you want to play. A database like this will help you to know when to get in touch with people, send a follow up email, and if you need to send any extra materials to them (maybe a demo or a press kit).
Step 3- Be Proactive
Great music and great business ideas don’t mean much if you don’t put action behind them. To borrow from our earlier analogy, you need to turn the volume up on that amp! Just like practicing your instrument takes time, energy, and commitment, the business side of your music does too. Start out by devoting a few hours a week to your business. Spend some time marketing and creating content for fans, or work on getting your music placed in some licensing opportunities. Opportunities in the music industry come to musicians who are looking for opportunities. Don’t just sit around and hope you’ll get discovered. Go to some local shows in your area and meet other musicians. Play as many open mics as you can. Do some research on ways to grow your career (like reading the blogs on this website!).
Most importantly: perform, and do it well. Playing your music live is the best way to get new fans, cement relationships with current fans, and meet other musicians and industry professionals. Putting on a great live show also gives you legitimacy as a musician. This means lots of practice time making sure your music is absolutely killer before you get in front of an audience. The relationships you form at shows, and the reputation you will gain by playing awesome shows, are major factors in propelling you to the next level of your music career.
Beginning the journey of turning your music from a hobby into a business can be intimidating, but it doesn’t have to be. Putting these three steps into practice can help you put your best foot forward, and begin that journey in the right direction. Have any tips to artists just starting out, or any advice on beginning a career in the music industry? Let us know in the comments!
By NationWide SourceEstimated reading time: 8 minutes
ReverbNation is a music-specific social network that over 3.5 million artists use. From digital distribution and web hosting to gig opportunities, ReverbNation seems to have it all. But do you need a ReverbNation profile?
To decide if ReverbNation is a good fit for you, you have to ask yourself this question:
Is ReverbNation actually helping my career?
ReverbNation has some useful tools. But some of its features might do more harm than good to your music career.
What Not to Do On ReverbNation
We want you, the artist, to market your music effectively, engage with fans well, and have a successful career. Part of that is using the tools available to you wisely. So we’ve outlined some things to steer clear of when you use ReverbNation, and a few things that ReverbNation might be able to help you with.
Don’t let ReverbNation’s automated social media posts replace your personal interaction with fans.
ReverbNation easily syncs with major social media networks like Facebook and Twitter. ReverbNation can automatically post information about your shows to other social networks. It will continue to post show information as it gets closer to the show date. While this sounds like a great thing, ReverbNation won’t let you control when those things are shared, or how often.
This is a problem.
ReverbNation’s posts tend to fill up your profile with impersonal concert notifications.
While it’s great to let fans know when and where you’ll be playing, these impersonal post soon begin to look like spam. This can frustrate and annoy fans, which is the last thing you want to do.
If you let ReverbNation post to Facebook, it can also lower your position on your fans’ newsfeeds. Facebook has a very specific algorithm that dictates what gets placed into newsfeeds. Numerous duplicate posts could get flagged in Facebook’s program, and mean a lower fan reach.
Do have a regular social media posting schedule.
A status that you took the time to write is better content than a computer generated post about a show. When your social feed is full of automated links, it can make you look like you don’t care about interacting with your fans.
ReverbNation’s automatic posts won’t harm you if your newsfeed has lots of organic posts. When the automated updates are interspersed with personal content, fans can get excited that you are announcing shows, instead of frustrated that their feed is full of unwanted notifications.
Don’t sacrifice a great website.
ReverbNation has the ability to create a good looking website, that is mobile and tablet friendly. But I have a major problem with ReverbNation’s website builder.
There are only three templates, and almost no customization.
While Reverbnation’s website design and hosting is easy to set up, the lack of personalization cuts down on the usefulness of this service. You want your website to be an accurate representation of who you are as an artist, and you want it to be a place where you can interact with fans. In my opinion, ReverbNation’s sites don’t allow you to do that.
As a quick example, let’s check out one of the bands that ReverbNation uses to showcase it’s website building feature: Skyward.
Skyward is an independent alternative rock band from Harrisonburg, VA, and I reached out to talk to them about how their band utilizes ReverbNation. The first thing I asked them about was web hosting. They told me that even though ReverbNation features the Skyward website on their information page about site building, Skyward does not actually use the ReverbNation website tool, instead they use a design/hosting platform from Wix for their homepage. If a band that is featured on ReverbNation—specifically on their information page for site building—doesn’t use the service, that tells me that something about their web design platform did not meet the expectations of Skyward. ReverbNation may want to update their information page with a band that is actually using them to design/host their site.
Do have a website.
If you don’t currently have a website, ReverbNation’s website builder might be a good place for you to start. Having a website with almost no customization is better than having no website at all, and if this fits your need, then ReverbNation offers a good solution for beginners.
Social media profiles, including your ReverbNation profile, are not a substitute for good website.
So if you don’t have a website, and aren’t sure how to go about creating one, ReverbNation might be a good place to start.
However, if you are willing to spend a little extra time, you can have a much more custom website with the same tools at about the same price. There are lots of web hosting and design services that have comparable prices to ReverbNation, and allow you to fully build the best website for you. I recommend WordPress, Square Space, or Wix.
Don’t expect hundreds of new fans.
While ReverbNations boasts that they have 3.5 million bands signed up on their site, they never let us know how many fans have profiles. There’s no doubt that some music fans are on ReverbNation, but is it a site that hoards of fans visit to find new artists? Probably not.
The majority of users on ReverbNation are other artists. Don’t make the mistake of thinking that a ReverbNation website will generate fan traffic and get you noticed. Try this simple test – ask the next 20-30 people you meet how they listen to music. Track how many tell you they log onto ReverbNation to find new music, I think you will find the number is small or possibly zero. When I tried it not one of my people said ReverbNation.
If you want genuine interaction with fans, new and old, ReverbNation is probably not the place to do that.
I asked Skyward if they’ve had success connecting with new fans on ReverbNation, and their guitarist Jordan Breeding said:
“I’m pretty sure no casual music fan ever hops on there, creates a profile, and then looks for new bands. It seems that most of the members are just other musicians. That limits its usefulness in my opinion.”
Do spend time creating relationships with fans
ReverbNation probably isn’t the best place to connect with fans. Finding out where your target audience communicates will help you build meaningful relationships with fans. Try Twitter, Instagram, Facebook, or Patronage.
Don’t spend all your time randomly submitting to gig opportunities
There are thousands of live show and press opportunities on ReverbNation. In theory, having thousands of potential gigs at your fingertips is wonderful. But there are problems. One issue is simply sorting through them all. You have to find the opportunities that are relevant to your band that you actually have a chance of booking.
Remember, there are literally millions of bands on ReverbNation trying to compete for the same opportunities as you.
You also have to pay to submit to many of the opportunities on ReverbNation. While this is not necessarily a bad thing, if you don’t get the gig, that money is gone. So if you choose to submit to these gigs, make sure you are paying attention to the cost.
Do submit to opportunities that can genuinely enhance your career.
When looking for opportunities on ReverbNation use your time—and your hard earned cash—well. Spend it on things that are actually going to enhance your career. Some people successfully find gigs on ReverbNation. Other artists don’t.
The guys in Skyward have had some moderate success with ReverbNation opportunities. They recommend looking for opportunities based on geography. You’re much more likely to have the chance to play at a local festival that uses ReverbNation than at a festival thousands of miles away. You always have to keep in mind that you are competing with thousands (or millions!) of other musicians. But if you’re smart about where you spend your time and money, and it might pay off!
There are things you probably shouldn’t be using ReverbNation for. But it can be a great tool when you use it wisely.
ReverbNation offers digital distribution at good prices, and their services are comparable to many other aggregators. And if you are already paying for the premium tier of ReverbNation, digital distribution is included.
They also offer a great rate when you sell downloads from their online store. Selling downloads is even available with a free membership! Musicians keep 87% of the revenue they generate from selling their music on ReverbNation. That’s quite a bit more than the 70% you’ll make from iTunes.
Reverbnation also offers a great looking Electronic Press Kit. If you need something simple, effective, and streamlined to send to promoters, ReverbNation’s press kits are good looking, easy to set up, and offer great tools like integrated fan stats. You can even see who opened your press kit, and exactly what they clicked on.
Another advantage of ReverbNation is that it keeps everything in one central location. This is Skyward’s favorite feature. Guitarist Jordan Breeding says:
“It’s definitely very helpful as far as being able to hold all of our music/videos/photos/schedule in one convenient place and then incorporate that stuff onto our Facebook and personal website. It can also be a helpful way to contact certain venues or other bands in the places where we travel.”
Thanks to Skyward for their input in this article. You can checkout their music here, and their ReverbNation press kit here.
By NationWide SourceEstimated reading time: 6 minutes
Have you ever gone to the grocery store and bought a whole trunk full of food, and realized when you got home that you have nothing to actually eat? You bought good food, but you can’t make a complete meal out of any of it.
Being an independent musician can feel like that sometimes. There are lots of choices, lots of decisions to be made, but in the end, what makes up a successful career?
Some people want Ramen noodles for dinner. Some people want steak and potatoes. Others may want lasagna. People have different tastes, and musicians are going to have different ideas about what being a truly “successful” artist looks like.
You have to decide what defines success for you.
Who Are You?
To determine where you want to go with your music, you need to find out who you are. Take a step back from yourself for a moment. As an artist, it can be difficult to separate yourself from your music, but in order to make some decisions, we need to take a bird’s eye view and create an objective analysis. Ask yourself these three questions:
What is my genre?
I know, this is a terrible question. You hate pigeonholing yourself. I understand. But practically, you need to have some idea of the genre of music you play, and the sub-genre you fit into.
Some genre decisions are easy. You may know without a doubt that you are a country artist. But where exactly do you fit in country? Are you Texas country? Nashville pop? Bro-country? If you’re a rock artist, are you punk? Neo-grunge? You play folk? Does it lean more bluegrass or folk/rock?
There are hundreds of choices. You don’t have to stuff yourself into a tiny box. But having a good, descriptive genre can help you communicate with listeners, distributors, labels, venues….the list goes on and on. When you know yourself well, you can help other people get to know you. And you can make wise decisions about where you are headed.
Who is Successful in my genre?
There’s a good chance you’re already listening to artists whose music is similar to yours. Do some research on someone who you would consider successful in your genre. This might be someone like Carrie Underwood, Sufjan Stevens, Kendrick Lamar, Joywave, or Sara Bareilles. Knowing who is doing well in your genre can give you a good starting place as you try to determine your idea of success.
It will also help you be realistic about your aspirations. If there is a large audience for your genre of music, your definition of success might be broader than someone who has a more niche market. Country, pop and hip-hop artists at the top of their game regularly play arenas. A artist who makes meditation music probably won’t be playing in an arena, but that doesn’t mean they aren’t successful.
Having your dreams of a music career firmly planted in the solid ground of what’s actually possible will help you avoid major disappointments, and will give your career a foundation to stand on.
What do I want?
So you know who you are, you know what is possible, now what do you want?
This is going to look different for every person. We all have different dreams, goals, locations, resources, skills, and talents. Maybe your idea of success is as grand as playing sold out stadiums. Maybe it’s creating music full time and sharing your music regionally. Maybe it’s playing once a week at an open mic or being signed to a record label. All of these ideas of success are good goals to work towards.
Take a second to jot down what success looks like for you. It doesn’t have to be a long description, maybe it’s just a few key words. But go ahead, put it in writing.
Then put it somewhere you’re going to look at it. You might tape it to your mirror, or put it on the dashboard of your car. Remind yourself daily of what you want your career to look like.
Success in the music industry (or any industry) takes hard work, dedication, and action. When you know the direction you want to go in, you can begin to take the steps to get there.
Success in Stages
No success is overnight. If you look at the careers of many top level artists, you will see years of hard work behind current successes. If success is achieved too easily, it will disappear just as fast as it’s gained. You have to put in blood, sweat, and tears to reach career goals.
But what if your goal is miles ahead of where you are now? It might seem like an impossible task to get to where you want to be. To get to any level of success, it’s a good idea to have smaller goals leading up to the big one. This allows you to track your progress, and can keep you from getting discouraged.
Want to play in huge arenas? Start with shows in a coffee shop, or play some open mic nights. Once you feel comfortable there, and people are responding well, start trying to get shows at venues with a bigger capacity. Do you want to be a hit producer? Start analyzing songs and find out what makes them great, and ask a friend if you can arrange a song or two for them.
Small steps and manageable goals add up to create success.
Don’t Be Afraid to Evaluate
You also need to be able to look objectively at your idea of success and your goals. You need to know when they aren’t going to work. This is extremely difficult, but knowing when to back out of something that’s not working is just as important as moving forward when something goes well.
Sometimes, life just doesn’t work the way you want it to. You need to be able to step back—even when that’s the last thing we want to do—and objectively look at what’s going on. You may need to reevaluate your overarching career goals. You might just need to alter the way you are trying to achieve those goals.
I’m not saying you should give up.
What I am saying is that we live in the real world, not fantasy music land. Things aren’t always going to go exactly the way you want them to. Sometimes we are limited by circumstances beyond our control. That doesn’t mean you throw in the towel, it just means that you look for an alternate route. Detours are hardly ever pleasant, but a road is a road, and can still take you to your destination.
Being a successful musician is going to look different for everyone. Knowing your own personal idea of success is the first step in achieving your music industry goals.
I’d like to begin this article by saying that I’m not a cynic. On the contrary, I’m a big believer that if your dream is to have success with your music, then, in time, you will find that success.
However, I am a realist. There are rarely shortcuts in our line of work, and being a gifted songwriter or performer simply isn’t enough, in my experience, to guarantee success. It takes a combination of factors—including patience, perseverance, and, most importantly, an undeniable work ethic—to rise above the masses of musicians hoping to get their songs out in the world.
Here are four reasons that talent isn’t enough to make it:
1. There are lots of talented people
If I’ve learned anything after living in Nashville and New York City over the past almost twenty years, it’s that, at a certain point, talent is the least common denominator. In the big music cities, the pool of gifted songwriters and performers is deeper and wider than we can possibly imagine. This is a good thing; it gives us ample opportunities to learn from each other and improve. But the flip side of this is that talent is only a starting point; it’s all of the other things you do that will separate you from the pack.
2. Talent is Something that you’re given, but it’s up to you to develop it
There’s a reason talent is also referred to as a “gift.” The spark that makes us creative and intuitively wired is something that we don’t choose; we just get it. But just because you’ve got a gift doesn’t mean that you don’t need to develop it or spend time understanding it. That part is actually work, but what happens when you do this work is that you will develop the ability to turn something that was unpredictable into something you can do consistently in order to make a living.
3. You’re running a business
Being a talented songwriter or performer without taking the time to understand the music business is the equivalent of a company that makes a great product that no one will ever hear about because they have no marketing department. In other words, writing the songs is just the tip of the iceberg. You need to remember that, like any business, you’ve got to learn the landscape, know who the major players, are and set specific goals along the way in order to get to the next level. I’m not saying this is easy, but I am saying it’s essential.
4. work ethic is everything
The dangerous myth about the music business is that it’s an exciting, creative world where people make beautiful music, go to parties, and wake up one day to their song playing on the radio. The gritty, unglamorous truth is that just like any business. There are mundane, yet necessary, things you have to do day in and day out in order to get your music out in the world.
There is some glamor and excitement in the music world, but there’s a lot of uninspired work that needs to happen as well. Make sure you’re prepared to do that stuff, too. Having a solid work ethic and a willingness to get up every day and work towards your goal will eventually get you there. It’s not always clear along the way how these little things help, but believe me when I tell you that they do add up and, in the end, make all the difference.
Talent is a wonderful thing and should never be taken for granted. I’m here to remind you to enjoy your gift for the amazing thing that it is. However, I’m also suggesting that this talent is only one part of a bigger set of conditions that need to be met in order for you to successfully get your songs out in the world and make a living doing it.
Sometimes I allow the past to fade from my memory too quickly. With things changing so rapidly in the digital age of music, it’s easy to forget just how different things in the music business were just a short time ago. One of my mentors always told me that it’s hard to move forward into the future when you’re focused on the past and looking over your shoulder, and, for the most part, he was right.
But not in this case.
Looking Over Your Shoulder
In the 90s, if an independent artist wanted to “make it” as a musician or performer, they had to beat the street and perform in front of real live people. How else would anyone hear their music? Artists needed fans, and live performances created fans.
Since creating fans is no easy task, that hard work was just the beginning. They spent hours writing music, picking band members, rehearsing, recording, mastering, ordering discs, and spending money—all of this just to acquire fans.
Now, the fans themselves weren’t the goal. “Making it” was the goal. What did this mean? To most independent musicians, it meant financial sustainability, which itself might lead to fame and fortune, if you were one of the gifted and lucky few.
To many artists, “making it” also meant widespread recognition. Because earning that recognition through constant touring and performing was slow and required hard work, some artists also banked on radio play, sending countless CDs to radio stations in hopes of breaking into the on-air market. Sadly, most of those CDs ended up in the trash and were never played over the air. While artists had hoped radio play would be a short cut to success, it was often a short cut to disappointment and unnecessary expense. So, starving artists either quit or kept on gigging.
The Internet Promise
The 90s passed by, and the next decade offered a whole new opportunity to artists with the launch of music sites on the internet. When the internet came, it promised easy access to self promotion and fame for indie musicians. Artists became enamored with the idea of getting their music on every internet portal for music, starting with iTunes.
The conversation changed; no longer did a musician have to work gigs to gain fame and make it in the business or wait on radio stations to pick up their music. With an internet short-cut to success, everything was finally going to be great. Fame was now possible without traditional air-play. An independent artist did not have to rely on gigging to make it any longer.
Not so fast.
The internet did deliver a wide variety of options for promotion of music, but it came at a cost. Fame was possible now, but money, which had always accompanied fame in the past, did not follow. In the 90s, more exposure turned into more revenue for artists; now, more exposure can actually turn into less revenue for the artist.
This doesn’t seem to make any sense—more exposure equals less revenue? But fans at shows today might hesitate to purchase music, since it is readily available online for free. In some cases, it seems that the more popular an artist becomes, the less likely it is that they could sell their music. But what could the artists do?
The Internet Is Not The Problem
Artists in the 90s had to make their way by touring and playing gigs. It was accepted as a necessary prerequisite to success.
Scratch that. It wasn’t “a” prerequisite. Touring and gigging were the only options available to an indie artist hoping to make it in the 90s. There was no internet, with its alluring digital tools, to distract and mislead musicians from the task at hand.
Here’s how it worked: a few gigs turned into a few more gigs; those gigs turned into better gigs at bigger venues. Eventually, gigging turned into touring and playing concerts. If you were good and lucky, you might even get radio play. If you did it right, all of this effort created fans who spent their money on your music.
It is exactly the same today.
Let me be clear about the internet age and what it allows artists to do with their music. The age of the internet has empowered musicians with countless digital tools to expose their music to potential fans. The only problem is that most of those digital tools do not generate any reasonable income. Therefore, the problem artists face today is exactly the same as, and yet completely different than, it was 20 years ago.
What Is The Problem?
The lack of income needed to sustain a career in music was a problem 20 years ago. It is still a problem today, and it’s actually getting worse. Surprisingly, the answer to the problem is also the same, but with a little twist.
In 1995, artists fought obscurity by gigging. As their fan base grew, people purchased music, and the artist began to make a living.
Due to the internet, obscurity is no longer a problem. This sounds like good news for musicians, but an internet fan base does not necessarily turn into music purchases. That is the significant difference between music today and music in the past.
Internet Fame Does Not Equal Income
The question most artists ask when starting a career in music is, “How do I get my music out there so people can hear it?” Unfortunately, this is not the right question.
(By the way, the answer is simple: load your music onto every streaming source you can find, and bam, you’ll have thousands of people listening in a short period of time!)
The right question to ask is, “How do I make a living as an artist?”
As odd as it may seem, the answer is the same today as it was 20 years ago. Gigging is a great way to create fans that will purchase your music and merch… as long as they can’t get it all online for free.
Four Things You Can Do
If you want to find success today as a performing artist, focus on the things you need to do that will create more local fans. Here are a few points to consider:
Perform by gigging and touring as much as you can.
Release new music often, and sell it on your merch table.
Capture your fans’ information and communicate with them.
Limit how much music you offer for free online.
Here’s my last piece of advice: keep looking over your shoulder for answers to today’s problems. It may seem counter-intuitive, but some things really don’t change, no matter how different they may seem. Do not become infatuated with internet fame unless you can turn it into income.
The key to indie musicians’ success is the same today as it was 20 years ago: Find fans that will purchase your music.
By NationWide SourceEstimated reading time: 9 minutes
An artist friend of mine likes to say, “If you choose to self promote your music, it’s probably because you aren’t good enough to get signed by a label.” This same artist has been signed by several labels over an extended music career… but he has nothing good to say about record labels. After two decades as a professional musician he has very little money to show for his career in music, doesn’t own the rights to a large portion of his own music (so, no royalties are coming in), and he still has to tour to make ends meet. He blames record labels and their practices for his situation. Such is the dilemma that musicians face.
Record Labels Poor Reputation – It’s Not All Deserved
Let’s face it. Record labels seem to have a bad reputation, and much of it is deserved. But you should not be too quick to lump them all into the same category. A large number of indie labels have emerged over the last several years and they have filled a real need for the indie artist. These smaller labels have successfully guided countless artists through the maze of the music business with great rewards.
On the other hand, countless artists have sounded off about their failed relationship with a record label, and, for the most part, these labels do not defend themselves. Why? Because they are behaving exactly as the artist describes; they really are doing all of the things that artists complain about. So, what is there to talk about? How can a record label defend themselves if all the negative comments are true?
Record labels tend to do exactly what their contract allows them to do. The rub comes because an artist doesn’t really understand the relationship before signing on the dotted line. The artist is agreeing to a contract that allows the record label to do what they do—and possibly own everything an artist creates—without really knowing what it all means. Specifically, the artist needs to know how the relationship will work, how much money the label is putting up, how that money will be spent, who is financially responsible for what, who approves marketing and production expenses, and which party owns the rights to what is produced.
Most of the time, record labels are not the devil. They’re simply businesses that are designed to make as much profit as possible. Artists, on the other hand, are usually the furthest thing from a profit-driven business. They are creative souls, not accountants. An artist who is also a great business person is a rarity… just like my doctor friends who are great physicians but, for the most part, terrible business people.
Why Sign with a Record Label?
So, why in the world would an artist sign with a record label? That’s easy: the artist wants the business experience the label has to help launch or grow their career. Artists need partners with vast experience, impressive connections, and lots of money to promote their music. A good label will help with everything from song selection to recording, booking, marketing, and distribution of their signed artist. When I say help, I really mean that the label may have complete control over these things.
After all, an artist is asking for help from the label, and no label is going to invest time and money into an artist without securing some control. The label wants to get paid back and make money. Big money, if possible. Most performers signed by a label do not pay off; they just lose money. Someone has to pay for the flops, and the only way to do that is get the highest possible rate of return on the performers that do succeed.
It may not seem fair, but a successful artist has to pay for other artists’ failures.
Think of it this way: Suppose you receive a mail order catalog. You didn’t request the catalog, but there it is, in your mail box. The company that sent out the catalog knows that 98 of 100 of those catalogs will be thrown in the trash—no purchase will be made. The two people out of 100 that do make a purchase have to pay for all of those catalogs that were thrown in the trash. It is called marketing expense. When the company prices its products, it adds enough profit to cover the expense of creating and mailing those catalogs that go in the trash. Otherwise the company would lose money and fail. Record labels are no different.
A good record label is selective about who they sign; the ratio of successful signings to failed signings is crucial to their success as a label. A label should know which artists it can help and which do not fit.
A smart artist is also selective about who they sign with. Why would an artist sign with a label that has a bad track record of signing successful artists? Make sure the label has prior success promoting artists who have a similar style to your own. Don’t be afraid to ask tough questions, and don’t accept general statements. After you become convinced that the label is a good fit, do your homework and read the contract carefully. Have a professional look at it on your behalf. Make sure you know what you are signing up for.
Some artists really need a label to help them make crucial decisions about their career, not to mention the money to ensure a successful launch. Without that help, a talented artist may end up failing and giving up on a career in music. Most of the decisions the label makes will be focused on creating a long-term money-making success of the artist. Yes, a label is in it for the money, but there is nothing wrong with that. Let’s just make sure that the artist understands what that means.
My Friend Lionel
Lionel had a band back in the 70s, and they were a regional success. Great music with lots of exposure in good venues and a loyal fan base that was growing weekly. A local radio station approached Lionel and asked if he would like to hear his music played on the air; of course, Lionel was excited at the prospect and jumped at the chance to meet with the radio station executives. An agreement was reached quickly, and Lionel was on the air that same day.
It was not until years later, when Lionel went to record his hit song and self release a CD, that he discovered that he no longer owned the rights to his own music. The radio station owned his music. Finding this hard to believe, Lionel contacted the station to follow up. He was told that the station did in fact own the rights. The people he originally spoke to no longer worked for the station, but when he authorized the station to play his music on the air, Lionel had signed a document that gave away his rights. He hadn’t read the entire document. He didn’t realize he was giving up his rights. He thought it just granted the station the rights to play the music over the air. After all, that’s what the station execs he’d met with had told him.
Four Things You Must Do
1. Find a Good Fit. Check out the record label and make sure they can demonstrate past success with artists similar to you. Ask for documentation.
2. Get details. Labels have engaged in signing bands countless times, so I can promise you that record labels are much better at the signing process than artists are. Have the label outline a detailed plan for your launch and continued growth. Get them to explain why they think this partnership will work. What are they bringing to the table? What are you bringing? You should also understand how much control you will be giving up.
Ask who has control over expenditures, where are the funds for expenditures coming from, who owns the rights to the songs and recordings, how are marketing decisions made, and how much input you have on the decisions that are made. When does the contract expire and who has an option to renew? What rights does the label have after the contract expires? Most of all, require transparency and detailed reporting on all financial expenditures.
Do not be afraid to take your time, and don’t allow anyone to rush you. Don’t become infatuated with the idea of getting signed and quickly agree to whatever is offered.
3. Negotiate. Interview with at least two labels and compare what they have to say. If you’ve asked the right questions, you’ll be able to tell a good deal from a bad one. You’ll also be able to pick out bad terms and negotiate for better ones. A small indie label may be a better fit than a traditional industry giant, quite often smaller is more flexible with the terms of the contract and quicker to move on your project.
4. Get advice from an industry professional. Hire an entertainment attorney who has experience with labels and contracts. It would also be a good idea to talk directly to other artists that this label has signed in the past and get their feedback. Who better to tell you how the label has performed?
Remember Lionel. He signed a contract with the radio station much like artists sign today with record labels. If he had slowed down and taken the contract to an entertainment attorney to get an explanation of what he was signing, he would not have agreed to the deal. He trusted his gut and that was a big mistake. One additional day of negotiation and a little advice would have made all the difference for Lionel.
My friend no longer thinks that self promoted artists are going it alone only because they are not good enough to get signed by a label. For the first time in his career, he is doing his own promotions without the help of a label. Times have changed. A label is no longer necessary to succeed as a performer, but there are many pitfalls. Self promotion has it’s advantages, and it’s easier to accomplish today than it has ever been in the past, but don’t assume that going it alone is easy. On the other hand, record labels can create tremendous value… just make sure you know what you are agreeing to.
By NationWide SourceEstimated reading time: 9 minutes
Are you worried about fan burnout due to often-repeated gigs in the same venue? Are your fans tiring of you? While they seem like nice problems to have, they are legitimate concerns we’ve heard artists bring up. Read on for our take on this topic.
Dinner With Bob
I remember being out on a couples’ dinner date recently and watching with amusement as my friend Bob began to tell a funny story about his past. Bob is a great storyteller, truly gifted at communication. He has a knack for including just the right amount of detail in the story, and his timing with the punch line is excellent. Bob seems to have a million stories, and he enjoys sharing them.
Everyone was having a good time listening to Bob. Well, almost everyone. Teri, his wife, was not quite as enthusiastic as the rest of us, and she rolled her eyes back as Bob began the story. Now, Bob and Teri have been together for years; they get along really well, are a very compatible couple, share common interests, and love being together.
So, why was Teri less enthusiastic than the rest of us? Well, Teri has heard all of Bob’s stories many times, and she considers them counterproductive for the group discussion. She thinks Bob is funny—it was one of the reasons she was attracted to him so many years ago—but his material needs updating. Bob does tend to repeat himself, and not just to Teri; the other couples with us had also heard many of his stories. Nonetheless, Bob enjoys performing, so the show goes on.
Like Teri, I can only hear the same thing so many times before it begins to wear on me. It might have been engaging, interesting, or funny when I first heard it, but after a while I yearn for something new. The excitement is gone. When we go to dinner with Bob and Teri now, we have to prepare ourselves to endure some of Bob’s repeat performances. I hate to admit it, but I’m starting to feel just like Teri.
Overexposure to music can have the same effect. A hit single is incredible the first time I hear it. It’s fun to listen to or share for a few weeks. But then, when I hear it on every radio station, on the evening news, and as I do my grocery shopping, it becomes downright annoying. After a while, I just want it to stop.
As an independent musician, you face the same challenge Bob faces. Great material helps win loyal fans, but performing that same material over and over, without adding new material, can help you lose those fans. Fans want more new music. Otherwise, repeating your limited library of hits will wear on them. Your success as an artist can be impacted negatively if you do not produce new music consistently.
New music creates new sales and keeps things exciting and fresh, for you and for your fans. When I get a notification from a favorite musician that they’re releasing a new single or album, the anticipation of hearing their new music for the first time gets me excited. Depending on the artist, I’m ready to purchase the album from the first mention of it, without waiting for reviews and previews. Your fans are the same way. Don’t frustrate them with outdated, stale material.
A Story About Ashley, One Of Our Musician Clients
Ashley and I were having a discussion recently about her career. She had been performing in our area for some time and had some concerns about fan enthusiasm at shows… mainly that it seemed to be waning. She also felt that her connection with the audience was less than what it used to be.
Ashley had a revelation. “You cannot be a prophet in your home town,” she told me. Ashley felt that the local fans were too familiar with her and her music. They no longer recognized her talent the way they used to. They were not engaging with her. In addition to her revelation, Ashley had a plan. The plan was to move into new markets where people did not know her, book new venues, start a new promotional campaign… you know, change things up a bit. She would be fresh and new; the old buzz would be back.
Well, maybe not just yet. Let’s back up just a little.
Ashley is a good songwriter and quite a talented performer. But the new digital age of music, with all of its opportunities and overhead, was overwhelming her. She was doing everything. Shooting high-quality music videos, expanding her merch line, updating her websites, tweeting regularly, signing up for social media accounts left and right, and posting her music on every possible digital download store and streaming service. She even traveled to SXSW to hear what the ‘next big thing’ would be. Ashley spent 30 to 35 hours per week on the ‘business side’ of her music and the rest of her time traveling to and performing at her gigs. In short, she was doing everything she could think of to feel and look like a successful performer, hoping that it would make her one and bring hordes of fans in to purchase her music.
The reality was different. Most of her fans didn’t visit her website, since there was no new music, and her social media posts vanished into fans’ feeds as soon as they were typed. Her video, which looked great but cost thousands produce, only had 220 views on YouTube. And, instead of buying her music, most of her fans were streaming it online for free. Ashley was dedicating way too much time and energy to things that didn’t really matter—or, worse yet, hurt her. Ashley looked great and was busy doing stuff, but nobody noticed.
Does this sound like you? Doing everything you know how to do and implementing a strong plan but coming up short? Have you figured out why? We have. Ashley was so busy doing the ‘business of music’ that she forgot about the music itself.
When Ashley was first starting her music career, she spent 90% of her time working on her music and developing material. Now the tables have turned. Ashley has not released a new album in over three years. She wasn’t developing new material with any regularity because her schedule was too busy. I remember a recent four-day period where she performed seven times in five different cities and spent 16 hours on the road for travel between gigs. I don’t know how she had any energy left to perform! The point is, she now spends 90% of her time either performing or engaged in the ‘business of music’… and she hasn’t even noticed the change.
This happens quite often with talented, creative people who also have to run their own business. They get into music because they have talent and love writing, playing, and performing. But before long, their focus has shifted to building their career, and they end up doing everything but creating new music.
The result? Your music and your career suffer.
Two Changes Ashley (And You) Must Make
Number One: Ashley is full of creative ideas but has allowed her schedule to rob her of time to work on them. This MUST change.
Think of the fan response to Ashley if she had released 3 new albums over the last three years along with several singles, EPs, release parties, and some promotional products. She would have done much better with her fans! Fan excitement and engagement would have been much higher, let alone the income generated.
Ashley needs to spend more time on the creative development of her music. We’d recommend at least 1/3 of her time to developing new material, which means her schedule should look something like this:
Ashley’s Schedule (45 – 60 hours per week)
1/3 of time spent on business/marketing matters
1/3 of time spent on developing new material
1/3 of time spent on performance and travel
Of course, we know that life is not that clean-cut. If one week or day demands more time for gigs, she should balance things out when she can. Maintaining a balance is key.
It would also be helpful for Ashley to set a minimum goal for creating new music. One new single to release every 6-8 weeks and one new album each year would be a good place to start.
Number Two:Ashley needs to look at her current venues and determine what is or isn’t working.
Let’s look at that four-day tour. Her income on one of those gigs was just $250, and she had to travel two hours each way to make it. As it stands, it’s really not worth the trip. Her other out-of-town gigs were further away but paid significantly more, making them worth her time. And her gigs in town paid well.
Once Ashley has determined which venues aren’t working, she can decide if they need to be cut altogether, or if they just need to be booked differently. The low-paying out-of-town venue on her four-day tour needs to go, or she needs to book additional venues in the same area to make the trip worth her time.
If Ashley cuts venues from her list, she can think about replacing them with new venues, as long as they pay well and expose her to a receptive audience. Touring is another option, but she’ll need to be strategic and selective about where she plays.
This might be a good time for her to hire a professional booking agent. If they can open doors to the right venues and help her organize her performance schedule, a good agent is well worth the money. She should try to negotiate an agreement that keeps her involved in the relationship with the venues, allowing her to personally handle the relationship after an agreed-upon period of time.
In the end, Ashley was partially right. She did need to change things up by expanding her venue options and purging those that don’t work for her. However, she was also missing something that was even more important: the need to make creating new material a priority. Ashley needs to dedicate a significant portion of her time to creative development.
Going on tour with old material will not solve her problem, at least not long term. Getting back to her creative roots will.
By NationWide SourceEstimated reading time: 4 minutes
With everything on your plate as a musician—and there’s a lot: songwriting, recording, booking gigs, connecting with fans, managing social media, building your website, finding music distributors, looking at record labels, selling your music—you’re more than busy and a little distracted. That’s all the more reason to make sure you’re covered in case the worst happens.
The Worst That Could Happen
“What’s the worst that could happen?” you ask. Well, since you asked, let’s go there…
Your band is doing well: playing regularly, recording a few tracks for your newest album, booking a small tour. After a gig, you decide to go celebrate with friends before the band leaves town. All the instruments and equipment are loaded into your van—the guitars, bass, drums, keyboard, mics, amps, the iPad and audio interface you used to record that night’s gig, the band leader’s laptop and notebook of song lyrics, all the cables and pedals and boards, and your band merch. You head over to the all-night diner along the highway, and when you emerge two (or four) hours later, the back window is shattered and everything is gone.
The items were in a car, so auto-insurance would cover them, right? Wrong. Most auto policies won’t cover personal belongings stolen from a vehicle (although they might cover your broken back window). If you’re lucky, your homeowners or renters insurance might cover the missing property. However, there are often limitations on electronics and high-ticket items; additionally, if the insurance company believes the items were used for business purposes (which your band might qualify as), you might be out of luck there as well. (FYI: this might also be true if the items were stored at your home but in a room/building dedicated to the band/business.)
Again, now what?
There are steps you can take to decrease your chances of facing a similar situation, but, to be bluntly honest, it could still happen. Your best bet is to be prepared for the worst situation so that it’s only a headache and not a game-changer. The best way to be prepared is to properly insure your band’s gear. Here are several companies for musical instrument insurance:
Heritage Insurance Services
Heritage Insurance Services is one of the best in the music industry. They are very knowledgeable about instruments and the needs of musicians. They offer worldwide coverage from the typical threats for the instrument itself as well as the related gear (cases, recording equipment, accessories, amps, etc). Heritage even provides insurance for shipment or travel. However, they do not insure laptops or iPods.
Clarion Musical Instrument Insurance
With over 40 years of experience, another leader in the musical instrument insurance business is Clarion Musical Instrument Insurance. They offer insurance for professionally-used instruments against standard threats (breakage, earthquake, flood, etc) regardless of where in the world the instrument is. One nice feature is their Business Interruption Endorsement, which will help cover lost wages from gigs cancelled because of instrument damage or theft.
Music Pro Insurance
Again, this company offers worldwide insurance against unintentional damage, disaster, and theft for your instruments and equipment. Coverage starts as low as $150, which is a great deal for the peace of mind provided.
Choosing an Insurance Company and Policy
Contact several musical instrument insurers to be sure you’re getting the right coverage for you and your band. It also can’t hurt to call your homeowners insurance company to see if they offer an insurance policy for musical instruments. Regardless of the company, be sure to clarify that the instruments are used for performances and the type of music you perform. Also, ask whether it’s possible (or advisable) for your band to insure your instruments and equipment collectively.
The loss or damage of your band’s instruments and equipment can be a nightmare. Without the proper insurance, your band would have to rebuild from scratch, requiring a heavy investment of funds without your main method of making money. This could force even a successful band to fold. Instead, the right insurance policy could let your band get back on track quickly and easily.
Does your band have insurance? Is it collective or spread across the individual members? How did you pick your insurance company and policy? If you don’t have insurance, what’s your emergency plan?
By NationWide SourceEstimated reading time: 2 minutes
You have the songs. You even have the gear. All your band is lacking is the financial backing to get your project off the ground. With a little help from your fans, though, you can get there. Using crowdfunding platforms like Indiegogo*, you can crowdfund your music project.
How Much Does Indiegogo Cost?
There is no cost to create a profile or start a music crowdfunding campaign with Indiegogo. There are two campaign options to choose from: fixed funding or flexible funding.
Fixed funding is an all-or-nothing approach. If you do not reach your goal, your donors will get refunds, and you will not receive (or be charged) anything. If you do reach your fixed funding goal, Indiegogo charges a four percent fee.
Flexible funding allows you to take in funds whether or not you meet your goal. If you do not reach your goal, Indiegogo will take a nine percent cut. If you do reach your goal, Indiegogo takes their four percent fee.
With both options, there is an additional three percent fee for processing credit cards.
Creating an Indiegogo Campaign
Go to the Indiegogo homepage, select “Create” at the very top of the page. Then, create a new account by entering your name, email, and password. The next page will ask you to determine what category your project falls under and your funding goal. You will also classify who will be receiving the funds (individual, non-profit, business, or religious organization).
On the following page, summarize your project and goals. Add a photo to your campaign’s page. Upload a video or narrative to tell why you are raising funds and how you will use the funds after the campaign. Set the time frame for your campaign.
Lastly, set the rewards. Remember to offer an incentive to campaign donors who contribute between 10 and 20 dollars. Set higher price points, too, including one hundred, several hundred, and a thousand dollars. The rewards—which should fit the donation level and increase in value accordingly—can range from CDs, t-shirts, and stickers to a house party or private concert.
Promoting Your Campaign
Indiegogo allows visitors on your campaign page to like your campaign through Facebook or tweet the link to their followers. Don’t count on visitors to do all the promotion for you; be prepared to do a lot yourself. In addition to Facebook and Twitter, you can link to your YouTube channel and your band’s website. Indiegogo has an excellent help center to guide you through the process, and they also encourage you to email with any questions.
Have you used Indiegogo to help fund a campaign or raise funds for your own creative project? Was the project successful?
* Indiegogo is not just for music crowdfunding; it can be used for other creative projects, including film, art, and theatrical productions.