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Finding Success as an Independent Artist

Writing and performing your own original music is a big part of being a musician, whether its a solo effort or as part of a band. For some it's a casual creative outlet, for others it's the dream career. But in the mad world that is this music industry, how do you take your music to a professional level? If you're fortunate, an opportunity or lucky break might come your way. The reality is that you will need to lay the foundations independently to maximise your chances of making it happen. There are numerous blog posts on this topic, and we know different approaches work for different people. That being said, here's a collection of our own experiences and advice we would give to artists trying to give it a serious go!

Write Write Write!

Whether you’re just starting out or you have already written a few songs, always keep creating new music. Nothing is more exciting & inspiring than fresh ideas, and building a collection of demo material should be top of your list. Give yourself plenty of time to develop and critique your work instead of rushing to finish it. If you're struggling to complete an idea or you're not feeling it - move on, but don't discard it entirely. You may find you can still extract strong elements from your ideas and use them later. Make sure you record as you write so ideas don't get lost. A live recording of yourself / your band is fine, it doesn't need to sound polished early on. Your better songs will be apparent, even in their simplest form. If it sounds good as a demo, imagine how it will sound when it's finished.

Practice, Practice, Practice.

If you want to make a career from your musical endeavours, practice is essential. Regardless of your current ability, focused practice will always keep you on your toes. Rehearsing songs & techniques will help you iron out issues and allow you to experiment. If you're in a band, making sure you get together regularly is also very important. As you spend more time playing together, you will naturally learn from each other. You'll start to build a picture of everyone's playing styles, strengths, weaknesses and body language. This musical bonding will help you all to gel and perform better as a group. A well rehearsed band with a strong group dynamic will definitely make an impression. Audiences are very perceptive to your overall performance, so never underestimate them - especially non-musicians!

Get Out There and Gig

So, you’ve refined your songs and practiced them until you know them inside-out… it’s probably time to get gigging! Nothing beats bringing your sound to the stage. The prospect might seem daunting to begin with, but as you stand up and play your songs in front of people more often, you get much more comfortable doing it. First of all, do some research on the local scene and the other artists around you. Look for promoters, venues and other bands you could work with (realistically). See who you can connect with either online and in person. Don't be deterred if you don't hear back from those you reach out to. This will happen a lot in the business. Keep searching for every possible opportunity. Always remember the first gigs that you take on will serve primarily as a experience. Try take on as many as you can within reason to build your confidence. That way you'll be ready when you land something bigger. Each gig matters, so always give it your best. You never know who might be watching.

Always Make a Good Impression As an independent artist, you’re going to need to be on top of your networking game. Every connection you make could lead to an opportunity, even if it seems insignificant at the time. Be sure to put yourself out there by attending events and speaking to people face to face. It’s important to be courteous to the people you meet in the industry. Music aside, people are more likely to work well with you if you're approachable. Being rude or uncooperative closes doors very quickly. Leaving a good impression off stage, as well as on stage, will put you in a stronger position for future opportunities.

Be Your Own Manager Whilst being a great musician is important, it isn't always enough when building a career for yourself. Work needs to be done behind the scenes for the project to make progress. If you don't already know someone else to take you on, you'll need to dedicate time to the management tasks yourself. Jobs that a manager would normally take on include organising band members, booking gigs, booking rehearsal and networking amongst other things. All these tasks can be stressful to juggle along with writing and performing too. Try and distribute tasks amongst the band where possible. It's important to communicate and be cooperative when it comes to managing these tasks. When someone else is taking on a responsibility, try and support them as much as possible. If you can all pitch in and successfully run the project on your own, it's one less person to you'll have to pay! However, the right manager will often come with their own connections to help you get bigger and better opportunities, so it's good to be on the look out for someone you can work with.

Social Media

Social media seems to be unavoidable these days, but never underestimate how powerful it can be to boost your band's profile. It provides a platform to share your music and express yourself directly to your followers instantly. Here are some useful tips to remember when you're promoting your band online:

  • Spamming is ineffective. People are bombarded with information on a daily basis. The last thing they need is more that's been blatantly pushed on them. If you invite people to like your page, make the effort to personalise the invitation. If they decline to follow you, respect their decision.

  • Create engaging Content. Give your followers something they can react to or interact with. Inclusion makes people feel more invested in what you're up to which is especially important for independent bands. Pictures, videos, polls, even posts asking open questions are great ways to engage.

  • Be self aware. You want your online presence to reflect the bands views and behaviour. Leave social posts to one or two members who will be the best voice for you all.

  • Adapt your messages for each platform. Don't be tempted to post exact same message across all your channels. Instead, tailor your posts to best suit the platform you are using. This also gives fans more reason to follow you on multiple channels.

  • Sponsored posts. Paying for certain posts makes them more visible to a wider audience. Use these strategically - set a sensible budget, be selective with your target audience, and only boost important messages eg. big concert dates, music releases.

  • Don't be afraid to experiment. Whilst keeping these tips in mind, it can be beneficial experiment different approaches. Unique content will give your followers something to talk about.

  • Set up a website. With so many social media platforms available, a website may seem surplus to requirement. However, having your own individual landing page will boost your professional image and allow you to fully customise the presentation of your content.

Save Money by Doing it Yourself Without the support that a label, you will need to make sure you spend money where it really counts. You might feel as though tight budget will hold you back when it comes to things you'll need recording, artwork and photos. It might seem obvious, but the best way to save money is to do it yourself! With a multitude of online resources and cheaper recording technologies, you can learn a reasonable amount to produce these things yourself, often with interesting results. If you happen to have band members with these skill sets already, you're onto a winner! However, if you're really struggling to get a good sound / artwork, it might be time to speak to your friends & family. You'll often find someone you know will be able to help you out. Although don't expect to pay nothing when friends help you out, if you can't offer money, agree to offer something in exchange.

Releasing and Sharing Your Music The internet has revolutionised the way we share music with the world. Upload your music to sites such as Soundcloud, YouTube or Bandcamp and anyone can listen to your work an instant. However, internet accessibility has also changed the way we consume music. New music floods the internet every day, and many of us have turned to paid streaming services with curated playlists to get a concentrated fix of the music we might like. So what's the most effective way maximise your reach amongst other new music without a the support of a dedicated PR company? A plan is the best place to start. Here are some pointers for developing an independent release campaign.

  • Finish the music first. Select your strongest single, or an EP to release. Ideally it should be recorded, mixed & mastered before you start the release process.

  • Create timeline with key dates / deadlines. This will help you visualise key dates up until release day. Allow 8-12 weeks so you're not in a mad rush and you give yourself time to build anticipation with your fans.

  • Publish your music. Publishing music is an important step in the release process. It registers your music and allows you to collect royalties via societies such as PRS. It is possible to do this on your own, however its much easier to publish through sites like Sentric for a percentage of your royalties. Do this as soon as the songs are complete.

  • Digital distribution. Music streaming sites such as Apple Music & Spotify have a wide user base with methods to further promote your music to new listeners. Make sure you allow at least 4 weeks for this, as a digital aggregator will need to verify and deliver your music to streaming services (including artwork). You can find more information on our blog post about selling your music online

  • Promotion and Content. A large proportion of your plan should include promotion activities designed to generate buzz around your release. Drip feeding content such as teaser videos, pictures, audio clips as well as spontaneous posts about the release is a great way to do this. Alongside content, you should allow time to send your music to blogs, tastemakers, and any useful contacts you've made for feedback.

  • Release Show. Organise your own event or work with a promoter to set up a gig following your release. Think of ways to make it a unique 'one-off' event, and book support acts that compliment your sound. If you're releasing an EP, you could always get a limited number of physical copies made. People love exclusive content, and if you don't sell them all on the night, you'll definitely sell them later.

Above all, remember to be patient. There are more long term benefits to a structured release plan rather than just putting music out as soon as its done.

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