Courtesy of Jhoni Jackson
What defines a successful music career? Quality albums? Fame? Fat music royalty checks? All of that's right – but also none of it, too...
Making it in the industry is no longer gauged by major label contracts, Grammys, and high rankings on the Billboard charts. Fame and fat checks are still a lot of people's dream goals, but there's more to success than that.
As independent musicians, the truest markers of triumph are sustainability and longevity. Read on for the basics of achieving both.
Make great music
First and foremost, right? There's no perfect recipe for an earworm or a hit, though. We can't tell you precisely how to write a good song everyone loves at first listen. What's deemed as good quality can be extremely subjective, and if it's chart success you're looking for, there are no absolutes for that, either. However, there are songwriting tips that can help boost your craft, augment what you've already got going on, or give you the creative confidence you need to go for it to begin with.
Certain song structures are more memorable than others. When A is the verse and B is the bridge, arrangements like ABABCB and AABA are most likely to be considered catchy. A curveball in the mix can help ensure it sticks. If you're having trouble with lyrics, research and study techniques that will guide you through the process.
Audience, structure, and content are all important elements of composing good successful songs. Learn as much as you can about all of them. And, above all else, study other peoples music. Learn at minimum four or five new songs every month. Study their chords, the melodic ideas and their structure. Learn as much as you can about what makes a hit song work.
Songwriting tips for boosting creativity can be learned. The Songwriting Source-book is excellent for learning these principles, and suggestions for beating writer's block are detailed here.
There are some arguments in favor of breaking traditional song structures, by the way. Consider the possibilities with that. Some may be beneficial, others may not.
Learn from other experienced players to gain tips for songwriters who are just starting out – as in writing their very first song – a mentor can get the basics to you plus offer you helpful insights.
Seasoned writers might want to consider trying a new strategy for faster songwriting: the top-down method, or others may be what you need to re-start your songwriting direction.
Grow your fanbase
Whether you're a brand-new band or a group of long-term players, these factors are key in developing a solid following. (And for those wondering how to get into the music industry as a band to begin with, growing your fanbase is the first step.)
Promote your music
Spreading the word about your tunes is crucial and marketing strategies for social media, as well as posters, flyers, and email newsletters is a must. The role of your local music scene is to help you, but that's not always the case. Learn how to market your music yourself. The book, "Getting Your Music Heard" is great for this.
Not only is your city's independent music scene generally a good a community that provides mutual support, but if it isn't too tight-knit it's a professional network that can help you land opportunities to grow your fanbase. Being an active member of a good local community means you'll meet all the right folks to help propel your career forward – talent buyers, venue owners, music writers, other bands, and more. If you're a newcomer, look to these tips to start getting involved.Hopefully your local scene is supportive.
A publicist can be incredibly useful, of course, but not having one won't disqualify you from getting press. Independent DIY bands thrive without outside help all the time. Learn the basics of getting press, including the components of a professional press request and who to send them to.
For those who are trying and not seeing results, consider the issues that could be holding you back. Additional tips – like developing rapport with the right writers – can be found online with a quick Google search. Take the time to research this. There will be all types of good ideas that you'll discover.
Booking shows and landing gigs
As a DIY band, you're probably booking your own shows. In many cases, you're organizing the whole shebang, from filling out the lineup to promoting the event. Learn how to get started with booking covers - there's a lot that a first-timer needs to know.
Again, involvement in your local music scene will be incredibly helpful. It's the best way to meet venue owners and talent buyers as well as connect with other bands you can call upon to play your gigs – or who might enlist you for their own.
If you're having trouble getting gigs, consider why. Make sure you're being professional in your inquiries; otherwise, you won't be taken seriously. Avoid mistakes like coming across as though you're someone you're not.
For those who are ready to tour (not everyone is), consider a weekend jaunt to test the waters. On a shorter trip, you'll still get to play new cities but you won't spend as much, and it gives everyone a trial version of what a longer tour would be like.
If you're hitting the road for a month or more, preparation is key – in making money, in not overspending, in making it all worthwhile.
To DIY tour like a pro, you've got to do plenty of research and raise funds in advance, among other crucial prep items. Read as much as you can about booking tours. There's a lot to understand. And, be clear on how you will get paid. Tours can bankrupt a muscial act into the dirt. So, be cautious about the payment details.
Keep a tight budget, both planned and in practice. This means groceries over gas station snacks and fast food, stinky couches and unforgiving floors over motels, and a per diem for every band member. It all might feel somewhat tedious and like a burden on your good time but, financially, the sacrifices are totally worth it in the end.
For some lesser known tips about what to pack, how to stretch your dollars food-wise, and more, check into what other local successful bands have done on their tours, the insight from various bands you can discuss your plans with will likely be invaluable to you.
Remember that merch can be a money-making life-saver on tour. Make sure you've got plenty ready.You do not want to run out of CD's or that cool t-shirt design.
When considering how to make money as a musician, you've got to expand your thinking beyond gigs, selling merch at those gigs and online, and record sales. Staying afloat financially as an independent musician means finding creative ways to monetize your music and skills.
Lucrative options include:
- Sync licensing
Getting your music in a TV show, commercial, or film can be a big earner for independent bands and artists.
Educate yourself on sync licenses first. Learn how to write songs that are more likely to be licensed for media usage. Keep an eye on listings to ensure you don't miss a great licensing opportunity. Read how award-winning songwriters who have numerous TV and media placements make everything work for them.
- Subscription services
It's like a paid fan club. Subscribers are charged a monthly fee to receive a minimum amount of merch, music, or exclusives on a regular basis. Successfully running your own could establish a constant flow of revenue.
- Related side jobs
Until you make enough money to be a full-time musician, you'll have to hold some kind of job to sustain yourself financially. Why not find one that puts your skills and savvy to use, then? You can apply at a venue: bartender, door person, and security are all potential gigs.
If you've got the know-how, you could work at a music shop or offer instrument repair. Depending on your proficiency, you could teach lessons for a fee. Another great way to earn income is as a session player. .
Maintain good mental and emotional health
When you think about how to make it in the music industry, you don't always consider your mental and emotional health. These more abstract aspects can have an effect on your longevity. If you avoid comparing yourself to others, celebrate your wins, and think positively, you'll be in better mental shape to continue pushing, even when things seem dire.
Jhoni Jackson is an Atlanta-bred music journalist currently based in San Juan, Puerto Rico, where she juggles owning a venue called Club 77, freelance writing and, of course, going to the beach as often as possible.