What do musicians do all day? Party time right? They hang out, get high, go to orgies every night and make crazy money. Ah, what a life. That’s the perception many people have of us unfortunately. We’ve all had that conversation with a friend, “What do you do for a living?”… you tentatively say, “I am a musician.” Then you wait for the look and you know what it means. You are less than, you are a gypsy, you are lazy, you aren’t too bright, you really need to GET A JOB!
The reality is being a full time musician means keeping grueling hours, taking every gig you can get, constantly marketing, practicing, recording, and getting paid lousy wages while you are killing yourself to keep your head above water. Not to mention how expensive your gear is and you have to maintain it. The tubes for that vintage Matchless amp are expensive and they always seem to blow right before a gig.
One thing I’ve realized over the years is that most people have no idea what it really means to be a working musician. Even musicians and music industry “experts” seem to have no real grasp on the day-to-day lives of what I like to call the “musical middle-class.” They aren’t on major labels, riding around in limos and sipping margaritas while floating in their pools. That group makes up way less than 1% of the 20+ million musicians out there working today.
You’re waiting for the positive spin right about now where I tell you that I was just kidding and all independent artists are going to become millionaires right? Sorry, not going to happen. The good news is, the reason that 95% of musicians aren’t able to support themselves doing their art is that quite simply, they just give up. It’s too hard, it takes too long, someone should just “discover them” and they should be famous in 6 months. I hear it every day. What blows my mind about this mentality is that if it were any other business, the quitters would expect to work their butts off for years until the business becomes profitable. Suppose you are opening a restaurant, a good analogy that I use all the time. If you didn’t order the food, hire the chef, train the staff, create the menu, do the marketing and work 12 hours a day, it would close very quickly right? Of course it would! A neglected restaurant wouldn’t even last two weeks. Well, neither will your music career. It needs attention every day, just like any other business. You have to fine tune your craft to be the best musician you can be which means practicing every day. Then you have to build a fan base online and in the cubs gigging constantly so people can actually hear your music. You need a product so you have to at least have a decent demo that you use as a calling card and hopefully a finished product that you can sell. The list is endless and we teach it every day. But what are musicians actually doing with their time every day and is it effective? By and large they are spinning their wheels not being very effective because they are secretly waiting for the magic pot of gold to fall into their laps.
Once you have an undeniable product, you have to know what to do with it.
Industry veteran Kevin Breuner writes about the 3 most common mistakes made by Independent musicians:
1. Not Monetizing Live Shows
Many young artists are afraid to appear like they’re taking themselves too seriously. When you’re an up-and-coming talent, it’s easy to slip into casual mode– always playing for free, and not setting up your merch display or charging for CDs.
While you should aim to get paid directly from live shows, this isn’t always possible when you’re a fresh act. Having said that, there is still money to be made from your performances.
If you’ve piqued the crowd’s interest, a few people will want to buy merch. Make sure to mention from stage that you’ll be going around after your set to sell CDs. Don’t lose sales because you weren’t prepared!
A second way to make money from your shows is via royalties collection. While this won’t be huge amounts per show– it can add up. Many musicians don’t claim their performance royalties and essentially leave money on the table.
2. Focusing too much on getting signed
This point is pretty self explanatory. Yes, I know the thought of getting signed is alluring, but it shouldn’t be your main aim. You want to make the best music you can, and you want to build up as big a loyal fan base as you can on your own. Whatever other goals you have (to get signed or stay indie) will flow from there.
There are two main problems you’ll face when aiming to sign a record deal:
1. You’ll target the wrong people. Instead of focusing on interacting with fans, DJ’S, and people that can broadcast your music on a wider scale than you can do yourself, you’ll be focusing on getting onto a label’s radar. In reality, the best way to get on a record label’s radar is to ALREADY be successful on your own. If you’ve created your own buzz, they’ll come to YOU.
2. You’ll lose motivation if it doesn’t come. If you’ve got your heart set on a record deal but you don’t get signed, this will only cause discouragement and make you lose the love for the music. I’ve seen this happen with many talented musicians, and it’s not a pretty site.
Focus on building up your brand, making your own fans, and earning your own money. If you go on to get a good record deal, that’s great. If not, you’ll still be making money and gaining new fans. And as you put more work in, you’re bound to get more rewards out.
3. Not treating your music as a business
Yes, music should be a fun venture, but you should still treat it like a business (even if you’re not making a full-time living from it at this very minute)!
If you want to make it past the ‘bedroom’ musician stage, you need to recognize that this is your career (or one of several careers– until you can ditch the day-gig). You need to keep relationships professional, network to set schedules, keep paperwork of what’s been happening, push yourself even when you don’t want to, and strategically invest time and money with the aim of making more back in the long run.
Your level of success won’t just rely on how talented you are. Record labels make hits with artists because they realize hitting big requires a lot of hard work. They do all of the things mentioned above, and a lot more. If you want even a slice of this success, you need to do the same.
On the flip side here are 4 tips to successfully market your music:
1. Social Media
Everyone nowadays has an email account, Facebook, Twitter, blog, etc. These websites (and plenty of others) are powerful tools for independent artists. Today’s world is very much technology-driven. When people want to discover new music, they go online. When people want to know when their favorite artist is coming to town, they check the artist’s website. When people want to know what their favorite artist is doing at the moment, they check their Twitter. The Internet has opened up so many doors for human interaction, and there are innovators out there every day coming up with new ideas in how to help the world with efficiency.
As an independent artist, these social media websites are a big part of marketing, whether you plan on reaching someone that is in your same town or someone that is on the other side of the world. Notice the plural: social media websites. Having just a Facebook page is playing it safe and might not help you reach as many people as you’d like. There are many music-friendly websites out there that are very helpful to any kind of artist. You have to be able to efficiently communicate with the fans you have and the fans you want to gain
2. Live Shows
As an artist, your strength is your music. Whether you rap, sing, or play an instrument, it is what you’re good at and why you are doing all this in the first place. Once you’ve got songs written (and hopefully recorded) you have to get out there and perform them! You are showcasing your talent and you have to sell yourself to an audience. Try to get booked, play at open mics, play at local events, whatever it takes to show people what you’ve got to offer.
Performance is the first part, interaction is the next. There is a different kind of connection that comes with human interaction. If you go up to people that have watched you perform and talk to them, whether it is for feedback or simply to introduce yourself, you are making a stronger impression. It is better to be recognized as a real person and not just someone on stage. If you perform live often, make sure to go out and talk to people. Be open and friendly and you’re sure to make more fans.
3. Put Yourself in Their Shoes
Whose shoes? Your audience, your fans, the people you are trying to win over. Try to figure out who your fan base is and what they would like to hear from you.
If your marketing strategy is not working, maybe you are not thinking like your fans. Remember, you are also a fan of music, so think about what you would like (or would have liked) to see from your favorite artist, whether it is what kind of music they write, when they release music, interviews, personal interactions, contests, etc. Think about providing good customer service: if you are trying to sell yourself, you have to make sure that your customers are happy.
The best way a fan can support you is by owning your merchandise. CDs, shirts, hoodies, stickers, pins, posters, whatever. You want people to buy these things from you and likewise your fans will want to buy these to support you. If someone is wearing your t-shirt in public, your name is being promoted. If someone is listening to your CD in their car with other people, your music is being promoted. Having your name and music out there for other people to see will never hurt.
Another way to use merchandise as marketing is to have giveaways. This is a simple tactic to get people to check out your music or one of your websites. Something along the lines of signing up for a subscription or liking a status on Facebook can be the objective. You have just marketed yourself and created some buzz, and at the other end, someone wins a free t-shirt. And after all, who doesn’t like free stuff?
By far the most important key to having a successful music career is being realistic. If I read one more artist questionnaire that says, “I want to win 10 Grammys, make millions of dollars, completely revolutionize the industry and have everyone adore me,” I’m going to lose it! If you are smart you can have a fabulous career in the music business and make a good living doing it. But if you got into this to get rich quick, don’t quit your day job! Wrong business my friend, you are delusional. There are no short cuts, you can’t buy your way to the top and it takes time, blood sweat and tears. This isn’t the stock market or flipping houses, this is music. And for some but not all, it is art. There is a difference between a musician and an artist, but that’s a blog for another day. So take stock of your daily routine and how you are spending your time pursuing your music career. Make lists, be organized, stay level and always treat people well and be humble. And put the MUSIC FIRST. If your music isn’t fantastic, then increase your daily practice time, take lessons and go to open mics to hone your craft. Become a master of your instrument. Listen to world class musicians, be a sponge and always strive to be better at what you do. Focus. And by the way, stop asking your friends and family if you are the best musician in the world. You won’t get an honest answer. Put your music out there and let the fans decide, it’s all in their hands.
Treat everyone you meet with respect!
No one wants to help an arrogant rude musician with a sense of entitlement. That will get you nowhere fast. Collaborate, network and embrace other musicians instead of viewing them as competition. It’s a big world and you will drive yourself crazy if you are worrying about the successes of other artists. Concentrate on your own game and step it up. That is a much better use of your time.
I’ll leave you with a great article from Music Think Tank about the 4 key traits of successful musicians. Keep working it, stay humble and most importantly stay in the game. Who knows, you may be one of the 5% who actually make it in this business!