10 Tricks of the Trade
**Guest post written by Sylvana Joyce, NYC based indie artist, originally featured in her blog Scenipedia.
"1. Think like a business.
Why is this so important? Because you are a BUSINESS. You want to make MONEY off of your art. Your art needs the strength of good marketing and excellent money management behind it if you want to be financially lucrative.
- Marketing: You need to develop a product, a brand, and a message. A product is your music - what you’re ultimately providing to your fans. Your brand is the look and feel of your product - your band logo, the aesthetic of your promotional videos/posters, pictures. The message is about the sentiment of your product, how are you trying to connect? Does your music inspire, scare, relate, confuse, shock? What does your product evoke? Ask your friends and fans. If the product, brand and message all work together as a cohesive unit, you will have a marketable entity.
- Money Management: Whether it’s a piggy bank, coffee ground container, or PayPal account, give any money that the band makes a destination - a place where you can keep those earnings separate from your private funds, and where you can keep tabs on the flow of money in and out. If you’re putting the money in an envelope or container, make sure to add a slip of paper/notepad with a record of deposit/withdrawal. Being able to see some kind of physical evidence of money flow will give you an idea of your monthly expenses and give you a better indication of a goal to set for creating a profit. Setting up a business account on Amazon or PayPal will also come in handy if you ever start an online fundraiser through Kickstarter, Indieagogo, or RocketHub. There’s no better way of finding out if you’re spending within your means and where/how you could budget better.
- WARNING - the easiest way to “overdo it” is to spend WAY too much money on something for the sake of putting out the “image of success”. Especially at first (but really...always), you absolutely need to work within your band’s financial means. You DO need to utilize some capital to start out (at least for transportation at gigs and rehearsals), but don’t squander precious savings on the hope that a flashy music video is all it takes to explode your fanbase, especially early on. Give your band time to develop before investing in those bigger ticket items, or you’ll find yourself kicking yourself in the foot for wasting resources on something that becomes quickly outdated as your band/sound/brand grows. There’s no “one magical, pre-meditated step” to becoming a profitable entity. It’s a bunch of little steps, full of mishaps and triumphs and happy accidents. This also goes for booking venues, album release parties, etc. It makes much more of an impact to fill a small room, then to play to a nearly empty stadium, and it won’t bust your budget because it will be more within your means.
2. Make 6-month, 1-year, 2-year and 5-year goals.
And don’t scrimp, either. If you want to be an international starlet in 5 years, write that down. Be unabashedly honest about what you want to accomplish. The purpose of these goals is to inspire you to action. Be very specific about all the things you believe represent success in that amount of time: number of Facebook fans, venues you want to have played, what labels you’d love to be signed to, what acts you want to have opened for, what festivals you want to have played, etc. Think big and challenge yourself, but be reasonable. Start with the 6-month, and increment from there. Oh, and then put the goal list somewhere (I put it in my email archives and entitled it “My Master Plan of World Domination”) and totally forget about it. Come back to it later by accident and it’ll be a time capsule of dreams. It’s a great way to be your own consultant and learn to manage your expectations; see how many goals you were able to accomplish by your deadlines, and revise your goals accordingly. Each time you come back to the list you will learn a little more about your dreams and how to manifest them.
3. Think outside the box.
So you have these songs, and this band. Having a band a highly UNORIGINAL idea. But what’s unique to you is who’s in your band, the music you create, and what other (and maybe seemingly unrelated) talents and hobbies you have. Your brand, at its best and most alluring, is not just about how awesome your music is, but also who you are as a person, the relationship and chemistry you all have as a band, and what are elements you bring to the table as a creative force. Think about all the musicians/artists you admire and you’ll admit that you’ve been interested to know everything about them and have been incredibly interested in seeing them not just on stage, but also on what their journey in life is about. Doing other things besides the band isn’t ever a hindrance - most times you can actually use it to support the brand in some way. Also, consider that the music industry is changing in a big way. You don’t get money from selling records anymore - but you do make money from selling a brand that many people can get behind. So find a creative way of getting people interested in you, and find an equally creative way of representing your brand via merchandise.
4. Speak up!
This is no time to be shy. You have to be both a businessperson and an artist. Always carry business/download card, and give it to ANYONE you have a conversation with - you might be surprised to find you have a relevant network opportunity from mentioning that you’re a performer. If you make a connection and you get their information, write them a quick email thanking them. Word of mouth will always be the best way of making your strongest fans and connections. And remember to keep in touch, not just on the band front, but to say hi. Validate their existence - don’t always make it about “selling your brand”. Really caring to get to know the people you’re networking with is invaluable - it’s what makes the difference between a list of names and a community.
5. Be Consistent.
Maybe you’re playing your friend’s basement tomorrow. Maybe you only expect two people to come to your next show. It doesn’t matter. Go “balls to the wall” consistently. Remind people, make promo media/art, consider what you would do if you were playing a big show. As long as you have faith in your art, give that art the promotion it deserves. Your network WILL notice. One of my biggest “eureka” moments was realizing that if I believed in the importance of something and I acted out of that belief, others would follow suit. If you consistently show care and effort in your band and brand, you will be creating an impressive portfolio and be showing everyone that this is more than just a hobby to you, this is your business, your career, your bread and butter, your passion - this is something PROFESSIONAL. It will make a difference. Believe in yourself, and SHOW IT.
6. Don’t spam VIPs.
Okay, so I said go balls to the wall. Just make sure that you’re not constantly bombarding important people with every single thing your band has going on. VIPs should be treated as a separate entity. The bigger events like an album release, music video or tour are the kinds of things you want to promote to them. Fans are the audience you want to consistently make a big deal all the time - but be careful of exhausting those big wigs with endless updates or they’ll blacklist you. Plus, be honest - you’re constantly in a process of improving your sound and your branding. Give your band time and room to grow, experiment, and discover your direction, so you can feel confident about the product you’re sharing to potential labels, management and executives.
7. Support small businesses, fellow artists and fans.
This is the Golden Rule, my friends. You are an entrepreneur. Pay respects to others working hard and also being awesome. Pay it forward. Support the people who support you. There’s enough room at the top for everyone. No one is your competitor, everyone is your peer. You don’t have to go to every show of every band you’ve ever played with, but particularly if you happen to like their music, be the fan you want to see in the world. Buy their merch, rave about them to friends, suggest them to your booking connections, go to their shows. You’d think this were common sense, but you’d be surprised how many people complain no one buys their art/music or comes to their shows/premieres and NEVER shows their colleagues the same courtesy. Another benefit to supporting artists are the extra connections/networking you’ll come across while doing this, and the resources (rehearsal spaces, equipment, venues, fans) that might be available to you when you build that friendship. My suggestion is to go to an open mic or go see a random band that you DON’T know through your network once a week. That is the fastest way to build your contacts. Be your OWN A&R.
8. Give yourself time and room to GROW AS AN ARTIST.
You may know exactly what you want to do and how to do it, but any good artist is constantly growing and staying relevant by doing so. Don’t feel pressured to do anything or “be somewhere by now”. You have your own journey as a creator. Endow yourself with the abundance of time and space to develop your craft. Expand your musician skills. Learn new instruments, audio production/creative design applications. There is so much to know about being a performer, a business person, and a human being. You don’t have to make it, right here, right now. You have time. Your art has time. Giving yourself that time will be the way you develop a better idea of what is right for you and your path as an artist. Do this now, before you have producers and directors and publicists yelling at you to do it their way. You will have grown a fabulous pair of balls and know when to listen and when to tell them to listen to you.
9. Take care of yourself.
Another common sense like thing, but it has to be said, because of the “Sex, Drugs and Rock and Roll” myth that you must be loose and get high to be a rockstar. (Disclaimer: I have nothing against sex OR drugs...I’m talking more about your health, and potential abuse of those things negatively affecting that.) Consider yourself an athlete. You need incredible stamina. You need to physically be the ideal specimen that is ready for the long hours that goes with managing a full-time job by day and rehearsals/gigs/promotion/networking by night and weekends. If you don’t have your health in tip-top shape you won’t be able to keep up with your double life. THIS IS THE STEP WHERE MOST OF US GET STUCK. If you can get through this beginning stage of managing a job and a band and be able to devote enough time to both, you WILL grow as a band and a brand. LIFE DOES NOT GET EASIER OR LESS BUSY. This is your warrior training. From another standpoint, you also want to be an example of health to your fanbase. As in, you wanna look good for the camera! As in, you don’t want to look drugged out/tired/stressed. As in, you are a conductor of hopes and dreams and you can’t be that while looking like the GRIM REAPER. (Even if you play death metal, looking like the grim reaper is not a qualification. That’s what makeup and wittily staged theatrics are for. )
10. Be Yourself.
You might make it in the industry if you create a persona/art that has no relation to your true creative goals and tastes...but you won’t last. Think about it this way. This is your life, and you choose to be an artist at least partially because you want your voice to be heard. Well, if that voice is a dishonest voice (even if you think it’s a cooler, or more fashionable voice) your voice isn’t really being heard, is it? You don’t ever have to be anything else than yourself. People go to see theatre because they want to see truth happening on stage. It’s the same with you as an artist. People interact with art to feel something. There’s no better promotion for your art than a strong and authentic voice. Be loud, be proud. Truth sells. If your voice is honest, it will penetrate.
That’s what she said. ;)"
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