"Don't Quit Your Day Job"
Making music a full-time job is a common goal that I hear from almost every artist I speak with.
They're not sure how to do it but that's their goal! I think you can make a living at almost anything and it's important to do something you love, however, you need to be realistic about your lifestyle.
The first thing an artist needs to look at is their personal finances. It may be obvious to many but it's surprising how many people overlook the importance of a personal budget.
By creating a personal budget, you're able to assess your current situation and determine what changes need to be made to reach your goals. Bottom line..."how many gigs do I need play to meet my monthly expenses?"
It's not often the end game for most people, but you can make a living playing bars. It may not be the best lifestyle, but it is possible - a lot of bands do it.
My advice is to let the marketplace tell you when you're ready to go full-time. In other words 'keep your day job' until you're consistently making enough to live off of. If you're NOT making enough then the market is telling you that you're not ready. That is also an indication that maybe you need to take a different approach.
If you make the jump too soon you'll make the wrong decisions because everything will be based on survival, rather than if the decision is the best thing for your career.
I'm sure many of you have heard successful people say 'Believe in yourself and go for it!'(or something similar). To me, it's good advice but incomplete. What needs to be added to it is, 'Believe in yourself and go for it, but be smart about it.'
'Do what you have to do, so you can do what you want to do'
- paraphrased from the movie The Great Debaters starring Denzel Washington
17 Things a band/artist should be doing, by Bob Lefsetz
Bob Lefsetz is a well-known music blogger. You can subscribe to his blog at www.lefsetz.com. He's often negative about the business, but occasionally says some interesting things. Recently he sent out 17 points on what a band / artist should be doing. I thought it was well done and relevant to the current state of the industry. I would just like to stress the importance his first point. Lots of artists will read this list and say "yeah we doing all of that" ... but they forget they haven't written / recorded a truly great song yet! Here are the points sent out by Bob Lefsetz:
1. Focus on the music. Get it to the point where the audience only needs to hear it once to get it.
2. Let people listen for free. Then sell the physical product as a souvenir, and put out unique product online.
3. One great track is better than ten mediocre ones.
4. Don't worry about confusing the marketplace with more product. It just allows new fans to discover a plethora when they finally tune in. Meanwhile, the Internet allows the fulfillment of the true fan's dream, a steady flow of product. In the old days, you were a fan of a band in high school, their next record came out when you were married. Today, you can put out new songs while students are still in the same semester! And you should!
5. You must work live. It's the best way to connect with people. You've got to be so good, you close the audience. Performing is a different skill than playing in a studio. Start honing your chops now. Play anywhere and everywhere you can. Not focused on the money, but the development of stage skills.
6. Radio is gravy. People no longer believe radio builds career acts. Don't be beholden to the airwaves. See them as just another outlet.
7. Make videos. Creativity is key. We're returning to the age of MTV. Either play live, demonstrating your skills, which is how Andy McKee built a career on YouTube, or come up with an OK Go-type video. Wow us visually. The means of production are now in the hands of the proletariat. Hell, you can get a Flip HD camera for $150 and you can edit on your computer...
8. Experience counts. Everybody gets better the longer they do something.
9. Haters abound. If you're not being criticized, you're not doing it right, you're only playing in front of family and friends. Hate intensifies the bigger you get, especially in the Net world, where everybody gets a voice. There is no protection. Wander into the world and experience the slings and arrows, toughen your skin.
10. Respect your audience. Don't send unsolicited MP3s, don't send unsolicited fliers. Everything should be opt-in.
11. Let your audience participate, let people help you. They're dying to! Stay in the houses of fans on the road. Let fans design fliers and t-shirts. Give them tools to promote you. All they want in return is attention, and a bit of access. These sneezers are your key to success. Treat your core fans incredibly nicely. In the old days it was about being nice to the PD (Programming Director - for radio). Now you go directly to the fan.
12. Put up live videos.
14. Be available on every social networking platform. Of course, Facebook, but a new act could make headway using Foursquare. Hell, have your fans come meet you at Starbucks!
15. Press is a bonus. Press is ignored by most people. It's seen as hype. Just keep thinking about being one on one with your fans.
16. Don't think any one opportunity or gig is the key to success. You never know what will break you through. And most times, it's later than sooner. And, if it happens too soon...momentum tends to peter out.
17. Release dates are irrelevant. You're in constant marketing mode. But the best marketing is a great track, that will be spread far and wide.
With the current status of the music industry it has become quite common for the manager to work as the agent while the act develops. My friends and colleagues over at Live Tour Artists kindly refer to managers who do their act's bookings as "MAGENTS". It's simply out of necessity that some managers these days are also taking on the roll of booking agent in the early stages. In my opinion, performing live is the foundation to building any act, so if you can't get a good booking agent on board, your manager (or the act) needs to start taking on the roll of agent to get the calendar filled up.
I see a lot of acts and managers putting far too much time and energy into trying to get on an agency roster. My advice is to stop chasing them, they'll find you! Start picking up the phone yourself. If by chance you do get picked up by an agency too early in your career, you'll more than likely get lost in the shuffle and only become more frustrated that you're not getting any attention or gigs! This isn't a slam against any of the agencies (I work with several of them) but you need to understand their side of things. Agents work on a commission, so if you were an agent, would you focus on the commission from an act that's getting $2,000+/night or a band that's lucky to bring in $200/night?
They probably had the best of intentions when signing the band but ultimately agents have bills to pay just like the rest of us, so they're constantly going to have their attention pulled toward the acts that are going to generate a decent commission.
Start booking your own gigs (not just one or two a month), build your following and make yourself more attractive to agents / managers. You'll also have a better appreciation and understanding of what they can do for you after you've done it for yourself.