10 great tips to help you fail as an independent artist

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Music success is one thing, but failing as an independent artist is something lots of bands aspire to – whether they know it or not. Here are 10 tips to put you on the road to failure.

Tips for failing as an independent artist

We’ve all seen and read posts and eBooks about “how to succeed” as independent artists and to be honest, I’ve even written a few. But what about those of us who are bent on failure? Those of us who would like to know how to shoot ourselves in the foot as efficiently and painfully as possible? Those of us who would like to be more unsuccessful and confused? Well this post is for you!

Some of these things I’ve done myself, and I can assure you – they work amazingly well! Others I’ve merely watched in admiration as true masters of blunder and confusion have performed their magic before my very eyes.

So here it is, my guide to failure for the independent artist:

1. Steal your own thunder
Got a new CD in the works? Awesome! Make sure you release every version of every demo and every mix you record during the process on Facebook, Reverbnation, and anywhere else you can find. Try to confuse your fans so that they’re not really sure if you have a CD out yet or not. Don’t set a release date well in advance or plan your promotion to build anticipation. Try to make your release as flat and confusing as possible!

2. Don’t sell anything!
You’re definitely going to get signed by a huge label in less than three months anyway, so why bother? It’s much better to just wait for other people to come in and straighten things out. Taking responsibility for your own career is hard work and it might lead to music success, so try your best to avoid it. Try to keep it real and stay as broke as possible. If you have any money then you’ll be less needy and you’ll have more leverage, which could lead you towards success, so stay away!

3. Hide your best stuff
Try to make sure that people have a hard time getting to your best songs. Hide them on your online music players by either shuffling your songs randomly or putting them way down on the list. This will make sure that they’re less likely to get the best possible first impression.

Also, make sure you stop playing your best songs live as soon as possible in favor of new material. Remember, new is better than good.  After all, you’re sick of your best songs by now anyway, so why should you go out of your way for people who haven’t heard your music yet.
Besides, that would just draw in new fans, so don’t do it.

4. Don’t deliver for your fans
It’s generally best to reach for the stars and swing for the fences as soon as possible. Try to see if you can drag all of your fans out to the ‘big venue’ in town well before you’re ready to play there. That way you can make sure that your fans overpay to see you at a venue that doesn’t care about you and will cut your set short. Bonus points if your fans have to pay for parking. The whole experience should go a long way towards losing your audience.

It’s always best to make sure your relationship with your fans is based on them doing you favors as opposed to a mutual exchange of value.  People will willingly come back to see you if you focus on their experience and deliver the goods, so it’s best to make sure you focus more on having them do you favors.

5. Impress people with the volume of your content
If it’s good to have a YouTube video on your home page then it’s great to have 37! Try to mix in unprofessional and amateur content as much as possible. If you’ve done it – then why not show it! Obviously the big record companies are going to be way impressed when they see just how many ‘things’ you’ve done. If people have no idea how to digest the massive amounts of unorganized content on your page and tend to leave in frustration then you know you’re on the right track!

6. Don’t tell anyone your name
When people come to see you it’s best if you keep a sense of mystery about yourself. Whatever you do, don’t give yourself away by showing or telling people the name of your act. Try to make them work for it. Remove any visual evidence that you even have a name and try to make sure that if you mention your name you do it in a way that’s garbled and difficult to hear and understand. Bonus points if your name is hard to remember like Anne Kalshzyagrakaviczich. In that case you can tell them your name once just to dare them to try and remember it. They won’t be able to! If they like you then this should piss them off. Awesome!

Also, try and secure a confusing URL for your website that’s spelled strangely and has numbers and dashes and is not memorable. Extra credit if you can make sure that the URLs for your YouTube channel, Facebook page, Twitter account and other social networking sites have nothing in common with each other. If someone wants to follow you then you certainly don’t want to make it easy for them!

7. Don’t let anyone have anything for free
Whatever you do, make sure that no one gets their hands on your music without paying you. If more people got a hold of your music then you might generate more demand, so cling to your music with an iron fist. And whatever you do, if you ever do give away any of your music, make sure you don’t get an email address in return. That might start you in the direction of adopting habits that lead to more money and more people coming to your shows.

8. Don’t facilitate long term relationships
Your relationship with your fans should be all about one-night stands. Anything beyond that will just ruin the experience. If you actually look for ways to stay in contact with them like collecting their email addresses and finding creative ways to engage with them on Facebook and other social networking sites then one day you might wake up and find yourself gaining positive momentum and building a sustainable path of continued growth and success. So make sure people don’t have an easy way to stay in the loop or to find out when and where you’re playing next. If they do find you online, say on your website, make sure that it’s confusing and doesn’t have any dynamic content or a reason or means for them to stay connected.

9. Try your best to be vague and confusing when describing your music
When someone asks you what you sound like, try to make sure they won’t understand, remember and/or be excited about what you say. You don’t want to be painted into a corner by a concise and interesting description of your music. It’s best to try and give them a long-winded summary of every way to conceivably describe everything you will ever play. And whatever you do, don’t compare yourself to anyone else to give people a frame of reference. It’s best to tell people that you don’t sound like anyone and that you’ve invented a new kind of music.  This should sufficiently confuse and frustrate them to the point that they don’t care to find out any more about you.

10. Talk about yourself. A lot.
Finally, it’s a good idea to make sure that you don’t talk about anyone or anything else besides you and your career. If you stop promoting yourself for even a minute and start talking up others and remarking about interesting subjects then people might actually start to think you’re a real person and listen to what you have to say and want to hear more from you. It’s best to avoid this scenario by incessantly blasting your ‘friends’ and fans with promotion. This should lead to nausea amongst anyone who decided to give you a chance – a great weapon in your quest for failure.

For bonus points, throw in a few complaints and guilt trips into the mix. This should make sure that even the few people who tolerate your interpretation of how to use social media won’t like you or want to see you succeed.

So there you have it. 10 powerful tips that are sure to help you fail! Use them well and use them often. Try and combine different tips and see just how quickly or painfully slowly you can run your career into the ground.

Article by Scott James of The Independent Rockstar Blog.

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22 thoughts on “10 great tips to help you fail as an independent artist

  1. Most independent artists are going to fail in the
    monetary sense anyway(just the nature of the business).
    This is not to say they are not
    creating great music, or are they aren’t fantastic musicians.
    There are just so many out there, the chances for success
    are very low. If you listen to the interviews with some
    of the successful artists, they say that they did everything
    wrong, but somehow they made it. A formula is great, but
    not necessarily a path to success.

  2. Thanks for sharing the good stuff. You are ‘spot on’ with this article. In Chapter #15 of my book,
    ‘The Monster Songwriter’s Manual’ I have a list of 27 things that the ‘voice of doubt’ can say to a prospective songwriter in an attempt to dissuade them from moving ahead in their career. Your article reminds me of myself in that respect! Keep up the great work!!


  3. I all ready shot my self in the foot. I have a CD out now.–Cold,Cold World , no posters, no web site,no manager/ booking agent . Now I think its about time to listen! Don Lee

  4. LOL…laughing all the way through.
    Good points and very down to earth.
    Though, I’m small enough of an act to put some new material on my site just to give a feel as to what i’m up to.
    Thanks for this 🙂

  5. Very funny. Great reverse psychology. I’m sure this will be one of those articles that helps people see the folly of their (or our) ways for some time to come. I think since so many artist think backwards (in many cases this is what makes us interesting creatively) It will help us see clearly how silly we are with how we reason our way into ditches so often. No need to argue, do counter points. Just drop head and say to self ,”wow, have I been an idiot!” Good stuff.

  6. This is by far one of the best articles I have ever read for Independent Artist. I look forward to your next post.

  7. As it happens, I’ve recently finished my contribution to this area, a book manuscript, “How to Fail in the Music Business.” I’ve based my book on some research done on the general subject of failure in business by some research writers for The Harvard Review of Business, who propose what five stages to the failure process: Fear, Denial, Procrastination, Brooding and Self-Defeating Behavior. So far, the response to the book has been favorable. My biggest problem is that while I’ve been able to give a lot of wonderful instances of musicians I know, and whose names you will know, who have overcome this process, for obvious reasons have to conceal the names of the many other friends I know (some of whom you will also know), who have stumbled in one area or another along the way. At this point the ms. still has real names, but soon the names will have to disappear.

    Both in my own experience and, over the last 40 years of so, watching others in the business, fear seems to be the big one. It’s a tough industry, as we know, and tougher now than ever, and failure is always a possibility. This keeps many good persons from doing what they need to do–investing the time and the consistent work-habits–to succeed.

    Another thing I’ve noticed is that failure isn’t the absence of success–it’s an entirely different career path, and like a successful career, requires full-time effort. Those who build a failing career work at it every day–they become experts. So it’s not just a matter of figuring out how to succeed–if you’re failing, you’ve first got to figure out how to retire from your fulltime career of failing. You can do it, but it’s a daunting task.

  8. don’t forget: “worry only about what you look like and not what you sound like! having the perfect set of matching suits and ties is much more important than having good songs!”

  9. Haha, thats a great article. I certainly have been guilty of many of those in the past…but I always intend on learning from my mistakes. And I believe that this article will definitely help others from “shooting themselves in the foot.” Thanks for posting.

    James Albert – My Legacy

  10. Man, I talk about my music non-stop. Good reminder not to do that.

    Also the statement about having unprofessional material on my website makes me want to take off some terrible YouTube videos before any of y’all see ’em.

  11. im guilty of number one and number 10…….i should laugh…now i better get my act together….but its only 2 so im fine tuning ..ha ha ! loved the article….

    but as for number one they are buried in a deep…corner of the internet where we are not getting alot of traction..its a great site but it has not helped us money wise at least not yet ..bandcamp.com

    number 10..i talk alot about my band on facebook…but i get the feeling people are reading the stuff anyway…and think im doing great when in actuallity i have had to seel a giant portion of my vintage collection just to stay alive !!!!!!!!!

    but still alot of people like us anyway..thank God !

    hi to everybody
    texas joe valles

  12. This was a good article on several levels:

    1) The comedy aspect – It’s pretty damn funny and generally uncommon.
    2) The advice aspect – Basically if you “read it backwards”, they really are telling you what to do instead of what not to do.
    3) The wisdom aspect – I feel like this came from someone who’s made the same mistakes.

    To me, I hate it when an artist can’t succinctly describe what they sound like and give accurate references. They’re usually the ones that either sound like a clone of an well known band or just artsy fartsy rambling that has no point. There are a gazillion genres and I don’t buy that your music doesn’t fit into one of them.

  13. Excellent points made! …
    The only thing I disagree somewhat with is the “Sounds like” in number nine …
    Pet peeve of mine is those who say – I /We sound just like so and so … I prefer those who do have their own sound, not copying someone elses. (but do understand about the point of reference the public needs)

    1. I don’t think the author intended for an artist to say, “I sound exactly like Springsteen.” But I think it’s safe to tell someone, “If you like Springsteen, you’ll probably like what I do.” For instance, I’m an acoustic singer-songwriter. I think i have my own style, BUT if you like John Mayer, Dave Matthews, Joshua Radin, Iron & Wine, etc., you’ll probably like what I do. it’s not pigeonholing yourself if (1) it’s true; and (2) it generates fans. Plus, just ’cause you have a certain sound now doesn’t mean you’ll always have that sound. On your next CD, when they ask you what do you sound like, you might reply, “If you dig Megadeth, you’ll like what I do.” Who knows what an artist will sound like in a year, two, or three? For me, it’s never been about reinventing the wheel. An octagon will pull your wagon too, but it won’t be as smooth. For me, it’s always been about the quality of the song. Just a thought : )

      1. We all live in the same universe and speak a familiar language; we didn’t just wake up one day talking, but when we did learn how to speak, we sounded like our parents, our siblings, our neighbors, etc. We don’t live in a vacuum and the language of music seeps into us all of our lives. We probably don’t know how many ways we’ve been influenced, but when we learned how to write, read, ride a bike, there was someone there to guide us. When we grow up, we begin to sound like ourselves, whether we like it or not. Don’t worry so much about being “original” because you already are. You are a synthesis of what is all around you and then there’s you yourself, someone the world has never seen before nor shall ever see again. Spend your time learning the language the best you can and do it with love; you’ll sound and look like any number of others who ply this trade but your voice will always be unmistakable. Just be the best you can at whatever that turns out to be.

    1. I loved this article….it’s such a good refreshing point of view….what NOT to do embedded in what to do. Reverse psychology. It’s really all true though. Having been in the live music scene, this is all really true in terms of how to NOT do well. Follow it.

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