Whether you’re an artist trying to make a career in music or someone who wants to step into an alternative role within the music business, having both short-term and long-term goals will help you have a better chance of success. It’ll also prevent you and your business from becoming obsolete. Success is not always measured by profitability, it can also be measured by opportunities and how strong your network is, and beginning with the latter is arguably more crucial than the former to get ahead in the game.
The music industry is currently facing unprecedented times, so it’s important to remain astute and reactive to rapidly changing circumstances. Even without a worldwide pandemic, the music industry is an ever-changing and ever-evolving beast, there to trick you and lure you into a false sense of security before the next landscape change. I’m here to provide a few pointers on how independent artists can future-proof their music career, capitalise on alternative revenue streams and be able to stand resilient in the face of unforeseen adversity.
When we talk about future-proofing, we talk about creating something that is designed to be sustainable or easily adapted in terms of maintaining success. This involves planning ahead, much like I described in my former blog “Top tips on how to self-manage your band”. Planning ahead in this case can involve education, networking, building a name for yourself, having transferable skills, locking in future activities and always being two steps ahead.
Times like these can either make or break an artist, and it’s important to distinguish the differences between artists who have the infrastructure to withstand having their revenue streams limited vs those who don’t.
Planning will always be an integral part of any band’s success, and as far as business models go, it’s important to look to the future and to set SMART Goals [Specific, Measurable, Achievable, Realistic and Time-bound]. Having these will really allow you to have something to work towards but also something to look back on in years to come. This way you can assess whether or not you carried out everything you said you would.
An example of a SMART goal can be to play twice as many shows in 2022 than you will in 2021 (I was going to say 2020 but the joke wrote itself). That is already specific and measurable. It is achievable if you book the shows in advance and it’s a realistic goal if you have a new album cycle that creates demand and opportunity for a busier touring schedule.
A lot of established artists may have a 3-5 year plan based around their current and future album cycles, international touring plans, promotional activities etc. When looking at your own plans you should at least dissect your timeline to one that is relevant for you. For an independent artist I would recommend a 1-2 year business plan mapping out both controllable and possible uncontrollable factors (this is a popular marketing term and can be applied to all business models). A controllable factor for instance is when you choose to release your album, and at what price, and when you choose to book a run of tour dates to promote the album. An uncontrollable factor is Covid-19 decimating the economy and shutting down the live industry, meaning that fans may no longer have money to support you for the time being, and your accompanying tour dates being cancelled as a result. That hurt to write.
In order to prepare yourself for the future it’s crucial to spend some time focusing on the development of your profile, your reputation, and your audience. Over time, your network, those loyal fans, those business cards you picked up at gigs, conferences and festivals will turn themselves into opportunities. Those opportunities will then transform into a revenue stream and the more you have, the more options you have to explore or develop when things don’t go to plan and certain revenue streams (such as live gigs) have been cut off.
An example of how your network can help you generate profitable opportunities is by having good relations with a label who can cut you a deal with a good advance and further your reach, or having a good rapport with a publisher who can help land you sync opportunities. Other examples include knowing an agent who can get you a tour with a good fee or you may know a good manufacturing company who produces high quality merch at a good price so you can sell shirts with a bigger profit margin. The list goes on.
It might seem obvious, but having a strong set up in terms of social media, e-commerce and platforms for audience growth is imperative in the current landscape. Direct to consumer (D2C) in terms of music, merch and ticket sales is part of the modern evolution of the music business and should be an important part of your business model. Knowledge is power, and if you can identify where your fans are, how many of those are actively invested in your music (those who buy gig tickets, music, merch) compared to those who are passive fans (maybe they stream your music and like the odd Facebook post) then you are in a position of power.
The goal however, is always to turn those passive consumers into active ones.
Here is my check list for a future-proof set up so that you can not only maintain a fanbase, but further it during periods of no live activity and still maintain an online presence.
Covid-19 has seen a complete shutdown of the live music industry, and everyone from venue staff, bookers, promoters, managers, tour bus companies, catering companies and more have seen a complete restriction on what, for some of them, is their primary source of income. Bigger artists who pursue music as their full time profession may be a lot more dependent on live income than a developing artist who is establishing themselves in their local scene. No matter the size of the artist, we’re lucky to live in a world where opportunities can be created with the use of modern technology to see them through these times.
Musicians are currently utilising the power of social media and various other platforms such as Twitch, Beatport and Zoom to accommodate live streams, live Q&As and connect with fans during a time when they can’t tour. Now it’s time to bring the fans to YOU. It is important to be innovative and to bring the live show experience to fans in the comfort of their offices and living rooms. By having good quality audio, video and of course a mind-blowing performance (be it acoustic, full band, or just straight up acapella), now is your time to shine and capitalise on fans eager for live music.
If you have a strong fan base you may be able to warrant hosting a ticketed event, and many bands have set up concerts with streaming partners such as Veeps. However if you’re doing this more for exposure points than looking to generate money, you can host a live stream on Facebook, Instagram, Twitch etc. and maybe have a “Tip Jar” and put your PayPal address in the stream comments or description. You can also direct fans to your merch store during the stream if they wish to support you.
If some fans are unable to watch the live stream, you may keep it available for a limited time on socials as well so fans can watch again or share it with their friends. Alternatively, you can record the set and upload it to YouTube after. Lots of possibilities and different methods work for different artists and how they prefer to connect with their fans.
Over the years, accessibility and visibility of music has increased, whereas the overall ‘value’ of music has decreased for the average consumer. So let’s talk about the super fan.
Crowdfunding models have become popular in recent years and help acts to raise money to pay for a new album where they may be lacking in advances from a label, for example. However, if we move up a level from a one off payment structure, we can now look at bands who can ask their fans for repeat payments to support their activities.
Reserved for bands who have a very invested and dedicated following, a subscription model (even if only temporary) can be an interesting way to generate regular income for an artist. Musicians can utilise this platform to connect directly with their fans, offer exclusive pieces of content and opportunities other fans without a subscription cannot access. I think this model will become more popular in the future and a case study I like to refer to when talking about the Patreon model is a band called Ne Obliviscaris, who spoke with Forbes about the innovative model and how they make it work for them.
As you can see, the band has a few tiers in terms of how much you can pay per month. Patrons are given priority access to music, shows, and whatever else an artist is able to offer. This model doesn’t work for everyone, as some artists like to remain elusive or have an air of mystery about them. It means artists need to plan ahead and deliver a constant stream of content, products, opportunities and experiences on a regular basis to provide value for money, otherwise they may lose subscribers. Whether or not it is a long term solution for artists to acquire a regular ‘wage’ to help them fulfill a full time career as a musician is questionable, but it’s great to see the commitment from fans to the acts who do make it work.
In summary, there are a lot of things an independent artist can do to keep momentum up when confronted with such an uncertain future within the music industry. Future-proofing your career can put you in a better position to keep business and activities going when the world presents its challenges. When you’re ready to hit the road again, having that infrastructure passively working away in the background collecting data will allow you to see what growth you’ve been able to achieve and how many more new fans you may be able to reach when you are finally ready for that world tour!
It’s likely that with a lot of international travel bans and restrictions on large gatherings, independent music will become a more focal part of society moving forward and this is a very positive outlook for the developing artist and those just starting out a career in the music business.
Good luck and here’s to a successful future.
Congratulations and welcome, you’ve been appointed as your band’s manager! It’s common practice for a lot of bands to self-manage until they are at a point whereby their income and level of responsibility become too much, and they have to nominate a manager. Different managers have different styles and strengths and you’ll come to realise over time what works best for your band. Some bands have great business acumen, others don’t, but if you apply the below you’ll be closer to your desired level of career progression.
A top priority for any successful music release is having a high quality and marketable product. When creating your release, ensure that the standard of audio production and songwriting is at a professional level and if need be, research producers or mix and mastering engineers that can polish off your product to help it reach its potential. You may need to invest here, but it’s a long term investment and you want to start as you mean to go on. Some producers may do deals for independent artists so don’t be afraid to ask. Even just having a reputable mastering engineer to add the finishing touches can change the perception of how your music is regarded, as if they are willing to be a part of your team it shows that the music is good enough for them to contribute to. This can also be used as a Unique Selling Point (USP) when targeting industry.
In addition to the music, ensure that the visual elements such as graphic design, artwork, music videos and photoshoots are reflective of the branding and message that you wish to promote as an artist. Ensure that your branding and up to date information is unanimous across all of your social media, as people should be able to identify which band you are in by looking at the visuals.
Around 3-6 months ahead of release, it’s time to start preemptively reaching out to collaborators to help you get the most out of your music. Keep a track of these people and their responses, as it is important to start building your network and familiarise people with your music. Don’t be afraid to follow up if they haven’t responded within a week.
It’s important to build good relationships with companies who help build the infrastructure for your release. You may have a recommendation from a friend’s band about a good merch or CD/Vinyl manufacturing company that they use regularly. Maybe you heard about a great music videographer who can not only help with music videos but also making some more online content for a good price. You may want to hire a PR person to reach out to the media, or to engage the services of a booking agent to book you an album launch tour. This is the time to get your house in order and get the mundane tasks out of the way so that your release has the best chance of success from hereon.
My preferred way of planning for a forthcoming campaign is to compile everything in a Google Drive folder and to share this with all of the team. This can be everything from a release schedule, to promo photos, Audio files, lyrics, video content and a document outlining every blog, magazine or promoter you’ve contacted so you can keep track of responses.
It is imperative that you identify who your existing and also projected audience is. This will enable you to effectively outsource work to appropriate companies or to take the time to prepare relevant content and contacts for you to proactively reach out to.
Delegation of tasks within the band camp is a good way to save money. By acknowledging individual members’ strengths and weaknesses and being resourceful, can be especially helpful for bands with limited access to funding.
There are various grants available to help up and coming artists develop and the main one I recommend is the PRS Momentum Fund.
As a developing manager, you may be inclined to look at the MMF Accelerator Programme, which is targeted at managers who have a proven track record of success but could use some assistance in terms of funding, training and mentoring. The programme is for a year.
Once you have your plan and if applicable, team in place, you can start creating and scheduling content for social media to maintain momentum throughout your campaign.
Plan a release schedule that keeps up momentum and base it around key announcements like a new single, album pre-orders, a tour announcement or an exciting activity that the band is undertaking. Have engaging content to back up the announcements and ensure your team is all on board with pushing each announcement to get as wide a reach as possible.
Releasing an album and meeting the expectations you have for your release can be a very stressful process. It is important that you time manage effectively and organise yourself so that you don’t become overwhelmed from being a part of both the creative and business undertakings.
Ensure your webstore and digital distribution is set up ahead of time so you don’t have to worry about it. Register your songs on PRS. If you’ve managed to obtain a distribution deal or a record deal, it is important that you either become savvy with the deal points or appoint a lawyer to ensure the deal is a good one.
Setting aside time to be proactive and focus on tasks such as ordering merch in a timely manner, label pitches, agent pitches, festival pitches or looking for blogs to cover your release is a good use of your time. In the early stages of your career, it’s better to be proactive than reactive, as a lot of the time YOU need to generate opportunities, and not wait for them to come to you. This still stands for even more established bands.
My go-to for all things Music Industry is Ann Harrison’s book ‘Music: The Business’.
If you’re keen to become a beacon of music industry knowledge then this book has everything you need to know (in theory, anyway; it’s up to you to put the info into practice and build your experience).
If you’re serious about a career in management then I would advise joining the MMF (Music Managers Forum), who are a body of active music managers that hold meet-ups, networking events, and training and mentoring sessions for artist managers. These events give you the opportunity to constantly learn and evolve as a manager and stay up to date with developments within the industry.
Some musicians are able to successfully self-manage for a long time and others may need to step back in case of a conflict of interest happenstance. It is important to not fear asking for advice or help or to gain a clear overview of whether you are the best person to manage your act.
Meaningful relationships built along the way will only stand you in positive stead, and if and when it is time for someone else to take over the reigns, perhaps you already have someone in mind who you have worked closely with.
A fundamental part of being in a band is to not lose sight of why you write music in the first place. Sometimes the fun can be overshadowed when business interests override creativity, so be sure to take time to enjoy and be proud of your achievements.
Working towards a common goal and ensuring each band member is valued for their input (including yours) will help keep up the enthusiasm and motivation to achieve your goal.
Believe in your art and believe in yourself! Good luck.
Today I want to talk about the biggest mistakes emerging bands make time and time again. As always, I’m focused on helping you achieve your band’s full potential using a modern DIY ethic and self-management.
For me, it’s all about the artist being in control of their career. I want to empower your management process with up to date industry advice which in turn will help you manage and realise your musical career. As we know, record deals may come and go but essentially, at the core, it’s about you, your music and achieving your goals with a realistic and obtainable plan.
So without further ado, let's get started!
Understanding your role, as an artist, may initially seem quite obvious. However, your job as a musician is not to just simply sound good (that’s craft) but to reflect and espouse an artistic vision. An artist speaks for an audience, and your primary job is to do that.
So, how do you do it?
Your style, brand, the way you play live all counts for an awful lot, but the single most important aspect is lyrics and subject matter. What are you saying and who are you speaking for? There are thousands of artists who do this, here are a few examples;
Bob Dylan - He represented social, cultural and political change and was a voice for his generation.
Rage against the machine - The ethos was all about fighting the man and reflecting countercultural angst at the system.
Pink - A representation of female empowerment and taking full control of your life.
Work quickly, it's about constant day to day improvements on your songwriting, set, live show, social media, and recorded material. You are telling a story and you have to engage people in a constantly evolving tale. This is not necessarily about releasing a huge amount of material, remember quality is an incredibly important virtue. Observe and apply the work ethic displayed by artists like Prince, Lady Gaga, Beyonce and the hot bands around your local scene. These people are working extremely hard and they are your competition.
Let's conduct an experiment by taking your career and making a prediction of how things are going to go for you over the next five years. Do you know the saying “The most predictable indicator of future performance is past performance?”
Hypothetically, let's say your band has had a gradual upward trajectory comprised of doing three pub gigs and releasing an EP. Take those milestones and multiply them by five and you get fifteen pub gigs and potentially an album. Would you say this enough for a sustainable career?
It stands to reason that if you want to be at the pinnacle of the game, you have to make sure your current activity is in line for your intended future growth. This would mean adjusting your current activity to fit your future aims. Increasing your overall output in the short term would yield further benefits in the long term.
If you don't have a realistic and obtainable plan then all you have is a bunch of demos and a pipe dream. How do we take that strong desire to have a career in music and make your project happen? How do we make a plan that is realistic and achievable?
If you have been keeping up with our content you should have a good idea of what I mean by a plan. And more importantly what’s required to strategise like a major band. However, if you’ve missed anything check out these videos to catch up;
So, are there any examples of bands that have good plans? Well, YES, in fact, it’s harder to find examples of professional bands that don’t have good plans. I’m aware there are exceptions to the rule and that some artists are so incredible they make amazing albums that just blow up (think Nirvana or Guns and Roses). However, they tend to have a difficult job managing their success after the album release.
We are talking about a long term and sustainable career that requires management and planning. Making a plan for a band or helping them with their management strategy is what we do, day in day out at Waterbear. It’s our bread and butter, and we are here to help!!
If you have any questions about YOUR plan, drop them in the comments and I’ll do my best to answer them!
- ‘Water bear’ is the common name for a Tardigrade.
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- Their resilience and ability to adapt and survive inspires us in everything we do. We love them.