20 Tips To The Trade
I recently had a moment when I realized that I needed to pass on the valuable information that I have learned since the start of my music journey. Those that are just getting started in the business with high expectations can sometimes soak up the wrong advise and information from sources that are looking to make a quick dollar and are not interested in that person's long term success. It happens everyday and I've heard so many horror stories over the years - jaw dropping stuff. I have lots of friends in the business as well because when you are in this business you make a lot of friends, or you should, and they could tell you many horror stories as well. So you see, it's not just you that's having a hard time getting somewhere in the music industry, it pretty much happens to 99.999% of all those that seek this as their life's work, passion and dream. It doesn't mean that all artists and musicians seek fame and fortune because they don't - many just want to make a good living doing what they love. So when you see artists and musicians performing locally don't automatically think that they failed at their goal and they are a wanna-be star. You can accomplish your goal at any level of success that you really want but you have to really want it. With fame comes a heavy load and lots of responsibility not to mention the loss of privacy and that type of life is just not for everyone.
God has blessed me with more than I deserve and continues to do so. I've asked him why he has blessed me so much and the answer I received back was "Because I know that you will eventually pass it on in order to help others." I guess if you don't talk to God then you probably find it strange that I got an answer back. I haven't won the lottery and I don't come from a rich family but God has given me things that money cannot buy; an extremely supportive, loving husband that loves me until the end of time, a wonderful, smart, beautiful, and spunky daughter who loves her country, a step-son that never gives me any lip (ha ha, that's because he rarely opens his mouth at all) and is a talented and very promising race car driver, and parents that raised me to believe in God, respect others and be independent.
I truly hope that the following 20 tips will help you in some way during your journey to success, no matter what level at which you are aiming. Depending on your goals and at what stage of the game you are in, these tips may not be 100% for your current level but will give you a good idea of things to do and not to do. Good luck and God bless you in everything you do!
#1 Getting Started
If you are just getting started in the business here are a few things to focus on:
- Your stage name or band name may be the single most important decision you will make in the beginning. Make sure your name is easy to spell, easy to remember, available as a URL (.com) and marketable!! For example, if you choose a name like 'Skull Face', make sure you are going to be 'ok' with that name in 10 years. Some sponsors might not want to sponsor a band with that type of name so make sure you are choosing wisely.
- If you are shooting for solo artist, singer/songwriter, or mainstream band/group; make sure your photos are of a high quality and use a photographer that is willing to give you 10-15 finished shots included in the package along with rights to all of the photos. In one photo session you should have 100-150 shots. Do not do any deals where you have to pay the photographer every time you use a photo. Make sure it's a package deal. It's a professional courtesy to give credit to the photographer on your website along with contact information. Don't ask for a special prices to do this, you should do it just because.
- Don't hire someone to build a website - waste of budget funds/money. I recommend Bandzoogle.com where you can get it free for 30 days to see if you like it. It's the most user friendly music website building tool on the market. Click this link to get started for FREE. Everything you need - it's a one-stop-shop and very inexpensive.
- Depending on what your long-term goals are, you may need to look into recording a few songs at a professional studio just so you can have something to sell and it really helps to recruit band members if you have something already recorded. If you are shooting for the stars, you really need to go to Nashville (if you are a country artist) to do your recordings. I have a list of referrals that I can send to you upon request that are reliable and they do what they say they will do and your songs will sound great.
Photo by: Kristi Underwood
#2 Choosing Musicians for Your Band
- If you are a solo artist my #1 recommendation when building your band is to contract your musicians by the show. You need to establish yourself as a Solo Artist so treat your musicians as if you are hiring employees. In the beginning of my singing career there were times when the band members got paid and I made nothing for a show because I knew I needed to take care of them. It builds loyalty and they will keep coming back if they are treated with respect and making money.
- When choosing musicians, make sure you interview them first - don't hire over the phone. Meet them at a coffee shop or take them to dinner. This will allow you to get to know them in a relaxed atmosphere and they are more likely to be their true self. Stay away from musicians that have burned a lot of bridges with other bands, that's a red flag. Also, sometimes you may be tempted to hire a musician because they are an outstanding picker/player but take their personality into consideration and how they will interact with the other band members. You don't need any drama, just professional musicians that know their stuff, show up on time, and represent you in the most professional manner possible.
- Do not hire musicians that vent, cuss, or post negative comments continuously on Facebook or other social media sites. Let your band members know that while playing for/with you, they are expected to be professional in all aspects of social media.
#3 What's Your Brand?
- Solo artist, band, musician - it doesn't matter - everyone has a brand. Branding is one of the most important aspects of building your music business. You have to look at your image as a business and you are the product. Selling yourself to others is one of the hardest things you will ever do - so get comfortable with it.
- Don't spend a boat load of money with big marketing agencies. Find someone that does it on the side that has good references, ask for examples of their work and set up a meeting to talk about what they can do for you. Don't tell them what you want before you ask them exactly what their specialty is - some people will just repeat what you say so they can pick up some business. Do your homework.
- Your brand should reflect your inner-self. You need to know what type of surroundings make you happy so you can use those ideas as part of your brand. The public will pick up on any 'fake' parts of you or your branding, meaning if you are trying too hard, don't look comfortable or just plain trying to be something that doesn't look genuine. Act natural and don't over-do anything. Some will be fooled but most will pick up on it.
- Whoever is helping you with your marketing should be able to help you streamline your websites showing the same level and type of branding across the board.
- Your logo is one of the most important pieces of your branding. Make it with simple fonts, not fancy ones. I don't know how many times I've seen a logo that I couldn't read. That's bad marketing and no one will remember who you are if they can't read your name/band name. Get a good graphic artist and make sure you get color as well as black and white versions of your logo, different sizes for different applications and complete and full rights to use forever, no attachments/contracts.
#4 Building A Fan Base
- One of the most important items a singer, artist, musician or songwriter can have is a 'Fan Card'. No,not a business card - while that is also important, a fan card is #1. A fan card is simply a card that has your picture on the back and your logo and website on the front.
You should also get separate cards that have all of your contact information on them for business and booking purposes.
- Your business card with your contact information should have fonts large enough for a 65 year old person to read. There's nothing more frustrating to someone that has eye problems than to 'not' be able to read a phone number or website address on a business card. MAKE IT LARGE!! It always makes me scratch my head when I see a business card with all of that un-used blank space on it!!
- Carry both types of cards with you at all times. Only hand out the business card to business contacts. Do you really want your stalker texting you at 2 am in the morning to ask about your next show??
- Build an email distribution list. Bandzoogle.com allows you to do this very easily. Facebook and other social media sites are now making you pay for your followers to see your posts so the most inexpensive way to get your message out is to send directly to their email address. In the beginning of my career, it was a religion for me to collect email addresses at every show and appearance. I carried a small notebook around with me everywhere I went and when I talked to someone I asked if they wanted to sign up for my newsletter.
- When you are performing in a small club or venue, do not spend your break in the 'green room' or 'back room' where the band usually hangs out. Go out and shake hands and thank people for coming to your show and GIVE THEM A FAN CARD. Get to know you fans and they will keep coming to your shows. Stop thinking like a rock star and get out of the back room - that is very 'old school' and not practical in today's marketing place.
- Be nice to people no matter where you are and hand out your fan cards, invite them to your website to get a free download or listen to music, leave you a message, comment about your music, etc. Once, I gave my fan card to a police officer that was writing me a ticket and found out that his wife was in the movie industry and shopped for music to sell to movies - so you NEVER KNOW who you will run into - stay on your toes!!
#5 No Money For Marketing?
This is when you've got to get creative and think outside the box. You'll find that when you come up with one great creative marketing idea, other ideas will spring off from that idea and the snowball effect will kick in.
Here are a few things I have done that might give you some ideas for creative marketing:
- Partner with a start-up company and negotiate appearances at places where they will be promoting their product so you can perform, become their spokesperson, get your photo on their ads/posters/website/etc. Start up companies may not be able to give you any sponsor dollars but it gets you free exposure in front of people that might not otherwise see you or hear about you.
- Create co-marketing relationships with people or businesses that have a large email distribution list and regularly send out information or newsletters to their subscribers. Figure out what you are able to give them that will help them and in return ask that they promote you in their newsletter, provide a link to your site or invite their audience to your shows.
- Set up interviews with small privately owned radio stations. Offer to spend a few hours on the air talking about your music and perform a live song on their morning show, etc.
- Interview with anyone and everyone that offers and seek out internet stations that are begging for interviews with any artist and go sit down with whomever will talk to you. The more interviews the more exposure.
- Have someone that is a good writer write a story about your journey and send to the local paper. Sometimes they will ask to publish the story or they will send someone to interview you from the paper.
- Perform for large charity events (10,000+) and tell them you will perform for free if they allow you to sell product and hand out your marketing material. Offer to give a portion of your sales back to the charity as a thank you.
- There's tons of other ideas but this will get you thinking in the right direction.
#6 When To Hire A Manager - Or Not
I get asked all the time if I know any good managers in the business and the truth of the matter is that there are not that many good ones that most artists can afford. Frankly, a manager - unless you are a very large star - can't really do a whole lot for you that you can't do for yourself. I have negotiated every partnership, sponsorship and contract myself along with my husband's help - since he was a real estate agent for many years and had a lot of experience at reading and understand contracts and we have also typed a few of our own contracts over the years. Also, my husband and I have booked every single large show that I have ever performed so don't tell me that it's impossible to book the good gigs yourself. And really, managers don't know how to book, they aren't booking agents so if you are looking for a manager so you can get more bookings then you are looking for the wrong person. The topic of 'booking agencies' is a whole other animal that we will discuss later.
I would give you tips on how to find a good manager but they are just not out there. Most managers at the lower levels don't have the contacts or the know-how to get you to the next level. Now, I'm not saying that one or two don't exist but I've never been sold on anyone that presented a management deal to me for various reasons. Now, I've had deals where I was assisted in management but I never gave up control of my career to any one person or company. I've always thought it would be great to have a manager to handle everything but that's only great in theory if the person is outstanding and totally and completely dedicated to only your career and nothing else - which is a rare situation for someone that is not a major star.
You will know when it's time to hire a manager. It will be when you are so busy performing and in such high demand that you just can't handle it any longer by yourself at which point you should be able to locate a higher level manger who has a good reputation. The exception to this rule is if you just so happen to fall into a major label record deal that you just can't turn down and you are required to have a manager but I'm not referring to that situation. Before you sign any managing type agreement, and this is true with any contract, you will want a music attorney to take a look at the contract. Now, also I need to warn you about 'so-called' attorneys in certain major music cities that will offer free services or consultations and then try to persuade you to do business with a certain person or company, etc. Be very cautious and careful when meeting with these types or anyone offering free services with a strong sales pitch. I'll cover more about this a little later in the tips.
#7 Demographic Identification
If I'm honest with you I will tell you that 75% or more of start-up bands and artists don't even think about demographics and don't take the time to identify their audiences. Paying attention to all of the different people that take an interest in your music will help you target your demographic at a higher level. When you have that level of information, it will allow you to know what types of companies you can partner with to help you move your career forward. Matching demographics is one of the most important pieces of any partnership/sponsorship agreement.
Here are some things that might help you ID your demographic(s):
- Pay attention to the people that come to your shows. What type of folks are they, ages, etc.
- If kids seem to like your music, make a note of how old they are especially if they want your CD or autograph.
- Looks that the age groups listed on your Facebook fan page. This will tell you what percentage of folks of a certain age range like your page.
- Send out a survey to your fans using the email distribution list that you have built. Give them something for completing the survey by a specific date.
When you know your demographic you will be able to create opportunities for yourself that will help push your career forward. Knowing this information allows you to focus on venues with a built-in audience that matches your demographic which helps build your fan base faster and not to mention identifying national artists with the same demographic and music type in which you are a match. This is called 'targeting your demographic'.
#8 What's Work Got To Do With It?
If you are working a regular job right now and going after the music thing on the side then you know what it's like to work all the time. However, when you actually quit your job and go after music full time, you will work harder than you have ever worked in your life. It's not that it's harder 'labor' wise because most of the work you will do to build your career might be behind a computer, in a studio, on a stage performing, etc. - it's that the work is harder on you because you are promoting 'yourself'. If you have ever promoted a product before you know how hard sales jobs can be. Selling 'yourself' everyday to people who have never heard of you is one of the most challenging things you will ever do.
Not only will you need to learn to promote yourself, talk yourself up to those that matter (meaning sponsors) without sounding like you think you are the best thing since sliced bread, you will also need to have that 'drive' that never stops. You will need to keep going in the face of failure when someone tells you 'no' which can weigh heavy on you as several years go by and nothing seems to be happening.
Here are some things that you can do to combat this feeling of never ending work. It will seem that way but if you keep your eye on the ball and stay focused, you will start to see things happen. It's all the little pieces of 'this and that' put together that will create the big picture which is what you are shooting for. Celebrating the little things is great but stay focused in putting the entire puzzle together.
- Don't let what others say get to you too much. Think about it, refocus and move forward.
- Make weekly, monthly, seasonal and annual goals. Give to your team of people or folks that are helping you so they can help you stay focused.
- Try not to miss out on opportunities as they come your way. Sometimes we miss out on things because we don't think some things are worth messing with or we don't want to take the time to do them.
- Take time out for yourself. Do other things that you like to do and schedule time with your family and friends. Don't let your music career hinder you from having friendships and time with your family.
- Even though you need to schedule time for yourself and time with your family, stay focused when it's 'focus time'. Don't cancel band rehearsal for just any reason. Music needs to be top priority during focus time. That's why you need to schedule special time for yourself and your family so that you can focus the rest of the time.
- Treat your music career like you are interviewing for a $300,000 a year paying job. Do your best and be your best at all times in all spaces.
#9 Staying Out of Dead End Deals
As you start to make some headway on your own - you are getting out there, performing and building your fan base, you will run into all types of people that will approach you and tell you that they can help you move your career forward. Beware of some of these types of people. Some are out to tie you down to a contract just in case you "happen" to make it big. Some do not intend on 'working' for you at all. Now, there are some professionals out there that may have great intentions but even the ones that are charging you for their services 'legitimately' can be misleading and do not intend on putting forth a grand effort on your behalf. They only will do exactly enough to say that they performed the services that you hired them for and nothing more. In fact, most people in Nashville that have connections are not willing to 'cash in' a favor on your behalf or bother their 'friends' just to get you heard. Even if you are paying them to "help" you, they have probably already cashed-in most of their favors with those that came before you. Most, however, guard their contacts with great care even if they think they might be able to help you in some way. I completely understand 'why' they would guard their contacts that way, believe me I get it totally and I'm in no way knocking them for doing that but just so you know before going into a relationship with someone in Nashville - whether it be a producer, a studio musician who is transitioning to be a producer (lots of those), or someone who wants to be a producer that might have a few contacts here and there so in their mind gives them the qualifications to be a manager/producer/radio expert/etc. - this doesn't necessarily mean that they will introduce you to 'everyone' they know in Nashville. It doesn't work that way - almost never!
There is another section in these tips where I will talk about 'Radio Promotional' deals, what to look for, how to pick a qualified radio promoter and 'when' you actually need a radio promoter so I won't go into that in this section.
Here are some things that you need to keep in mind when someone approaches you and they want to 'manage' you or 'book' you or they say they can 'get you heard' in Nashville or other music hot spots across the country:
Always do your homework on these people. Research, research, research!!
Ask for REFERENCES and 'call the references', email them, etc. and get feedback on this person or company.
If they refuse to give you references for any reason, STAY AWAY!
Ask other musicians/singers that might know people in Nashville "Does this person have a good reputation?"
ALWAYS have an 'out' clause in the contract. Basically making sure they do what they say they are going to do in a specific amount of time or you can void the contract with no recourse on their behalf.
Beware of the 'smooth' talker!! Someone that tells you that you are GREAT and you deserve a record deal and you are a "star in the making", etc. These people are just blowing up your ego so they can hook you to a contract.
Ask for the first (5) things they are going to do for you upon signing the contract and how long will it take.
Do not hire someone that charges you a 'fee' per month unless they are doing something that requires a lot of time and effort but even with those types of contracted services you need to still make sure that you know what you are getting, how fast and at what level of quality.
Beware of so called 'managers' that tell you they have several investors that are ready to invest in you. Require bank statements and a meeting with the investors. Don't take their word for it.
If someone promises you something and it's not in the contract, make them put it in the contract. If they refuse then they probably do not intend on delivering on that particular promise, it's just a 'feel good' statement and empty promise.
Never pay all of the money "up front" for contracted services. If they require this then do not do business with them.
Never ever give your contacts to these people. In no way shape or form should you ever give a potential contractor or manager type your personal contacts that you have with a company or business that is currently sponsoring you, 'plans to' or is interested in sponsoring you. They will use these contacts for their own personal use and will try and get them to sponsor other acts that they have contracts with or that they are currently promoting. They don't care 'who' gets the sponsorship just as long as 'they' get the money. The exception to this is that you have someone that you trust with your life - then it would probably be safe to let them help you deal with a sponsor or potential sponsor but only in that situation. All of your contracts should have a clause that states that they cannot approach your sponsors or potential sponsors on behalf of anyone else other than you.
#10 How to Identify Predators in the Music Business
Sometimes it's hard to know when someone is trying to help you and when they are wanting something from you. There are many types of predators in the music business and I've experienced, heard about or come in contact with many of them. In this section, I hope to describe them in a way that helps you know what 'type' you are dealing with, if you come in contact with one of these mooching animals and how to handle them in a way that is beneficial for you or at the very least, identify them early enough and get out of the situation as fast as possible so that no damage is done to your career on a long term basis. It's true that singers/songwriters, musicians and artists seeking big careers in the music business can sometimes be 'snowed' into thinking that stardom is just around the corner and 'this guy' or gal is going to get them there. Don't fall into the trap! Stay aware of how people act and talk. If your instincts tell you that something is not right, listen to that voice in your head telling you that things just don't seem on the up and up.
Here are some short descriptions that will help you identify these types:
- Those that tell you that you are a 'star in the making' or 'you deserve to be a star'. Statements like that are made in order to get you to like them right off the bat. Don't be fooled by these types.
- Entertainment companies that tell you that they can book you on these very large tours that you can't find any record of on the internet. If they don't have the reputation of putting on large tours and you can't find anyone to corroborate their story then don't bank on anything happening.
- As soon as you land a few big sponsors you will find that people will start calling you and asking you to help them get in with your sponsor for another sponsorship. This is a very fuzzy line and you need to be very careful in doing this type of referral. I'll talk more about this in the sponsorship section.
- Some entertainment companies, producers and wanna be managers and even some established manager types might see that you have a few connections (ones you have worked very hard at creating) and contact you to offer a management type deal or recording deal knowing that you have these connections. Guard your contact list. Do not give up information including your contact names and phone numbers. This is very importation. Note: In the beginning before you have established your name, 'you' should be seeking out people to do business with. If someone contacts you to do business then they probably saw your Facebook page and are just soliciting you for business and that's 'ok' if they are a reputable business person and can provide great references.
- Website access: Do not give anyone access to your website that is not 100% a professional that has a tried and true reputation. See if you can assign a password that expires. If not, make sure you have a contract so they cannot lock you out of your website or take ownership of your website. It would not be a good situation if you have to start over because someone maliciously took ownership of your website and Go Daddy account.
- Beware of manager types that tell you that they have investors that are 'ready to invest' in your career. Make sure you meet with these investors, do research about them and make sure your contract states specific investment amounts and specific time-frames. Always include an 'out clause'.
- Beware of anyone that asks you to 'pay for something upfront' that they have previously agreed to pay for and suddenly they want you to pay and they will supposedly reimburse you for that expense. Don't do it unless you are prepared to 'not get reimbursed'.
- Beware of anyone that asks you to pay for a service in full and upfront before the services are rendered.
- Beware of anyone that 'ups' their price after they have already quoted you a price.
- If an offer sounds too good to be true, 99.99% of the time it probably is...as the saying goes.
- Beware of unproven record labels that ask you to 'bring an investor to the table' so they can promote you and make you famous. If we are talking about Taylor Swift's label then I would say 'ok' with the proper contract, but if you are talking about a 'no body' record label - stay away!! We'll talk about investors and small record labels later as well.
- You may even encounter the 'super fan' that offers to help you, take you on trips to Nashville and be the 'mother' type making you believe that they are out to help you. Be very careful with these 'super fan' types. I've had some good experiences and some really bad ones. Unfortunately, some of these types just want to be close to you because they think you are going to be a star. Watch them to see if they are drawn to other artists that are on the verge of 'making it big'. Look for the pattern of who they are drawn to and pay attending to other relationships they have to see if you see disruptive behavior. If you see any red flags like this, break your ties as soon as possible.
#11 Choosing A Producer - Making A CD
There are a few things that you need to make sure you have done before moving to the phase of your music journey where you start making CDs. Some will jump right into it and that's fine but making sure your T's are crossed and I's are dotted can make all of the difference in the world when creating a CD or recorded music for digital download.
1. Make sure you have been playing live in local bars and venues so that you can form your sound, try out your songs on a live audience to see how they react and build your fan base so you'll actually have people to buy your music after you have the CD or music ready to be released.
2. No fans equals no sales so spending money (no matter who is putting the money up) doesn't make a lot of sense.
3. Talk to other musicians and singers that have made CDs and ask a lot of questions.
4. Hire a consultant (not a high-dollar one) to guide you in the right direction. Ask for references before you hire anyone and talk to the references - ask specific questions.
5. Meet with 4-5 producers to find a match for you. Ask for specific quotes and a list of items that they provide that are included in the recording session/making of the CD.
6. If you are a solo singer with a hired band, use professional session players for your project. Never use your live players for a studio session unless they are professional session players. You will spend more money on studio time with musicians that need a lot of time in the studio to get it right. Professional studio musicians will get it right in a very short period of time.
7. If you are a 'band' or group recording a CD, make sure you are highly rehearsed (music and vocals) before going into the studio to record.
8. Don't pay all of the money up front. Most will do half up front and the rest upon arriving to the session.
9. Always have a contract and make sure you have someone look at the contract that knows what to look for and ask for on your behalf.
9. Make sure you always have ownership of your master copies (your recordings). Never give ownership of your masters to anyone unless of course they are paying for your session and that is part of the deal - basically there's no other way to get things done.
10. Ask for samples of music before going with anyone. The final product should reflect the level of quality that you need to accomplish your overall goal. For example: If you want to be played on the radio, your product quality should be equal to the quality of anyone being played on the radio but be prepared to spend some money for this level of quality - just don't get taken or overcharged. There's ways of getting this quality without paying 10s of thousands of dollars.
#12 Gigs, Shows & Appearances - The Differences
Knowing what type of show/appearance you are dealing with will allow you to better plan for that particular event. There may be lots of different views on what I’m about to tell you but this is my view so just take it for what it’s worth and come up with what works for you. These are suggestions.
First of all:
A “gig” in my book is a “regular” show or performance in front of a familiar group or crowd. If you are performing at the same places over and over, then in my book, that is called a “gig”.
A “show” is a performance that you have to ‘prepare for’ a little more than a “regular” gig. A show is where you should be “showcasing” your talents, stage performance, music, and musicians.
An “appearance” is when you are showing up for a meet & greet, singing the National Anthem, speaking to a group of people, signing autographs, etc. Basically, any event where you are not singing the entire time and required to interact on a personal level with the public.
Here are a few examples of why you need to know the difference in types of events:
- At a “gig”, you might dress down whereas a “show” you may want to up your game and the dress code for you and your musicians.
- At “gigs”, you may want to only have a few merchandise items and a small table but at a “show” you want to have a bigger presentation and more merchandise choices.
- For “appearances”, you should gather your information ahead of time like the age range of the folks that will be there and plan to have something age appropriate pertaining to your music. If it’s a “paid” appearance for a sponsor, you may choose to have a small trinket with your logo or picture on there to give away and autograph.
- Book a variety of events so that you have a well-balanced event schedule.
- Carefully planned events will give you a better image and it shows professionalism.
There are other things to take into consideration but you get the idea!
Why Do I Want to Book a Wide Variety of Events?
Booking a wide variety of events will broaden your fan base and build your ‘public relations’ skills. You also do not want to just keep doing the same ole thing year after year. You want to build on what you do each month and year. Playing in the same places all of the time and doing the same types of events/performances will get you nowhere and you risk being stamped a particular type of performer, band or artist. (Example: "Bar Band")
Tips 13-20 Coming Soon!
I am working to get you all 20 tips. I'll notify you when they are available.