One of the best ways to grow is to look at what’s worked for other indie musicians and adapt it to your own career. Here are 5 great strategies with real examples to get you going. A lot of musicians think they can’t start making strategies to move their career forward until they’re making money, until they take some business classes, or until they get a manager. The coolest thing about these strategies is that you can start using them TODAY.
1. Make a Plan from the Start
Making a great plan is one of the best ways to get to that music success you deserve. Not only do concrete goals give you something to aim for, they also help you decide what your first step should be.
Try to make your goals as specific as possible. Instead of saying “I want to be rich and famous,” try something specific like “I want to be able to be a full time musician with a yearly salary of at least $75,000 and be able to tour outside my home state.” Break down your lofty goal into smaller tasks like “gather contact information for local venues,” “contact 5 venues this week,” and “connect with another band to share a gig.” Suddenly finding a way to reach that goal becomes more manageable.
We’re gonna tell you a lot of things that you might not want to hear (especially if you’re doing or NOT doing some of these items). A lot of mags and industry professionals (mostly those who want your money) don’t want to hurt your feelings, so they patronize you and talk to you like children when it comes to these things. I’ve seen some God-awful, condescending nonsense in print when it comes to career advice for musicians.
We respect you more than that. We think you’re adults (for the most part) who can handle a dose of reality every now and again if it means making some positive changes in how you conduct your business. And if your band isn’t a business, maybe you should re-think seeking out press in the first place.
A healthy majority of these list items come from discussions we’ve had with editors and journalists from around the country, and some of them are our own pet peeves. Take everything with a grain of salt, if you must. We’re just telling it like it is, giving you a peek behind the curtain.
OK, no more preamble, no sugarcoating, no bullshit. Here (in no particular order) are about two-dozen plus reasons why your band isn’t getting anywhere with press. So, if you’re ready for some harsh truths, read on. We start with…
1. You look, sound or act like the ass-clowns in Brokencyde. See Exhibit A below.
Below is a question/answer conversation with EricTheReDD, the former general manager of WJSC-FM (Johnson State College, Vermont), about his experience with college radio and everything it takes to get your music played on a college radio station.
Would you mind introducing yourself? What station did you work for and how long were you there?
My radio handle is EricTheReDD; former General Manager of WJSC-FM. I started at WJSC in September 2003 as a volunteer DJ and slowly worked my way up the ranks. I became assistant to the Production Manager after a few weeks of kissing ass. There ended up being a mass exodus of upper-management and I rose quickly to the position of General Manager; a title I held (through an electoral process) for 4.5 consecutive years. I took the position once more when our then-GM was forced out for violating station rules involving drugs and alcohol in the studio and I held the position in-interim until elections when I chose not to run and resumed my duties of Program Director, Music Director and DJ until I finally stepped away in May 2012. In total, I worked at WJSC for just shy of 9 years; holding every management position at least once, overseeing two radical format changes, re-branding, building of a brand-new station and complete overhaul of our on-air booth in the process.
Since I left the station has reverted to a fully open radio format (very common for college radio) and plays everything from bluegrass to metal to show-tunes and plenty of everything else in-between.
How many packages did you receive from bands every day? How many of them actually ended up getting opened and listened to? If not 100% of them, why did some of them get tossed aside?
Very few packages came directly from the artist; they normally came from labels or promotional companies. But a package was a package and all we cared about was getting it to the proper recipient. A lot of labels rely heavily on the promotion and spins that college radio can provide and therefore stagger their releases to ensure a present student body. Hence, few lesser-known bands release albums over the summer but there’s an explosion of releases in the fall.
Every package gets opened. EVERY. SINGLE. PACKAGE. And every day is different. Some days we’d receive a postal container full of packages and sometimes we’d maybe get one or two. It depended heavily on the labels we were affiliated with, their release calendar, and other factors like that. Typically, we split up the mail by genre; each sub-director being responsible for their own share. Mine was Hard Rock / Metal / Punk. I’d open my packages, keep the PK (Press Kit insert) with its respective disc and recycle the packaging. I would then take the stack into my office (or the production studio if it wasn’t being used) and go through the music. I’d put a disc into the player and scan through the tracks while reading the PK notes. Songs needed to grab me. Long intro, I might skip in to the minute mark. If I wasn’t dazzled in about 5 seconds per track I’d keep going through the disc.
PERSONAL RULE: I always give the title track a chance to “wow” me. In my experience, if you’re going to name the album after that track then it’s got to be something special. If the title track sucks it’s going to be tough to get me to take the rest of the album seriously.
In terms of airplay or “getting tossed aside” it comes down to democracy. The free spirit of college radio is in the DJs and we gave them free reign (within the law) over their weekly chunk of airtime. We DID have a few requirements; playing a PSA once per hour, reading something from our underwriters (businesses that donate money in exchange for mention; it’s a non-profit thing), and the coveted “PUSH” pile. Labels foamed at the mouth to get their albums into the “PUSH” pile. We would require that twice an hour the DJ pick any disc from “PUSH” and play something from it. This ensured new music was getting played and labels were getting the necessary spins to keep their executives happy. Directors would leave little post-it notes on each disc with a brief description and one or two recommended tracks to make it easier on the DJ. But at the end of the day there are still piles of albums that, for whatever reason, don’t garner much attention. They’re archived alphabetically and by genre and tucked away on the shelves. And about once every 5 years we’d go through the “vault” and clean house; selling albums that people are willing to buy and giving away the rest (typically a FREE bin outside the station was sufficient).
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Do you sometimes feel that your band’s draw is languishing? Are you tired of seeing the same people at your shows and want to play to a new crowd, even in your hometown?
If you’re like most musicians, you know that you absolutely can do better, that you have more fans out there than who actually show up at at the venue, and despite always receiving positive feedback, you don’t know why more people aren’t showing up. Here are some tips on building some momentum back into your tour dates so you can increase your band’s draw:
1. Find a Different Angle for The Show: It’s easier to get more people to show up if it’s your band’s first show, when you’re releasing a new album, it’s a tour kick off, or when it’s your final gig. Obviously, it’s because your fans realize those as special occasions and want to be there.
So rather than making every local show the same, find creative ways to make them more enticing: film a live music video, let fans write the set list, do special covers, play acoustic if you normally don’t (or vice-versa), record a free download of a live track, etc. In other words, give your fans a compelling reason to show up. Answer: Why will this show be different than any other? What makes this exact show special?
Over the years, I’ve sat at a lot of breakfast tables with local musicians recapping last night’s gig. Usually the conversation starts about the nuts and bolts of the evening itself, but many times, the theme of the conversation moves towards the difficulty to get people to pay attention to the music or attend the concert.
As a musician and someone working in social media & technology, I’ve spent a lot of time thinking about traffic and engagement. In my research, I have found there to be a prevailing theme in the thought leadership.
It’s with this context that I humbly present to you 3 critical steps to building fan engagement:
#1. Make Good Stuff
So you’ve attended the latest conference, gathered a lot of business cards, downloaded the newest social media podcast, and bought the newest book on how to get fans.
Sweet! That’s great. But it’s just one piece of the pie.
Content is king, and putting out regular content is important. However, it’s not only about consistency. Amazing content (with a little social engineering) will spread like wildfire without as much need for all the “social media turd polishing” hype. If you’re spending more time on Facebook than playing your instrument, you’re doing it wrong. If you find yourself coloring your hair more often than meticulously working on your lyrics… you’re doing it wrong.
Don’t be like Narcissus, drunk off your own reflection, when there are thousands of people you could be learning from. It takes an awful lot longer to make good stuff without knowing, mimicking, and studying all of the good stuff that’s out there. Know the rules first before you go about breaking them. It’s like trying to learn a martial art without going to class. If you won’t dedicate yourself to being an expert, don’t be sad when people lose interest. Cultivate the dedication of the white belt while you strive for the black belt’s execution.
Make good stuff and they will come…
Disclaimer: First of all, let me make this clear. I’m not trying to say that making it in the music industry is easy, or that everyone who reads this will become a chart success. The aim of this guide is to help you define what success means for you personally, and look at what you’re willing to do to reach your goals. I’ll also touch briefly on creating a business plan to achieving your goals and more.
Hopefully the information in this guide will give you a clearer path, and increase the likeliness that you’ll get where you want in the music industry. Again though, nothing is guaranteed, and it’ll essentially be down to your drive, your level of talent, your marketing and business knowledge, the amount if time and effort you put in and the like.
If you’re not willing to put the work in, don’t expect to succeed in the music industry!
Now, with the disclaimer out of the way, let’s look at the steps you can take to succeeding in the music industry. :)
Before anything else, you need to decide what your personal definition of success is. The reason for this is simple; if your idea of success is becoming well known in your country for being a talented musicians, you’ll need different steps to achieving that than you would if your aim was to earn a full time living from music.
So what is your final end game? What do you want to achieve? If you’re not yet sure, here are some common outcomes which a lot of musicians aim for. I’ve also included a (extremely generally) look at what’s needed to reach these goals:
NETWORKING! For most musicians, this is something that most know they should do but feel uncomfortable with or don’t know how to approach. However, it’s something that can open the doors to better shows, a record label, a new sponsor, or even more fans. Here are some things I’ve learned over the years about networking:
1. The Value You Bring to Others: Many networking events can feel like a shark tank, with people fighting to get business cards out and meeting the right people. It can often be inherently selfish, people seeing who can help them get what they want. However, networking is about building partnerships, so you can often stand out by finding ways to deliver value to other people, whether that is simply connecting other contacts to one another or helping someone solve their problem. That’s far more effective than finding ways to show off or impress others.
2. Ask Questions: Whether you are connecting in person or through email, the best thing you can do is open up communication by finding out what the other person needs. The better you understand them, the better you can build the relationship. That interaction matters more than the pitch you’ve carefully constructed about yourself.
3. The Pitch: That being said, find a way to accurately describe what you do in an interesting way in 15 seconds or less.
4. Be Intentional: Whether it is at an industry event or online, you don’t want to spam everyone about what you do. Instead, identify the people who are most relevant to what you do, what you offer, or what you need. Focus on them. It’s better to have one solid connection than 100 meaningless ones.
5. Stay Alert: This is one of the reasons why I don’t drink; acting tipsy in front of others can be a sign of weakness and lack of self-control. It’s also important to proofread emails before they are sent, both for spelling and grammar as well as content and length. All of these things reflect you and your work.
6. Think Outside the Box: Don’t always focus on record executives or promoters. Sometimes, it’s good to go outside of your industry and just focus on the general needs of your music career as a business. You’ll always need printing (business cards, download cards, posters, etc.), so why not connect with a printer?
7. Make Connections: The best way to meet people is to be the person that connects others. Offer to introduce someone to one of your contacts who can help them. If you’re known as a connector, people will be more willing to connect with you as well as return the favor.
8. Accept Rejection: Sometimes, people are too busy or they are uninterested. Don’t take it personally and don’t fire back some kind of hurtful email. Be careful about leaving bad reviews on sites like Sonicbids, you might be viewed as petty.
9. Get Your Hands Dirty: Remember, the payoff for networking comes when you help others. Offer to donate time or resources, volunteer, offer advice. Some of my strongest connections have come from volunteering for non-profit organizations and meeting contacts who believe in similar causes.
10. Follow Up: Following up is one of the most important parts of building relationships. Emails, text messages, and phone calls are often forgotten about. Everyone can get busy and need a reminder. Other times, it’s just good to check in. Make it a habit to follow up with an important contact every few weeks.
Whether you are heading to a music conference like CMJ or SXSW, or you are trying to connect with others via Linkedin, keep the above 10 tips in mind to help you stand out as a vital member of the community rather than someone who is only pursuing their own interests. Keep your communication short, to the point, and valuable to others!
Source: Music Think Tank (by Simon Tam)
Last month The Vaccines released what was claimed to be the first music video made up of pics shared via the Instagram iPhone app. Being the first carries a lot of weight when you can support that claim and, from what I can tell, that seems to be the case. It also serves as yet another example of how to draw fans together to create content that can then be professionally edited into a form that gets a big response.
The Vaccines and team put out a call for photos to use in a music video for the single “Wetsuit” a few months back.
They set up a dedicated website with the following simple instructions:
1. Download Instagr.am to your iPhone for free
2. Use it to take photos at festivals. Bands, tents, fields, mud, thrills, spills, the lot!
3. Tag them with #VACCINESVIDEO when you post. We’ll do the rest. Easy
They ended up with 2433 tagged photos leading to a video focused on fans and their environment that has received almost 700,000 views on YouTube.
While they got quite a bit of media coverage, fan comments on spots like YouTube seem to be more to the point:
"I want all these people to be my friends."
"SUCH A COOL VIDEO I WANT TO BE IN IT!"
"I want to go back to Reading Festival so much looking at this. Summer 2011 was perfect!"
"I literally want to be friends with them and have their clothes and be there with them :|"
"basically my kind of crowd
my kind of life
my kind of music”
Sure, there are other comments, but I find the ones showing an identification between folks who wish they were there and folks who were there to be the most interesting indicators of the video being part of the process of building a cohesive, self-identified fanbase.
As Adweek’s David Kiefaber points out:
"This is one of those situations where pop culture does what anonymous fans have been doing for years — this is just a well-edited version of the sort of photo slideshow someone would put together after graduating from college."
And that’s the beauty of the Wetsuit video. The Vaccines take an approach seen in fan-made music videos for other bands, connect it to a still fresh mobile service, get their fans involved and end up with a relatively low-budget music video that gets lots of press, a claim to being first and great fan response.
It’s an excellent example of how new tech connected to well-established practices and desires can get a great deal of mileage out of a simple idea.