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.
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!