5 THINGS FOR INDEPENDENT MUSICIANS TO REMEMBER
This blog was written in extension to a conversation I had with a local independent artist who was seeking some advice about turning his passion for music into a career. I have watched this artist struggle to make progress despite the fact he is an amazing talent and naturally gifted for the arts.
I have worked with many artists from around the world through the capacity of film, music video and artists management, many of whom are now making a successful career from music, and so I thought I would take some of what I have learned and observed and put it down into 5 quick tips i think are important for new artists to keep in mind. For the many artists I have worked with, one thing is clear; success is a very clear, planned and deliberate action. Hard work , but more so smart work!
Please note, this blog is for people who want to make a career from music. If music is just your passion and you do it for fun with no intentions of turning it into a career, then the majority of this won’t apply to you. But if you want to make music your career then please read on. These are only a collection of my opinions and thoughts, take them with a pinch of salt, or implement them and thank me later 😀
1. HAVE A PLAN
As talented as you are, success isn’t going to just land in your lap without proper planning and a clear direction of where you are going. The idea of creating a clear goal, a real tangible target, usually scares most artists. This is because it takes very specific planned action which usually takes the artist out of their comfort zone. Comfort zones are a dangerous play ground, they will keep you tied up in repetitive meaningless action and before you know it 10 years will have passed without any significant progress.
Sometimes your comfort zone can disguise itself as ‘necessary work’. You know what I mean, keeping yourself busy, which gives the feeling of false achievement, constantly recording song after song, shooting low budget video after low budget video without any clear plan other than ‘I’m going to put this on the internet next week and just see what happens’. Don’t get me wrong, these things are important and have their place and time, but it’s even more important to understand the proportions in which you engage in activities and how they serve your master plan. It would be more favourable to yourself if you instead spent half of that time trying to build relationships with radio DJ’s, finding someone who can represent you and advocate on your behalf when contacting companies, understand what PRS is and how it works, find out how to build an audience and look at what your audience responds well to, find promoters for potential shows and start developing a press pack etc. The bottom line is this, for every action, aim for it to have a CLEAR result, do things for reasons designed to take you closer towards your major goal. If it doesn’t take you closer, then theres probably something more important to do first.
2. BE YOUR OWN BRAND
As a new artist I understand there will be an excitement of seeking immediate exposure, raw talent, putting yourself out there just as you are, and in the beginning I think this is a necessary training ground. However, when it’s time to start thinking about music as a career, you have to start thinking of yourself as a BRAND. Brands are very particular, when you think of them you have specific thoughts and feelings relating to that brand and so must be the case for you as an artist.
When you think about ‘Drake’ you think or feel something, whether it’s good or bad you have a very clear identity in your mind. When you think of ‘Dizzee Rascal‘ again you will have an image that is conjured up. The point is this, you understand the artist, a fan base becomes clear, promoters know what they are getting and if it will fit into their ventures and ultimately your music now has an identity that will go before you.
Start thinking of yourself as a brand. Be particular in the visual image you put across, be specific in the way your videos, music and pictures look and sound. Be remembered! When people speak about you what will be that one thing they associate with you? Talent is not enough, you may be the best lyricist in the world but some of the most talented people go un noticed because they don’t know the importance of branding.
3. KNOW YOUR INDUSTRY
The music industry is a business. That, i think we can agree on. Business’ work in a very particular fashion, they serve the needs of a set of people and in turn those people pay for such services or goods and help the business stay running and growing by returning and sharing their experience with others. If you want to be in the music business then you need to know how that business works. How do artists get paid these days in the music industry? what is PRS? What is VPL? what’s a publishing deal and what are the pros and cons in having one? How do you get your music play-listed on radio? how do you get your video on MTV? How do radio DJ’s decide who to play? How do you clear samples, how do find a manager, do you need a manager? How do you monetise your Youtube channel? How do you get your music on iTunes and Amazon and in stores?
If you are struggling to answer any of these questions then it’s important to understand that the answers to making a career out of your passion are waiting for you on the other side of a bit of research. If on the other hand you know the answers to such questions, and not benefitting from it then maybe it’s time to start acting on them with just as much passion as you have when in the studio making the music. Knowledge is knowing something, Wisdom is putting it to use!
4. BE CONSISTENT
One of the keys to success in any business is to ‘engage in consistent action’. This doesn’t mean keep doing the same thing over an over again, it means to keep doing the things that are actively taking you closer to your major goal. Too many artists will release a single independently which has a good response and then leave a huge gap before following it up. This loses momentum, it takes the magic away in a movement that was created and it’s almost like starting from scratch when they eventually do follow it up.
People like to feel like they’re on a journey with you, keep them in the loop, give them things to look forward to. Timing is critical and consistent content helps grow an audience and lets them identify with you as a brand. If the release of music is sporadic, inconsistent, then your place and your audience may be captured elsewhere with someone who is working just that little bit harder than you are. Stay on your grind.
5. CAMPAIGN YOUR YEAR, BUILD YOUR AUDIENCE
If music is something you want to do as a career or at least make a serious effective venture within it, then it’s important to create a campaign for how you plan to make use of the next 12 months ahead of you. Very much in line with the first point of planning, you should create a campaign in stages of how and what you will be doing. This is a tried and tested formula that pretty much every successful artist does, so why wouldn’t you do the same? If you don’t have plans further than your next youtube release then this point is really aimed at you.
In the world of independent music, it is critical that you pay great attention to audience building. Your audience are likely to be the reason why bigger corporations take notice of you, why you get that booking, why you get invited down to Radio 1 for a guest appearance. Audience building is key and it is done by implementing all the points above and ensuring you have creative content that engages people and gives them something to remember. Not play once and say ‘he/she are decent’, i mean remember with feeling! Give people a term or saying they can go away with and use in their daily conversations, or a new slogan or a new ideal relating to a common situation.
Unfortunately it is rare that big radio stations, booking venues, record labels etc will book you because they discover a good song you have created. Unless that good song has had an audience response, a sizeable following or at least some public reaction, then they will more than likely overlook you. Unless it’s clear the people want it, many bigger organisations won’t take the risk on it. In the good old days you could potentially get a record deal by showing you had talent, but now-a-days, record companies want you to do the ground work first by yourself. I know many of you would probably prefer to stay independent (which has many advantages), but the truth is you will still need other outlets such as radio and live performances to reach wider audiences and for this to happen, they need to see that you’re what the people want. You have all the tools you need RIGHT NOW to start building an audience.
Gather your audience in measurable places. You want to know where you can engage with your audience and where new fans can go and follow your journey. This is why Twitter is good, it gives you a place where you can engage with your audience and a clear place for new followers to come and find more music and invest into your future with you. Also it’s a great way for others to gage how in demand you are, how popular your music is and if you have an audience big enough for them to want to collaborate with you on bigger things.
The power is in the people, don’t overlook the importance of audience building, those that do usually remain ‘talented’ but ‘unheard’. Remember…”Hard work beats talent, when talent doesn’t work hard”!
Written by Daniel Alexander
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