Things have changed for both better and worse for music artists during the past decade. Happily, the distribution game has changed significantly, making it easier for new artists to sell and promote their music independently. But sadly, at times, it feels like the game has become over saturated with wanna-be artists – and so cutting through the noise and establishing a presence in the scene is still difficult.
Below are 10 gems that we’ve picked up after a couple of years of hustling our own music. We figure this will be helpful advice to many new artists on the come-up.
1. Don’t half-step
Do try your best to be as professional as possible
The internet is flooded with good music, so what chance is there that a poor recording will stand out against so many great recordings? A good song has at most 30 seconds to capture the listener’s attention, and if your music sounds bad, you’ll have even less than that. Don’t settle for mediocre, and don’t put out unfinished and unpolished material. If you sound good, your music will be taken more seriously.
And professionalism doesn’t just stop at the music. To be professional also means to look and act the part. Every professional artists needs to have a website, stock of professional photos, business cards, a well-written bio and an up-to-date electronic press kit. These items become essential parts of your arsenal of promotional material.
2. Don’t be lazy
Do put in work.
You’ve heard about SOCAN but want to learn more about it? Do some research! You see that your peers have their music on iTunes and Spotify, but you’re not sure how to make that happen? Find out! You have a gig coming up, and you’re not sure of how to get some local press? Send some emails!
Success comes from gaining knowledge, and making an effort. Don’t sit around and wait for handouts. Don’t rely on other people. And don’t rely on going-viral to be your ticket to success. You have a better chance at succeeding by working hard than doing the bare minimum and hoping to get noticed by a major label.
3. Don’t be afraid to monetize
Do have a plan to build some cash flow
Making good music requires some good time and effort, and a lot of money spent on gear. And promoting your music properly requires more than twice that effort and cost. Without a plan to at least break-even, you don’t have much more than an expensive hobby on your hands.
You don’t want to charge people for your music? That’s fine. Do you! But at least find other ways to monetize and create cash flow. Selling merch, paid gigs, promoting your own shows, applying for grants and filing your royalty reports are only some of the many ways you can begin to build a war chest of funds.
And always give your fans the options to buy your music, even if you do release it for free.
4. Don’t do it for the money
Do it for the music
Until your operation becomes profitable, don’t pocket that cash once you get it. The idea is to be smart with the money and invest it back into the music. Put that money towards buying more merch. Spend some money on marketing and PR. Use the money to cover the cost of the promo and marketing for your next album release party.
Doing these things well will allow you to continue to build on your success which will allow your cash flow to continue to snowball into a bigger boulder of loot.
5. Don’t ignore criticism
Do invite advice
Take every opportunity you can to receive input and advice from others, especially those who have more experience than you. And I’m not just talking about advice about your music, but also about your operations. If people aren’t showing up to your shows, find out why. If journalists never show you love, find out why. If blogs won’t post your songs, find out why.
Finding out why isn’t always an easy task though. It’s about meeting the right people who can offer the right advice and point out how you might be doing things the wrong way. You need to acknowledge what ever it is that you don’t know or understand, and listen to others who might have those answers.
6. Don’t be a hermit
Do perform live, network, and support others
A strong live performance is one the most important things for any aspiring artist. It legitimizes you as a performer and a serious artist. Most importantly though, live events are one of the best places to network with others and make new fans, friends and connections. It quickly becomes an essential way of growing your support base.
Beyond that, its important to maintain regular face to face contact with your network of peers as often as possible. Ever heard the term out of sight, out of mind? Well, that happens to artists… a lot. For instance, when someone’s organizing a big show or festival, they’re most likely to book those who are top-of-mind, and often forget about those that they haven’t seen in a while. Making an effort to show up to events, meeting up with other artists for dinner, and keeping in touch with networks in other cities is the type of persistence that can help you in staying active and relevant in your circles.
And lastly, support others that you think are dope. Not just other musicians, but also rappers, chefs, dancers, painters – what ever it is, if they’re doing cool shit, and you dig it, let it be known. Chances are, when that time comes around where you’ll need people to show you some love, those that you support will be right there to support you back.
7. Don’t forget to promote the old fashioned way too
Do maximize your reach
While maintaining a steady social media presence is an important part of any artist’s promotional tactic, you shouldn’t rely on it as the only way for others to feel connected to your music. Make sure you’re not neglecting the older but equally important means of making an impact.
One of these ways, again, is to do live shows. Opportunities to be face-to-face with your fans certainly aren’t as frequent as your social networking communications, but this only serves to make them more special, giving you a chance to leave a lasting impression that you could never achieve online. And when promoting these shows, don’t underestimate the power of posters and distributing flyers hand-to-hand. This kind of old-school marketing is a strong way to reach new audiences that aren’t necessarily within your social media circles.
As well, make sure to start building up your database of emails! If used right email is a powerful tool to make that fan relationship grow, maintain contact with the press, keep in touch with promoters and service your music to DJs. There’s tons of ways to collect emails these days. Whether it’s sharing a free download for an email, putting a subscription link on your website, swapping business cards with industry professionals, or having a sign up sheet at your merch table, collecting and maintaining emails is an essential part of any artist’s communication strategy.
8. Don’t follow the herd
Do create your own lane and stay true to you
Rap especially has become over saturated with fake artist who just say and do what ever is trendy. But always remember: authenticity is everything. Having your own sound and sharing your own honest message is not only about “keeping it real” but it’s also the only way to maintain longevity in this game where trends disappear just as quickly as they show up.
With so many artists following the same trends, this allows you to more easily create your own lane and differentiate yourself from the herd. It’s about standing out, not blending in.
9. Don’t fake your numbers
Do be honest and spend your money on something smarter
Don’t pay for fake plays, fake friends, or fake followers. It amazes me how many people are still trying to buy their way to fame. But all those fake numbers don’t equal real fans, so what does it achieve really?
I guess those that do it believe inflated numbers will impress people. But which people? Well, I guess that’s where artists’ motives differ. It could be labels, bookers, managers, fellow musicians, friends… even themselves – yes, it’s a more common delusion than you might imagine. But whether they’re driven by insecurity, ambition, or something else — paying for fans is a desperate move born out of a misunderstanding of how artists succeed in today’s post-label landscape.
Be smarter than that. Invest your time and marketing money in something that will help you find your real fans. For example, if you were going to spend $100 boosting your SoundCloud listens, use that same money to print nice one-sheets/press releases and mail out 10 CDs to 10 community radio stations who will help you chart on !earshot and CMJ.
10. Don’t stop once you pick up momentum
Do stay active and inspired
So things are working out for you? You had an amazing album release party? Sold a lot of merch? Getting some small festival bookings? Don’t slow down! That right there is called momentum… or the more cool term for it is buzz. And the worst thing you can do is get too comfortable and stop hustling.
Buzz is that mysterious aura of popularity that surrounds an artist who hustles right. It can be seen when they play, it can be felt from their recordings and it is usually the factor that sets them apart from the pack. When you begin to achieve this buzz, make sure you always have new shows to play, new music to release, and new merch to sell.