Welcome to 2019! Perhaps you’ve seen the memes pointing out that we’re now entering the year of that classic 80's sci-fi blockbuster Blade Runner?. By now the world’s supposed to be filled with industrial cyberpunk fashions, flying cars, towering corporate skyscraper and walking-talking human-like replicants. Look around and you’ll see none of these things have come to pass and there’s an important real-world lesson to be learned. The future often doesn’t look, or turn out, the way people expected or dreamt it would. What’s more, it keeps changing! That’s hugely important in the music business, where major changes are taking place. It’s a changing landscape, the technology’s changing, the channels and ways people access and enjoy music; and thus so are the markets and business models.
In order to survive and prosper in this brave new world of 2019 we need to adapt to the new reality. Artists and bands that adapt can prosper. What’s more, they can find more independence, freedom and creative control than old-school, major label record deals and arrangements allowed them.
You’ve probably seen one sign of the changes just last week. Over the festive period, HMV – one of the last major retailers of physical media (CDs, DVDs, BLU RAYS, and games) on the high street - announced that it would be appointing administrators (again!). The 97-year-old retail giant blames its plight on changes in consumer behaviour. The BBC reports that, “Sales of CDs plummeted by 23% last year, as consumers flocked to streaming services for their music. Just 32 million CDs were sold in 2018 - almost 100 million fewer than in 2008; and a drop of 9.6 million year-on-year.” HMV saw DVD sales decline 30% over the Christmas period. The company’s revenue stream has suffered; what’s more as a largely high street-based business, other things like rising rent and rates have increased its costs, hitting profits even more.
Now it has to remember that HMV has recovered from similar problems before (in 2013) having been rescued by investment, but there’s a lesson to be learned: the markets for entertainment and media are changing, as are the sales and distribution channels. This affects revenue sources and streams for artists and others in the music business. We’ve touched on this in several blogs in the past year.
One crucial lesson to bear in mind as we go forward into 2019 is that change is inevitable and that in order to survive and prosper we need to respond to the waves of change and ride them. Change creates opportunities. That’s part of the WaterBear philosophy. If you follow our blogs you’ll learn ways to survive and prosper, with expert advice from industry experts.
To start the year we’re going to look back at some of our blog entries from 2018 on key issues, and quote some of our industry experts’ valuable advice for aspiring and up-and-coming artists and bands.
#1 Do It Yourself vs Working with others
This has come up a lot. Decide what just work you’re willing and able to do for yourself or yourselves (like PR, photography, representation and management) and when you’d be better served by bringing in professionals.
Artists and bands who are starting out can do various things themselves if they know the right moves to make. Often, especially when building your rep and fanbase, the DIY approach is the way to go. Once you’ve got rep, a fanbase, sales/streaming stats, and social media following, you’re more likely to be able to appeal to potential management, booking agents etc.
However, whilst the DIY approach CAN save money, in terms of outlay and expense, it takes time, effort and skill. Bands often wonder when is the right time to start building a team, particularly employing management. Teamwork matters, as does picking the right people to be on your team. Also, as musicians know, timing matters!
#2 Be aware that to succeed you need more than just your own musical talent and showmanship.
People and services you may want to bring on board include: managers, agents, PR specialists, radio pluggers; also labels, merch companies, distributors, sponsors, publishers, lawyers, consultants, producers, songwriters.
Bringing pros on board, like representation and management, PR specialists, using professional photographers for shoots etc. can cost more but pay dividends. This is because you get their skills and services, and also gain the benefit of the pros’ contacts, network, credibility and backing.
Your budget often plays a part in the decision. Finite funds mean you need to prioritise. Also remember: One route might work for one band, but not another.
Bringing pros on board helps you move to the next levels. Check out our earlier blogs for advice on how to approach and engage the services of the pros and how to choose the right ones to work with.
#3 Build your rep, following, streaming & sales stats, and social media following before approaching managers, booking agents
Seven Webster offered this valuable advice: “ I would suggest the best time to approach a manager would be when you have the basis of an already-working business with a coherent plan, great music recorded, and a respectable size of fan base on your band’s social media (FB, Twitter, Insta, Spotify, YouTube etc.)
“In short, the better your business is working, the more interested managers of worth are going to be. Every manager wants to see an act that takes its business seriously and that works hard. The manager wants to complement, positively affect and help levitate and grow a business, and to be inspired by an artist, helping them and their business grow onwards and upwards.”
However, Seven also flagged up a wise warning: “I would say do not approach any manager until you feel you are ready and have what it takes to grab that manager’s attention in a very limited window, as the best managers are likely to be busy. By this I mean to start with have a clip of music that is going to grab their attention and that is likely to resonate with them in the first 45 seconds of them clicking on a link.”
Legendary booking agent Steve Strange echoed Seven’s advice: “I truly believe, in this day and age, where the landscape has changed so much in the last 10 years, that the right time to approach an agent is when the band have built up a local buzz in their local area plus a credible level of statistics on their socials.
“As much as a booking agent plays such a vital role these days within a band’s career, some development has to be made by the artist themselves before our profession would be able to kick in and get results in earnest.”
#4 Build Your Rep and Your Following
There’s no ‘one size fits all’ solution to building your band’s rep and following, but there are strategies and tactics that increase your chances:
• Create quality material
• Refine your musicianship and stagecraft
• Play live gigs, and be memorable and entertaining
• Build a loyal fan base
• Get exposure
• Use both social and traditional media
• Make and take opportunities.
• And as ever, treat people well.
#5 Adapt to the new environment: Use streaming services to your advantage to get your music heard. It provides valuable evidence of following, success and potential.
As Tim Ferrone of Wrapped Up Music advised our readers - artists and bands need to be on streaming services: “Not just Spotify, but all streaming platforms… Apple Music, Deezer, and a host of others. Why? For a number of reasons. Firstly, because streaming has become the principal means of musical engagement for a younger audience. So if you've any aspirations for engaging an audience under the age of 40 (it’s not just the kids you know!), you simply have to play the game… streaming has become the foremost metric by which success is assessed.
“Like it or not, publicly-viewable data (most obviously: social media followers, likes etc.) is available for anyone, enabling anyone to try to gauge the relative fanbase size of any artist. Ideally your social media will be sizeable too, but if your streaming numbers stack up well, then that conquers all.”
#6 Adapt to the new environment: Aim to get onto Streaming Platforms’ Playlists.
For an artist, or band, getting added to a playlist that commands a large following can be huge break. Spotify, for instance, hosts some 2 billion individual playlists. Some get curated by human beings; others assembled by analytics and algorithms that track users’ listening patterns and deduce their preferences.
Spotify’s most popular, and influential, playlists (like Discover Weekly and New Music Friday) have arguably taken up the role of the traditional Top 40 and a place in them can be seen as today’s equivalent of a chart hit. Getting place on a key playlist thus provides great exposure. Artists and bands need to understand how this could help make or break them.
An industry shift is underway: An artist can now make money from day one instead of having to wait for an album to come out. It’s a long tail market too. You don’t have to be in the top 200 to make money. Many smaller artists/bands may have failed to make into that tier, yet still been streamed millions of times; that can bring in thousands of pounds.
#7 Consider your options for record deals, including self-publishing, indie labels and major labels. Look into the pros and cons of each for you and your band.
In the words of Dante Bonutto (A&R expert and Head of Spinefarm Records' European team), “The main difference is probably that the major label systems tend to function best where there is already momentum and a degree of rising success; then the ‘machine’ can be a powerful and positive force helping to take things from Point A to Point B and beyond. When it comes to developing artists from the ground up, however, this kind of work is often better done by supportive management companies or independent labels, where in theory the workload may be lighter and the need for immediate returns less pressing.”
#8 Consider approaching companies for endorsement deals.
Endorsement can be mutually beneficial to both artist and brand. Remember that it’s best to avoid cold calling or coming across as wanting to blag freebies. Make sure that you have something to offer the brand you’ll be endorsing: your image, reputation, music and perhaps a fanbase that’s resonant and in harmony with the brand.
Think of what the company is looking for and make sure to see it from their perspective, as well as your own. Remember to consider who is endorsing whom in deals and keep that in mind as the relationship unfolds.
It is important to deal with the companies, their representatives and staff in a polite, friendly way as people do talk to people and it is an industry where reputation is key.
#9 Create an Electronic Press Pack (EPK)
Prepare a press kit and have it ready to send out to present yourself to the media and press; also to festivals, labels, broadcasters. A good press kit can present you, your band, and your brand in a highly effective, professional way. Without a press kit, your pitches and approaches will be much more hit and miss.
As Terri Chapman of Rock People Management advised us: “So many EPKs pass through my inbox on a weekly basis. If you are going to take the time to put one together then make sure it stands out from the rest. High resolution photos must be used. Make it as easy as possible for the viewer to find your links, videos and music. Include the band’s highlights of the year too, and press quotes really help, as do album reviews. What are your plans for the next 12months? We would also love to see that you have ambition and a plan. Those, for me, are some key ingredients for a great EPK.”
Check out our guide to how to create an excellent EPK!.
#10 Look into new models and methods, like using pre-order campaign management to generate advance sales
Look into new models and methods, like using pre-order campaign management to generate advance sales, which provide a great way to raise valuable funds before having to order physical units and to pay for a PR campaign. Elles Bailey told us about her experiences using the Pledge platform which we’ll be covering in more detail later this year.
#11 Look into festivals as an opportunity to perform in front of live audiences, your own fans, and gain exposure to new ones!
For bands, festivals offer great opportunities to perform in front of live audiences to show off their skills, musicianship, material and stagecraft. It gives them a chance to perform to their own, make new ones too, and to gain exposure from the festival and the festival’s advertising and marketing. It promotes their material, and thus sales of single, EPs and albums. And of course, there’s money to be made from appearance fees and merchandising.
#12 Develop a Professional Tech Spec
Writing technical specifications for your band for promoters and venues is important. A clear, concise tech spec helps in many ways: it makes you look professional and helps you to be taken seriously; what’s more, in practical terms, thinking things through and communicating clearly and concisely what your needs and expectations are helps avoid oversights, misunderstandings, mistakes. It helps the production staff help you. The more pro you are the more promoters and venues will want to work with you which leads to more shows.
So there, you have it: Twelve top tips to grow your fan base which may well influence your New Year Resolutions. Check out our original blogs and interviews for more detail on these aspects of the business, and more.