This all may sound a little harsh, but the number of simple mistakes artists make while trying to make it in the music industry are astounding. Here are a few of the classics we come across almost every day and how to combat them- the likelihood is if you’re an artist you’ve already learnt from a few of them. There are very few shortcuts in this business – you’ll need to graft whatever happens!
1. “Killer music trumps everything – it alone can get me signed.”
Beautiful songwriting. Perfect production. The perfect marriage of the two forming an incredible track that every man and his dog digs out their best superlatives for:
“This is so much better than what’s in the charts”
“I’m surprised you haven’t been signed already.”
The reality is incredible music – however creative/commercial/awesome – doesn’t just jump off the internet and into the lap of an A&R. Even if your track on Soundcloud has thousands of plays (and I mean even 50K+) it won’t automatically fall into the path of someone looking to invest in you (manager, publisher or record label). The harsh reality is there is simply a vast quantity of very, very good music available on the internet vying for the attention of these people.
Labels are looking for developed, well crafted, complete packages. Had a successful track? Labels want to see how you utilise the fan base you have built from that and engage with them moving forward. How do your next 2-3 releases fare? Does your social media base grow? Are the press clippings starting to pile up? In this uncertain climate, labels look for a complete package they can buy into: something that isn’t a risk, has a strong sales/streaming record and is still growing.
INSTEAD: Show the industry that you’ll be a sure-fire hit by not neglecting the wider marketing and strategy of your whole package. Your music won’t get itself out there – build up a cohesive and strategic online presence to maximise what your music can do.
2. “Killer strategy/networking/social media trumps everything- it alone can get me signed.”
This is the other end of the spectrum – bands and solo artists spend so much time developing their image and online package they forget to focus on what is really key: the music.
Good songs are KEY.
Show your songwriting to as many people (you musically respect) as possible and ask for them to be brutally honest – better a friend telling you that you suck than someone you’re trying to impress. If you gain the interest of a label with your online presence and your music doesn’t blow them away, they’ll never look at you again. Invest yourself deeply in songwriting, save HARD and hire the best producer and mixer your money can buy – crowd fund if you can’t find another way of raising capital (which can also help grow and engage a fanbase). Too many bands look awesome online, have an amazing brand and loads of quality content but their music BLOWS.
INSTEAD: Don’t forget what it’s really about, and focus your energy there!
3. Poor quality recording, submitted in an obscure/difficult way
It sounds so obvious but only ever send the best recorded, produced and mixed music you have. This can still just be a simple piano and vocal, but make sure it’s ON POINT. Don’t ever make excuses for what you’re sending: “You get the idea”… “the real thing will be a lot better”… “I had a cold at the time…”. Spend your resources making output with true quality – if you need to make excuses you’ll know in yourself it isn’t good enough to send. Make sure what you send is super easy to listen to as well, eg. no massive WAV files that won’t fit in A&R’s inboxes.
INSTEAD: Send the easiest, low bar method for the person receiving to be able to hear your music; soundcloud links or single mp3s over email work great. Don’t send an essay either – keep it unbelievably brief and highlight some keys stats. Don’t send everything you’ve ever recorded, send one (or at most two) tracks to leave them wanting more (and hold something back for if they do want more!).
4. No video presence
We’ve said it before – the world’s biggest music discovery platform is YouTube. If you’re not making video content you’re missing out a HUGE market and potential for fans/industry people to come across your music.
INSTEAD: Make a video! Doesn’t have to be high budget – just a neat idea that people will remember and that can showcase your music. Do make sure it is of a high quality though.
5. Poor quality content
Everything you put out as an artist must be of the highest quality: videos, photos, music, interviews, tweets – everything! This doesn’t mean it has to be ‘polished’, but it must be thought through. Find your own voice and keep a consistent tone across all the output. Are you friendly? Jokey? Artsy? Formal? Let your creative output reflect how you want to be perceived as an artist and drive your creative energy into maintaining a high quality, consistent output. Also keeping up a steady flow of online content is important – try to avoid fits and starts.
INSTEAD: No dodgy zoomed-in photos. No static lyric videos. No poorly-designed logos that say nothing about who you are. No difficult-to-navigate websites that were obviously built with a free provider.
6. No development and a lack of self-awareness
One of the biggest things labels look for is development: how has this artist’s journey grown since they’ve started? Sales data, social media following, improvement of content (including, most importantly, music) – these are the metrics used to see the trajectory of an artist’s career. These are the things to focus on. Be self aware, constantly asking yourself (then, secondly, trusted others): ‘Is this good enough? Is this song the best it can be? Could this have been produced better? Is this the best video my resources could craft?’. If it isn’t, don’t put it out.
INSTEAD: Be aware of where you’re at in the career journey and ask yourself (and others) the difficult questions to ensure a steady, and measurable improvement and advancement.
7. “I’ll just get a sync”
We hear this one almost weekly: “I’ll just land a sync and that’ll launch my career/pay my bills for the next 10 years”. Landing a sync (having your song placed on an advert/TV series/film) can give incredible exposure and be a great source of short term and long term revenue, but the really good ones are rare to get. Very rare. It’s a saturated market and takes a wealth of long-term relationship development with a sync agent or music director to have your music put forward, let alone shortlisted for a placement. It is possible, and it does happen- but never overnight and usually through a developed relationship that your publisher will have with music directors. Don’t rely on sync as your silver bullet!
INSTEAD: Develop relationships with sync agents, don’t expect anything in the short term and always have instrumentals printed from mix/master- these will double your chances of landing something.
8. “I’ll have made it when I get signed!”
Don’t think that getting signed will solve all your life problems. Much like a marriage, it’s the beginning of a journey where both partners need to continually invest in the relationship for it to blossom and be fruitful. You can’t sit back – you’ve gotta grind as hard as you ever did, if not harder. Now you have to pay back some dosh someone’s spent on you! It won’t suddenly change your life situation financially. It won’t mean you can sit back while someone else does the hard work for you. It doesn’t mean you’re secure and have ‘made it’ in your career. It can be a great step towards a fulfilling and rewarding musical life, but is certainly not the only step. It is not the end of the journey, but just the start.
INSTEAD: Work hard. Work long. Work deep on making it by yourself without a label. You’ll either make yourself a more and more appealing prospect for investment, or you’ll be able to continue doing it independently and retain all your creative control. Win Win.
9. Lack of vision
Many artists just (rather lazily in our opinion) think too little about what they actually want to achieve. “I want to release music” and “I want to make it as an artist” don’t really cut it. What is it you actually enjoy doing- Writing music? Recording music? Having people hear your music (releasing)? Performing in front of an audience? Working with others? Are you looking to make a sustainable living from selling (or writing music)? Would you like to travel the world with your music? Work out what you actually enjoy about ‘doing music’ and focus on a career that could increase the amount you do that thing.
INSTEAD: Think about where’d you like to be in 10 years. Dream big, but in specifics. Then build a set of goals and strategise a (few) possible way(s) to get there. Map out the first steps and take them! Don’t be afraid of having a specific vision for your life and chasing after it with all your energy
10. Spending wisely
We all have a finite quantity of resources: time and money. A common error for artists is to not carefully think about how they might invest these resources, or simply to spend them in the wrong areas.
For example, you’ll need to find the right person to fill the role of management on your path as an artist, but NEVER directly pay for someone to do this. It should always be commission (ie. incentive) based. They don’t believe in you if they ask for upfront cash. The opposite is typically true for digital marketing – you’ll need to spend your money (or time) to get exposure online (or on radio), and this can be a wise use of your resources. Again, think carefully through the options: a sponsored Facebook campaign, hiring a PR company to run a full campaign for a single launch, paying a radio plugger, taking time to invest in relationships with blogs (or using something like SubmitHub). The list is endless, but do your research into a typical return on investment from these options.
Managing a recording budget is another tricky one, with producer, studio, mix, master and, beyond that, even manufacture and digital distribution. Too many artists split their time and money without thinking through a cohesive strategy first, or without taking time to research where might be best to invest in the long run.
INSTEAD: Ask around as many different artists and services companies as possible to build a good picture of how much stuff costs, and where a strong return on investment can come from. Then look at your available time and money and build a budget and schedule that match the resources you have to where they’re best spent. Strategise and think it through carefully to maximise what you have in your hand for the long run.