By Christopher Knab
Realize that no one is waiting for your music. If people are going to become fans of your music, you must approach the promoting of your live shows and the promotion of your CD releases with the same planning and professionalism as the artists whom you admire have promoted their music. Marketing music has changed radically in the age of the Internet and social media. That technology has the potential to take your music to the world. But knowing that it is up to you to let the world know about your music, is an important first step to take as a responsible independent musician.
Avoid telling people in the music business that your music is "good". It is a much overused and weak word. A&R reps, music directors at radio stations, the music press, and buyers at distributors and stores presume you think your music is "good," because you put it out to begin with! When they listen to it, they will decide if it is the kind of "good" music that they feel can get behind and be proud of supporting from their position of power in the music industry. And let's face it, it is the public who will ultimately decide if your music is “good” by buying it or not. That’s not say, you shouldn’t talk up your music. But use your words; shape an elevator pitch that accurately reflects what you and your music are about.
Use the Internet and all its tools to your advantage. Besides having your own domain name and website where you promote releases and shows, you’ll probably want a presence on the main social media such as Facebook, Twitter and Instagram. But don’t over-commit your time. If you spend all day working on social media, what happens to your music? It’s better to skip some social media rather than do a poor or infrequent job of staying in touch with your fanbase. And of course, you’ll want to make access to your music easy through YouTube, SoundCloud, iTunes Store, CD Baby and the like. Last, but definitely not least, build and use an email list to stay connected with your fans. Permission-based marketing using emails to your fanbase is a proven winner—these are folks who said they wanted to stay in touch!
Thank people who help you. You might be surprised how often music reviewers, DJs at college radio stations, and club bookers don’t get thanked by artists. So, make their day by sending a card, a small thank-you gift, or simply by giving them a shout out on the tray card of your next CD. Some artists tend to feel they are owed something because of their talent. Guess what... they aren't. Being grateful and thankful are essential qualities for success. Cultivate them and watch the doors open.
Play gigs outside of the usual clubs that cater to your genre of music. Branch out a bit, consider gigs at schools, fairs, festivals and perhaps parks in the summertime. So many artists think that the only valid venues to play are the clubs. Look around, start noticing where you see performers playing music, and ask yourself if that venue isn't a valid one for you. Give your fans more than one place to see you perform while finding new followers. And at every gig, be sure there is an email signup sheet. Did I mention staying in touch with fans via emails is golden?
Listen to other kinds of music beyond your own particular genre. There is much to be learned from other styles. All music offers a vast reservoir of new melodies and rhythms to experiment with, and to incorporate into your unique sound. If the future of music promises anything, it is the ongoing mix of old and new styles coming together in profoundly new ways.
Remember that the record labels don't know what they are looking for, but with any luck, they will recognize it when they hear it. Work on developing your own signature sound rather than trying to shape something to please A&R people or future fans. Strive to find your own true identity through your music. And don’t feel like that once you’ve established a musical identity that it need be set in stone. Great artists such as Bob Dylan and Neil Young have continually reinvented their personas and music throughout their careers.
Create great graphics. How many logos do you have in your brain right now that are recognizable symbols for legendary bands? You want to build the same kind of “brand awareness” for your music by creating a memorable logo and graphics. Make sure the logo is legible/identifiable in a wide range of sizes and that you use it everywhere your name appears: posters, flyers, press releases, letters, business cards, stationery, websites, and CD covers.
Stop making the same foolish mistakes over and over. Insanity has been described as repeating the same habit continually while expecting a different result. As a musician you may find yourself not wanting to rehearse, yet frustrated that your musical abilities never progress. Or, as a songwriter, you may get upset when you keep backing yourself into a corner with an awkward rhyme scheme, yet find yourself continuing to use it. All of us at times get trapped in creative dead-ends, but the way out is not through repeating the same moves that got us there in the first place. Challenge yourself to find new inspirations, and develop at least one new creative technique a month.
Don't ever stop making music. One sure way to gain some level of success as a musician is simply to not stop being one. There is no one timetable or path to success. Most artists termed "overnight successes" are in reality years in the making. If you find yourself approaching the creative act of making music as a chore, what is the point in that? Some of the most successful musicians out there are people who simply never stopped making their own music, performing it regularly, and finding a comfortable way to go about doing the business of their music. They could not not make music. Are you that passionate? Would a part of you die without your being able to make your music? If so, just keep doing it, the rest will follow.
Want to step up your game as an indie musician? You’ll find a healthy selection of music business books & tutorials at Musician's Friend.