Bad Advice for Indie Musicians
by Alex Cosper (February 27, 2016)
It's no secret that the internet is flooded with bad advice for independent musicians. The goal is to make a living selling music yet all you mostly find online are deadends and marketing that suck money from musicians but don't help meet the goal. Obviously, you can waste a lot of time and money chasing music marketing who hold the dangling carrot that never converts to steady income. In 2016 the indie music landscape has evolved but is still far from delivering a wave of money making hometown artists.
The dream for many musicians is to make music in their bedrooms, then upload it to the internet and let automated sales take care of the rest. While this dream is still a bit cloudy, there actually are ways to combine internet platforms and tech tools with promoting live shows on a local level. For the musicians who prefer not to perform live, it's simply a harder road toward music career goals just because music fans in general tend to not explore too far from a core of music that is familiar to them.
The worst advice is to pay someone hundreds or thousands of dollars to promote your music to radio stations. Many managers and artists who believe radio airplay translates in music sales will do or pay whatever it takes to hear their music on the radio. While stations are not allowed to directly take money for airplay unless it's disclosed to the public, third party promoters have long been gatekeepers for creating a buzz on new products competing for airplay. Independent promoters are often paid by labels to help spread the word about a new release.
Yes, there are independent promoters standing by to take this money from unknown artists and sometimes it can lead to a hit record. But what normally happens is the artist pays the promoter about $5,000 to get him or her to call program directors at radio stations one by one in a particular region to "work the record," which means trying to at least make the station aware of it and consider it for airplay. Perhaps it leads to a few test spins, which can be very exciting at first. Once the first batch of promo money runs out, the promo rep asks for another $5,000 that leads to more of the same. Eventually the artist realizes that the money all went down the drain.
The other type of bad advice is to buy into a system that purports to turn nobodies into rock stars. The typical $50 to $500 package is full of goodies that sound like answers on the surface, like music professionals will critique your music, you'll have a chance to compete for the attention of talent scouts and your music will be made available to hundreds of radio stations.
One thing all professional musicians need to think about is that the music industry as we knew it in the 20th century has collapsed, despite getting gobbled up by a shorter list of bigger companies. Since each of the big labels are billions in debt, they don't necessarily command the power they once did at setting industry standards. At the same time, the internet is full of cynics and self-proclaimed experts at music and marketing.
What really needs to happen is depopulation of mediocre artists on both major and indie labels. For most people, the amount of music that is available to the public is now very overwhelming to the point that it has diminished demand for new music. It's up to each artist to develop specific niches and musical goals in which they have the means to achieve.
Here is a list of bad advice to avoid:
- Follow the trends and try to imitate national formulas
- Post your music constantly on social media
- Spend several thousands of dollars on producing your album
- Learn to think like a record label
- Produce music yourself using free software
- Post as much music on YouTube as possible, even if it's just demos
- Hire an internet marketer to promote your music
- Base your creative process strictly on feedback from fans
- Put everything you write on iTunes
- Pay a PR firm to promote your career
If your goal is to be a successful indie artist, chances are that means performing live often. Keep in mind, though, that anything is possible, even when it comes to selling music online. Concentrate on making music that serves a purpose by filling a void. Be the best at your niche and you will likely have better luck than fitting into an existing sound. Every genre you've heard of has a big enough market to sustain at least one more great artist, so don't worry too much if the genre is in or out of style and definitely don't pay much attention to critics. Craft your own original sound that also falls within the boundaries of an existing popular genre.
Someday there may be a popular online platform that goes a step further than Facebook for presenting independent art to select audiences. The key is to not give up hope. Instead, it's better to sharpen your focus on developing music that stands out with memorable artistic qualities.