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How to Become a Successful Independent Artist or Songwriter
The most important skill to have if you want to be successful at anything is ATTITUDE. An old Chinese proverb once said, “90% of the journey to success ends after you step outside your front door.” The reason many people fail is because they prefer to stay in and watch TV.
Of course, that first step outside is philosophical. As a musician or songwriter, you spend the vast majority of your time creating. If you think that writing a great song, or playing an instrument well, is the hardest part of being a successful artist, you’re wrong.
Despite all the skills you need to know and perfect to make your music shine, these pale into insignificance compared to the hard work and other skills you’ll need to learn to record, market and sell your art successfully.
Fortunately, most creative people also seem to excel at other things. The term “Jack of all trades” could quite easily apply to most musicians or artists. After all, the first thing most artists have to learn is how to find time for their art while running a home AND holding down a Day Job to pay the bills! Therefore it is not unusual to find musicians who are also Physicists, Engineers, IT Professionals or Teachers, to name just a few.
Most of these people are quite content to keep music as a hobby, at least while raising a family. However, we all reach a stage in our lives (usually after the children have grown up and left home) where we want to stop working for “Living”, and instead, work for our own “Satisfaction”.
There are few things in life more satisfying than being admired for something we have created. If our creations also manage to influence others, then it is even more rewarding.
This “first step out your door” is done when you decide to take a break from the creative aspect (the ideas), and take a positive step towards learning new skills or hiring others who can do those things for you.
There has never been a better time in the history of mankind to take those steps, either by yourself or with others who would help you.
–Where previously you had to pay for tuition, or buy books, to learn the techniques of songwriting or playing an instrument, you can now find dozens of articles on the Internet (like this one!) that will help you. for free
–Where you used to have to save up a considerable amount of money to pay studio costs and hire session musicians to make a decent demo recording, you can now find all the necessary tools, and even the musicians, on the Internet to help. you at little or no cost.
–Where you needed to sign a record deal to be able to afford a producer and a mastering quality studio, you can now buy your own computer and some music software, and work with a producer online who will give you the ability. make radio-ready recordings.
–Where you needed a record company with a huge advertising budget to market and sell your audio recordings, you can now (with a little hard work), market and sell your CDs to the Whole World for next to nothing.
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The Music Industry does not like the changes that the Internet has brought to the business. Digital media can be freely copied by anyone with a computer, anywhere in the World. The record companies no longer have to worry about the CD pirates who make illegal copies to sell on the black market; they also now have to cater to every computer literate man, woman and child making their own copies too! This has led the music industry into a perpetual battle against file partners (making enemies of many consumers in the process), instead of embracing the business benefits that the Internet brings us.
The Music Industry still believes that 8-16 year olds buy most of the records, so they still cater mainly to that market. Recent industry figures tell a different story, and the secret is the “Baby Boomers”.
Yes … The same people who created the above market perception in the 70’s by buying the largest proportion of records ever while they were teenagers are now grown up! The biggest age group to buy CDs TODAY, at 26% of the population, is over 45. Not only that, but they still like the same music they did back then. So there’s no need to change your art to fit today’s teenybopper market if you don’t feel like it.
Now that we know the secret, we also know that the next big thing in music, will not be another form of Hip-hop, Techno or R’n’B; but a return to real music, as was done during the 60’s and 70’s. However, we will be creating it using modern tools on a Home Computer DAW (Digital Audio Workstation) system, rather than in a multi-million pound studio complex!
So, while the Music Industry is still hesitating trying to avoid the new digital age in favor of ancient business models, hardware in the form of CDs and markets that still only cover limited territories; we can now jump ahead of them on a more level playing field, find our own markets and sell to the Whole World with just a simple website!
Sounds easy, right? … Well, that’s the first hurdle you’ll encounter. So many musicians think it’s easy that there are millions already doing it! So to be successful you will need, like any other business, a proper business plan.
The road to being a successful independent musician, starts with ATTITUDE.
You need to find enough time in your schedule to put down the guitar and score sheet and use your creative energies to develop a proper BUSINESS PLAN. This means taking a step back and listening to your music through Joe Public’s ears. You need to come up with a business name, a logo and a short slogan that encompasses who you are, and what your music is trying to tell people.
Register your business “name” by purchasing a domain name that suits you as soon as possible.
Pages on free MP3 sites and Free domains do not give you a professional image. You MUST have your own website, or at least something that offers you a unique look and features. If you want people to find your music unique and special, then you also need an image that is unique and special. This also applies to your email address. Real business people do not use their Hotmail, AOL or Yahoo addresses for formal communications.
Make sure all your documents are in order.
If you plan to make a living eventually from your art, you will need to be registered as a business or as a self-employed sole trader. You need to make sure your taxes and income are all accounted for, so you may need to buy yourself an accounting package, or learn to use Excel Spreadsheets, or hire an accountant. There is also a lot to learn about how copyright systems work and whether you feel you need to form your own publishing company, record label or register your copyrights with an agency. Much of this will depend on the laws of your home country. Alternatively, you can sign a non-exclusive deal with a small independent label or publisher to handle all the music-related paperwork for you.
You need to either take the time to develop some basic web design skills, buy ready-made templates, or hire someone to design a website for you.
Make sure your logo and color scheme flows through your website, your stationery, your CD artwork, and any other communication device, such as email. Make sure your website includes some way to collect a mailing list, such as a reply form or a “double opt-in” form of registration.
Plan a marketing strategy.
Marketing is all about finding the right market for your product. This may involve a certain amount of consumer research. This can be expensive, so use the Internet as much as possible to find groups of people who like similar music to you. Try to find out other things about these people so you can get a clearer picture of who would be interested in your music.
Plan an advertising strategy.
Collect contact lists from magazines, local newspapers, TV and radio stations. Plan an 8-week promotional strategy leading up to the release of your CD. Use any press, or broadcast you receive as news on your website. If you have some money to invest, schedule a bunch of concert dates at local venues for dates close to some release dates. Plan a poster or postcard campaign. Contact local charities, hospitals, schools and shops, in fact anyone who might be willing to play your CD in a public place. If you want local record stores to stock your CD, you’ll also need barcodes and counter boxes. Use the mailing list you’ve collected from your website to promote any news to your fans through a regular newsletter. Offer free tickets to concerts, or organize contests for free CDs. Use your fans as extra leverage to increase the momentum of your advertising campaigns.
Don’t undersell yourself.
Make sure that any music you decide to give away as a promotional MP3 is somehow different from the music you sell. EG It will either be an early non-master mix (demo), or a different mix, or a song that you will never release for sale. Otherwise, make sure that any samples you make from your records are either short clips, or low-fi mono samples. The price you set for your releases should never be too much lower than that of major label releases. Your price tells your customer what “stage” you are in the business. Price yourself too cheap and you’re more likely to lose customers because they’ll automatically assume you’re an “amateur”.
Make yourself and your CD easily accessible to your fans.
Always answer any emails promptly. Check your emails at least once a day and respond to any new questions promptly. The average time most people expect for a response via email is 12-24 hours. No SPAM Make sure you only send bulk emails to people who have opted into your mailing list, and if someone wants to delete them, make sure you delete them immediately (not a few weeks and 10 disgruntled emails later!). To contact businesses, you will need to write individually and personally to each of them. Always use a business “signature” with your artistic or business name, slogan, email address, and possibly your phone number, on every email you send. If you’ve released a CD, be sure to add the link to that too! If you’ve had your CDs professionally duplicated and barcoded, you can also expand from selling them on online stores such as iTunes, Amazon and CDbaby, to high street stores. You should also sell them from your own website or at least provide links to the stores where they are available.
Never stop “Networking”
Carry your business cards with you at all times. At every conversational opportunity, if someone casually mentions music or concerts, make sure you promote yourself as an independent artist. If you have a modern cell phone or MP3 player, make sure your latest CD is on it! You never know who you will meet in the supermarket. The first thing someone will ask when you mention you’re a recording artist is “What kind of music do you play?” If you have your MP3 player with you, you won’t even have to answer! (This is always a difficult question for an artist). You can just play it to them! Also, make sure you visit all the music-related newsgroups, forums, message boards, MP3 sites, chat rooms, etc.
Finally, my “Advertising Tip of the Week”
Familiarize yourself with all the P2P file systems that the music business hates so much. You can use them to your advantage. Make promos or lo-fi samples of your music or CD and tag them like this…
Make copies labeled with every well-known artist you think you sound like, and keep all the files in your shared folder. Then, when you’re logged into the service and someone searches for music by these well-known artists, your music will be in their list of results!
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