The Essentials Of Investing In Yourself As An Independent Artist


– Quentin W. Buetow –

– Robi Nickoli –



The Essentials Of Investing In Yourself As An Independent Artist

I love the idea of the independent artist. You don’t have to rely on anyone else to get your career moving and you’re able to let as much of your creative side show as you want, but being a successful independent artist is hard work. Signed artists usually have a team of people who know the business helping out. As an independent artist, you have to keep an eye on everything yourself and do much of the so-called heavy lifting.

While there are courses that can teach you the business side of things, many performers start their career by just trying things out and seeing how they go. This method of trial and error can be hit and miss. Considering the fact that many artists learn from others (who are also in this trial and error stage), this can lead to a lot of bad information being shared.

Today, I’m going to look at and discuss nine critical elements of investing into your career as an independent artist. If it’s new and helpful information to you, I’m glad. If you’ve already learned these lessons, I hope it acts as a good refresher for you.

So, let’s get into it …

I. Monetizing Live Shows

Many independent artists are afraid to appear like they’re taking themselves too seriously. When you’re an up-and-coming talent, it’s easy to slip into casual mode:  always playing for free, not setting up your merchandise display or even in some cases, not charging for C.D.’s.

While you should aim to get paid directly from live shows, this isn’t always possible when you’re a fresh act. Having said that, there is still money to be made from your performances.

If you’ve managed to tap into the crowd’s interest, there will be a few who will buy your merchandise. Make sure to mention from the stage that you’ll be going around after your set to sell C.D.’s and other items of interest. Don’t lose sales because you weren’t prepared!

II. Focusing Too Much On Getting Signed

This point is self-explanatory. Yes, I know the thought of getting signed is alluring, but it shouldn’t become your main priority. You want to concentrate on making the best music that you can.  A mediocre artist who doesn’t take their craft seriously will never be signed.  Always shoot to be the best at what you do, but be very mindful of the salient fact that there are hundreds of other independent acts doing the exact same thing. You also want to build up a loyal fan-base on your own. Refer back to my previous series – “The Essentials Of Promoting Yourself, Your Craft, And Your Music” for words of advice on how to do just exactly that.  Once you’ve accomplished those two goals, everything else will flow from there.

There are two main problems you’ll face when aiming to sign a record deal first:

1. You’ll target the wrong people.

Instead of focusing on interacting with fans, deejays, and people that can broadcast your music on a wider scale than you can do yourself, you’ll be focusing on getting onto a label’s radar. In reality, the best way to get on a record label’s radar is to already be successful on your own. If you’ve created your own buzz, they’ll come to YOU.

2. You’ll lose motivation if it doesn’t come.

If you’ve got your heart set on a record deal, but you don’t get signed, this will only create a sense of futility and discouragement and make you lose the love for the music. I’ve seen this happen with many talented musicians … and it’s not a pretty sight to witness.

Focus on perfecting your craft, building up your brand (your name recognition and professional reputation), building your fan-base, and earning your own money. If you go on to get a good record deal, that’s great. If not, you’ll still be making money and gaining new fans.

III. Treating Your Music As A Business

Yes, making (and performing) music should be a fun and exciting adventure, but you should still treat it like a business (even if you’re not making a full-time living from it at this very minute).

If you want to make it past the ‘garage-band’ stage, you need to recognize that this is your career (or one of several careers – until you can ditch the day job.) You need to keep all relationships professional, network to set schedules, keep paperwork of what’s been happening, push yourself even when you don’t want to, and strategically invest time and money with the aim of making more back in the long run.

Your level of success won’t just rely on how talented you are. Record labels make hits with artists because they realize hitting big requires a lot of hard-ass work. They do all of the things mentioned above … and a lot more. If you want even a slice of this success, you need to do the same.

IV. Give Your Supporters Something To Believe In

You need something larger than your music for your fan base to attach themselves to. Aside from your original work, go ahead and showcase some of your favorite covers of easily recognized current or past chart-toppers. You’ll want to strongly consider this option simply to show your audience that you have the talent (and versatility) to keep up with whatever is current in the industry. Give them the mental reference of hearing you over music they are familiar with.

Remember: No one will automatically care about your songs or your craft.  You, as the performer, will have to find something that will inspire them to believe in you. Find noteworthy causes you can attach yourself to. Give your career a life outside of your music. You can drop song after song and video after video, but it simply won’t work if the audience does not believe in you.

Learn how to book your own shows and become a self-reliant machine. If you perform at a venue, you should be the first person there and the last person to leave. Don’t be afraid to work the room by shaking hands and having extended conversations with the supporters. Get out there and press the flesh! Never be afraid to network with venue owners and artists in other cities. You have to sell yourself, your craft, and your personality to the public.

If you drop a free C.D. – or even a performance – create a strategy that will eventually lead to some form of a currency stream. Promotion works best if you allow it to run its course in phases. This gives the people a chance to learn about you and understand who you are. If they don’t believe in you, then they won’t invest time and money into you. A solid fan-base that believes in the artist and his or her craft will do anything under the sun to help spread the word. This all basically starts with you deciding to become more proactive about – and invested in – your career.

You need to take responsibility into your hands. Let your brain come up with comprehensive ideas that make sense and apply these things to your career. The more hands-on you become with all phases of your craft, the more you will notice the dynamics and energy around you start to shift. You’ll start believing in yourself on a totally different level than before … and you’ll notice the public doing the same.

V. Formulate A Realistic Plan

Getting signed to a major label in six months is not realistic on any level whatsoever. As an independent artist, you need to determine what demographic identifies with you. Learn about the demographic you want to attract: what other artists do they enjoy, what type of crowd are they, what venues do they frequent, et. al. Find a way to discover who and what comprises your core audience … and then market your craft to them.  Do your research with due diligence and attention.

VI. You Need A Budget

One of the primary goals of any independent artist should be to eventually find an investor of some sort. In the beginning, this is going to be extremely difficult … and honestly, for most individuals it may not even happen, so you’ll need to find different ways to invest in yourself. You also need to discover ways to gain sponsorships. Save money and apply it to your career. It’s important to know and understand that nothing moves in the music industry without cash. Prioritize and maintain a budget that can be used to effectively promote you as well as sustain you.

VII. The Team

Everyone talks about having a team and this is also a very, very, very important step. More importantly having the right team in place is the ultimate goal concerning this subject. You need to do everything you can to make sure everyone in your circle has the same exact dedication level. Partial dedication will only equate to partial results. In plain English, don’t half-ass it. If you’re going to be successful, everyone has to share the vision and be on the same exact mission. You need to be aware that the importance of having a team behind you is vital to your success.  Too, you also have to be mindful of delegating responsibilities to each member. Communicating your expectations is crucial to making the machine run smoothly.

Everyone needs a job or task that should be performed daily. No one should be allowed to take a day off without solid reason. If, for whatever reason, any individual on your team does not feel that your music if the future of ALL music … then do yourself a favor and cut them out immediately. You shouldn’t be surrounded by kiss-asses, but you do need to be surrounded by people that value your talent and will do everything they can to push it and you.

If you can’t afford to hire a group of street-teamers, then transform yourself (and your trusted friends or fans) into your street team and handle your business. You need an army if you want to gain any traction. Pass out flyers, hang up posters, go to clubs or bars and pass out C.D.’s and E.P.,’s to people as they leave. If you allow yourself to be ignored, then you will indeed remain ignored. You need a crew of individuals who are ready to beat the pavement and promote your music. Recruit anyone you can and turn them into a soldier.  Offer them special incentives like free entry to your shows as rewards for being a part of the team.

VIII. Learn How To Create A Press Kit

You won’t get many looks in the media if you have no clue how to present your music to it. Sometimes you may not have music to actually release at the time, but you want to find a creative way to announce that you are currently working on a new project. This is why you need to understand the value of a press kit. Professionalism is the key to success.  Releasing a song via social media with zero additional information being sent out to fans, deejays, venue owners, and the like is a complete waste of time, effort, and resources.

If you’re not sure of how to create a press kit, you can refer back to my previous three-part series entitled – “The Essentials Of An Effective Music Press Kit”.  You’re sure to find a wealth of information as well as a comprehensive how-to guide on creating a press kit.

IX. Understanding Your Market So That You Can Establish Brand And Name Recognition

You have to understand your market and become familiar with how it operates and sustains itself. You need to learn about the type of business your market creates and maintains. You will also need to understand the market you are working and learn how to make it work for you. If you don’t understand the market, the strategy you’ve established for getting yourself out there will more than likely fail. You will spend years running around in the same circles, making the same mistakes, and assuming that you are gaining ground when you actually are not. Learn about the market and build your strategy from there.

The quality of your marketing campaign dictates the momentum of your career. The quality of your branding can potentially provide new ways for you to make money. The best advice I can give you in these regards is pitch your music to the people that identify with it. Originality and uniqueness will propel your career much further than anything else in most cases. Keep in mind that nothing is organic in the music industry: everything that happens is something that someone somewhere has made happen.

Make it difficult for people to ignore you. On some level, you have to find a way to be everywhere at once. Effective marketing consists of creating a certain mystique; an irresistible allure that draws your audience in.  Remember, you’re seeking to forge a connection to your audience. The power of your branding is in your hands.

So there you have it …

These are just some of the things that you – as an independent artist – should focus on. There are few people that understand this is a business. The few that do understand have made the sacrifices and are living the dream and making money doing what they love. They understand the basic principal that you need to multiply your initial investment by at least two times. I’m talking about gear, software, professional recording, professional editing, C.D. artwork, duplication, design, and photography. Lump that all together and that is what you need in additional money. If you want to make a dent in the industry, you need to spend an equal amount in advertising, marketing, public relations, entering contests, festivals, and radio, etc. None of it is free … you pay for it all in blood, sweat, tears, and hard, hard experience.

As a successful artist, you must have everything in the right place and you need to hustle your ass off every day. GRIND. Don’t wait for opportunities to find you. Too much time will go by … and by the time you meet the right people, suddenly your music is outdated and no longer interesting. You’ll end up missing the boat by waiting or by holding out because it cost a few bucks to pull your weight when you don’t have an audience.

It can be a lot to take in, but this is what it takes to be on top. That is where you want to be eventually, right?

I will be going into more comprehensive detail in future editions of Que The Music, but hopefully this will help guide you in the right direction.

Good luck.

Until next time … this is Que The Music signing off.

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