Category Archives: Artist Tips

How Musicians Can Stop Running Out Of Time

[Editors Note: This blog is written by Debbie Stanley, the second in a three-part series that aims to help musicians of all genres and career levels get organized in order to become more productive and meet their creative and professional goals.]

In my last post, I explained why time management is every DIY musician’s most essential organizational skill. We looked at time as a limited resource, similar to money, and at the fact that only a portion of your time (sometimes a very small portion) is actually under your control.

The truth is that you have relatively few hours and a ton of work to do if you want to make it as an indie artist, so you need ways to operate at peak efficiency. There will inevitably be mistakes and circumstances that end up costing you time; a certain amount of that is unavoidable. But what you do with the rest of your time—how you streamline, systematize, and prioritize—could add up to the difference between the career you want and one you’re stuck with.

Budgeting time is similar to budgeting money. When you write a financial budget, the thought process goes like this:

  1. “How much money do I need?” (Add up monthly expenses)
  2. “How much do I have?” (Add up all sources of monthly income)
  3. If it’s not enough: “How can I make more?” and “How can I spend less?”

The process for budgeting time is basically the same, with one key difference: Your ability to “make more time” is limited to what you can pay or persuade others to do for you, so the bulk of your budgeting strategy will likely be about how you can spend less.

How Much Time Do You Have?

If we use the same thought process to start a time budget, estimating 16 waking hours per day and 30 days per month, it looks like this:

  1. “How much time do I need?” (Add up hours of all monthly time commitments)
  2. “How much do I have?” (Total your hours [16×30=480] plus hours contributed by others)
  3. If it’s not enough: “How can I delegate more?” and “How can I spend less?”

Caution: Budgeting time is not as clear-cut as budgeting money. Unless you pay for everything in cash, you can calculate your regular monthly expenses simply by looking at your recent transaction history. But to know how you spent your time, you have to track it manually. You could keep a time journal for a month if you really want to be precise, or you can do like most people and estimate from memory.

This doesn’t have to be perfectly complete: At this point you don’t really need to know what you’ve been doing with all of your time, because presumably you’re planning to get rid of the slackery stuff anyway. You just need to know how many hours are “externally controlled,” meaning formally committed to something.

Let’s add that up:

  • How many hours per month do you spend on your day job or in school? (Include commute time and breaks)
  • How many hours on dressing, grooming, hygiene, meals, and other personal care?
  • Do you require more than 8 hours of sleep per night? Add in the extra time.
  • If you’re on a sports team or committed to recurring fitness classes, how many hours do you spend on that? (Again include commute time)
  • Are you responsible for childcare or tending to your parents? How many hours does it take, both at home and in chauffeuring?
  • Any hours spent on a committee or other volunteering?
  • What about household stuff like laundry, cleaning, grocery shopping?
  • If you already have regular music-related commitments like rehearsals or a residency, how many hours do those take including commute time?
  • Anything else? You want to end up with a total of all hours per month that you either can’t get out of or really don’t want to give up.

Total all of your externally controlled time and subtract it from 480. This is the time you have left each month to make your music career. Was it more than 20 hours per week? If your calculations are correct, you’re blessed with an abundance of available time! Was it fewer than 10? That’s ok—knowing you have less time can help you to stay focused. It can also be the writing on the wall that motivates you to put your music goals ahead of the bowling league or Netflix binges.

Now that you know what you’re working with, you can fill those hours intentionally instead of letting them simply pass you by. Managing your own indie music career brings an endless array of things you could do, paths you could try, approaches you could take, and angles you could explore. You will definitely have no problem filling your time. The challenge is to fill it with actions that have the best potential to contribute to your goals. As you’re devising your strategy, keep the following habits in mind.

Habits That Waste Your Time

  • Failing to define your goals. You didn’t just throw a dart at a board full of industries, land on “music,” and accept it with a shrug. You chose music over all other options because it’s your passion, but you must define it more specifically than that. What part of the music industry? What role do you want? If it’s performance, what instrument? What genre? Touring? If so, where, how often, and to what size of audiences? And dozens more questions. If you don’t know exactly what you’re aiming at, it’s as if you’re throwing darts blindfolded and hoping a bullseye will jump in front of them.
  • Losing sight of your priorities. It’s so easy to take your eyes off the prize. It can happen if you live in reaction mode instead of actively planning your steps. But even if you’re utterly fixated on achieving your goals, you might still be vulnerable if another captivating thing—or person—enters your life. Donovan Keith alludes to this risk in the mournful “Silhouette,” about an enchanting girl “and the promises you made me forget.” Here’s a jarring realization: Having this career requires not having a multitude of other good things. There are difficult crossroads in your future.
  • Mishandling distractions. This is the minute-by-minute version of forgetting your priorities. If you’re supposed to be concentrating on those booking emails or that website update, but as you’re working on it you keep checking Facebook or wandering away for a snack, you’re just making everything harder for yourself and spending more time than you can afford. I trained myself out of this habit with a Nike “Just Do It” poster next to my computer. I cursed at the damn poster countless times, but it kept me on task.Here’s another trick for when your brain keeps interrupting you with reminders of other things you want or need to do: Make a “parking lot” to jot them down and keep going. It could be a pad of sticky notes, a notebook, a note in an app on your phone—whatever method you can use to capture the thought and go right back to work without breaking your concentration.
  • Reinventing the wheel. The most foolhardy myth about time that we nonetheless keep telling ourselves is, “I’ll remember.” Any time you do something that you’re going to do again, document the procedure. Make a checklist. Capture the details of the steps as you’re doing them so the process can go even more quickly and accurately the next time. Then remember to use the checklist next time, and refine or correct it. Soon you’ll have a killer procedures manual and it will be far easier to delegate tasks to others.

Habits That Protect Your Time

  • Write down your Big Picture. In a notebook, in a digital document, on a posterboard, on your mirror with a dry-erase marker . . . whatever way works for you, but somewhere, in some form, have a clear description of your goals and the timeline and tasks that are carrying you toward them. Look at it whenever you’re feeling unfocused or uninspired.
  • Know your flow. How long can you work without losing concentration? 15 minutes? An hour? Do you do better working on something a little bit each day, or in a full-day marathon? Or as career counselor Wilma Fellman asks, are you a sprinter or a plodder? Sprinters like to work on projects when inspiration hits (or a deadline looms), while plodders prefer to do a little at a time within a regular, methodical routine. Whichever you are, don’t try to change—embrace it and make it work for you.
  • Know your energy cycle. Are you an earlybird, a night owl, or maybe the in-between afternoon person? Again, whichever you are, don’t try to change. Studies indicate that this tendency is innate, not just a habit or a preference. Try to complete your tasks at the time of day when you’re most likely to have the type of energy they require: Do email and write social media posts when you’re best able to be quick and upbeat. Handle contracts and advances when you’re sharpest and least likely to make errors. Do routine tasks like posting new shows to all of the online calendar platforms when you’re most tolerant of boredom. Catch up on skimming social media timelines and checking out new music when you’re fried and no good for much else anyway.
  • Recognize false urgencies. The internet, and the email and smartphones it spawned, have conditioned us to respond with urgency to things that are utterly unimportant. Be very selective with who and what you turn on notifications for. Create blocks of isolation when you can silence your phone and work offline, or if the work is web-based, open one browser window at a time. Close yourself in a room if your housemates need a visual cue not to disturb you. You might be surprised at how productive you can be without the constant popups and dings.

Now you’ve got some new ideas for figuring out how much time you really have and making the most of it. In my next post, I’ll give you ways to enlist help from others and to equip them with the tools they’ll need to actually save you time instead of creating more work for you.

Debbie Stanley, owner of Thoughts In Order, has been helping chronically disorganized clients get their act together since 1997. Her next book, The Organized Musician, publishes Sep. 20, 2016.

5 Tips for Making Merch Work For You

By Stephen Babcock

1. If you’re gigging, you need to sell merch (merchandise)

If you plan on playing shows, you need merch. Anyone who has ever been to a concert or show knows that the best acts always have some kind of merch (T-shirts, posters, caps, etc.) to sell to fans. Whether it’s the local garage band playing their hometown, or Fleetwood Mac performing at Madison Square Garden, all great acts have merch.

Successful artists want their fans to remember their shows, well after the roadies have packed up and their concerts are over. They want their fans to have a great experience, a vibe they can enjoy and share with others. Selling them merch encourages fans to share their enthusiasm and it gives them something tangible to show off to friends and family. It also allows them to feel a deeper connection to their favorite artists and their music.

If you plan on taking music seriously, make merch a priority.

2. Know your brand and make a logo

You, your music or your band needs to have a brand.

Part of being a musician in today’s competitive music industry is being business savvy. Businesses from McDonalds to Coca Cola have a brand that is key to promoting their product to their market. By knowing your fan base and customers, you can sell your merch more efficiently. Add to that mix a logo or recurring image that is connected to your music, and you will make a major impact with merch. AC/DC, Kiss and The Ramones’ branding comes to mind. They have common, visually striking and memorable images on everything, from T-shirts to pinball machines. By using an image and/or logo that is common and uniform throughout your merch, fans can spread the look and feel of your music without saying a word.

A picture (image or logo) says a thousand words…your merch can too.

3. Start small and work up in size

This is why it’s important to start off small with merch items.

Just because some artists have big-ticket items, doesn’t mean you need to start off huge. If you are on a budget, I recommend starting off with posters or club cards. They’re a great way to get something in fans’ hands that they can take home. Posters and club cards can be placed anywhere too, which makes them great tools for free advertising. As a new band, nothing is more inspiring than seeing posters or flyers you made hung around the town your playing in, or plastered on the walls of your venue.

Like anything in life, you have to walk before you can run. So start small and build up to items like T-shirts, tote bags or specialty hats.

4. Know how to sell your merch

Once you create your merch, it’s important to make sure you package it to fans correctly.

Everything from the stand your merch is sold on, to the types of merch offered, should be bundled in a unique way, by you the artist. If your band’s name is “The Sailboats,” your merch packaging should somehow be involved with that theme. You could sell T-shirt’s bundled in a sailor’s knot or sell your merch at your stand storing your items in tiny boats. This allows fans to feel connected to the theme and has a great wow factor too.

Everyone has bought T-shirts before, but by making it new and fresh, you give your fans a chance to embrace your “brand” (as stated in bullet 2).

5. Stay involved

You’ve gotten your customized merchandise, you have a gig, and it’s time to sell your stuff. Now what? As a young artist, it’s important that before or after the show, you socialize with your fans.

If you meet and greet your fans, they are likely to buy something for you to sign (be prepared, always carry a Sharpie!). I’ve seen merch sales rise dramatically when artists say hello to their supporters after a show. So put on a great performance, but afterwards, shake their hands, take a picture and sign CDs or T-shirts. Also, taking photos with fans gives them a chance to be photographed with your gear, which is free advertising. Put a smile on their faces, and they‘ll post those photos on social media, even more free advertising.

Successful artists do this constantly because they know the value of a “fan-to-artist connection.”

Sharing and selling merch lets your fans stay connected to you and you to them. When they’re happy with the merch you created, you’ll know your merch is working for you.

[Editors Note: Are you looking for a new source for your fan merch? Open a TuneCore MerchLink account and have access to thousands of item. You can save 10% on one order placed by November 30, 2014.]


Born and raised in New Hartford, New York and now residing in New York City Stephen Babcock began playing guitar at the age of 15 after hearing John Mayer’s “Room For Squares.” Since then, he has continued to craft his skills as a singer-songwriter, recording and performing a catalog of original music, including two EPs and one full-length LP.  After releasing Dreams, Schemes, and Childhood Memories in May 2011 and Lost in July 2013, Stephen went on a touring frenzy. He stormed up and down the east coast of the US as well as the United Kingdom, hitting coffee shops, small theaters, and numerous singer-songwriter festivals. With dates ranging from Athens, GA to London UK, his sound grew and explored new heights while on the road.

Stephen’s new EP, Wishful Thinking, was written and recorded upon returning home from touring and was released in May 2014. The EP weaves southern charm with full band grooves to create Stephen’s most layered and complete sound to date. Drawing comparisons to artists like Brett Dennen and Matt Nathanson, Stephen’s robust performance and life experience come together to achieve a live show unparalleled in today’s pop music landscape.

Check out his music here:

Twitter: @StephenBMusic
Instagram: @StephenBMusic

5 Ways Research Can Help You Connect with Your Fans

[Editor’s Note: We work with SoundOut to offer our artists insights and analytics with TuneCore Track Smarts reports. Check out this post from SoundOut’s CEO and Founder, which describes how music research with fans can complement your music creation and marketing efforts.]

David Courtier-Dutton is the CEO and Founder of SoundOut, the market leading research and audience insight tool for new music that guarantees accurate and objective insight into your music, 100% powered by real music fans.

Can musical integrity and research make music together?

Why not?

There’s no reason why you can’t retain your artistic integrity, while also using music research to ensure you are targeting the right audience. Your music is a creative product and you want to spend as much time creating as possible – and as little time marketing to people who are not interested in it as possible. Research does not interfere with your creativity, it simply tells you where your market is and what kind of people will most likely appreciate and connect with your music. This enables you to consistently market to the right people who are predisposed to becoming your long-term fans.

Using research is simply a smart thing to do, yet historically good research cost thousands of dollars. However the power of SoundOut, the market-leading research company that works closely with all the major labels, CBS radio and many of the largest and most successful artists in the world, is now available to you via TuneCore Track Smarts reports at a cost effective price.

overall TS

There are multiple ways that Track Smarts can help your career, and we’ve compiled a quick summary of the most powerful ones:

1. Know your market

You might be thinking “I already know this one,” but without testing and marketing your music extensively in every different market in the world, how do you really know? Do you have enough fans to test all markets thoroughly? You can identify your target demographic by ordering a Premium Track Smarts report, where you’ll get a full breakdown of how your track resonates with 16-24s and 25-34s, both overall and specifically in your genre. This should help you identify the listeners who will be most responsive and receptive.

2. Listen to your audience

Reading your reviews on YouTube might help you to a point, but generally those people aren’t there to be constructive and comments are often bland, meaningless or unhelpful. The reviews you receive in your Track Smarts reports will be of high quality written by a range of consumers. Some know a lot, some don’t know much, but they all have something in common; they are all music fans and represent the people who will be buying your music. You may not agree with a lot of what they say, but you will quickly get a feel for what they like and don’t like about your music. Listen to what they have to say, however brutal!

comments TS

3. Market potential

We regard the overall market potential as being the most important feature of a Track Smarts report.   Our market potential ratings are generated by comparing your track against tens of thousands of others we have tested before – this will give you an idea of how your tracks sit commercially. If you use the Premium Track Smarts report, you also receive ‘In Genre’ market potential ratings, which indicate how your track compares to thousands of others within your particular genre. On top of this, you can conduct comparative analysis across several tracks, to help you identify which songs you should be pushing as singles.

4. Song Element Analysis

Asking your friends and family their opinion on your music is helpful, but they may hesitate to be completely honest, particularly on those elements of your music that may need some work (unless you really are better than Adele!). The Song Element Analysis section of your Track Smarts report will give you a breakdown of the different components of your track and how positive/negative the reviewers were about each specific part. It could help you identify which elements of the tracks you can improve on, or put your mind at ease about something you are not 100% sure about.

5. Opportunities

In addition to all the fantastic data and feedback you receive on your tracks, there are also a number of opportunities you could be eligible for.

A strong Track Smarts report opens up a number of commercial doors for you. We provide research to major record labels and have high-level label and radio contacts in the US who trust the data they receive from SoundOut. It is no surprise that these labels love receiving information about up-and-coming artists, certified by SoundOut/Track Smarts scores.  If one of your songs rates highly enough on SoundOut/Track Smarts, it is eligible to be evaluated for submission for radio play and/or be sent to senior record label execs at one of our partner labels.

tack position TS

Research improves your understanding of your art, helps you to be the best you can be and connects you with as many new fans as possible.

Your creativity and research can make great music together.

Launch Social Campaigns in Minutes with TwitMusic

Twit_logo_name_dotsWhen you have new music to release, you want your fans to know about it.   And because so many music consumers use social media, promoting your new album or single on Twitter and Instagram can have great reach.  Here’s the problem: setting up these marketing campaigns can be difficult (and pricey) without the support of a big marketing team behind you.  Well…not anymore.

Introducing TwitMusic!  TwitMusic helps artists launch social campaigns on Twitter and Instagram quickly.  We’re talking minutes.  Engage your fans, capture fan data and drive revenue across your social channels.

We’ll break it down…

Engage your fans.

Get fans excited about your new album by setting up a campaign that lets them tweet to unlock never-before-seen album art.  Or connect with fans by engaging them in contests and participatory showdowns.  Generate buzz and get connected with music consumers.

Capture fan data.

Collect fan emails, gender/location demographics and audience reach.  Track results on follower acquisition and engagement.  Your analytics update in real-time and you can export the data to use in marketing and presentations.

Drive more sales:

Include purchase links in your campaigns, linking fans to iTunes, Google Play and other digital stores.  Did you know that intent to purchase increases +64% when fans come through a social experience?

And here’s the best part of it all: TuneCore Artists get an exclusive offer!  Save 15% on any annual subscription. Offer ends September 30, 2014.

Sound good? Get more info and start your free trial.

Update: Track Smarts is Now TuneCore Fan Reviews

Updated January 24, 2016:

Track Smarts is now TuneCore Fan Reviews!

Back in 2014, we introduced our latest Artist Service, Track Smarts, giving indie artists the chance to get real, unbiased feedback from music fans after they release their newest music. After a year and a half of successful reporting that has allowed artists to look at their compositions from a different angle, we’ve re-launched this service as TuneCore Fan Reviews and are offering an awesome new feature:

Fan Reviews can be used BEFORE you release new music!

That’s right. Getting ready to distribute a new single, EP or album? Get some feedback on everything from lyrics and instrumentation to production and style before you make any final decisions! Check out TuneCore Fan Reviews here.


You like your songs.  Your girlfriend and grandma like your songs.  But what about someone who has no personal connection to you?  Getting feedback from impartial music fans can be a great way to identify your best tracks, find new markets, and grow your career.

If this sounds good to you, you should check out our newly launched TuneCore Track Smarts powered by SoundOut in our Artist Services Portal.   Track Smarts gets your tracks in front of real music fans to rate and review, and you receive a report per track with reviewers’ actual comments, plus insight and analytics to help you improve your music and advance your career.

Here’s how it works:

1. After you distribute music through your TuneCore account, you can purchase Track Smarts reports for as many songs as you want.

2. There are three reports to choose from, and each offers a different number of reviews and data points. (click the image below to view a larger version)

Screen Shot 2014-07-23 at 2.59.57 PM

3. Every track submitted to TuneCore Track Smarts is fed randomly and in real-time to reviewers.  They’re then asked to rate it and give honest feedback.

4. The reviews and ratings are analyzed by semantic technologies and compared against other tracks that have already been processed through TuneCore Track Smarts, resulting in your detailed report.

5. When the report comes back in, you’ll be able to read it right in your TuneCore account, or download a PDF version.

Screen Shot 2014-07-23 at 3.12.10 PM

If you’re looking to improve your music and grow your career, TuneCore Track Smarts can give you both analytics and insight to show you what’s working.  Plus, there’s an  opportunity for highly-rated tracks to get noticed with A&R consideration.

Head over to our site to learn more about TuneCore Track Smarts and start collecting some data!

Meet The Coral Sea, Featured Tonight on Californication

Have you been watching the final season of Showtime’s Californication?  If you have, you’ve probably noticed some pretty rockin’ music.  Spirit Records partnered with TuneCore to distribute the season 7 soundtrackHappy Endings, which features an exclusive track from Pete Townshend, a rare cover by Sid Vicious, and 4 modern interpretations of ’80s and ’90s rock classics by emerging artists like The Coral Sea (whose previously unreleased recording of “Where Is My Mind” by The Pixies will be featured in tonight’s episode).  We got a chance to talk with The Coral Sea’s lead singer and songwriter Rey Villalobos about the band’s early years, what he’s learned, and why he partners with TuneCore.

Your cover of The Pixies track “Where is my Mind” is featured on the Californication Season 7 soundtrack, Happy Endings.  How did you get involved with this project?

After the song was placed in Californication, the music supervisor connected me with Spirit Music, and they asked if I’d like to include the song in their soundtrack.  I was honored to be a part of it.

Your songs have also been featured on Grey’s Anatomy and other TV shows. How did these placements come about?

All of the TV placements we’ve gotten have come out of the blue directly from music supervisors of the TV shows, or directly from the TV shows themselves, reaching out to us to see if we would be interested.

What was your 1st year like starting out?  How did you get past early obstacles/challenges?

The 1st year was rad—I put the band together with some good friends and we started playing local shows then made a record.  Everything was new and exciting, so any mistakes didn’t really feel like mistakes—you’re learning as you go.  The early challenges weren’t so bad because we had a ton of energy and enthusiasm to get things going.

You’ve released several albums through TuneCore, can you share how TuneCore is part of your team?

You guys have been awesome.  A few years ago the iTunes folks wanted to feature my current album “Fold in the Wind” on their newsletter, and the album wasn’t up on iTunes yet.  You personally called me up and got the album up and sorted within days, just in time to be featured on iTunes Indie Spotlight.

What are your current projects? 

House of Wolves is my current project.  The name comes from the translation of my last name Villalobos from Spanish to English.  House of Wolves is essentially the solo version of The Coral Sea.  I’m in the middle of writing two different EPs, one very similar to the way I recorded Volcano and Heart, The Coral Sea’s first album, working with a string quartet and band.  The other EP will have a more solo-ish dark ambient acoustic/electric vibe.

What are your top 3 tips for independent artists looking to grow their careers?

It’s pretty simple:

1. Write a song.
2. Record it.
3. Self release it ASAP.

Don’t waste any time, just create and and get the songs out there.

What are your thoughts on streaming? Do you think it’s helping or hurting independent artists?

I think it’s helping—streaming is kind of like the new radio, and it makes it easier for everyone to discover new music.

So what can we look forward to next?

Two new House of Wolves EPs recorded back to back—the first one will be produced by Darragh Nolan a.k.a. Sacred Animals.  I’ll be flying over to Ireland to record with him in May.  Then in July I’ll be heading up to Portland to work with producer John Askew.  He produced my first House of Wolves record, Fold in the Wind.  Then I’m doing a bunch of touring this fall in Europe and the U.S.