You’ve learned your craft and got some songs together, practised until your idols could be your rivals. What next?
Traditionally, a record deal would be the be all and end all of building a successful career as a singer. That isn’t always the case these days, and although the major record labels still operate in a similar model, it is most certainly not the only way to become a professional artist, and even if that is your aim. So how do you get there?
Whichever way is the most appropriate for you; it is harder to make a living in music if you are going it alone. Your team is other people who believe in what you do. If you currently don’t have anyone else bar your parents who believe in you, you have to actively find out why. This could either be because your product isn’t ready and you’re just not good enough, or because you haven’t found your niche yet.
Being ‘just good’ isn’t enough; there are so many ‘good’ singers and that can often be the enemy of ‘great’. Also, if you sound like Beyoncé or Matt Bellamy or any other successful singer, that’s impressive, but the world already has one of those, so you may need to dig deeper in order to find your unique style. The better your music is and the more secure in your vocal and songwriting style you are, the better chance you have of people believing in you and your music.
It can be daunting to find people to form your team and easier said than done. In its simplest form it is forming that first band with your mates, although that rarely leads to the big time. I say rarely, however Dave Grohl (Nirvana and Foo Fighters) advises to just “get in your garage and just suck and get your friends to come in and suck too and they’ll have the best time they’ve ever had in their lives and then all of a sudden they’ll become Nirvana”. In many of the more alternative genres, finding your band members can be the key to your sound and committed band members can help with the work load, find gigs and promote your act. Touring with a band can also be so much fun. That said, with the wrong people it can double your work and add frustration, greater cost to touring and extra organisation.
This can mean so many different things, from getting lessons to working with an A&R or producer. Identify what you need to be better at and find the people who can help you get there. This might be a vocal coach to help you sing in tune without harming yourself or learning guitar or songwriting.
PROMOTERS AND FESTIVALS
To hone your craft, you need to perform live. Promoters put on gigs, more often than the venue itself or the venue may have an in-house promoter.
Ensure your first gig with a promoter is a cracking one and you make an effort to help spread the word and bring people, and you may have a supporter for your music lifetime. A good promoter spends lots of time and money picking out the perfect line-ups for a fantastic evening for the music-loving fan. They will also have a passion for the music themselves. Often they may take financial risks putting the gig on (paying venue hire, sound technicians, door staff etc), although bad promoters might just put on a random night of bands and may not even bother to show up on the night.
Promoters speak to each other and to other people in the music industry, and if you can make a buzz with a small local promoter, it won’t take long before the bigger guys hear of you…
That might be the time to get an…
Agents books gigs for you. They work on commission, so unless you are at a level where you are doing well paid gigs (and let’s face it, you will have to do some groundwork honing your craft first either for expenses, a beer or two or free).
Whether you are in a band or solo, if you are to promote your music and get gigs and media coverage, you need to record it. The right producer helps shape the sound from an outside perspective and can be key in developing your sound.
Some producers are also songwriters, and if you are more of a “topline writer” (melody and lyrics), this kind of producer may get involved in co-writing and turning ideas into finished songs. If you are yet to finish songs by yourself a producer/writer, or a songwriter who can help with your artistic development can really be key. Think of how influential producers such as George Martin and Brian Eno have been in breaking bands. You might be better off starting at the local college and seeing if you can find someone and grow with them. An idea might be to look in the sleeves of local artists you like the sound of and find out who they are with and where they recorded.
Perhaps it’s time to find a…
Your manager is your greatest critic and biggest fan. Managers generally work on commissions, in other words – if you get paid they do, but contracts vary. A manager can also be your friend who is just that bit more organised than you, someone who can help you get gigs and do the promotion planning so you are free to create. A more established manager will have their ear to the ground and may find you if you have done your grassroots promotion right, getting good gigs and drawing the audiences in or getting good press and media coverage. This kind of manager will have a plethora of contacts in the industry and can be key in opening the right doors and drive your ‘product’ to the market.
The latter kind will often take full control over the direction you are going and help you find your Unique Selling Point (USP) and create and action plan.
There has to be a story… Make sure you collect press cuttings and even testimonials from promoters and festivals. It’s always better for someone else to talk about how fantastic your music is than for you to do it. It can really help spread your reach if a music blogger is a fan or if you get press coverage.
A PR company usually charges to help you gain press/media coverage, but can be worth it if you are self releasing. Radio pluggers work to get your music on the radio. In the meantime, why not try online radio stations and upload to your local station (BBC Introducing is great in the UK).
If you are touring independently, especially while you are still a support act, selling CDs and other merchandise can be a way of supplementing your income and help you break even (T-shirts, bottle openers, posters, tea towels – be creative if you think your fans would buy it). If they are well designed and the cover art is exactly that – an artwork – this may also help you get noticed. A designer might be able to do what you tried to do quicker and better leaving you more time to write and promote your music.
AND LAST BUT NOT LEAST…
Treat them well. A true fan will be with you on your journey (sometimes literally…), buy everything you release, come to all the gigs that are within their reach and care about your work. If you are to believe writer and cultural commentator Kevin Kelly, 1,000 fans is enough to make a living (http://kk.org/)
Ensure you collect their contact details for your mailing lists and/or that they like/follow you on social media so you can communicate with them next time you are playing. Interact with them and make them feel special, and they will spread the word about you as well to their friends.
Don’t be daunted about this prospect, just take one thing at the time. If you are truly passionate and continue to develop your music, some of it will come naturally and perhaps some won’t be applicable to you. Either way you’ll build a network of people you like to work with and who like to work with you. They say success happens when opportunity meets preparation, so be prepared to take the opportunity.
OTHER TEAM MEMBERS
A publishing company manages and secures your songs as assets. In addition to copyright asset management they can help place your music in film and TV or with artists (called “syncing”).
Sentric is a non-exclusive independent publishing company you might want to check out while you look for the right one. They also help collect royalties for you if you are a little disorganised.
The record label works like a bank in many ways; they pay for your project up front; production, manufacturing, distribution, marketing, promotion and manage the rights of your recordings and music videos.
If you decide to do it on your own, you can get your music out by using a service such as TuneCore, Ditto Music, CD Baby, ReverNation or even Bandcamp.
A lawyer will help you with contracts and copyrights, ad negotiate on your behalf for all legal matters. Some will do it pro bono (with the hope that over time you will bring in the big bucks). Until you have one, the Musician’s Union offer its members free legal help and lots of advice online.
By the time you start earning a crust from music you are essentially a business and may have to pay tax. A good accountant will ensure that you have control over your finances, helps you calculate what may be business expenses etc.
These guys help you collect royalties. In UK these are PRS for songs, MCPS for mechanical rights and PPL for performance on records (ASCAP and BMI and others in US). The International agencies do communicate and share to a certain extent.