Written by Tommy Darker.
Yeah, I know, there is a lot of debate and it is already an old hat for most musicians, who read constantly about the liberation of the independent music from the gatekeepers (‘Fuck the gatekeepers’ is more hyperbole than ‘viral’ now) and that they can go out and do it alone, without the help of major labels.
Nobody, however, has come up with a satisfactory description of what being an independent musician in the digital age entails.
We’re still in the early stage of the rise of polymath and entrepreneurial musicians, but the Musicpreneur is not far from being the norm.— Tommy Darker (@TommyDarker) March 22, 2013
It’s a cool name, but what does it mean? I reckon, the more you use a word without knowing what it is, the more the word becomes an obsolete and lifeless symbol for everyone.
There is a class of not so imperceptible attributes than define the term Musicpreneur.
In this essay, I will attempt to adumbrate those attributes, because I strongly believe we’ll see them get amplified in the future.
As you see, I don’t mention radio, TV, licensing or advertisements and traditional media. The reason is because I think they won’t matter in the future. Yeah, right. All of them won’t matter. Talk to me if you have strong doubts, got my contact details at the end.
Plus, this is not a ‘how-to’ guide, but merely a well-organized overview of the tasks involved in being a modern DIY artist. On purpose, I will break it down to parts, so it doesn’t tire you. This is the first out of three parts.
Every band, like every business, needs some assets before being in a position to create beautiful things and capitalize for profit. These mechanisms or assets are essential, because without them you won’t go far - or at least you cannot be called a professional.
Most DIY bands have no idea what these assets are all about, as labels traditionally were taking care of them, keeping the bands aloof. Of course, that meant that bands who followed an independent route, after being for some time in a major label, the majority had no sense of business and how to manage their fans, thus got swamped.
We have no tangible clues about what I’m stating, but the new generation of indie musicians will be well trained on that area. Friction brings inevitable results and experience. All self-made individuals will support my previous argument I guess.
Let’s go and divide those assets into 2 categories.
This is the hated part. Most musicians can’t stand it. Makes sense, who wants to talk about funnels and leads? You’re indie though, somebody has to, if you want this professional image to go further and bring some money to sustain you and refuel your art.
Some of the things you have to do is:
Organize business funnel. Whenever someone decides to buy from you, they follow a specific road from decision till the checkout (even later on, in the follow-up part). Afterwards, these individuals will engage with you and eventually will buy more expensive products, becoming part of your business funnel. These procedures need to be organized, automated and supervised by a skilled individual, who could be a member of the band with modern business knowledge.
Sustainable business model. This is how you make money.
“A business model encompasses how a firm creates value, how it delivers that value to customers, and how it captures revenue from those customers.”
is what Saul J. Berman’s definition is. Will you choose to rely on digital downloads, apply the freemium model or be an entirely touring band? It’s up to you. There are so many business models, you have to pick the right one for you, one that primarily suits your artistic integrity. The strategist that will make the decision has to be flexible in his mindset, and, preferably, a band member. This strategy will determine a lot how your band moves around.
Schedule planning. Somehow you have to stick around with your goals and responsibilities. That’s where scheduling your actions comes in handy. A detailed, short-term schedule (3-months) can give you things to do and keep you one step ahead. There has to be a long-term plan as well, but it’s wise to keep it flexible. Long future can neither be predicted, nor scheduled or controlled. Keep it flex, but know where you want to go. Think of it like a mountain pick you always have in sight. This has to be something the whole band decides and is comfortable with.
Manage logistics. Boring stuff, but someone has to do it. Logistics is the management of your money, your income, expenses, common pool and so on. A good reason to fight for, so you’d better be clear with this kind of issues from an early stage. If you start now, you won’t have much work to do with logistics (you’ll only have expenses, which is normal, and no-one fights over who’s gonna pay the bills first!), but when you start getting a real business going, then the skills of a trusted individual will be handy. Member of the band or not, the person has to be trusted.
Manage lead collection. People who are interested in your music and take some minor action that allows them to be in your radar (and be marketed too), are called leads. That could be a person who subscribes to your mailing list or becomes a fan in one of your social media profiles. They are visible now, you can market directly to them. Whoever comes up with the business model and takes care of the business funnel, this is the best person to take care of the lead generation (the way and strategy you’ll use to increase these aforementioned numbers).
Growth/metrics. This is a daunting task, in terms of finding the right metric(s) to set as the primary measurement of success. It all depends on the business model. If you choose freemium, you have to focus on capturing emails. The problems start when you focus on the goals and forget the art or the innovation. My suggestion: if you can maintain clarity of mind and can separate your creative and entrepreneurial sides, then take care of this task. If not, a third individual can do the work and report to you, and their information will be less emotionally attached to what you do.
If you hire a manager, this could person could be in charge to synchronize and arrange the details of the business side. It’s good to have full control, but, if you’re not that skilled, trust - and pay - another individual to do so. Will take you a long way.
2. Design/Web Presence
The more the world’s listeners, consumers, creators pass the torch to the new generation, the so called ‘digital natives’ (me included), the more prominent it will be to have a completely clear view about web development and online stuff in general. Hop in now, it has started years ago, it’s not a trend anymore.
Understand design. Web design, and design in general, is not an easy task. It’s got its own fundamentals, principles and gravity. Most artists reckon it’s alright to do it by yourself if you have a basic sense of aesthetics, but it’s not. An amateur design lacks a logical sequence and has a ceiling in terms of its capabilities. Full potential of design expression can only be imprinted by a professional who understands your needs. Find the right person to take over, or work hard to learn yourself. Design is another form of art, not just a deed.
Take care of branding. This is where you inject your identity in your design and approach. A brand marks its territory and stands out in the era of noise. Branding is a big chapter in the digital world’s economy, as it subconsciously moves the population to lean towards and associate with specific products, causes or organizations. Art can take advantage of it, by infusing the branding elements in the final result, without hurting art itself. That needs to be done by a person who understands how branding works, preferably one who has design knowledge, in association with the band itself, who knows who they are and what they want to be perceived. Strong identity has to be translated into a strong brand.
Create graphics and logo. Part of the procedure of branding is the creation of graphics and a memorable logo. This is what web visitors encounter every time they see you around. Website, social media, interviews, posters, all convey messages about you. You need to have a continuous message, through branded graphics and a logo that marks your values and point of view. No matter how insignificant this might sound, having a pro take care of your image, including design, branding and graphic representation of your band, can have vital and perennial results.
Knowledge of web development. Seems that the majority of musicians are inclined towards the technical side of the web, so there always seems to be a skillful web developer in the team. If this is the case for you, great. You got your problem solved. If not, you definitely need an individual to maintain the servers and develop your website. Don’t forget, it’s your 24/7 ambassador for every country in the world. Just like your physical presence, it needs to convey the right message and inspire your character to the visitors.
SEO work. You won’t see advice about ‘getting in the first page of Google in 3 days’ here. The principle is simple: search engines go where real humans go. Keep that in mind. If you bring value to the online community, then people will notice and follow. Why do you need to be in the search results anyway? In the era of total transparency we live in, search engines are perceived to be authorities in any topic. Ranked first in this topic, I will trust you! And, anyways, you don’t want to appear second when someone types your band’s name. It doesn’t show credible. Find someone to know and let them help you, or do it yourself. No need for a professional here.
Update website. There’s nothing worse than a website that has not been updated for months. This can hurt your image a lot, as it seems you either neglect it (bad) or have no news at all (worse). The person who will do all this has to be part of your band, or really close to it, so they can come up with curated and interesting content. Necessary skill is Content System Management knowledge. With a platform like Wordpress, things are not so difficult.
Manage online platforms. Whether you use Bandcamp, Topspin, Shopify or a simple eCommerce plugin for Wordpress, this platform with your products, music, free goodies and services has to be managed and supervised constantly by someone. If you have active business experience, customer service is valued more than the service itself. This task also involves shipping orders, monitoring metrics, troubleshooting. Make sure everything’s in order. The individual needs to have experience on multiple platforms, so you can choose the right one according to your needs and level.
This is the first part of the duties and tasks of a modern Musicpreneur, got two more parts coming that you’ll (hopefully) see published here in a few days. They include ‘In the Field’ and ‘For the Future’.
I hope you find this part useful enough so I can continue with the rest of my essay.
My question to you: Did I forget to include something in the list? What do you think about the term ‘Musicpreneur’?
I’m Tommy Darker, the writing alter ego of an imaginative independent musician. I started ‘Think Beyond The Band’ because I feel proud of what I’ve accomplished so far and I like helping other fellow musicians that struggle with the same problems.