Illustration: Danielle Chenette
Have you ever felt like you’re being pulled in a million different directions when it comes to your music career?
Being a DIY artist not only means having the freedom and creative control to do what you want when you want, but also being 100% responsible for your own career and making decisions that could jumpstart or stall your success.
As a publicist, blogger, and Soundfly Mentor, I see a lot of artists who have all the talent in the world, yet still cannot seem to move forward in their careers. When you look closely, the story is almost always the same: lack of budget, lack of a social media presence, lack of energy/resources, chasing every opportunity, and feeling totally burnt out. These are all obstacles, yes, but they’re also smaller goals en route to success, and they almost always stem from the same place: a lack of a plan.
Without a real plan in place, you’re going to get stuck. That’s why we created the Headliners Club, a four-week one-on-one mentorship program designed around the goals you want to achieve in your own songwriting, production, and career (learn more and apply with a project in mind here). For now, let’s address some of the most common hang-ups that DIY musicians run into when launching their careers.
What are some fundamental things I need to make sure I’m doing as an artist (especially in the early stages)?
A lot of the foundational work you’ll need to do as a DIY musician is pretty simple. But I didn’t say it’s easy — it takes commitment, planning, and discipline, but as far as complexity, it really is pretty basic. It consists of content creation, relationship building, and being present and seen. Let’s break it down.
Content creation: This means being active on Twitter, Facebook, and Instagram — without exception, you need to be active on all three of these. It means posting at least three to four times a week — ideally every day if you have interesting things to share, ask, or say — and making it engaging, interesting, and all about your fans. You can only ask them to buy your new music or advertise an upcoming show so many times before you lose them for good.
Try to follow the 70-20-10 Rule when it comes to social media. That means 70% of your content is building your brand (i.e., posting photos, lyrics, and articles that align with your beliefs and identity), 20% is promoting the work of friends and contacts (their shows, products, songs, etc. — don’t forget to tag them!), and only 10% is selling yourself. Selling to the people in your life will never drive connection — but showing them that your beliefs are their beliefs and giving them a chance to interact with that is what will ultimately build those bonds.
Relationship building: Speaking of building relationships, this is by far the most important part of advancing your career. To do this, you need to get out there (both in person and online) and in front of your fans, and then follow up on those connections. Like any relationship in your life, it will most certainly wilt without proper attention and nurturing. So when you’re meeting fans or other bands at shows, ask them about their interests. When you’re flyering outside a venue, ask how many times they’ve seen the band they’re standing in line for. The more they feel like it’s about them, the more they’ll connect.
The same can be said of being present online: using Facebook groups and replying to comments on Instagram and Twitter are great ways to get to know your fans and show them you’re human. For instance, in Facebook groups, try to offer advice and answer other people’s questions more often than you ask them. On Instagram, take time to follow and engage with 10 people per day that you know are either existing or potential fans or band partnerships. Take the time to invest in others, and you’ll soon see your relationships flourish.
How do I stay focused when it comes to creating goals?
As a new band, it can be tempting to jump on every opportunity that comes your way. While on the surface, this makes sense as a strategy — be everywhere and spread out your chances of getting noticed — it can actually lead to complete burnout and empty your pockets in the process. Saying yes to shows that you already know are going to get you nowhere only leads to feeling like you’re running in circles.
Well, for one, I strongly suggest putting together a business plan. It doesn’t have to look like your standard, corporate business plan — but it should include an outline of your long-term goals (sign to a label, tour five months this year, fundraise enough to finance the next album, etc.) as well as a roadmap of what it’s going to take to get there, including a timeline and a detailed breakdown of responsibilities.
It may also include how you’ll get more involved in the local scene so you can play more shows with less risk, improving the tightness of your band, and establishing your sound quicker. It’s important to focus not just on the what but on the how. Break down your goals, and you’ll stay energized, inspired, and on track throughout.
How do I manage my budget?
Once you have a clear idea of where your energy and time will be going, it becomes a lot easier to manage your budget. For instance, if you know that you need press coverage as part of your plan to attract a label or a festival, begin contacting publicists, getting prices, and figuring out what you’ll need to do to make that happen. Play extra shows, work a few extra hours, start doing wedding gigs, or set up a crowdfunding campaign — whatever it’s going to take to afford that extra help.
If something comes along that seems cool but isn’t quite aligned with your long-term plan (and is going to cost a lot of time/energy/money), pass on it. It’s important to be flexible in this business, but if you’re vulnerable to getting caught up in the excitement of a new idea, having a long-term plan to refer to should help you to stay on track
But wait — if I’m just talented enough, won’t a record label eventually scoop me up and deal with all these things for me?
No. I’m sorry, but the industry doesn’t work that way anymore (and hasn’t for a long time). Labels (or blogs or venues or festivals) no longer want to take a chance on an artist with nothing going for them except great music.
There are a lot of talented musicians out there. What you need to stand out these days is a true connection with superfans who will buy your merch, go to your concerts, and talk about you to everyone they know. They also want to see social media numbers that reflect that rabid fanbase, a tour history to show you can run a successful tour on your own, and buzz-worthy press.
It may feel like a lot, but with patience, planning, and a clear head, this really is all within your reach. Remember, having a business mindset about your music career isn’t selling out — it’s just the reality of what it takes to be successful. And it’s one of the most important lessons you can learn.
March 23, 2018