Being an independent artist can be overwhelming! In addition to making great music we are expected to be business people, marketers, social media experts, booking agents, bus drivers and more. It’s hard to know where to start and what to do. Well, here’s my attempt at an indie playbook. I can’t guarantee you’ll win but it’ll give you a fighting chance. Ready, Set, Go!
#1: Create Great Content
Content is King – make it good and make lots of it! Be a perfectionist but don’t let it stop you from consistently releasing content (no matter how perfect you make it today you’ll still find things you want to change later). Your existing fans will love getting new stuff and new fans will have multiple back catalogue albums to buy. Plus, with streaming services like Rdio and Spotify taking off it’s even more important to have lots of good content – the more you get played, the more you get paid!
#2: Stick to the Plan(s)
Plan A = You do everything yourself. “If it is to be, it’s up to me.”
Plan B = Record Companies, Agents, Managers etc. help you.
In the past, recording, marketing and distribution were only affordable for major labels, but the industry is changing rapidly – Arcade Fire, an independent act, just won the Grammy for Album of the Year. Focus the majority of your attention on Plan A – ‘DIY’. Don’t spend all your energy trying to get ‘industry’ to pay attention. The best way attract good representation is to show that you can succeed on your own. Keep an up to date ‘Plan B’ contact list and let them know every time something good happens. Eventually they’ll take notice – and when they do your previous successes will give you more bargaining power.
#3: Find ‘Super-Fans’ (and do everything you can to keep them happy)
Super-Fans come to every show. They buy all of your albums. They tell all their friends how great you are. They comment on everything you post online. They are the indie artist’s lifeblood. How do you get Super-Fans? In addition to creating great content you also need to connect personally with your fans. Interact offstage and online. Be friendly. You’re not too cool to stand at the merch booth and talk to people. Not only will you meet some great people who genuinely love music, but you’ll gain die hard fans who will bring their kids to see your reunion tour in 20 years.
#4: Give 110% (no matter what)
If there are only 5 people at your show make them feel like everyone else in the world is missing out. Small audiences are easier to connect with and will return a higher percentage of ‘Super-Fans’. Every show is good practice, plus you never know who might be watching.
#5: Know Who You Are
Know your image. Deny it all you want, but music is visual. Video killed the radio star, YouTube killed MTV and who knows what crazy new thing will kill YouTube. This doesn’t mean you have to conform to a stereotypical image or be untrue to yourself – just figure out who you are – then streamline it! Know your niche. What sets you apart from everyone else? What unconventional venues can you play at? Know your genre. Everyone will ask you what/who you sound like so be sure you know the answer. Make it short and sweet and exciting, then memorize it! Know your story. It’s hard to talk about music – that’s why we listen to it. You need interesting stories to convince writers to write about you. Do things that set you apart from everyone else – then tell people about them.
#6: Hire a Team
You can individually hire people to help promote your music (that’s all a record label is), just remember that every person you add to your team will cut into your profit. First, try doing the job yourself so you know how much work is involved and what it’s worth to you. If you feel you need to hire someone, get referrals from fellow artists. Be careful, the music industry is full of people who will gladly take your money. Services like Sonicbids, Radiotrackers, Songwriting Competitions, Taxi and the like are the music industry version of Las Vegas. Gamble on them if you have the extra cash, but remember, in the music business the only thing that’s easy is spending money.
#7: Have a Timeline
Give yourself a schedule and try to stick to it. Make it ambitious but achievable. Break big tasks into small pieces. Things like booking, publicity and content releases need to be planned far in advance – make sure you and your team agree to the timeline and are ready for what’s coming up.
#8: Make a Splash
Not only is word of mouth advertising free, it’s extremely effective! Do whatever you can to get people talking about you. Create great content that people want to pass around. A great idea is more important than a big budget.
#9: Be Realistic
Don’t bite off more than you can chew. Be sensible about where you spend your time and money – when something works, keep doing it! Dream big but be practical. If making money playing music was easy, everyone would be doing it!
#10: Keep Momentum
Just like riding a bike, it takes less energy to keep going than if you stop and start. Whether it’s a video clip from a live show, a status update, a new song idea or a music video, release new content every week.
Mike Southworth is a Producer, Musician, Director and Jack-of-All-Trades who lives in Vancouver with his wife and pet iPhone.