- Being a musician is not an excuse to be irresponsible or disorganized.
- Music spreads through conversation and sharing.
- The internet connects like-minded people, no matter how small the niche.
- Managers can only work as hard as their artist.
- The “average person” spends 40+ hours per week working.
- You must give people a reason to listen to your music.
- Social media is not a “necessary evil”. It is the best way to communicate with your fans.
- Success = Preparation + Opportunity. Can you honestly say you’re preparing?
- Do you have a story worth telling?
- Focus on the key platforms that amplify your strengths – don’t try to do everything at once.
- Press helps develop your story.
- You are not entitled to paying gigs based on talent; you earn them as you build an audience.
- Stop blaming record labels, other gatekeepers, or people who “just don’t get it”.
- Don’t get lost somewhere in the middle; focus on the edges.
- Fans love being acknowledged.
- Managers are not assistants.
- Transparent, authentic one-on-one interaction always win.
- Real success comes from brave, painful, concentrated effort.
Although the music industry is evolving, it is still hard for artists to get out of the “pick me” mindset, which has been drilled into bands’ heads through a combination of the traditional record business model and endless stories of A&R scouts signing bands in dirty bars.
I often hear artists declare from day one that their goal is to get signed to a label. The problem with this line of thinking is that it distracts you from the unbelievably difficult task of building a fanbase and developing fantastic material. You might argue that you can do both, and that, in fact, the goal of signing to a label will only excite you further and drive you to put more effort into your work. But I wouldn’t believe you.
I believe starting a project with the goal of making the most deliberate music possible, coupled with an absolutely relentless focus on turning your supporters into a true community, is a much better use of brain-space than having phrases like “would a label want this?” in the back of your head every step of the way.
Labels don’t sign artists that want to be signed by a label. They don’t sign artists who know in their hearts that, if only a label signed them, they could do big things. Labels sign artists who are already starting a movement and turning heads. They sign artists that are completely engrained with conviction in every song they write, every stage they step on, every mailing list email they send, and every post they make on their Facebook page.
If you take it upon yourself to start your own movement and truly create something that spreads, labels will come to you. It may seem backwards, but ignoring labels is the best way to get signed. If you begin by hoping to be validated by someone else, you’ve missed the point completely.
Recently, I was fortunate enough to be approached by Next Big Sound about writing a guest blog piece for them. If you’re unfamiliar with NBS, they provide a valuable service to artists and managers, tracking each of your web pages and creating both real-time and weekly reports on your digital footprint. Below is the piece I wrote for them. Originally titled “The Value of Data For Artist Managers”, the concepts here apply to independent/DIY artists especially:
Today, an endless sea of bands are proudly branding themselves “DIY Artists,” and are quick to talk badly of record labels or any other “gatekeeper.” However, our current musical landscape comes engrained with a dense sense of responsibility and strategy that few artists acknowledge. As a manager, this responsibility includes examining perpetual concepts like transparency, exclusivity, community, and discovery, while still prioritizing the minutia. New channels pop up every day, while merchandise, publishing, touring, and recording still need to progress. With so many moving pieces, managers often crave a single thread that can tie it all together.
The beauty of data for artist managers is that it serves as a strategic compass, both on and offline. It informs your day-to-day decisions, allowing you to strategically penetrate a focused goal, rather than achieving random acts of improvement.
Tour routing is a great example. Every artist can, right this second, pull up a list of the top 10 cities where their fans/listeners/viewers are located on Facebook, Soundcloud and YouTube. With these reports in front of you, you will surely begin to see patterns. These patterns should guide your routing. Although it may require a bit more effort, it sure beats saying “well, it’s a rock band, so let’s tour the South.”
But touring is just one piece of an artist’s career. Digital marketing firms use radio spin data every day. If an emerging artist, for instance, begins getting radio play in select cities, marketers garner this information and execute geo-targeted campaigns to propagate these same communities. Also, in the land of the free (download), collecting fan data is critical. As a manager, a highly populated mailing list is not just a bunch of email addresses and zip codes; it is a report telling you who and where your fans are. Website traffic, merch sales, ticketing reports, live show draw, and your quantitative social media footprint are other forms of valuable data for a manager.
With all that said, the most important “metric” is still trust. Trust, in its most genuine form, cannot be measured, and that’s what makes it so special. It cannot be bought; only nurtured. Developing trust with your fan community is critical, and can only be done through repetition and consistency. As trust develops, so does your story and your influence.
With great tools like Next Big Sound, and free insights from your social channels, it is easier than ever before to identify your fan base. Touring, radio, web and merch reports, combined with an obsessive focus on trust, consistency and community is a winning formula.
Without data, it would be easy to wander aimlessly through the evolving music industry. But with data as your guide, the entire process becomes much simpler.
In the music business, more than nearly any industry, business executives seem to often be viewed as their own form of celebrity. It’s understandable, too. Big-time managers, label executives and A&R people are in a close circle with some of the most successful and popular icons in the world. The glamour of the entertainment industry amplifies their status, too. These are some of the busiest and hardest-working people out there, often doing amazing work that deserves endless praise.
While this is true, it easily becomes very discouraging and plain scary for artists trying to reach out to these people. I’ve heard countless artists talk about they would kill to meet someone, but have no idea how to reach them. But I have also heard countless artists talk about how they met their hero, or someone who catapulted their career, because they simply reached out to them and treated them as people (note: they are, in fact, people).
If you want to meet someone, it doesn’t help to sit and think about how amazing it would be if you met them. What does help, though, is taking the first step and reaching out to them. The vast majority of people I meet in the music industry come from me emailing them out of the blue. If you remember that these are regular people who have favorite books, late-night pizza spots, movies, and get excited to leave work to spend time with their kids, they become much more approachable in your head.
If you take some time to make a list of people you want to meet, find their email address online, and just send them a short, friendly note about why you want to meet them, I think you’d be surprised by the results. And the most beautiful part is that, if you don’t get a response, you’re in exactly the same situation you were in before you tried – there is literally nothing to lose.
Spotify CEO Daniel Ek’s recent “Fireside Chat” at SXSW discussed his focus on long-term growth, including a nearly theatrical vision for one billion users. However, when asked plainly about artist compensation, Ek did not provide clear responses.
As his example of an artist benefiting from the service, Ek chose David Guetta.
“David Guetta nearly has 4 million Spotify followers, so whenever he posts a song, it goes out to 4 million people. This is a really huge marketing opportunity for artists.”
– Spotify CEO Daniel Ek
This line of thinking removes reality and isolates fantasy. Here are two things worth considering:
What happens to small artists in the massive time it takes Spotify to reach a billion users? If Spotify provided artists with listener data and other truly beneficial tools, the financial and social value artists were generating might be worth this wait. Otherwise, is the average artist truly benefiting from Spotify? More importantly, will these artists magically begin benefitting if they do reach a billion users?
Let’s get real here. Completely random people do not come across a local artist’s Spotify page just because they, along with thousands of other artists, happen to have music available through the service. It’s very likely that anyone listening to an artist on Spotify discovered them somewhere else first, probably when a friend shared a YouTube, Soundcloud, or Facebook link with them. I don’t think adding millions of users will change peoples’ natural music discovery habits.
Spotify is not intentionally evil. I use Spotify. It is simply not an artist-driven service, and I don’t really see how you could argue otherwise.
The vast majority of artists are not really gaining anything from Spotify. The public benefits by virtually endless access to music, but artists don’t.
It seems that artists are split into two categories. The first consists of superstar acts who achieve such a massive number of streams that they aren’t very concerned. The second category hosts every other artist in the world. These artists make so little money from the service that they become apathetic and sort of ignore the whole thing all together.
The thing we’re forgetting is that value is not the same as money. Spotify has 20,000,000+ monthly users. There must be a way for artists to benefit from 20M+ people listening to music constantly.
In its current design, there is a lot of available space on each artist’s single/album page that could be filled with value-adding artist content. Below are some links Spotify could add to benefit artists:
- Mailing List Signup
- Official Website
- Social Media Links
- Merch Store
- Tour Dates
Spotify is an interactive streaming platform, meaning they must negotiate licensing deals in order to have music placed on their service. I haven’t made any calculations here at all, but considering Spotify had a 2011 Net Income of -$59M and 98% of revenue was redirected back to cover licensing costs, perhaps a change in business model is in order. If they were to add these value-adding links, for example, they could then (ideally) include in their licensing deals the ability to take a percentage of merchandise and ticket sales sold from their site. This would increase Spotify’s revenue while adding value to artists.
Thinking horizontally and seeing your platform’s content creators as partners, rather than as shoulders to stand on, will ultimately increase a businesses chance of success.
In today’s age of “DIY”, musicians still seem to not actually want to do it themselves.
It is much easier (i.e. takes less effort and thought) for a musician to talk (usually to other musicians sharing a similar situation) about how evil record labels are, or about a local promoter who expected them to bring people to their own show, than it is to do any of the below things that will have a direct impact on their career:
- Register with a PRO (ASCAP, BMI, SESAC, etc.)
- Create a Facebook, Twitter, and YouTube account
- Copyright songs with the Copyright Office
- Learn the basics of Photoshop, even if you’re terrible at everything after the basics
- Read the amazing TuneCore blog
- Watch these helpful videos from Artists House Music
- Understand the difference between booking agents and managers
- Read books about the music industry, even only a few specific chapters
It seems to be, in other industries, very common for those who are honing their craft to be knowledgable of the industry they are aspiring to join.
I mean, do you really think any successful DIY artist didn’t take the time to learn how the music industry works?
Thanks to the internet, there is no excuse for musicians/artists to be absolutely clueless of the industry they are trying so hard to break into.
Musicians, however, almost intrinsically seem to rely on the NEGATIVE stereotype surrounding their profession (i.e. that musicians are lazy, irresponsible, uninformed, etc.) as an excuse to avoid putting in the effort it takes to “Do It Yourself” like they are consistently advocating for.