The music industry isn’t the same as it was in the past. A lot of people have spent a lot of time complaining about this following the rise of the internet, but like everything else, it’s just change. Change isn’t positive or negative, rather it’s what you do with that change that matters. The successful musicians and music business people are embracing that change and running with it as a new breed of entrepreneurs.
In today’s music industry there is no one-size fits all model. We are all free to experiment and find out what works best for us, our fans, and our music careers. This is the true definition of entrepreneurship. Today’s music business approaches would not have worked in the past when technology was expensive and valuable connections were hard to come by.
As an indie musician, I already know you are extremely creative—more so than most business people out there! You may have never thought of it this way, but you have the same mindset, problems to solve and thought process as an entrepreneur. The key is to harness that creativity in your career, capitalize on this new artist ecosystem, and build it into your own model.
Artist ecosystems - Past and Present
In the past, the record labels were in the position of power. Due to high costs, musicians couldn’t record, get to radio, distribute their music, or communicate with their fans without the help of a record label. It just was not viable. The only way to make it was to be picked by some A&R rep and even that didn’t guarantee you success if the label dropped your record, cut your marketing budget, or shelved your project.
Today, your success is largely in your own hands. Forward thinking musicians are acting more and more like entrepreneurs. You are no longer a product for big record labels to sell. You are your own company—and you are the CEO!
The road of the indie musician is very hard. There is no magic bullet. But the potential is there if you know what you are doing and can identify multiple revenue streams and team members to support your career. If you think of your music career as an enterprise or a business, you can put things in place to help you be more successful.
Build Your Career Like an Entrepreneur
1. Finding Your Fit
So how do you approach your career like an entrepreneur? It all starts with a product, a service or idea—in this case, your music. Think about exactly what it is you are making and how it is different from the stuff already out there, but don’t just think about your music: your personality and image are important aspects of your “product” too. What genre do you most identify with? Are you an emotional songwriter or a larger-than-life performer? Do you stand for any particular attitude or set of beliefs? What are you all about?
Next you should figure out who your customers are. In this case, your customers are your fans. With the internet, this information is pretty easy to come by. Check out who your fans are with tools like Google Analytics, Facebook, Twitter, or any other social media channels you use. You should talk to your fans after your shows and get to know them as best you can. How old are they? Do they share any interests? As an example, Karmin is specifically targeting young teen girls interested in popular music. Who is your target audience?
2. Start Lean and Learn
A lot of entrepreneurs get bogged down in the business planning stage. They think they need to plan out every step of the way and be able to predict their revenues five years out to a tee. If you haven’t yet, take a read of The Lean Startup by Eric Ries. It’s an easy read and the concepts can be applied to any industry, even music!
As a lean startup, you need to get your product or service to the market as quickly as possible. It doesn’t need to be perfect—just get it out there! This is where the New Artist Model really differs from the past. It’s no longer about spending a year (or sometimes more) and tens of thousands of dollars (or more) on a full length album. Release small and release often. Start getting feedback from people as early as possible and listen to what they say.
There’s a couple of methods here. You could release small EPs or single tracks every few months. You could release a traditional album but keep cover songs flowing on your YouTube channel every few weeks. You could also stretch (if you are that prolific) and release one or two original songs a month. One strategy I’m a fan of is the “like for release.” Release one song to your fans via social media and tell them you’ll release the next one if you get x number of comments or likes. Not only does this get fans hyped, it also shares the news with their friends. Just be sure to pick a number that you think is attainable for your current career level!
The key with frequent releases is to learn from them! That way you can fine tune your songwriting, performance, and marketing for releases down the road. Producer and DJ Zedd frequently plays songs he’s working on live before they are released. He gages the crowds reactions to various parts of the songs and if it’s not where he wants it to be, its back to the drawing board—or laptop or console.
You could release rough recordings or videos of song sketches or ideas and ask for your fans’ opinions, or release two songs simultaneously and see which gets the most plays. The whole idea here is to experiment early and often, listen to what people say about you and adapt accordingly.
3. Build a Team
Every successful entrepreneur has a team, but this is something a lot of indie musicians lack. With the term “DIY” pounded into your head for years, its no wonder a lot of musicians still think going at it alone is the best option. On the other end of the spectrum, some musicians think that a “team” means a top manager, a major label, a publisher, and booking agent that cost you a pretty penny in the end.
Most entrepreneurs don’t have teams made up of the top dogs in their field. More often than not, they work with a college buddy or family member who really digs their product or cause. When you’re just starting out, passion trumps experience any day (especially when you’re short on cash).
Think about who among your group of friends and acquaintances would be willing and able to step up to the plate. Do you know anyone passionate about the music industry or in business school? Do any of your friends have a knack for taking good photos or any experience with creating websites and social marketing? Do you have someone who knows the local club scene and can help you network and book gigs?
If you’ve ever met a really successful entrepreneur you’ve probably been overwhelmed with their energy and outgoing personality. Not all entrepreneurs are extroverts, but they are all passionate about what they are doing and are eager to spread the word and make connections. Take tips from the entrepreneur and don’t be afraid to tell anyone and everyone about your music, your band, and what you are trying to achieve.
Don’t be that band that plays at a local club and doesn’t talk to anyone before or after the gig. Introduce yourself to the other bands playing or the guys running the lights or sound board. Get a conversation going about music. Who knows, you may find a way to collaborate! Especially in the music industry, your success will come from your connections. It is all about who you know and what you know.
Of course, there’s a lot more to this strategy than what we covered here. In the New Artist Model online music business courses, you can learn how to run your music career like a real business. You’ll create an actionable and personalized plan that will help you turn your music into a reliable income stream.
If you want to learn even more great strategies from the New Artist Model music business courses, be sure to check out this free ebook. You’ll learn great strategies for gigging, recording, and marketing that you can begin using right now!