You have a product in hand, plenty of b-roll footage, photos and videos of the making of your newest music release and an understanding of some of the basics that need to be covered, so you can move forward and get people to care about you and your music.
This leaves you at the bottom of a very large mountain to scale … but at least you brought your hiking shoes and found the mountain! You’d be surprised how many people don’t make it this far, because they are looking for a chairlift, or a helicopter that won’t ever arrive.
Before I jump in to this, I want to clarify something about DIY:
This won’t make me very popular in many circles, but DIY is a condition of last resort. In no way am I now or ever suggesting that you should handle your music career on your own if you can avoid it. You’re going to need help. That is not to suggest that you run out and sign away 20% of your career in perpetuity to the first manager who approaches you who has that kind of creepy “stay away from my sister” kind of vibe. (Laugh if you want – we’ve all met that guy.) There are people to hire, interns to find, friends and family to convert – whatever it takes. When I talk about “DIY,” I am usually suggesting that no help is coming from people who are established in the industry unless you prove yourself up for the journey by beginning said journey on your own. Far too often I see artists in the position of a lonely hitchhiker who knows a town is down the road in one direction, but refuses to even begin heading that way and opts to sit there with his thumb out hoping for better. The odds of a ride are much better closer to town; there is more traffic there.
That being said, the Film & TV and digital departments were not yet a major factor at labels 10 years ago. And digital is what everything you do when you are on your own revolves around, so a little piece of that department is part of everything you do.
As for film and TV, you can now outsource these tasks to a whole host of non-exclusive music libraries that specialize in placement. I am of the opinion that music placement is a full-time job and is best left in the hands of people who have a larger catalog of music than the catalog a single artist will have. Partnering with these libraries is a good idea, especially if you form a good relationship with one of the song pluggers at these organizations. I am fond of Musiclibraryreport.com for getting more about what libraries do what and hearing other first hand experiences that musicians are having with getting their music placed. I am not saying you shouldn’t work these opportunities on your own when the opportunity arises to meet a music supervisor. But it has been my experience that music supervisors take musicians with large catalogs more seriously than they take individual artists and that music supervisors get a great deal of their leads from ordinary music consumers. Long story short, partner with one, to two of these libraries and focus on making great music and getting fans.
Here are some more things to think about when readying yourself for getting your product out into the world.
- Research. It’s amazing to me that people don’t spend more time looking into where they want to be with their music, who they want to write about them and what other groups, brands or niches they should be in contact with. This process includes making a methodical list of your existing relationships and how they can be leveraged to make new ones as well as just making lists of different types of people you need to contact. Which other bands in neighboring markets do you need to know who are on your level or slightly above? Which club owners do you need to meet? Which blogs write about artists of your genre and stature that really need to be writing about you? Which message boards, festivals, meetup.com groups or other gatherings do you need to be a part of to make this work? If you don’t know, that’s step one: Go find out by doing your homework and seeing what people who are just slightly ahead of you are doing that is working for them.
- Marketing Materials. In addition to having all your content together and a sketch of your next several months of activity, I think many artists forget about making sure their pitch materials are tight. Sure, you can approximate many of the sales functions that used to be handled by the sales departments at record labels (at least digitally) by getting your new music distributed through TuneCore, ReverbNation, or by partnering with one of the aggregators … and of course, by making sure that the positioning of your products is front and center on your homepage and social network pages. But that doesn’t mean the “selling” is over. To make sales work, you are going to pitch yourself over and over again. And you better get a form letter, a one sheet and / or a bio about your project together ASAP to make you sound as good as possible. You will be pitching yourself to journalists, club promoters and other bands over and over again. Sharpen your pitch and have marketing materials ready to go long before your release date.
- A Reasonably-Paced Rollout Plan. I see people trip over this element all the time. An artist or band has a new record coming out, so they quit their jobs, max their credit cards on several weeks or months worth of promotional efforts and throw all their resources behind one of their early releases. This is a sure-fire way to land yourself in trouble. Don’t quit the day job just yet, don’t plan a U.S. tour when you’ve never left your home market and don’t spend all of your money around a six week push of an album. Your career has to be sustainable. Sure, hiring the New York Philharmonic to back you on your CD release show could help you move the needle with local press, but you better make sure that you are not breaking the bank. At the end of the day, you have to figure out a way that you can continue to make live and recorded music on a regular basis, so invest in that first. Regional touring, home recording gear and cultivating relationships with studio owners and producers are great spends of your money and time. It is about building a house one brick at a time, not about going to get a gold-plated roof when the foundation isn’t built. Pick a few markets you need to start with, find a touring schedule (or webcast schedule for that matter) that has you maintaining contact with your home market on a regular basis and slowly expanding in concentric circles outwards. You have to figure out a way to make music, video and content related to your art on a regular basis and for most of us this means finding a way to be consistent with a slow, steady approach.