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Is Money Limiting Your Band’s Growth?

You might have assumed from the title of this article that it would be about techniques of acquiring funding to pay for the overheads of running a band, or exploring where best to invest your marketing budgets. Not today I’m afraid.

Today I’m going to challenge the other side of the coin and suggest that money is bad for your band.

To clarify that statement in more detail, my opinion is that focusing on short-term methods of monetising your music career too early on is counter-productive when trying to build a successful and sustainable music career. The classic example is that by selling your music exclusively on iTunes opposed to offering it to fans free of charge fewer people will consume and share your song. One of those people might have gone on to become a loyal monetisable fan, but by focusing on trying to squeeze a few pennies out of them in the short term, you lose the chance, or at least significantly limit the possibility of increasing your bands growth rate and financial value over the long run.

However, I see money as an enabler and a vital ingredient (to some extent) in accelerating a band towards a successful music career. So, in other words, I think your band should try to make money and operate as a business, but you shouldn’t let your perception of money get in the way. Ultimately, your value as a band is determined by the depth of the relationships you have with fans and the quantity of those relationships, neither of which can be bought directly.

Less money forces you to be smarter

In some ways, this statement would provide good reasoning for why most of the smartest marketing campaigns are coming from the lower budget indie artists / labels rather than the majors. Unfortunately I have no evidence for it, but it’s something I believe is true in this instance.

I’ll use myself as an example. I don’t come from a wealthy background nor do I have a big pot of cash, so when I want to make a design change to The Musician’s Guide that requires coding or design work beyond my knowledge, I learn how to do it myself because I know it will make me better at what I do in the long run – by having less money, I have become more valuable. The same principle applies for bands, sure - you can pay other people to do all your marketing, recording, management, and booking, but you won’t learn the valuable transferable skills.

I know, I know “but we don’t want to spread our selves too thin”, “shouldn’t we focus on just getting our songs as good as possible” – I’ve responded to some of the common counter arguments in a blog post about time management here, but what I’m getting at here is perception.

If you perceive that you need more money to help you market your band in bigger ways through radio promotion channels, TV adverts, and paid interviews, then find the nearest dripping wet salmon and have a friend slap you with it. You don’t need money for marketing – when I recently ran a blog series on ‘how would you spend a £500 song release budget’ music marketing gurus Jon Ostrow, Dave Huffman, Brian Hazard, and myself all failed to spend the full budget, simply because we all identified that the best marketing is funded by a combination of your time and passion, not money.

When you perceive money as being a non-essential item to your bands success, suddenly the pressure falls in the hands of song quality and marketing ideas. Both of which are free, of course.

I have a question to wrap this up. If two bands were hypothetically releasing an identical song and one was given £10,000 to market the song starting tomorrow, and the other band were given 10 days of brainstorming time and no money, who would you place your money on to come out with the more successful marketing strategy?

This article was written by Marcus Taylor, author and founder of The Musician’s Guide, an artist development project that offers musicians resources on succeeding in the music industry, including downloadable music contracts, lists of music venues, and a variety of musician training materials.

Reader Comments (19)

Excellent article! Great to be reminded the money is far from essential for making people aware of what you have to offer.
I'm 100% dedicated to DIY when it comes to my own music, both when it comes to creating and promoting. I'm on a zero-budget, and do tend to get moments of ooooh-I work-so-hard-it'd-be-so-much-easier-if-I-could-just-pay-my-way-out-of-it, which kinda puts a brief downer on my otherwise optimistic determination.
So thanks again for the pep-talk!

November 29 | Unregistered CommenterKat Boelskov

I am really glad you posted this article.

My band "Grandfather" has had a lot of recent success marketing and promoting our debut record album by giving it away entirely free digitally, and doing all of the publicity, web design, marketing and content creation ourselves with absolutely zero budget.

It has been 3 months since our album release with a lot of trial and error, That being said, our album has been downloaded over 6,000 times, we have gotten great press, and are currently working on booking a month-long tour around SXSW this March. We have over 1,200 Facebook friends, without using any "bots" or services. We have sold almost 100 vinyl record, many of them overseas.

The only money that we spent was recording and pressing our album. We recorded it in 3 days with Steve Albini in Chicago and pressed a limited run of 300 vinyl. We were able to fund this using and utilizing Craigslist to sell lots of equipment and many of our possessions.

Our latest effort was a youtube video of our performance in Brooklyn last week. We covered the Dexter Blood Theme before performing one of our songs. In one week we have over 2,000 views and it was featured on Once again, we managed this without spending a dime.

Very inspiring post, as we too sometimes get frustrated with a lack of budget, but it's conversations like this that continue to invigorate us. for more information on our band, and to see our site, content, free download, press, interviews etc.

November 30 | Unregistered CommenterMichael Kirsch

'a loyal monetisable fan' is a phrase that drips with cynicism. Roll it around your mouth. What does it mean, exactly? "Mark'? 'Mug'? 'Punter'?

Marcus, are you really recommending that musicians use language like this? Should they refer to their fans as 'loyal monetisable fan's?

Poverty does not make for better musicians, songs and performances. It's distracting and reduces the spirit.

You state you don't need money for marketing. In fact, you need around £2000 for PR in national press, radio and online, each, respectively if you hope to make a ripple in the ocean of pop. You need poster campaigns and flyers and stickers, you need ad's in the press and possibly on TV.

Nothing has changed in that respect in the past ten years apart from that there is extra expense for the online stuff.

Learn to do it yourself, you say. So, what, learn HTML? Become a web designer and a graphic artist? Spend all day in front of the computer with your cuppasoup and re-used tea bags celebrating your fashionably emaciated frame that no one ever sees whilst sending emails to uninterested people?

Instead of rehearsing, writing, gazing at the moon for inspiration.

I'm too worried at what I will find to look at your Time Management piece. A diary divided into a kind of curriculum, perhaps. Rock and roll, phew! they used to say.

Book your own gigs, promote them, pay for the van - buy the band a cuppasoup, all on £2 of a £5 door tax?

Buy your equipment, pay for rehearsals, petrol, phone calls, computer...

I perceive these costs because they exist. Looking at poverty through half closed eyes doesn't make the situation more practical. Everything costs. Be honest. If you are starting out in pop music, expect to sell your possessions, like Michael and his band (above) had to. Expect to have to cover TV theme tunes in order that you pick up youtube hits. Expect to spend more on gigs than you receive.

And pray, really, pray, that someone from TV, from management, from a record company or a publishing company, notices you and makes you an offer that puts food on your table.

November 30 | Registered CommenterTim London

I get the point, but this article seems like it is written by someone who has never had to worry about money.

I am sure that most bands/musicians would 100% heed this advice IF THEY COULD.

Artists don't spending time thinking about how to make money because they want to, but because they HAVE to.

People need to pay rent and buy groceries. This is reality.

November 30 | Unregistered CommenterShilo Urban

I to am proof of making it work with nothing. Rely on your talent and not your pocket book..keep it kinky Da Kinky Kid

November 30 | Unregistered CommenterDa Kinky Kid

Exactly Tim. Right on.

November 30 | Unregistered CommenterBob

Kat / Michael - Thanks, i'm glad you found the article useful!

Tim - Thanks for the comment, we're going to have to disagree on that one though I'm afraid.. First of all, I didn't suggest referring to fans as 'loyal monetisable fans' at any point - I simply added it for descriptive clarity.

I also strongly challenge your perception of 'needing around £2000 for PR in order to make a ripple'. If you think about what you're really paying for it's the possibility of a someone having an emotional reaction that provokes them to share / buy / talk about your product in hope that more people see it.

There are far more effective ways of building fans that tap much deeper into relationship building that don't need to cost money.

What i'm saying is, when you have a low budget but a driving passion you have to become smarter by learning more in order to compete - for example, the smart low budget musician might invest in more knowledge by reading blogs and therefore know that he doesn't need to learn HTML - because platforms like Bandcamp and Wordpress exist, he might understand how to interest his mailing list subscribers because he's learnt what 99% of other musicians are doing wrong on theres.

However, that's getting a bit off the point. I acknowledge that being a musician has inevitable costs, which is why I do recommend treating it like a business, but it's not essential and a lot of good can come out of being in the seemingly worse off situation.


November 30 | Unregistered CommenterMarcus Taylor

I get the idea of this post - it's often better and wiser to small financial resources but be more creative with promotion and career development - than to have oodles of cash to burn... BUT, of the two bands in your hypothetical example - I'll place my bet on the band that gets the £10,000 - if they know what they're doing, they can not only market their current song but they can engage a targeted fan base that will support them ongoing.

Lot's of choices - Facebook ad campaign, Jango pay-for-play, viral music video contest, etc. £10,000 could go a long way... (and all the free, creative, brainstorm stuff could be included too)

November 30 | Unregistered CommenterBrad Powell

In fact, you need around £2000 for PR in national press, radio and online, each, respectively if you hope to make a ripple in the ocean of pop. You need poster campaigns and flyers and stickers, you need ad's in the press and possibly on TV.

Talk about wolves trying to catch monkeys...

November 30 | Unregistered Commenterscottandrew


It's a really difficult situation. I really do believe that musicians have it harder than pretty much any other artist out there because the product they are trying to sell cannot be seen with the human eye.

I agree completely with the Tim above. There are just SO many costs when it comes to making any kind of income from music. I personally love making music and will continue to do so whether I make money or not, but I've come to realize in the past few years that unless you have a pretty decent chunk of change to spend on marketing, your really not going to get anywhere.

The guy above who posted that they were finding success and downloads? Um, yeah... you worked with Steve Albini!!! That's major marketing RIGHT THERE! I would contribute SO much of their success to being linked to that name alone! Everyone knows that having the right contacts will get you places. That's the kind of thing no amount of money buy you... It's credibility. When you market and market and market your hoping to kind of fool people into thinking you've got some kind of cred, but when you work with (in any capacity) someone with a name in the business, you're already giving yourself notable cred. Unfortunately, this isn't something that we can all achieve (at least not at first) and we're left going back to the drawing board of having to have to market. Where does this money come from though when your indie? What if you don't have any personal items to sell? It's a really tough situation!


November 30 | Unregistered Commenterchancius

I think marcus should take his own advice and give away the musicians guide...but wait .. That does not make
Fiscal sense.

November 30 | Unregistered CommenterFan of art

Apparently, you've never depended on the process of performing music exclusively on a regular basis to keep your lights on, unless you've had a rich friend/wife/rabbi to pay for the food you eat while you struggle to negotiate the ineffably treacherous requirements of obtaining the basic necessities like shelter clothing, transportation, and food.
For those of us who have studied music for hundreds of thousands of hours, learning how to phrase, construct intelligent counterpoint (do you even know what the word means?) and hone our craft to connect with others in a substantive, and meaningful manner, your insight is utterly ridiculous. The reality is that the music industry is notoriously criminally dysfunctional and abusive to artists, without the need to validate or exercise any manner of accountability. No money required you say? Great! Go without eating for a week, or live in your car for a few months - it might allow you to save enough money so that you can manage to stay tethered to the internet at the local library in order to read such amazingly hilariously and absurdly profound insights written by buffoons as yourself. Obviously your paycheck is based on giving advice and charging for it. Nice gig. For others who have lived the life of struggling to offer a meaningful connection with other humans, your drivel is 'off the charts' offensive.
You might as well suggest that artists make money on the side, like the billionaires of the rap industry who have been on national television gloating to Oprah that they made their money selling guns and drugs on the streets of NYC. BUT, they CAN rap, wear very expensive bling, drive cars worth hundreds of thousands of dollars, and put very professional looking videos up on YouTube. AND, they can afford to release tidbits for free!
Sadly they can't construct a sentence, spell, eat with their mouths closed, or function in a well-ordered civilized society. I recall that ODB, "Old Dirty Bastard" was greeted by the moguls of the industry as he exited the prison gates, simultaneously being presented with a new multi=million dollar contract to produce three new rap cds. Maybe we should all practice at projecting a contrived negative, immoral, and ostentatiously criminal arrogance borne out of stupidity that can obfuscate any intelligence and lack of true musical knowledge. According to you, the tenets of professional protocol and fair compensation are simply too messy to consider.

November 30 | Unregistered Commenterdavid wynne

Um, yeah... you worked with Steve Albini!!! That's major marketing RIGHT THERE! I would contribute SO much of their success to being linked to that name alone! Everyone knows that having the right contacts will get you places. That's the kind of thing no amount of money buy you... It's credibility.

Well, I assume they actually paid Mr. Albini, right? :)

If you're good enough, and interesting enough, some well-known producers will absolutely work with you. I have several indie colleagues who have landed top-shelf -- even famous -- producers to work with them. One of them just contacted the producer cold, out of the blue on MySpace.

Landing a recognized producer might not be as hard as you think. But it probably will take money. Considering that working with the producer can potentially raise your profile, as well as improve your recording, that might be money well-spent. Better that than a TV ad campaign.

If you have the money, and good songs, all you have to do is ask. The worst thing that can happen is they say "no thanks." Don't think that it can't happen just because you're not drinking buddies.

November 30 | Unregistered Commenterscottandrew

It's simple: the PR acts as a filter, in the way getting a record deal used to, or coming up with the shekels to press up a thousand vinyl records, in the same way having an agent or a manager does: it's proof to others in the business that you are serious. Not talented, necessarily, or charismatic, but serious and to be taken seriously. It means you get on with music making, while the business people get on with the business.

You get to do what you do best, howling at the moon, while your monkeys sing your praises.

Money reduces the odds. To state otherwise is misleading and denies the evidence.

@david wynne - you do yourself no favours by airing your prejudices against rap - there are enough successful rappers who have never needed to talk about, let alone execute any of the ghetto cliches. And there are enough criminals in every genre for you not to have to pick the one where, occasionally, it's quite understandable that a young man will go into the only business available to him.

November 30 | Registered CommenterTim London

Im in that very same boat now as a singer and songwriter! Everything you're saying is so true. I do everything. Did you catch that? Everything! ...and when things go well, my sense of pride is incredibly high! I launched my first music video tonight and I did everything and then some other than hold the camera and edit (not to minimize this, because this was a HUGE part and my Director is a gift from God). Check out my video at - I think anyone can appreciate this. But I couldnt agree more with this post, doing more makes you a better business owner and provides you with experience and knowledge that make you overall a better artist. Its good to be involved!

December 1 | Unregistered CommenterJoey Gaskin

In some ways I agree very much with this article, and having little to know money has made me pickup a guitar and attempt to learn myself but in general when you have no money like me and no support from your fellow musicians unless you're paying for it, a budget of 10,000 would certainly come in handy! Being a black rock artist that has more in common with Coldplay and PJ Harvey sonically speaking than I do say with Lenny Kravitz is rather tough to be taken seriously without money to prove my worth and talent! So, while giving music away for free may work for the average band, artist I have to sell to reap the cost of what I spend because everything I do is money! There is no my friend on guitar, bass and drums with a producer who believes in me! I pay for everything or say with pictures I've become a bit of a photographer!

December 1 | Unregistered CommenterMatayu

Grandfather's decision to working with Albini, and covering the Dexter theme song weren't decisions we made based on marketing value. While they both have helped us gain publicity and credibility, they were first and foremost artistic choices, and we do not plan on doing more TV theme covers just to get youTube hits. I do not think bands need to sell their possessions, or make videos of more popular cover songs. There are infinite things a band can do to gain credibility or attention, and it's up to them to make full use of their decisions. When we decided to cover Dexter, it was a no brainer to ask a friend to come to the show and film it.

In terms of the music industry being dysfunctional and abusive to artists, I partially agree, but a lot of music listeners are also abusive to artists; People don't hesitate to tip their bartender, but expect musicians to provide their services for free. It's amazing how many people I know who never spend a dime on music, but listen to it avidly, and consider themselves huge fans. It's amazing how people ask me if there is a cover charge at the door when we play a show, as if it should be free. There need to be changes in the industry that affect the public's perception of the value of music.

But in the meantime, what should we do as an unknown band who just released their first record independently with no money leftover? We don't have much of a choice than to get on the internet, and do all our own marketing, booking, PR, etc. We have no choice but to learn a bit of HTML, read about the services available to us, read MTT, etc. We just can't afford to do it any other way. But we aren't going to "pray" that someone notices us and makes us an offer. We are going to work relentlessly, to increase the chances of someone noticing us. If you want to be in the right place at the right time, you should be somewhere, all of the time.

I've heard a lot of people say that a musician should spend all their time focusing on their art, rehearsing, writing, getting inspired and that tasks like learning HTML or sending emails or sitting at the computer all day are distractions that will hinder the spirit. I disagree with this. The creative spirit needs rest. Many creative people have said they come up with their best ideas while doing menial and tasks. Those who complain about not having enough time to be artistically productive are probably just lazy or uninspired. Myself and band members all work jobs, freelance, handle all our marketing, booking, promoting, have social lives, and still find plenty of time to rehearse, write and create because we are extremely driven by it. We would all go crazy if we went a day without creating, so we find ways to do it. We just don't have anytime to sit around and stare at our thumbs...or get much sleep...or watch TV (except for sunday night's to watch Dexter obviously)

I wish we had the £10,000 to market. I think it would be foolish to just give a PR service that money and sit back and wait. But the most successful marketing strategy would come from the band with 10 days of brainstorming time along with the money.

December 1 | Unregistered CommenterMichael Kirsch

As far as working with famous producers at the Albini or Kramer or Bisi level (I think of them at the same upper tier of indy) they all have their own studios & if you book time & pay for them to be there, then you have their name on your record. Especially these days when more & more people record at home. If you expect them to record you for free or to fly into your town, that's a totally different story. But I would suggest talking to some folks who've worked with them before going in as some folks like to essentially record a live band & other people build everything up from click tracks & if you are used to recording one way, going in trying to do the other may add 40 hours (read as $4000) to your studio time.

"If life was a thing that money could buy, the rich would live and the poor would die"

We all come from different backgrounds. There is no such thing as an even playing field. I have been given too many opportunities in life to think that. I have been lucky. And I still am not making a living playing or selling music.

I am making a living TEACHING it.

I am going to be honest and say I came from a privileged upper-middle class family who paid for my music school education, my grand piano and my keyboard...among other things. I have worked my butt off since I was 19 at music (full time) and have no help. If I didn't have a masters degree in piano music would not be paying my bills. Do i have the drive? Yes? But I am also not easily led to believe that it is just drive that has gotten me here. Would I have come this far without the help of my parents? Maybe. That's a hard maybe.

All I am trying to say is that no situation is the same. Every artist comes from a different background and has a different stream to swim up. If you are a salmon, you are not created equally. I have been given all the freebies, except in the music industry. I have not been looking or asking for them.

I will continue to work as if there is no such thing. Under no delusion will I believe that someone else will do it for me. Even if someone put me on the LATE SHOW with David LEtterman, tomorrow night, it wouldn't be enough. It never really ends.

There is an element of luck involved. But there is an even greater element of perseverance. Money helps. It's not the only way. There is no right or wrong here.

December 1 | Unregistered CommenterChristina Horn

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