The modern music industry requires artists today to be adaptable and versatile. The more skills you have, the more opportunities you will find to help pick up rewarding work. Therefore, the more you can diversify your music income.
But I’m not only talking about musical skills. Bolstering yourself with a range of practical skills will also significantly improve your workflow, your creativity, and time management. Because being self-reliant means you don’t have to depend on anybody else when producing, releasing, or monetizing your content.
You’ll end up saving a lot of money and a lot of time in the long run, by not having to outsource specific processes that you can perform yourself.
The following are what I consider the six most essential skills for musicians to have today; skills that will help you create engaging content, enhance your online presence, and boost your earnings.
1. Music production
No matter what instruments you play, learning how to record and produce yourself will pay back in dividends. It’s the single most important skill for any self-reliant musician wanting to be in complete control of the creative process.
And if that freaks you out even just a little bit, the good news is that 21st century recording technology is both accessible and affordable! All you need for a basic home studio is a computer to run a DAW such as Logic Pro, an audio interface, and a microphone, and you’re ready to record!
Remember: Billie Eilish’s chart topping debut album was in fact recorded in a bedroom. It proves that creativity and songs themselves are more important than the price of an expensive recording facility.
As with tackling any new skill there’s a learning curve (you won’t become Chris Lord-Alge overnight), but producing is one of the most fun and exciting things to play around with, and a lifelong endeavor. Not to mention, there’s a plethora of education and advice online. It’s incredibly rewarding to be able to bring your own creative vision to life.
Learn more: 4 tips to get started with home recording
2. Video production
If you’ve ever watched your favorite artists vlogging on YouTube, or streaming a live performance from their living room, you should already be aware of how important it is to be able to create engaging visual content. Not only is video a great way to engage your followers and find new fans, it can also earn you a monthly income; as in the case with Bandzoogle’s Fan Subscriptions, Patreon, and YouTube.
Learning how to capture footage and edit videos is no easy task, however, and the tools required are certainly not cheap either. But it’s one of those investments you make as early as you can, to save money, time, and headaches in the future.
Think about it: Hiring a professional videographer for a day to shoot, plus covering the cost of travel, and then having them edit, color grade, and bounce your final product, amounts to a small fortune. That’s not sustainable for an independent musician!
But not only does it save you a few bucks, being able to produce your own content is key to building and sustaining an active social media following and fanbase these days. It’s one thing to pick up your phone and start an Instagram Live, but for content that invites and entices new audiences to tune in every week or month, you’ll need picture perfect video.
Pretty much all you need is a good quality DSLR. I myself own a Panasonic Lumix G7, which is a solid option on the market and I use DaVinci Resolve—a free professional quality video editing suite. I also use LUTs, which are essentially drag-and-drop color grade filters for professional looking results.
You saw this coming, right? A great looking music website and social media hub begins with attractive, high-quality images that are consistent with your brand. If you already own a good DLSR camera for videography, then perfect. (See? It’s already paying off!) If not, most smartphones are more than capable of capturing quality images that are suitable for web use.
But that’s just the beginning. You’ll need to at least learn basic photo editing skills too; such as: how to resize, touch up, and manipulate your images with text. Photopea is an awesome free online photo image editor that I like to use.
To capture people’s attention online in 2020, the presentation of your feed, video thumbnails, and website featured images all have to stand out from the crowd.
4. Decent writing ability
“The pen is mightier than the sword” is a well-known adage. No, we are not talking here about military might, but the essence of being able to write your way to a solution is just as appropriate here. A well-crafted email or press release can make all the difference between whether an album release or crowdfunding pledge falls on deaf ears or leads to sales.
Written communication extends way further than simple emails though. Your writing is how you share your message and vision to the world. And guess what, if you already spend time writing song lyrics, you’re halfway there!
If you are selling a product such as your music, or a service such as lessons, tutorials, and paid session work, a compelling description will help to convince people that they should hire you. I personally help promote brands with gear reviews on my blog, and it brings in revenue, helps me network professionally, and gives me an avenue to practice my writing on an ongoing basis.
No matter the platform, excellent writing communicates your message with clarity and helps to build a powerful connection with those who are reading.
5. SEO (Search Engine Optimization)
SEO is all about optimizing your presence on different search engines, including Google and YouTube. There is a fine art to SEO, but thankfully Bandzoogle has compiled a practical SEO checklist which you can use to help your website rank online.
It’s well and good having the most attractive website on the internet, but it’s not going to offer any value if nobody sees it. All that time and effort building bespoke tutorials for your web store will go to waste if it never receives any traffic. In order to rank on Google, your content must be ultra-relevant to particular search queries and keywords.
You will also need to build authority for your website, which also takes time, but can be achieved through collaborations and links back to your site. Search engines also track the length of time people read or view your content; these are indicators for quality and authority.
While SEO is about ranking organically on search engines for particular search queries, marketing is all about building an audience through direct engagement with your target audience.
For lots of musicians, marketing can seem really challenging. Music is an art form that is personal and emotional, and promotion just feels icky or too businessy. But marketing is imbued into almost everything you do (your brand, your style, your mood and energy, your consistency) as well as being the first thing a new fan sees when they come across your music online.
So at the end of the day, do you want to be in charge of that yourself or do you want to let the record labels and executives deal with it? If you answered the former, you’re more likely to become a self-sufficient artist in the long run. There are lots of different marketing strategies for musicians, and it’s best to avoid anything that seems too forced or feigned.
One effective way to engage with your fanbase is to build a community that feels exclusive. You can do this with your email list, by using a subscription-based platform, and in many other ways. Offer select content such as sneak peeks of new music, and limited runs of merchandise. Fans will appreciate being a part of your “inner circle,” and you will benefit from their loyalty and support.
Another great way to drive fan acquisition and engagement is to build a genuine connection with fans and superfans. This is always easier said than done, but you can make it part of your daily or weekly social media strategy, and start to see what works over time. Take that time to learn more about your fans, and find out what they love, who they are, and where they’re based. Ask them what they look forward to, and respond to comments and posts whenever possible.
Speaking of which, did we miss any skills you think are essential for musicians today? Let me know what you think!
Gideon Waxman is a London based drummer and music educator, who holds a Bachelor of Music degree from the University of Westminster. You can find more of his advice over at Drum Helper - one of the web's most popular free online drumming resources.
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