Indie Resolutions

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10 ways to stay focused and build your independent music empire.

As 2010 rolls closer, it’s time to start thinking about those ever-famous (or infamous) New Year’s resolutions. But have no fear, our list doesn’t require cutting out chocolate or getting up at 5AM to run. We want to help you where it really counts – your music career.

How did we come up with this master list of goodness? We asked. We solicited answers from working musicians, and tapped into our own staff (we have a few hundred active musicians working here). After we sifted through the rubble we found ten diamonds that kept getting mentioned over and over. And now, here for your career-enhancing pleasure are the best of the best.

1. Write down your goals
You’ve heard this mentioned by everyone from your high school trigonometry teacher to the success guru on the late night infomercial. And there’s a reason that everyone keeps telling you that you should do it – it works. Writing down your goals for the year helps you to visualize the entire year in a snapshot and provides you with a clear course of action to take away from it. It also serves as a reminder that you can look back on throughout the year in case you’ve forgotten anything or strayed off course.

So as it pertains to music there are a few keys things you should have on your radar. Make a list of the venues you want to play and actively pursue them, partner with bands, record your next album, play in a charity gig, or rehearse twice a week. Whatever it is, make sure you write it down and commit yourself to making it happen.

2. Build (and use) your mailing list
You know you’ve said it, “Don’t forget to sign our mailing list.” But the question is have you done anything with those names? Your mailing list is one of the most overlooked weapons you have available. When the time comes for your CD release party a postcard in the mail and a well-timed email is often all it takes to get people motivated to buy advance tickets. Playing an area where you don’t make it to that often? Pull names from the last time you were there and send out an email or two a few weeks in advance.

One of the oldest tricks in the book (and it really works) is to get two personable fans or friends, one male and one female, to walk around the club with a sign up sheet for your mailing list. Because they are canvassing together the chances of them drawing a connection and getting a name are much greater. Plus, people are more likely to sign up when you bring the list to them as opposed to them having to cross a club to seek it out. Remember, make it easy for them.

3. Leverage your drive time (and downtime)
There are looooong hours on the road whether you are traveling from gig to gig or sitting around after sound check with nothing to do. This is a prime opportunity to take care of all the mundane (yet extremely important) details of your music career.

Bring your laptop along with you and get a wireless card. With these tools you can update your web site, check and respond to your fan email, book shows, and generally just stay connected with the engine that runs your career. Having an iPhone or Blackberry is a good start, but they don’t offer the functionality that a laptop does.

4. Use the web aggressively
OK, you have a website. What else are you doing online? Start a group on Facebook, piece together your own music videos and put them on YouTube, set up profiles on other music services and social networks. Get a Sonicbids EPK, and use it.

Blog regularly – and make it interesting: have an opinion, be funny, or intense, respond to fans’ comments. Interact with your fans via email, or let them upload their gig photos to your site. Set up your own social network with ning.com. It’s a big world out there and you have a number of avenues to get your voice – and music – heard.

5. Co-Promote
Find bands that have a similar sound, vibe, and feel as yours and make friends with them. Help them out by mentioning them on stage, promote upcoming gigs together, split costs to print flyers and posters, wear their t-shirts on stage.

A good rule of thumb is to try to make friends with a band from every city or town that you play in. This way every time you are coming there to play you can have them act as advance PR and get the word out. A big part of making this a successful venture is to do the same for them – remember there is no give without take. Make sure you show up at their shows and support them when they come to your town. A $7 cover charge and some face time could equate to 25-30 extra people at your gig next time you play their town. Heck, they may even let you crash at their place and save you hotel costs, too.

6. Seek sponsorship from a corporate entity
Even in a recession there are plenty of corporations that are looking to get as much exposure as possible. Companies like Jagermeister, Coca-Cola, Miller Lite, Vans, etc. are all prime positioning partners. One way to secure funds is by putting their logo on your materials such as your stage banner, drum heads, and anything else that gets exposure from their target market – your fans. Book an aggressive tour schedule and use it as leverage. Even something as simple as offsetting your poster printing costs by placing their logo on it goes a long way in helping you to promote on the cheap.

7. Book ‘em
Keep a book with people’s names and contact info along with what band they’re in or how you met them. Split it up by city for easy reference. When you need to book a show, contact someone, or remember people’s names it’s all right there like your own personal Yellow Pages. If you’re not old school you can do a lot of this with your phone, including keeping detailed notes. Just make sure that you have it backed up somewhere in case your phone dies or goes missing during that wild after party.

8. Always write a set list
A lot of musicians do it on the fly, and if that works for you that’s cool. However, we’ve all seen (or been guilty of) doing the band huddle. The song ends and everyone turns to each other to figure out what to play next. This can present a very unprofessional image as well as ruin the flow of a show. By having your set list ready everyone can transition right to the next song without losing the crowd’s interest or energy.

9. Rehearse weekly
It sounds like a no brainer, but the fact is a lot of bands either don’t feel like they need to or just don’t bother to keep a regular practice schedule. It’s just the same as any other trained skill – you have to practice to get better and stay sharp. How many times have you listened to a band’s album and it sounded tight, then you saw them in concert and they were anything but. Chances are you never went to see them again. Don’t let the grind of rehearsal jade you. Keep it interesting by writing a set list and constantly coming up with new ways to bridge songs. Or work on a set of cover songs that you like, even if you’ll never play them live it will help work on your timing and transitions. In the end it only means a better live performance and that’s always a good thing.

10. Play, Play, Play
Nothing does as much for a band or artist as exposure and that means playing out as much as you can. The benefits are numerous, such as building your fan base, selling merch, gaining name recognition, selling albums, making contacts, and so much more. There are very few artists who can live off of digital distribution and CD sales alone. Plus, the biggest benefit of all is that it’s fun! Don’t miss out on some of the most memorable moments of your life – get out there and jam.

11. Add something to the discussion.
Add your own ideas to the mix – leave a comment!

15 thoughts on “Indie Resolutions

  1. Yes, rehearsal is important. It keeps our musical muscles limber (both vocally and choreographically). I know my own material, so when the accompanying musicians ask how much rehearsal will be involved, I say whatever they need to be able to get through the entire show. Most of this they can do on their own, learning from recordings, some of which are my 11 hits as The Fleetwoods and easily accessible.

    Newer material is on the CD, GRETCHEN’S SWEET SIXTEEN (SUITE 16), one of the 2007 Billboard Critics’ Picks for 10 Best Albums of the Year, available at http://www.GoldCupMusic.com . I think a musician sincerely interested in preparing and auditioning will show their commitment by purchasing the album and learning it on their own. This will give them an advantage, musically, and also provide them with the 16 page booklet of liner notes that outline the story expressed by the songs – like the sound track of a musical – so they’ll have a greater understanding of the show we’ll be presenting.

    I’ve told those who want to sing with The Fleetwoods and me, “Don’t do this because you think you’ll get rich and famous, because you probably won’t. Do it because you love the music, creating the harmonies, and truly enjoy learning and singing the songs. That way, if you’re not called upon to do a paid gig, you won’t resent it, because you’ll have enjoyed the process. If you do get called upon, you will be ready! This has led to fabulous opportunities:

    One replacement made her Fleetwoods debut at the World’s Fair, Expo 86, when an original walked out, the week before the show. We made lemonade out of lemons, and twenty one years later she is still performing with me. A male replacement made his big time debut with us in a Las Vegas concert, headlined by ‘The Fleetwoods starring Gretchen Christopher.’ That was November 2007. He had been rehearsing with me, honing his skills with occasional smaller benefit gigs, and when Las Vegas came through, he was the heir apparent. I also provided an online link to his solo album on CDbaby.com from which he enjoyed some additional income and it introduced him to a whole new audience of Fleetwoods fans.

    For my performance at the Vocal Group Hall of Fame 10th Anniversary Inductions Concert, November 2008, I was backed by two members of the already-inducted Modernaires, an opportunity they loved and I greatly appreciated, in the absence of my original Fleetwoods partners.

    As teenagers, we had made our trio debut as Two Girls ‘n’ a Guy singing my original song, “Come Softly”, in counterpoint to a vocal background, a cappella, in a high school talent assembly. The students loved it and begged us to record it so they could buy it. We recorded our first hits, “Come Softly To Me”, “Graduation’s Here”, “Mr. Blue” and our entire first album, a cappella, with the producers later overdubbing just guitar and bass, and sometimes an additional instrument for sweetening .

    For the first tour, we performed with our record or lip-synched, including our national TV appearances on The Dick Clark Show, in New York in April, and again in November when we became the first group in the world to have two #1 Records top the Billboard Hot 100 in a single year (1959). The Ed Sullivan Show had its own house band and, since then, for personal appearances, bands have been provided for us by the shows’ producers, from our early tours in the Fifties and Sixties to Las Vegas and Halls of Fame in the New Millennium.

    Now, however, a year after the latest Billboard Critic’s honor, I’m interested in performing in support of the new album GRETCHEN’S SWEET SIXTEEN (SUITE 16) – 16 original songs, including the first two self-penned hits, “Come Softly to Me” and “Graduation’s Here”, and I would like to have individual musicians or a band present themselves, prepared to audition and perform with me in the Northwest, first, focusing on greater Seattle/Olympia/Portland areas, and then be available for opportunities such as those described above.

    My ideal would be multi-talented instrumentalists (keyboard,guitar, bass, drums, sax, flute; doubling would be great) who can also sing mellow, blending harmony or even a lead, like “Mr. Blue”, if called upon to do so. They might even have the opportunity to be the opening act and professionally showcase themselves in a class environment, to an audience who appreciate memorable melodies, beautiful harmonies and meaningful lyrics.

    If interested, take a listen to the sound clips at http://www.GretchenChristopher.com and http://www.TheFleetwoods.com – and get in touch through the “Contact Us” links there, or email bookings@TheFleetwoods.com.

    Wishing you all the success you seek and with which we’ve been blessed. Good works in strange and wonderful ways. Let’s enjoy and create while we can! The pleasure we give others with our art creates a little piece of immortality for as long as it is remembered by those we’ve touched, for as long as those people live – and through others who are born and rediscover it.

    Enjoy each rehearsal (it’s still making–music, just without an audience), make each performance your best, and be ready for the opportunities that arise!

    Gretchen Christopher © 2009 Gold Cup Music (permission granted to Discmakers to reproduce on this site).

  2. great tips. in the end, you either do it or you don’t. make it you and follow it through day to day. however you end up ‘there’ is great. practice, patience and perseverance. the rest is fruitless.

  3. This is all good sense information that we need to remind ourselves of from time to time. Lots of time we don’t truly maximize our time and how we use our resources, Hearing it again and again strengthens our resolve to apply these measures that we know are helpful.

  4. Hey thanks for the info… I love learning new but important things….especially with my career…. Well i’ve taken note of a lot of info here… I’m shurely going to put this info to use… Love..Peace..and more platinum records for me…

  5. Can’t argue with anything here! One additional thing to consider,don’t be afraid to give away your music,if only
    occasionally;it’ll blow peoples minds,leaving a lasting impression and sometimes lead to connections you never
    considered,and just maybe leave you feeling…good!

  6. It’s all about relationship – Mitakuye Oyasin (Lakota-we are all related) the theme of my music. I know we live in an instant 30 second attention span society – but loyalty takes time and thought – and that is what true friendship is about versus the 15 minutes of fame game. I use ACT program to make sure all my contacts (fans and presenters) get all the followup needed and that I have all the information to “remember’ them and honor the relationship. Haven’t been “on the road” for a year or more to allow inspiration room for more truly inspired songs and a few well planned and meaningful/memorable concerts. I find there is great merit in quality over quantity so I don’t cut corners or worry about ways to “get” attention – I’m not a competitive type anyway. Yet, I find people enjoy not only listening to my music CDs over and over again, but like to spend hours on my extensive web site reading the stories, philosophy behind the deeper meanings of the songs – the thought process, life style that is truely behind who I am. I offer true freindship type intimacy to fans at my live performance in meaningful songs produced and practiced at their emotional and technical best, and a web site that gives them an “in” into the sacred places and traces of who I am and where I’ve been and am going. Maybe it’s idealistic, but sincerity and truth and a genuine smile is timeless and people know the real deal down deep in their hearts. No, I’m not making a lot of money, but I’m doing what I love, well and hope the world is a little better for it.

  7. I agree with the practice thing I wasn’t performing my own songs but I was performing as a guest for a lead singer and a band I ask when was rehearsal?I only had maybe two verses in the song so,they told me oh you got it you don’t need to come to rehearsal.I tried to practice my verse at home with the fear of forgetting my the words on stage,will that day came I got on stage I was not nervous but the Band was on their own Q because we didn’t practice together I didn’t know when to come in they skip my first verse,I came in on my second verse my mind was already program to do it in that order I was confuse No one esle notice it but,me practice definitely makes a hell of a differents.I could of bombed with the crowd.I said to myself I would not perform again unless I practice.I sold my cds,had my music played in clubs because I knew the Dj,I wanted to perform live but,the owner was acting funny.Thats O.K I will keep practicing until I get a gig some where and I’ll be ready.

  8. Hey these are great ideas. There is also alot of money and exposure in TV and film. I have had some of my songs on Smallville 5 years later and I am strill getting a small BMI checks ( they were really nice when it first aired). There are alot indie movies where you can get your songs on , the last movie one of my songs was featured I was put on the posters that were at the movie theaters. Also always play to your best , even when it is only a crowd of 6 people, I have had some great things and opportunities come about by giving my all no matter what. I try to keep friendly with everyone I meet. I don’t mean you have to kiss somones butt, but be respectful, I have some great things happen for me because of someone I met and was nice to and they remembered our first encounter. thats all thanks Tim McG

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