I’ve thought about this a lot lately. When I was 24 I ended a run of supplying various A&R men and women with what was probably the largest supply of coffee mug coasters in history. I’d package my music and CD after designing custom sleeves on the cheap, the music having been laboured over for sometimes for weeks on a single 4 or 5 minute track. Sometimes I got good feedback, sometimes it was a polite “sorry we’re not interested, but try other labels”. But the one I remember was from a Virgin Records guy who sent back my CD, slightly scuffed with my cover letter scrunched with these words written on it “you’re too old at 24 to be in the record business!”
Clearly he was speaking bullshit. And I hold no ill favour towards the record company. Perhaps he just saw that I was an electronic musician and didn’t even listen to the music? Perhaps he was bored in his chosen career? I really don’t know. It wasn’t so much his words that put me off, but the way I saw the labels developing into the quick cash pop bore that they became. Music in the charts began to lose its inventiveness for a while, and those that saw you were electronic-based assumed it was trance music you were making.
Back then submitting was a hidden art. Even with the early internet you’d struggle to find out what that niche was you’d need to even get the attention to be listened to. Record labels would put very limited information online (most suggested “we don’t take submissions” and if you dared you’d be blacklisted even if your music was a work of genius).
So this all leads me to think upon what those setting off on this, lunatic fringe of trying to make money or a career out of music, can do.
Firstly, as I’ve said to a few other musicians over the years – even awful bands can make money. Its about how you market yourself. Are you reliable for gigging? Do you put aside personal differences in your band to push for a common agenda? You also have to understand that music that makes money relies on the hive-mind of market forces – ie luck. You may not be lucky, but giving it a shot is more effective than not. Its a lottery, but one in which you do have some influence.
Secondly – put aside your ego. Your music may not inspire or make people happy. It may even be shit. You simply cannot be deluded or have visions of grandeur. Once you achieve something only then can you be proud. And that’s it. Careers in music rarely last. Most bands and artists “make it” in their mid 20s if they’re lucky. If you’ve not made it by the time you’re 28 its probably too late for commercial success. Metal, blues and country bands can probably count themselves out of this a little as its not uncommon for some to get success in their 30s – this is due to their music telling life’s stories. Soundtrack work and classical music is a different story entirely though.
Thirdly? Engage in your social media feeds, and give regular updates. This keeps you in people’s minds. Some bands do this quite effectively on places like youtube – not necessarily with releasing music but even just silly little videos of the band entertaining you. Don’t buy followers, though, as fake profiles don’t listen to music!
The fourth? That’s a Star Wars joke waiting to happen, but I digress. Emulate your heroes to learn, not to rip them off. If you’re too derivative nobody will be interested, but having said that most music has been done already. If you don’t naturally sing like Sinatra, don’t force your voice. Listeners and gig goers will hear this.
Fifth. Always try to build up your own studio. This sounds daunting but it isn’t. Gear is cheap. Second hand gear is cheaper! You don’t need to kit it out with all the AC30s and c414s that Abbey Road have, but a simple recording device is a wonderful sketch book. If you get more serious a decent DAW (Ableton, Cubase or Logic) and soundcard are very powerful these days. I have heard music composed and mastered on simple set ups that rival many professional studio recordings, but if you learn the set up well. Your own studio also allows you to work at your own pace. Hiring a professional studio needs planning and lots of time management, you also need to rehearse! Don’t expect to turn up and just tinker!
Sixth. Practice. Practice the guitar, train your voice, play those songs as a band until you’re tight as a badgers anus! Gigging and professional studio time require this, otherwise you’re wasting everyone’s time. If you’re in a band don’t be the guy to slack, be the guy to set an example!
Seven. Get a job, scumbag! Er. I mean. Nobody likes a scrounger, seriously make sure you have some form of income. I’ve met musicians who have been a little deluded into thinking that big break is just about to happen, in the meantime they’re taking out loans from friends and nagging family for money. Your Mother may think you’re marvellous at the piano and very talented but that will soon wear thin if you don’t pay your way.
The Hateful Eight… be ruthless with your promotion, but not an arsehole! By that I mean don’t be afraid to self-promote in the acceptable places. There are LOTS of facebook groups dedicated towards this (I type something like “soundcloud” or “electronic music promotion” in the search bar and then join them if they’re appropriate). Keep to the group’s rules and don’t use porn or semi-naked women to draw attention to your post. People will see through that.
Buy ads were it is acceptable/affordable, put out multiple streams on youtube, soundcloud and bandcamp. Consider something like Tunecore to get yourself on itunes and spotify if you’re really serious – you’re better off paying for that than a Soundcloud “pro” status. Also take a look at using Vimeo, as the audio quality is better than youtube.
Take advantage of hashtags and trends to promote your music on twitter and facebook. Set up a dedicated account for your music profile, too! This will be seen as your brand.
Use Reddit under a dedicated account to use the free to use self-promotion allowed subs and threads. If you know anyone with a Reddit account you can ask them to post the link to one of the major subs (like r/Music), possibly in return for you doing the same.
I hope that these tips help out newbies, encourage and also forewarn that it isn’t an easy road, but it can be rewarding even if not financially. Keep writing music!