Artists Must Become a Media Company

The world of music has changed drastically over the past two decades. With the evolution of music software and technology, the average Joe now has access to all of the tools necessary to create professional-grade music. For Deify’s upcoming record, we utilized ProTools software and an Akai 4-track interface, Shure Beta 52A kick drum mic, CAD D80 dynamic mic for the snare, a used Blue Spark (drum overhead and vocals), and a Shure SM7B microphone (vocals) that my friend Rob lent me while he travels Europe. The entire album was recorded in our basement over the course of the past 14 months. Certainly, the recording process would have been much shorter had we rented out a studio, but we would have had less flexibility around re-recording or adding tracks in an ad-hoc fashion. Delving into the DIY recording process is for another blog. The point I am trying to make here is that artists can take full ownership of the product lifecycle.

Never Stop Learning

Turning your music into a business requires a great deal of knowledge. It will take time before you are able to create a refined product. Technology makes a great deal of tools and knowledge accessible. Industry standard recording suites, such as ProTools, are much more affordable than renting out a studio for weeks at a time but are tough beasts to tackle. I’ve owned ProTools 10 for five years now and am still learning how to navigate it. 

In my opinion, the best way to learn is to reach out to your fellow musicians and their engineers. This past album cycle I had the privilege of sitting down with a sound engineer to watch him prepare our tracks to be mixed. Witnessing how he set up the session alone taught me more about ProTools and sound engineering than I had learned on my own in the prior 5 years. Now, there are a plethora of videos on YouTube about how to properly go about mixing and mastering, but one-on-one time with an expert will always provide more value.

The Seattle Music Scene is very lucky to have avid supporters of the local music scene, from its radio stations to billionaires like Paul Allen. Leading up to the Upstream Music Festival – the festival founded by Paul Allen – has partnered with KEXP to put on free workshops leading up to the festival for musicians to learn about different facets of the music business. Attending events like this should be at the top of your priorities list. These are opportunities for you to hear from leaders in the local music scene and your peers.

How do they go about recording? Where do they perform? Who designs their merchandise? How do they distribute their music? Do they know anyone who could do photography of your band?

Take on projects with your friends. Getting outside perspectives into your work will help you hone your craft. Moreover, engaging in others’ approach to writing and musical performance will push your personal boundaries and introduce you to influences outside of your own. Guns n Roses has one of the most distinctive sounds in music. This is a result of a blues-rock fanatic (Slash), a jazz/punk/metal songwriter (Izzy Stradlin), a Seattle punk rocker on bass (Duff McKagan), a heavy metal drummer (Steve Adler) and an avid Queen/Elton John fan (Axl Rose) coming to the table with very different perspectives on music.

Craft Your Brand

As I touched on in my first blog, artists must operate as a media company to navigate the current musical landscape. Content is key for artists in this age. The most challenging aspect of content is figuring out differentiation. Before moving to creation, it is important to identify what your mission is. All companies have mission statements. Your band should be no different. For many creative type, branding is the last thing they want to do and view such exercises as a distraction. I would argue that knowing what you (and your bandmates) stand for will make the rest of your branding easy. Aligning with a mission statement will make it easier to develop a pointed image from which all marketing and branding can stem from.

If your mission is to be the most uplifting music group in town, your image should follow. It wouldn’t make much sense for you to be posing in a rainy Seattle alleyway with your black leather jacket and torn jeans. The copy on your website and social media posts should be positive and engaging. Your merchandise, logo, and photos should have a similar, bright color scheme to ensure consistency with your audience.

Speaking of consistency, this is imperative for your social media tags and website address. For Deify, everything revolves around “deifymusic”. Our social media tags are @deifymusic (Instagram, Twitter, Snapchat), our Soundcloud and Facebook sites have /deifymusic.com, and our band website is deifymusic.com. you want it to be easy for your audience to find you. If your current fans can’t find you, it’s going to be nearly impossible to turn new listeners into fans if they can’t find their way back to you.

Be Engaged

For your band (brand) to truly come to life, you need to create a community. The age of digital and social media makes it easy to connect with fans and peers in the music community. That said, there’s nothing like personal interaction. Get involved with causes that are in line with your image (this is where your authenticity comes into play – if they are causes that are truly important to you, this won’t feel like branding at all). Support bands in your scene. Better yet, collaborate with them. Jam together. Play shows together. Hang out together. It’ll make it all more fun, and you’ll learn a lot along the way.

A great way to bring all of these things together is a benefit show. Align with a cause or charity that you feel passionate about and put on a show with like-minded artists. You’ll be giving back to the community that is fostering your musical career growth, gaining exposure, and building a community of artists and fans alike.

Throw Events

Don’t wait for venues to come to you. If you want to play, make it happen. Host your own show at your house (or a friend’s house). There are plenty of ways to perform outside of traditional venues. Such shows will also give you exposure to an audience and enable you to draw a crowd when you finally do get booked at a venue.

More importantly, you can make it about more than just you. Invite friends that are photographers and videographers. Give them the opportunity to experiment with their art and generate content. Their careers are even more dependent on consistent content generation.

See what I’m getting at here? You can provide a lot of value for those around you. Cherish your inner circle. It’s what will bring you to the next level.

Network 

Whether you like it or not, you are in sales. The most obvious scenarios are album and merchandise sales. When it comes time to book shows, you are selling your image, your musicianship, and your community. The music industry is all about who you know. Knowing bands who play in the local circuit, and the people that book them, are key. This takes us back to my point earlier – GO TO SHOWS! If you show other people (genuine) support, they will reciprocate it.

Reach out to journalists. Having them on your side will help you saturate your market, and expand into others. When doing so, put some thought into your message. An album release and simply wanting coverage doesn’t differentiate you at all. Have a point-of-view. Why are you relevant? What makes you different? What’s your story? What went into the production of your album? What are your aspirations?

Lastly, it’s difficult to do everything yourself. There’s no shame in outsourcing. You’d be surprised how many people in your personal network can help. I work at a marketing agency that has entire Creative department. You better bet that I’ll be strolling through their section of the office when it comes to any graphic design and photography work.

Ugh…You’re Going to Need a Lawyer

There are a lot of hoops to navigate through when you are trying to “be legit”. Trademarks are one of the most important beasts to tackle. From talking with fellow independent musicians, to books, to the Upstream Music Festival Summit, the advice was the same. Get a lawyer. Trademarks aren’t nearly as straight forward as something such as a copyright. There are nuances surrounding font type, logos, public presentation, etc. The last thing you want is to gain some momentum just to find that you’re illegitimate, don’t have legal ownership of your band name, and have to start over again.

If you’re in a band, for the purpose of filing taxes (bleah) on your earnings, you’ll want to explore various options – such as a Limited Liability Corporation (LLC); if you’re a solo artist, Sole Proprietorship may be a better route[1]. For all the complexities behind the filings, you want to ensure that it’s done properly. Online legal services, such as LegalZoom, are relatively affordable and easy-to-use.

The music industry has been around longer than all of us, and corporate law is embedded in every corner. Even for those of you “against the man,” there are some rules we must follow so we can continue making our music.

 

Hit me up on Twitter at @duncanbyargeon to let me know what you thought of this post!

 

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[1] This is an opinion piece based on my experience. In no way should this work be taken as legal advice. For such, deal directly with a legal expert.

 

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