10 Inaccurate, Erroneous or Irrelevant Things Being Stated about Marketing, Promotion, and Success in the Music Industry

By George Howard
(Follow George on Twitter)

I recently wrote a piece that outlined The Top 10 Most Inaccurate, Erroneous or Irrelevant Things Being Stated about the Music Industry. As I stated in the intro to that article, when you want people to come to your blog, create a list.  Well, I wasn’t wrong, and people seemed to (largely) agree with the items I put forth.  In the grand tradition of “if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it,” I herewith present another list of fallacies of the music industry.

This list, however, has a certain slant to it that the prior one didn’t.  Specifically, while the last list was more general in nature, this list addresses some common fallacies related to the marketing and promotion of music.

So, without further ado: 10 Inaccurate, Erroneous or Irrelevant Things Being Stated about Marketing, Promotion, and Success in the Music Industry.

As always, this TuneCore blog is about conversation, and we try to answer/respond to any question/comment posted.  The best types of conversation involve genuine back and forth (listening/empathy), and while the nature of this type of communication dictates that it begin as something of a monologue, the good news is that it doesn’t have to stay that way.  That’s a long way of saying that these are my thoughts — based on longer than I’d like to admit spent in the trenches of the record industry — but they’re not a priori “right,” and should be taken with the spirit they’re intended: to stir thoughts, conversation, and debate…man, do I wish we could do this over drinks!

10. The vinyl resurgence is due to the fact that vinyl sounds better.

I started with this one, because it allows for an easy metaphor for the rest.  I think we can all agree that vinyl does sound better than the alternatives.  However, there’s another reason why people desire vinyl. It’s what I (and others before me, like Hugh MacLeod) call a social object.  That is, it’s something that can be held, and displayed, and, most importantly, shared.  The importance of a social object in the age of downloadable/streaming music simply cannot be overstated.

Humans are hard-wired to share, but we as creators must provide constituents with something more tangible than ones and zeros to share if we hope to have the desired impact that is associated with sharing; that is, shifting the burden of converting new fans from the creator of the content to the fans of the content.  Social Objects, are, therefore, the tools you need to arm your evangelists with.  Vinyl suits this need better than just about any other music-related tangible item.

It’s counterintuitive to think of something that has been around long before the Internet as so essential to the success of marketing in today’s Internet-centric universe, and that’s why I began with this item.  Much of marketing in the music business (and other businesses) has been focused on conventional wisdom, and “gut” instinct.  While there is (maybe) nothing wrong with these things, gut alone doesn’t represent anything like innovation.  Innovation requires being deeply dissatisfied with the current state of things, and looking for a way to change it via non-traditional avenues.  And thus, taking a tool that just a few years ago seemed destined to be a footnote of history (vinyl) and re-thinking about it, repurposing it, and reconnecting it with current trends is a great metaphor for what must be done generally.

9. I (artist) need a booking agent to succeed.

This (and the subsequent “I (artist) need a…” fallacies all relate to the above idea that it’s not so much about discarding what has historically been part of the music business (e.g. vinyl), but rather re-calibrating your notions of how to employ these tools.

Playing live is an essential element of success in the music business, and it always will be.  However, waiting around for a booking agent to enable you to play live is a surefire way to a slow and painful death in the music business.

Like many things in the music business, there’s a chicken-and-egg element going on here.  You hear bands say with some frequency, “I need a booking agent to get gigs, but I can’t get a booking agent without gigs.”

The latter part is true; the former, untrue.  No booking agent worth their salt will sign a band up for their roster unless said band can demonstrate that they’re capable of playing a good show; hence, the band has to get gigs.  However, to think that you must have an agent in order to get gigs, is sort of the definition of the “entitled” artist mentality.

The very best thing you as an artist can do is to begin thinking of your live performances as “events” where people with shared values come together.  This should lead you to consider non-traditional types of venues.  As an artist just starting out, rather than repeatedly banging on the door of some venue, begging for an opening slot on a Tuesday night, instead create your own event: find a cool space (be it someone’s back yard or the VFW), and make it a memorable event.

Do this for some period of time until you actually are getting people responding in the way they should be to your music, and then (and only then) book yourself one of those Tuesday night opening slots, and make sure all these converts you’ve made during your non-traditional gigs show up.  At that point, not only will you be more polished, but you will blow away the club booker who will be expecting it to be like every other Tuesday night where no one typically shows up to see the poor bands.

If you do this, you won’t be playing Tuesday nights long, as word will get out.  Do this in three or four markets, and you’ll have booking agents approaching you.

It will then be up to you to decide whether or not you need an agent (and are willing to give up the 10% of the gross from your future gigs).

8. I (artist) need a manager to succeed.

Keeping with the theme, this too derives from a misguided (but understandable) belief that many musicians have; these artists believe that others have the answers with respect to their careers.

Certainly, there are many, many managers who do in fact have answers (and connections and capital and experience).  It is this type of idealized manager that many artists quest for.  However, like the booking agent above, if an artist has to look for a manager, the manager will typically not be there.  Rather, it is when the artist determines that he or she can and must devise a plan that accurately and honestly assesses his or her current state, determines a desired state, and then creates a set of strategies to close the gap between the two (i.e. becomes his or her own manager) that more established managers will begin emerging.  And, like the decision an artist who has successfully begun booking himself, the artist who has successfully begun managing himself must decide whether the value a manager brings is worth giving up 15% of his income for.

7. I (artist) need a publisher to succeed

This is a trickier item that relates to number four below.  At this point, you realize, of course, where I’m going.  Sending/emailing your songs to publishing companies in the hopes that they will miraculously pluck your demo/listen to your emailed mp3 from their pile/inbox is not a strategy.

Rather, getting the attention of a publisher requires first getting the attention of people outside the industry; i.e. fans.  It requires building a level of authentic awareness around your work that eventually grows into that overused, but apt term, “buzz.”  At this point, the publishers will come to you.  You will then have to determine if the value proposition that the publishers bring to the table is worth giving up as much as 50% of the income derived from the exploitation of your copyrights.

6. I (artist) need a publicist to succeed.

I will get nasty comments for this one.  In order to perhaps lessen the hostility of these anticipated comments, let me start by saying that not all publicists are bad, and, in fact, some are great, and play a key and decisive role in creating awareness for artists that leads to these artists developing sustainable careers.  However, many publicists (like many doctors, lawyers, and Presidents) are not great, and they prey on artists’ most fundamental desire (the desire for someone to write about their music), and leverage that desire to extract money from artists, for which very little of value is received by the artist.

The best publicists have fantastic and close relationships with media outlets (traditional and “new”), and can help artists craft “messaging” that increases the odds that the artist’s work is at least listened to by these so-called tastemakers in the industry.

However, do consider that there is something troubling (understandable, but still troubling) about the fact that these publicists are your advocates so long as you’re paying them, but cease their advocacy when you stop paying them.  Given this dynamic, it calls to question the whole nature of the “relationships” between publicists and the media.

The alternative, of course, is for artists to develop their own relationships with those arbiters of taste in the media.  These relationships, in theory, will prove more durable than those that run out when the dollars run out.

Notwithstanding the forgoing, ask yourself when was the last time you bought a record from an artist you had never heard of because you read a review of the artist on some magazine/blog/newspaper.

5. I can be a songwriter and get my music covered by others/used in music without playing live.

I get variants on this a lot.  Those who fancy themselves songwriters, but, for whatever reason, don’t want to (or don’t believe they can) perform their songs live.  Instead, they simply want to sit in their creative space (typically, at home) and churn out songs to be performed by someone else.

It always pains me to tell them, that the chance of this happening is pretty much zero.  The great songwriters who have established themselves to the degree that they can now largely stay in their creative space and parcel out songs to great performers without playing live don’t do that, and never did that.  Go to Nashville any night of the week and you will be able to hear someone playing and singing his heart out in a little dive, and when you ask him how things are going, he will tell you, “pretty well.” And if you push him he might admit that he just got another song on another hit album.  And you will wonder why in the world he’s out there playing his heart out on a Wednesday night in a dingy club, and the answer is: because there’s no other way.

If you resolutely refuse to do the above, your only other recourse (and it’s not a great one) is to take the Elton John/Bernie Taupin or Jerry Garcia/Robert Hunter approach, and find yourself someone who can sing the hell out of your compositions, and hope like crazy that this performer has some similar magic to that of Elton John or Jerry Garcia.  Good luck with that, by the way.

4. The way to succeed in the music business today is by getting your song used in a film/TV show.

While there is certainly a correlation between having a song used in a film/TV show/ad and success in the music business (though, certainly, one does not guarantee the other), the fallacy here is that one can simply make getting their compositions used in a film/TV show/ad their strategy, and achieve this without all of the related things that must occur for this to happen.

Put simply, it is music from artists who have a lot of other things going on that gets used in film/TV/ads.  The way it frequently works is that an artist writes some great songs; an artist cultivates a good local following where people respond well to those good songs; the artist then amplifies this offline fan connection via some savvy online marketing; this leads to the artist being able to play outside of his hometown, and while doing that he visits the local radio stations that play music from unsigned artists.

Eventually, by following this strategy, the artist finds himself  playing in NYC and/or LA, and has his music played on great stations in these cities like WFUV/KCRW; these stations are listened to by music supervisors, who likely have also read about these artists, and then decide to come out to their shows.  After a number of visits to these cities, the music supervisor may decide to comp one of these artist’s songs in a project they’re working on.

The alternative, the imaginary version that a music supervisor will just magically stumble upon some artist’s work that has done none of the above is just that: imaginary.

3. The way to succeed in the music business today is by getting your song played on the radio.

I just wrote above that the savvy artist will visit the radio stations that support unsigned artists when they begin playing live, so clearly I’m not suggesting that radio doesn’t play a role in helping an artist succeed.  Of course it does, but, as you likely have gathered if you’ve read this far, focusing exclusively on radio, and not making it part of a larger and more comprehensive strategy will not bode well for you.

A note about radio: Big time, commercial radio (i.e. stations that play Lady GaGa, Katy Perry, etc.) tends to be only accessible to artists who are signed to major labels.  Sadly, but truly, it’s really the last wedge of exclusivity that the majors have.  The reasons for this are a bit beyond the scope of this article, but, suffice it to say that if you truly believe that your music must get played on pop radio for you to be successful, than you likely need a major.  That said, assuming you’ve seen the videos of both Lady GaGa and Katy Perry, before they became stars, you know that the road to a major label is often a winding one in which the artist has to develop a constituency on his own (ala the methodology above) long before a major comes into the picture.

2. I (artist) need a label to succeed.

Really? It should be very apparent how untrue that is. Doesn’t mean labels are bad. Doesn’t mean labels can’t help you succeed.  It does mean that — like pretty much everything else on this list — that the quickest way to a successful artist label relationship is via not waiting around for one, but rather taking control of your own career, and developing authentic and meaningful direct, sustainable connections between you (the artist) and your fans. If you do this, you will have your choice of labels to either work with or turn down.  Do remember, that should you ever consider working with a label, that you will have to negotiate a deal with them, and that in these negotiations, the more you bring to the table, the less they can take away.  If, by some amazing degree of sheer luck, you as a brand new artist, with nothing more than a bunch of promising songs are negotiating with a label, you will likely make a less-than-favorable deal (i.e. 360). If, on the other hand, the labels are coming to you because you have developed a good touring circuit, and have a good direct sales relationship with your fans, and have a strong social media presence, you will be able to make a far more favorable deal.

1. An artist can do it all himself today.

While pretty much every word up to this point would seem to imply that you as an artist not only can, but must do it yourself, attempting to do so for most artists is as problematic as waiting around for some label to pluck you from obscurity.  As any good economist will tell you, we live in a world of trade-offs and opportunity costs, and it’s very hard to do two (or more) things at the same time and do them both well.

Being an artist means being a creator, and honoring the creativity imperative.  This means providing oneself with the mental space to let the muse in.  If you gum up that mental space with all of the elements required to treat your musical career like a real business, you will axiomatically have less time/mental capacity to create.

In the early stages, when your business is developing, you will likely be able to juggle both the business and the art, but as your business grows, something will give: your art and/or your business will suffer. It’s at this point where you need to do what all businesses that are succeeding must do: scale.

You must begin outsourcing/delegating some of your business responsibilities so you can continue to honor your creative impulses.  This does not mean that you must sign to some label.  In fact, I would highly advise against this, and instead look to develop a small team (a manager and maybe an assistant), to begin growing and developing your business.  With technological efficiencies, a team of two or three people all rowing in the same direction, and supporting an artist who really does connect emotionally with a constituent group, can change the world.

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George Howard is the former president of Rykodisc. He currently advises numerous entertainment and non-entertainment firms and individuals. Additionally, he is the Executive Editor of Artists House Music and is a Professor and Executive in Residence in the college of Business Administration at Loyola, New Orleans. He is most easily found on Twitter at: twitter.com/gah650

  • Donagh

    Absolutey spot on! I agree with all you said. 

    • http://twitter.com/gah650 George Howard

      thanks!

      George

      • Kelly

         Hi All, Well ive done the clubs, done the radio rd shows and abit of TV and press?

        But without radio play FORGET IT!!

        (A note about radio: Big time, commercial radio (i.e. stations that play
        Lady GaGa, Katy Perry, etc.) tends to be only accessible to artists who
        are signed to major labels.  Sadly, but truly, it’s really the last
        wedge of exclusivity that the majors have.  The reasons for this are a
        bit beyond the scope of this article, but, suffice it to say that if you
        truly believe that your music must get played on pop radio for you to be successful, than you likely need a major).

        When we get around this greedy play list one? true talent will be heard:)

        Its all about money and greedy folk! some who don`t care for music just a quick buck :((

        Sad!! look at the XF haha

        Wish you all well and good luck!

        • http://twitter.com/suebasko Sue Basko

          I do not know anyone that listens to commercial broadcast radio stations.   I certainly don’t.  A few weeks ago, someone was badgering me to listen to a radio show.  I had to 1) Look around the house and find a radio. 2) Figure out how to turn it on.  3) Try to remember how to tune in to a particular station.  4) Adjust an antenna on top.  LoL!  And then it was mainly commercials!  This format of radio is dead, hanging on, waiting for everyone who is not tech-savvy to die off. 

          • http://www.facebook.com/jazzydave Dave Owens

            I have the NPR app on my iPhone which gives me access to streaming several different college and AAA stations…been utilizing that quite often lately.

          • http://twitter.com/gah650 George Howard

            it’s a great app, and npr and other com/non-com AAA stations are essential parts of an artist dev plan.

            don’t confuse those stations with the top-40/hat ac stations  I’m talking about in the post.
            best,George

          • http://www.facebook.com/jazzydave Dave Owens

            Somehow or another I’m getting some Hot AC stations spinning my new album…but yes, my focus is on the stations that the majority of my supporters are listening to. Why waste time and energy on markets that don’t support the music? You don’t see surf board shops in Kansas…well, at least ones that actually sell surf boards…haha.

          • http://twitter.com/gah650 George Howard

            congratulations, and if you’re getting traction, run with it. reach out to the stations/visit them – book gigs nearby, etc. it’s rare, but it does happen that an indie release gets momentum and takes off at pop radio. i hope it’s yours that’s the exception.

            George

          • http://www.facebook.com/jazzydave Dave Owens

            “Pop radio” isn’t what I’m after…but as I told an interviewer recently, I’m not going to turn away more exposure through that platform (to a point, I do have my soul to think about, haha). Cool enough, they approached me because of all of the other stations in the area spinning the new album. I’m already ahead of your advice…recording more station IDs and liners this afternoon actually! I still believe in radio, it’s been very good to me, but it has to be part of the big picture just like everything else above. Thanks for the kind words!

  • Rstygld

    Well agree and disagree.
    Thank you for this post but, IF an artist wants to be commercially successful, there is no substitute for going the full hog: publicist, booking agent, artist management, etc is a MUST if you want to get paid. Probably the best reasons in my experience in the industry (professional experience on all sides), is that
    a.) Labels, booking agents, publishers don’t want to deal with bands, band members, artists because they’re unprofessional, misguided and unrealistic.
    b) If you’re not represented, no-one cares about you. If no-one cares, why would I? (at least, why would I pay for you to perform, give you a good publishing deal, etc. etc.) In the industry today, we don’t have budgets or time for unrepresented and unguided talent.
    c.) That being said, it’s really easy for you to be your own publisher/label/publicist etc. My honest advise to you is:
    i.) learn everything you can about your industry’s market sector (hip-hop guys work differently to rock guys) and how the big picture works together, the relationship between booking agent and venue, label and publicists, lawyers and labels. Interview locally successful people for tips, speak to industry people you know. People are more willing to help if you ask for advise and wisdom, instead of only for favours.
    Work HARD at this.
    ii.) create a company (not your band’s name though, a “3rd” party)
    iii.) hire somebody with professional skills and who’s organised to make some calls for you. Depending on who that person’s calling, he/she can act in all capacities on your behalf. You will advise he/she what to say, what outcomes can be expected, how to bargain on your behalf IF you have enough knowledge about what you’re doing. Equip that person with business cards, email address, website and PAY for the service.
    Work hard at this.

    You will earn money, but most importantly, you will equip yourself with invaluable knowledge and experience of how to operate in the music industry. Sitting around, waiting for better days, playing Tuesday nights for cheap fans who won’t pay to listen to you play, approaching venues, agents, etc yourself… these things will waste your time and money. I’ve been there, I know better now.

    You’ll never lose any knowledge or experience from thinking big and working really, really hard.
    All the best.

    • Daman8080

       now this is much more accurate.  for the lone artist, I would also add that an enthusiastic “street team” is vital.  those who you would like to be your fans, receive your music best from a second hand source i.e. not you.  so in order to get them to come to your shows, it plays better if others are the ones passing out the flyers or promo.  same thing goes for business “types”.  the self-promoting, self-managing, self-everything artist is viewed as a lesser commodity and is thus devalued, which is why the beliefs of needing these resources exist.  that’s the reality of the situation, and thinking outside the box within that box doesn’t change that reality.  you need a team.  period.

      • http://twitter.com/gah650 George Howard

        Thanks Daman8080. I would question the definition of “street team” in an era of social media. Street teams used to get access to materials (from labels) that others didn’t have, and then were charged with dissemenating that information (putting posters on telephone poles/in record stores). Today (and really always), the best “street team” are your fans who take the materials (remember, point 1 above – social objects) and share them with  their friends. social media makes this pretty darn easy, and far more effective than a poster on a telephone pole (I never understood that – anonymous art??).

        George

    • http://twitter.com/suebasko Sue Basko

      hahah I had to laugh at your observation that “bands, band members, artists because they’re unprofessional, misguided and unrealistic.”   That is so often the truth. LoL.

    • http://twitter.com/gah650 George Howard

      Thank you for this great comment.

      While I understand what you’re saying in the first half of the comment, my fundamental problem is that you seem to be (and I could be mis-reading) overly concerned with a definition of the music business that I find, at best a distraction, and at worst a complete red herring.  That is, worrying  about what those in the traditional industry think about you (“If you’re not represented, no-one cares about you. If no-one cares, why would I?”).  My response: who cares what these people think about your work. time and again, year after year (decade after decade) these people (the vast majority of these people, at least – there are, of course, exception) have proven unable to build sustainable businesses around art.

      Instead, what I was trying to say is that you should worry far more  abou making sustainable, direct connections with your fans.

      George

      • Rstygld

        Yes, I was speaking in the commercial sense of the business – but that’s what I thought this article was about (“marketing, promotion and success in the music industry”)? But you’re right, building sustainable connections with fans is key, however if there isn’t commercial success attached, those artists, the vast majority, wither away. They either tire of the battle of getting gigs, rehearsals, and promotion . Or their “careers” succumb to day-jobs or just life as it happens.

        Marketing and promotion, for commercial success in the music industry will build those fan-relations and extend them. Few artists also realize that fans want to see artists becoming successful – and they want to be a part of it.

        So, to your point, I believe without the focus of commercial success, you may tire, the band breaks up, as you move on so will your fans – and all the direct connections you’ve built with your fans will not amount to much – other than memories of some teenage time in their lives. Which is cool too.

        Thanks again for your article, you’ve provoked great thoughts and I’m interested in reading what people think here. Nice.

        • http://twitter.com/gah650 George Howard

          thank *you* for the discussion.

          I love this line of yours:

          Few artists also realize that fans want to see artists becoming successful – and they want to be a part of it

          George

  • Dan Dwoskin

    George, you’ve hit the nail so hard on the head, it has gone straight through the table.

    Thank you for the eye opening article.

    – Dan Dwoskin

    http://www.thelastpiano.com

    • http://twitter.com/gah650 George Howard

      thanks!

      George

  • Dan Dwoskin

    “People are more willing to help if you ask for advise and wisdom, instead of only for favours.” – Rstygld

    This philosophy has saved me all too often. It’s all too easy to feel “entitled” when you’re a musician. Drop the entitlement, and get your hands dirty. Most importantly, don’t be lazy. There’s a reason so many people want to be musicians; There’s also a reason so many people fail to get there.

    d.d.

    • chris comeaux

      hi dan, i’ll try to keep this short.i am 61 and disabled.sang starting in the mid 70’s.9 surgeries later,i  only have 1 whish,i have 1 song that local bands played as my younger brother was the singer! bottom line i have 1 great song i would love to get to someone before i die! 1 person who was married to a very popular singer years back has a copy but not the right con. i know this is the biggest longshot of all,any ideas,chris comeaux on facebook,thanks!!

      • http://twitter.com/gah650 George Howard

        I wish you the best, Chris.

        George

        • chris comeaux

          thanks,but i really dont have much hope. you can’t get past the agents,a long long time ago faron young went into his agents office and found a song in the trash,called “hello walls” he did it and was a #1 hit. it just goes to show my song won’t get there,just wish someone would do it!! maybe someone local? that would be ok! thank you george for being so kind,great web site,keep up all you do,thanks chris comeaux

    • http://twitter.com/gah650 George Howard

      couldn’t agree more!

      p.p1 {margin: 0.0px 0.0px 0.0px 0.0px; font: 13.0px ‘Lucida Grande’}
      p.p2 {margin: 0.0px 0.0px 0.0px 0.0px; font: 13.0px ‘Lucida Grande’; min-height: 16.0px}

      Thanks,

      George

  • Dan Dwoskin

    “People are more willing to help if you ask for advise and wisdom, instead of only for favours.” – Rstygld

    This philosophy has saved me all too often. It’s all too easy to feel “entitled” when you’re a musician. Drop the entitlement, and get your hands dirty. Most importantly, don’t be lazy. There’s a reason so many people want to be musicians; There’s also a reason so many people fail to get there.

    d.d.

  • http://twitter.com/suebasko Sue Basko

    Thank you for this excellent post.  I work with many indie musicians.  I am a lawyer, but I do many other related tasks, such as I know how to get press, bookings, promo, know how to build websites, etc.

      My observation in working with so many musicians is that if they are very good, and very creative, that they usually especially would be helped by having someone with them almost from the outset.  It could be a small team that they have assembled, or it could be a new type of record label.  Agreed, the old time record label does not work out well for most artists.   I am trying now to formulate in my head (and on my blog) what would be the ideal new record label.  I made a list on one of my blog posts of what the artists most need and want. http://suebasko.blogspot.com/2011/05/toward-new-record-label-structure-part.html 

     On the flip side is the question of how this can make enough money to be sustainable.    Part of the obvious answer is that the expenditures must be kept low.  And another reality that I see in small record labels is that the music artists usually have to have an outside income besides the music, or else have the willingness and ability to exist on a low income.  Of course, if and as things grow, this can change, but most small record labels  are not able to pay money the artist an advance.  Major labels are able to do this, but they also kick off most artists after a few years.  The long-term sustainable reality is that money will trickle and may gradually build to a flow.  If a new record label is seen as an money-as-it-is-earned format, rather than as an upfront loan, as it is in a major label, this is certainly less exciting to an artist (what? no limo? no fancy hotel?), but is more likely to last for more than one album. 

    One of my most basic observations is that the mental make-up that enables a person to successfully write pop or rock songs, and to be a lively performing artist, is much different from the mental make-up that enables a person to organize, pay attention to details of laws and rules, write promo and press, make phone calls, follow-through, etc.  As one of my clients recently told me:  If I wanted to be a promotions person, accountant, and all that, I would be that. I’m not.  I’m a musician. 
    Also, when their IS a musician who thinks he /she is able to do it all, this person is usually a control freak, which reflects in their music.  If they are unable to delegate responsibility on business matters, they are also unable to delegate within music.  These are usually the people that drive their band members nuts. 

    Another observation is that many musicians seem to be in a mental circular loop.  They build up for a while, and then get lost and then start all over again.  There’s so much changing names, changing personnel, restructuring goals, etc.  I guess I am saying most gifted musicians are not exactly stable.  They need someone that can put up that front of stability and progression while they go off and lose themselves for a while — over and over. 

    Anyway, those are my thoughts. Thanks for reading.

    • http://twitter.com/gah650 George Howard

      such a fantastic post, Sue. thank you. 

      completely agree  with respect to small teams rather than labels (from #1 above:  This does not mean that you must sign to some label.  In fact, I would highly advise against this, and instead look to develop a small team (a manager and maybe an assistant), to begin growing and developing your business).

      I also agree that there must be multiple revenue streams – I’ve written at length about what i view as the biggest threat to the current industry/artists: the switch from revenue from dl’s (~$7/dl for an album) to revenue from streams (~$.003/stream).  

      Last, your point about artists struggling to create and be business people is spot on. Again, from point 1 above: Being an artist means being a creator, and honoring the creativity imperative.  This means providing oneself with the mental space to let the muse in.  If you gum up that mental space with all of the elements required to treat your musical career like a real business, you will axiomatically have less time/mental capacity to create.
      In the early stages, when your business is developing, you will likely be able to juggle both the business and the art, but as your business grows, something will give: your art and/or your business will suffer. It’s at this point where you need to do what all businesses that are succeeding must do: scale.
      You must begin outsourcing/delegating some of your business responsibilities so you can continue to honor your creative impulses.

      I’m most impressed, however, that you’re a lawyer who can build websites! that to me says it all.

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      Thanks,

      George

    • Stephen

      Sue, reading your paragraph about being in a mental circular loop was like looking in a mirror! I really enjoyed reading your post.
      I’m an independent musician, never expected to make a full-time living doing it but have modest dreams of doing small tours and getting my records heard and reviewed and building a following.

      I got fed up of doing depressing non-committal jobs thinking that it was someway giving me time to achieve these aims and I’m studying to be a teacher now, which means intensive time periods of not working on my music but large bouts of free time to work on it too at points in the year.
      Plus, hopefully a more satisfying day-job and improved happiness/less pressure on my passion.
      I’ve worried though that you need momentum behind you to do tours, get records noticed etc. Would you say it can be done with this stop-start kind of life??

  • http://www.jeffreywinslow.com Jeffrey

    All very good points. I was in a situation with another musician where he had experienced some success earlier in his career, and likely still wanted to taste that success, but was unwilling to embrace some of the key elements it takes to achieve that success. For example, he believed that radio airplay was a key to succeeding (#3). While it certainly doesn’t hurt, it’s not the be-all-end-all. He also was unwilling to play live (#9/#5) unless the show was a big festival or opening for a major act. Again, unwillingness to do what seem like the basics in order to get to the desired success obviously makes the hurdle all but insurmountable. While I was very disappointed at the time, I have come around to the fact that I need to move on and make success on my own by doing those things we were unable to do as a group.

    Also, I wanted to answer the question raised in #6: “When was the last time you bought a record from an artist you had never
    heard of because you read a review of the artist on some
    magazine/blog/newspaper?” Revolver magazine published a one-off mag with a small feature on My Chemical Romance when they’d just released Three Cheers For Sweet Revenge. I bought that album, sight unseen (sound unheard), because the writer described their music as a cross between The Cure and Iron Maiden–my curiosity was piqued by the bizarre nature of the claim. That is now one of my all-time favorite albums, and I’ve been a fan ever since. While you’re correct it certainly doesn’t happen often,it can happen.

    • http://twitter.com/gah650 George Howard

      Thanks, Jeffrey. I thought about including as one of the points above something along the lines of “opening for an established artist is a good idea.” typically, it’s a waste of time.

      love your example with respect to MCR; I would have bought that too based on the Cure and Iron Maiden; of course, it’s sort of the exception to prove the rule – wouldn’t you say?

      George

  • Jeff lazare

    I think this an excellent article, and very realistic. Thanks George.

    • http://twitter.com/gah650 George Howard

      thanks for reading, Jeff.

      George

  • http://www.reubenbrock.com Reuben Brock

    I agree … A team is critical. Hearing from the artist how great the music is, does not carry the same weight as having someone else say how great it is. This is especially true if the person listening values the opinion of the person speaking. This is not a substitute for a great show, but having a team that is “not the band”, but a group that is a little outside music and working from a different perspective can be invaluable.

    • http://twitter.com/gah650 George Howard

      authentic conversations occur without intermediaries.

      however, agreed with respect to a team. 

      see #1 above:

      Being an artist means being a creator, and honoring the creativity imperative.  This means providing oneself with the mental space to let the muse in.  If you gum up that mental space with all of the elements required to treat your musical career like a real business, you will axiomatically have less time/mental capacity to create.In the early stages, when your business is developing, you will likely be able to juggle both the business and the art, but as your business grows, something will give: your art and/or your business will suffer. It’s at this point where you need to do what all businesses that are succeeding must do: scale.You must begin outsourcing/delegating some of your business responsibilities so you can continue to honor your creative impulses.  This does not mean that you must sign to some label.  In fact, I would highly advise against this, and instead look to develop a small team (a manager and maybe an assistant), to begin growing and developing your business.  With technological efficiencies, a team of two or three people all rowing in the same direction, and supporting an artist who really does connect emotionally with a constituent group, can change the world.

  • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=509367800 Brian James

    Myself and my band have been utilizing the services of various people over time, because we can’t do it all ourselves. 

    We’ve worked with Tinderbox music to get radio play, and also to get placement in TV shows.  We have some people in management/publicity whom we are deciding to work with. 

    IT doesn’t hurt to outsource where you can, as long as you can be cost efficient about it. 

    • http://twitter.com/gah650 George Howard

      agree completely, Brian.

      see my number 1 point above:

      Being an artist means being a creator, and honoring the creativity imperative.  This means providing oneself with the mental space to let the muse in.  If you gum up that mental space with all of the elements required to treat your musical career like a real business, you will axiomatically have less time/mental capacity to create.In the early stages, when your business is developing, you will likely be able to juggle both the business and the art, but as your business grows, something will give: your art and/or your business will suffer. It’s at this point where you need to do what all businesses that are succeeding must do: scale.You must begin outsourcing/delegating some of your business responsibilities so you can continue to honor your creative impulses.  This does not mean that you must sign to some label.  In fact, I would highly advise against this, and instead look to develop a small team (a manager and maybe an assistant), to begin growing and developing your business.  With technological efficiencies, a team of two or three people all rowing in the same direction, and supporting an artist who really does connect emotionally with a constituent group, can change the world.George

    • http://www.facebook.com/jazzydave Dave Owens

      Brian, Tinderbox is an fantastic company – they’re on my team as well. http://www.tinderboxmusic.com

  • Kraig Dean

    To all new young (immature and inexperienced) musicians and bands, this article is your Rock N’ Roll Bible and you WILL convert or bite the dirt. I am still young, but until I read more about the business of rock n’ roll from those who bear the scars of ignorant and self-intuitive thought processes that lead them straight into nowwhere and back out into where those who learn from their mistakes can be found, I gained a mile while losing a yard of career destroying thinking. I was headed into a bitter realm of bedroom artists and believing talent as great as mine could influence those who make it their business to bust your rank so far down c’os they can……………..have a change of heart and support my dream from a lazy boy chair. The best venue in my city ignores my emails and makes it a point of not being around when we play for all the reasons mentioned in this eye opening and sort of mind-expanding article. They know most rockers don’t have the resources, the time, and often the IQ to beat them at their own game. Taking a personal interest in nobody anyone has heard of will never happen, except maybe if they just took some good drugs and you caught them on cloud # 9. Beware the illusion of promises made in this state of mind. It only takes 24 hours before Heaven Shuts The Door in your face and you are once again that annoying little runt who plays in a band only as good as the amount of alcohol it can sell to a few hundred friends no one really has until they pay Dues From Hell. Oh, and if they stay together as a band, The Odds just got 1% better.

  • ProvokaMusic

    Spot On!

    • http://twitter.com/gah650 George Howard

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      Thanks,

      George

  • http://www.facebook.com/jazzydave Dave Owens

    The funny thing about posts like these is that people don’t read them. When I read some of the comments below, I have to believe that. I am a full time musician and my current album is at over 300 radio stations and we’re talking TV, film, etc licensing…and it’s only been officially released for a few weeks. Every word above is absolutely true. I won’t go into all the details (you can read more about it on my site), but I’ve been on the “other side” with the labels and it just seemed counterproductive to me. I’m not against labels or anyone else who wants to help me further my career, but what I AM about is sharing the music with those who listen as best as I can…creating a community and building relationships with my listeners. I’ve been very fortunate to have such incredible people come to my events!

    There are always the naysayers who will go against the above logic and I’m glad they do – leaves more venues and airtime for me and the rest of us out here living the dream!

    http://www.daveowensmusic.com

    • http://twitter.com/gah650 George Howard

      thank you, thank you!

      this sums it up:

      what I AM about is sharing the music with those who listen as best as I can…creating a community and building relationships with my listeners.

      George

  • http://www.dollarvandemos.com Dollar Van Demos

    this is great advice for our soon-to-launch label thru TC.  thank you & stay tuned!

    • http://twitter.com/gah650 George Howard

      please let us know how it goes!

      few things more exciting than launching a label (or any venture). delighted you’re using TC.

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      Thanks,

      George

  • http://twitter.com/grassrootsy Grassrootsy

    LOVE  this post! It is so accurate… especially #1. Its especially important to realize that if you make your fans as much a priority as your music, your fans will watch your back! They will hook you up with shows and spread your name through word of mouth.  Check out: HOW TO MAKE TRUE BLUE FANS

    • http://twitter.com/gah650 George Howard

      fantastic!

      one of the “rules” of the  Internet is: the more you give away, the more you get back.

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      Thanks,

      George

  • Nancy Fulton

    It’s funny, your advice to musicians mimics what I’ve been telling filmmakers. If you want to be able to make the films you really want to make, you have to create a direct relationship with an audience that will support your projects (whether by buying the media or going to see media that has been sponsored by others).  Nancy Fulton — FilmFundingClub

    • http://twitter.com/gah650 George Howard

      I this makes me light up, Nancy!

      for what feels like forever, I’ve been saying that music is a “canary in the coalmine,” and as goes music, so goes other industries.  I’ve always tried to have my “advice” (fwiw) be applicable across creative endeavors and not be limited to music.

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      Thanks,

      George

  • Jon Patton

    #1 is basically indisputable.

    This of course all comes with the rider that “success” as an artist means different things. Chances are an artist has some talents they can use to do things on this list – I’ve been getting a surprising number of reviews for my band’s newest CD (i.e., “any”) simply because I know the blog side of things and understand how to pitch things to people who like to write about music. It’s nice to have something good said about your music. Am I good at monetizing the press we get? Well, no.
    I lead a conscientious band of adults who are mature and modest about their musical goals. We play shows about as often as we like, and the people who like us like us. That’s ‘success’ to me, and I also know that not everyone reaches even that level of success. But I don’t do this full time, either, nor do I have any ambition to do so. In my case, I think I would create less interesting art if I didn’t have a foot in different worlds and different ‘professions’.

    But things get sticky when you have to monetize it, or try to make it big. Big things usually require more people and more influence than one person can have. Can you get steady gigs in A rooms in 50 cities every year by yourself? No, although to say you can’t get any gigs at A rooms would be misleading. You don’t have the leverage as an independent artist to lean on the club to book you, or the close personal relationship with them *and the backup venues* to make sure there’s never a gap in the schedule. Do you have extra capital lying around in case you need a big budget for something? Probably not, but labels do. Do you have gobs of agents and street teamers to direct, play so many shows that you can’t keep up with the financial details? That’s what a lot of managers do, besides providing artistic direction. If someone’s vision of success doesn’t include some of these things, then then don’t necessarily need someone else to do it for them.

    • http://twitter.com/gah650 George Howard

      calibration of expectations and value alignment are the two most important  of elements “success” in the music business.

      Thanks for your post!

      George

  • http://www.colorfulmusicbabyblue.com Ernie

    Thanks for a good read on all ten points; this makes my music/career decision much easier.  Thank you.

    • http://twitter.com/gah650 George Howard

      my pleasure, Ernie.

      George

  • http://www.facebook.com/christina.horn2 Christina Horn

    I was like yeah, yeah I know all of this until I got to #10. I have working on building my career for several years now and have been so successful on the business side of things that I have been sucked into doing ever more “business” related jobs in the industry. I am now feeling the weight of all that time spent and need to scale back as you mention in item #1. I can feel the effects on my mind=the emotional real estate is being used up…

    Thank you for writing this…it might help turn this ship around! 

    • http://twitter.com/gah650 George Howard

      thanks for the comment, Christina.

      yes, you have to develop that team to allow yourself the creative space.

      George

  • Nigel R.

    GH – Great article. I think that for young artists to “succeed” in today’s industry means having that well-developed team around them. Yes, whereas a band doesn’t need a manager or a booking agent to start to gain notoriety, get gigs, and get their music out, and get the overall ball rolling, there is a certain line that bands need to cross to get to that legitimate, national-ready echelon of acts, and I think that to get there, a band MUST have the right people behind them.

    Plus, it’s hard for a young artist to sell their music, or be taken seriously when trying to sell their music and put a numerical value to it (such as how much to charge for a live gig). There needs to be that person that can do all that in representation of a band.

    If a young band has the promise of becoming a national-ready, and legitimate act, its not going to just be them and their music that takes them there. So I think that bands do need adequate outside representation to “succeed”.

    • http://twitter.com/gah650 George Howard

      completely agree, Nigel. it’s why i made it my # 1 point:

      You must begin outsourcing/delegating some of your business responsibilities so you can continue to honor your creative impulses.  This does not mean that you must sign to some label.  In fact, I would highly advise against this, and instead look to develop a small team (a manager and maybe an assistant), to begin growing and developing your business.  With technological efficiencies, a team of two or three people all rowing in the same direction, and supporting an artist who really does connect emotionally with a constituent group, can change the world.

      best,George

  • Originsrap

    Great article again Mr. Howard, though I wish you would’ve elucidated further on #3 concerning radio. Do you think an independent artist should spend money to include ‘Internet radio’ as part of a strategic marketing campaign for instance? ie Pandora, Jango, Slasher, etc. I’ve been following your analysis and your writings on the music business for years, and I can say very few voices really impress me more. Thanks for the advice and shared wisdom, keep it up. 

    • http://twitter.com/gah650 George Howard

      Thank you very much for this comment and kind words – made my night.

      Internet radio should be part of your strategy, but i wouldn’t be spending much money on it.

      focus your time and money on creating memorable offline presences and then amplifying them online on your own/owned site.

      George

  • Granpa Chuck

    While all that this artical has said is true,it helps tho, that an artist has a team around them helping them succeed, ie: a good small indie label that works on the developing a track record so that a major comes in and buys out the indie’s well structured contract that is fair to all,and there are such indie’s out there.Its like starting out in a minor league before going to a major league team in baseball.
                                                                                                                   Granpa Chuck

    • http://twitter.com/gah650 George Howard

      completely agree. it’s why I made it my number 1 point:

      You must begin outsourcing/delegating some of your business responsibilities so you can continue to honor your creative impulses.  This does not mean that you must sign to some label.  In fact, I would highly advise against this, and instead look to develop a small team (a manager and maybe an assistant), to begin growing and developing your business.  With technological efficiencies, a team of two or three people all rowing in the same direction, and supporting an artist who really does connect emotionally with a constituent group, can change the world.

      George

  • Granpa Chuck

    While all that this artical has said is true,it helps tho, that an artist has a team around them helping them succeed, ie: a good small indie label that works on the developing a track record so that a major comes in and buys out the indie’s well structured contract that is fair to all,and there are such indie’s out there.Its like starting out in a minor league before going to a major league team in baseball.
                                                                                                                   Granpa Chuck

  • Kraig Dean

    My Heavy Rock band started as me, a bassist and a very young drummer. We hit it off and they insisted on learning my recorded songs – written, played all instruments, recorded and mixed to CD – as close to the original as possible. We played 5 originals on a open mic night at a very cool venue, apparently sounded great but got no gig out of this audition. A duo, a guitarist / singer and a drummer immediately showed up on the clubs roster effectively eliminating the open mic night unitl just recently when they seemed to just disappear off the face of the earth. The club manager raved about them in the listings of acts scheduled to perform each week; “Fourth Street, a great little cover band. If you haven’t caugt these guys yet, come on down to check ’em out”. My band was floored, devastated even more so as they played right after our open mic set! But it must have foundered in the end. A friend of mine, the ex singer of a band I played in for about a year, a true golden throat and charismstic stage performer called me to touch base. He had gone to this club and saw them play to an empty house. He was not impressed and thought “is this all Phoenix AZ has to offer on a weeknight?? I had discussed our playing on a night with several other bands of similiar genre with the booking agent and he said “call me” like a first date always says to a guy! I have called, sent emails and not a single reply. We are not at the point yet where we can afford a “team” of business savvy people. We have facebook and songs on there. But just getting a gig is first and foremost. We wonder what went astray. Now we are auditioning a lead vocalist to spare me the burden of being the frontman; I can only keep things rolling for about one set before my voice begins to  fade. Its a tough role to take on unless you have a natural gift. We are adding some covers as well. None of us know many people so a ready made fan base needs to be developed. We need hard drinking friehnds to show up and down a lot of beer. Is there some trick to getting this gig ? Thanks, Kraig Dean of MEDUSA.

  • Thundercloudrecords

    i think these articles are great but on thing i like to say is:

    get the f*ck out of here and get busy!
    whining about the state of the industry won’t get you anywhere

    (apologies for my language but think this is the best way to express myself)

  • EJ

    I don’t disagree with any of your points but there is an elephant in the room, and that is nothing matters unless you write a HIT song, just ask Christina Perry (Jar of Hearts) and every songwriter that makes it with a great song. And Christina Perry probably didn’t do any of the above. Yea I guess you can grind out a living with the suggestions above but the music industry isn’t about the hardest worker makes the most money or has the most success. It’s whoever writes a hit wins. I’ve just seen so many artists do the write ten songs and promote those ten songs for five years thing that when I see an article like this I kinda cringe.
    We all want it to be boxed up nice and neat, something our left brain can deal with, that we really forget how rare and amazing a hit song really is to come by. And I know you’re trying to sell whatever you’re trying to sell, but let’s just call it right, if you have ten songs and everybody thinks they’re ok, you don’t have a hit. You might want to do what Smokey Robinson did, write 100 songs, and then knock on some doors. 
    Last point, learn your craft, google the “10,000 hour rule” and ask yourself when you wrote those ten songs how long it took, point made. 

  • SJ

    This is an excellent post and has been an excellent string, so thanks to all.  I am a former big law firm corporate attorney that left all that entails behind to pursue my music career.  In the last two years, I have lived and/or tested many of the points raised in the article and string here for myself, or otherwise witnessed them to varying degrees with a few artists that I represent still as a lawyer.  There is no one-size or one-model fits all, but the general theme that stands out to me at this point is:

    It’s a question of degree on the business side, but future successful artists who actually have talent and good songs to rise above all of the white noise will have stories that consist of them (and their internal team) doing a substantial majority of the business/branding side of things themselves to get to a successful indie revenue cap (from all streams) of a few million/year, at which point – and only then – would it be useful to speak with the majors or whoever exists to help move to the next level (if at all).  Whether you can do more yourself or have to hire more professionals and vendors is relative to your abilities, mindset and motivation.  You will though, have to spend money or otherwise align people’s interests to help you, because you cannot do it all on your own or achieve sustainable national/international touring/sales/licensing without a solid budget and a solid plan.  Whether you have to (or want to) spend more on a top notch publicist or SEO expert or whatever depends your goals, timeframe, genre, etc.  In any event, the more budget an artist has (even though you must spend strategically and not traditionally or idiotically), the faster she will climb.  It is simple math and statistics.  

    Without a business plan, budget (and probably some sponsors and/or angel investors), I do believe that 90+% of talented artists with good songs will not achieve truly successful revenue streams in today’s music industry, and will spin in the perpetual cycle mentioned below, even with all of the great free technology, social media and inexpensive opportunity intermediaries out there today.  I see it all around me, and I am plugged into the music communities of a few major U.S. cities.  Again, though, it’s about degree and scaleability with respect to commercialization – it’s about the artist’s goals, others involved, genre, timing and various pressures.  Today, without much of a budget but just with a lot of work ethic, a good attitude and utilizing the “free stuff” out there, an artist might be able to tour, sell, build fans, license music here and there, record/release, etc. and make a modest living for herself as a local/regional and occasionally nationally spotlighted artist, which might be all she ever wants.

  • John Daly

    Sorry, I have to disagree with number 4. There are a lot of places to submit your original music for TV and Film. SonicBids, Taxi, ExRaymusic….Or just surfing the Internet. I got a song in a major Library by just submitting to an ad. If the music is what the company is looking for, you get it in. Now the pay might be a considerable amount more for a famous band, but if the show is syndicated around the world, you can get some pretty good royalties anyway.
     
    John Daly
    http://www.JohnDalyProject.com