Independent musicians, especially in the beginning stages of their careers, may quickly realize that, in order to make a living, their duties won’t end with making and performing music.
As an indie musician, you cannot afford to turn a blind eye to the business side of things when you’re at lift-off. To achieve success, you’ll want to tackle business factors with no less energy and creativity than you bring to your music.
However, the latter shouldn't cause a knot in your stomach! Broken down into clear digestible steps, you’ll find that running your indie band like a business can become not only easy, but even enjoyable.
Let’s look at the steps to follow on the road to imminent success. It starts with establishing your band concept.
To get started, ask yourself, “what are we offering?”
As with any business, the crucial first step is to define your concept and have clarity on all the details surrounding that concept. Your genre, your sound, your image, and your message are all factors that you need clarity on before taking the dive. You don’t have to put yourself in the proverbial box, but try to get in the proverbial 40 foot shipping container.
Knowing exactly what you're “selling” will help you when it comes to identifying your target audience and developing your music marketing strategy.
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Getting insight on your audience
Identify your target audience and make it your mission to learn everything you can about them. When you are aware of the preferences of your listeners, you’ll be able to accommodate them effectively. Explore the following:
- What are their preferences regarding digital streaming platforms and do they listen on vinyl or CD?
- What types of merchandise are popular among them?
- Which clubs, bars, and festivals do they frequent?
- Where are they most susceptible to engaging with marketing content?
Having this kind of information about your target audience will enable you to make good decisions with regards to releasing your music, producing your merchandise, planning your shows and tours, and distributing your marketing content.
A business, any business, requires a solid marketing strategy. Craft a strategic marketing plan to create hype around new releases, merchandise, shows and tours. Such a plan should include a digital posting calendar for your artist website, blog, and social media platforms. Also, consider other platforms such as music news websites and online magazines.
To connect with your fans, work on producing fresh and targeted content. Share stylised band photos, live performance videos, your cover art, your merch worn by fans, etc. As long as you’re grabbing and maintaining the attention of the right audience, you’re on the right track.
Studio sessions, marketing roll-outs, tour schedules, merch design and production…These tasks need to be handled as individual projects with set timelines and specific goals. For each project, determine how much time, effort and budget will be required. Identify what the ideal outcomes should be. Set criteria for assessing the success of each project as it progresses.
This will enable you to ensure your band efforts are heading in the right direction, and destined to pay off.
The smooth flow of projects has a direct effect on the satisfaction level of your fans. It’s crucial to:
- Release new music often and to release on schedule
- Book shows well in advance and don’t cancel last minute
- Ensure you have sufficient stock in your merchandise
- Keep their social media feeds filled with your pretty faces
It’ll take some time, effort, and practice, but try your best to make sure everything is always running as smoothly as possible in order for you to meet audience expectations.
To ensure that you eventually turn a profit, you need to make sure that you keep a record of all income and expenses from the get go. Budget for all your expenses and use your capital to open a band bank account. Simultaneously, save all the payouts you get from show tickets, merchandise sales, streams etc. Continue doing so until you might have enough saved for a massive merchandise order or to plan a killer tour.
Keep budgets in check, do proper financial forecasts and set financial milestones. Ultimately, the goal is to establish your band as a self-sustainable operation before you start pulling profits. By self-sustainable, I mean you need a constant cash flow to keep producing, recording, releasing, touring and marketing, before you pocket a single penny.
Contractual agreements - the necessity of “the same page”
Set up a contract between yourself and your band members that states how percentage of ownership will work between the members. In this agreement, participation in initial capital investments as well as sharing of profits can be clearly set out. Additionally, state the sharing of responsibilities between members. Marketing, bookings, accounting, admin, all of these tasks should be taken care of by allocated members. If possible, have the agreement checked by a lawyer to ensure legitimacy.
Sign a working agreement together that is acceptable to everyone. With everyone on the same page, there should be no room for complaints, arguments, and - worst case scenario - nasty lawsuits.
Finally, start getting your “business” in order to prepare for your imminent success. As the composer of your own music, the time will come that you’ll have to register a publishing company to become the legal publisher of your own work. This ensures that your royalties reach you.
In time, you may also want to register your band as a company such as an LLC, or Limited Liability Company. Incorporating as an LLC is essential for legally protecting yourself and your bandmates. This can protect you from being personally liable for debts, for example.
Registered as a publisher or incorporated as a company will allow you to open a corporate bank account. This is beneficial to better keep track of income and expenses and makes filing taxes much easier in the long run.
Down to business
Musicians who run their bands like a business have an advantage above those who see it only as a creative outlet: They’re making a living as opposed to messing around while making a loss. Let’s summarize…
As a successful independent musician, you’d want to:
- Have a clearly defined concept - a winning “offering,” that’s ready to “sell”
- Identify your target audience to meet their demands and accommodate their preferences
- Proactively and proficiently market your project
- Be well organized and operate like a well-oiled machine in all aspects
- Be financially organized, responsible and successful
- Incorporate to ensure legal security
There you have it - time to get down to business.
Carla Malrowe is an avid alternative songwriter and vocalist from South Africa. Her electro-industrial project, Psycoco, just released their new single “Stay Awake.” Malrowe’s music is a haunting juxtaposition of electronic and analogue sounds with lyrics that explore a post-apocalyptic conflict between love and loss.
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