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Top 10 strategies for indie musicians

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One of the best ways to grow is to look at what’s worked for other indie musicians and adapt it to your own career. I’ve compiled 10 great strategies with 10 real examples to get you going. A lot of musicians I’ve talked to think they can’t start making strategies to move their career forward until they’re making money, until they take some business classes, or until they get a manager. The coolest thing about these strategies is that you can start using them TODAY.

To learn more strategies that you can be applying to your music career right now, signup to get our most popular ebook, Hack the Music Business for free

Here’s strategies 6-10. (You can find part 1 right here.)

6. Find Your Niche as an Indie Musician

The best way to get a really dedicated fan base is to start small. Start local and move up from there. Just focus on your town or city and build up a strong following. Stay after your gigs to get to know your fans. Give them something really valuable and unique. Once you’ve conquered your local scene, move on to the next city. Its a long process, but in the end you’ll have a lot of people who are very excited about your music.

In the same way, you should really focus in on a niche. This can be anything you want – a genre, a attitude, a belief. Aligning with a niche creates the opportunity for a connection – chances are there’s a lot of other people out there who are just as excited about that niche as you are!

Eileen Quinn, is a songwriter, indie musician, and sailing enthusiast who combines her two passions into one by writing sailing songs. She targeted a market that isn’t already saturated with music – the sailing market – and was able to really be the star. It may seem like she limited themselves in terms of audience, but in the mainstream music industry they would have been just another artist. In their specific niche, however she was able to really stand out!

7. Get Your Fans Talking

As an indie musician today, you’re most likely in charge of your own marketing. Music promotion can seem like a completely daunting task if its just you trying to get the word out, but you actually have a whole team of marketers just waiting to share your music – your fans!

With the constant presence of social media and the internet, most music fans today are bombarded with more information than they can possibly process. As a result, most music fans look to recommendations from trusted sources for new music. These trusted sources could be a good music blog but more times than not it comes from a friend.

The Wild Feathers were a group of indie musicians out of Nashville, TN. In the week leading up to the release of their self-titled debut album, The Wild Feathers made the album available early at their live shows. On top of that, the band gave their concert-goers a little surprize. Every album sold included two CDs – one to keep and one to share with a friend. (Source) By selling the album early they are specifically targeting their superfans – the ones who would travel hours just to get their hands on the album before everyone else. Because they are so passionate about the music, superfans are also most likely to tell their friends about The Wild Feathers. Giving them an extra CD to do just that really empowered their superfans to share.

8. Develop a Brand Strategy

“Branding” and “artist image” aren’t new concepts at all. Since the beginning of music artists have been defined by genre and personality attributes. Especially today, there are so many people out there trying to make it as a musician that you really need to consider why people would buy your album or go to your show instead of someone else’s.

There are two common approaches when it comes to defining a brand. Some indie musicians like to list every single genre they draw influence from. On the other end of the spectrum, some artists are afraid to even approach the task of labeling themselves. No brand is just as bad as a confusing one.

You don’t have to confine your brand to just musical style. Weave in elements of your personality, your beliefs, and your attitudes. Before  Sum 41 made it big, they had a hard time getting a record deal because many labels thought they were just another Blink 182 imitation band. The labels only heard one dimension of the band – their sound. It was their image, personality and attitude that really set them apart and got them the deal in the end. The band took camcorder footage of them goofing around and edited it into an audio-visual EPK. The resulting seven-minute hilarious video showed the labels that they were more than just punk music. They were characters and they were very good at projecting their character through media.

9. Find a Balance Between Free and Paid Content

Your music is valuable, and you can ask people to pay for your music in a variety of ways! Remember that money isn’t the only form of payment that has value. Information can be just as valuable or more than cash in many instances. Free music is one of the most effective ways to grow your fanbase. Even big-time musicians like Radiohead and Trent Reznor have used free music to their advantage. The key is to have a reason for free.

When trying to navigate the realm of paid content don’t let yourself be restricted to the typical music products like the CD and tshirt. Services like BandPage Experiences allow you to sell unique products and experiences to your fans. The sky’s the limit, and the more personal the products and experiences, the better. Rock Camp used a BandPage Experience to host a contest, allowing guitarists to purchase entries to win a spot at the Ultimate Musician’s Camp. Anberlin used a BandPage Experience to sell all access passes to their tours.

10. React to Opportunity

In music, opportunities pop up when you least expect them, and it’s your job to be ready! These opportunities could be anything from a pick up gig, to a publishing deal to a chance to collaborate with a local musician. Either way, the indie musicians that can react quickly are the ones who succeed. While you want to take the time to weigh your options, remember that overthinking an opportunity can be just as bad as under thinking. There comes a point where you need to just decide to take the leap or not!

Amanda Palmer made $11k in two hours by jumping on an opportunity. (Source) Palmer was tweeting with her followers about how she was once again alone on her computer on a Friday night. Fans joined in the conversation and a group was quickly formed – “The Losers of Friday Night on their Computers.” Amanda Palmer created the hashtag #LOFNOTC and thousands joined the conversation. When a fan suggested a t-shirt be made for the group Palmer ran with the idea, sketched out a quick shirt design and threw up a website that night. The shirts were available for $25 and two hours later Palmer had made $11,000!

musician-niche

We all want everyone to like us, but in the music industry especially that’s not always possible. People have such specific and opinionated tastes in music that there’s always going to be someone out there who’s just not a fan of your sound. But don’t let that discourage you! On the flip side, because music is such a personal thing, there will also be people out there who think your music is amazing. The key is to focus your efforts on these people and promote your music to them. It’s easier to turn a fan into a superfan than it is to turn a hater into a fan.

Start in your local niche and move up from there. Don’t try to tour the country, or even the “East Coast”. Just focus on your town or city and build up a strong following there. Stay after your gigs to get to know your fans. Give them something really valuable and unique. Something extra. Draw them into your scene.

Once you’ve conquered your local scene, move on to the next city. Its a long process, but in the end you’ll have a lot of people who are very excited about your music. Think about this a concentric circles. You start in the middle and move out over time. You have your current circle, so you work within that and then move out one ring at a time.


Want more music tips? Download my most popular ebook, Hack the Music Business, for free and get more indie musician strategies and case studies.


Take for example the band Phish. They are a notorious touring band, but they weren’t always as well known as they are now. Phish is from the northeastern US, and they stayed in that area playing gigs and building up a fan base for years after they formed. They were able to sell out some of the biggest venues in their local area before they were even signed to a record label.

The vastness of the internet’s reach has a lot of musicians today convinced that they need to rush to larger tours. The logic is that if they tour more in an increasingly large area they will get more fans and make more money. However, it takes more than one show to make a true fan. If you repeatedly play your local music scene, music fans will really get to know you and feel a connection with you and your music. This is what you should be striving for – the deep connection, not just awareness.

In the same way, you should really focus in on a niche. This can be anything you want – a genre, a attitude, a belief – what your brand is all about. Aligning with a niche creates the opportunity for a connection – chances are there’s a lot of other people out there who are just as excited about that niche as you are. And your niche can transcend music and  connect you over time with other people.

To consider an extreme example, let’s look at the “Gluten-free rock star,Darius Lux. After going through a diet change, Darius Lux began targeting gluten-free and health blogs for coverage of his music. Health and food has little to do with music, but the key here is that he was in a niche with little to no competition from other musicians. Rather than having to differentiate himself from the thousands of other pop-rock musicians out there, Lux went to a different market – one where he was the star.

Another musician, Eileen Quinn, is a songwriter and sailing enthusiast who combines her two passions into one by writing sailing songs. Like Darius Lux, she targeted a niche that isn’t already saturated with music – the sailing market – and was able to really be the star. It may seem like these two musicians may have severely limited themselves in terms of audience, and in the mainstream music industry they would have been just another artist. In their specific niche, however they were able to really stand out.

Want to know the other 9 musician mistakes?

  1. You Don’t Have a Plan
  2. You Aren’t Leveraging Copyright
  3. You Skip Time Management
  4. You Don’t Have a Team
  5. You’re Not Out There Networking
  6. You Don’t Let Your Fans Market
  7. You Don’t Have a Brand Strategy
  8. You Overuse Free Music
  9. You Don’t React to Opportunity

New-Artist-Model

Everyone has their own specific niche, be it a geographic area, a lifestyle, or a belief. It will take a little thought to discover your niche, but once you do you can create a really targeted plan to conquer that niche! In the New Artist Model online course, you’ll go through this soul-searching process and build a plan from there with the help and guidance of founder and former CEO of Berkleemusic, Dave Kusek.

The internet allows you to reach millions of people with your music, but is that really the way to go? You cannot be everything to everyone, so its often best to focus in on a niche, at least to start. Many musicians who are known as “overnight successes” or “viral super stars” actually worked for years to grow within their small niche before they made it big.

So what is a niche? A niche is a very specialized market. “Hip hop music” is not a niche, but the LGBT community within hip hop is. A niche can be genre based or it could find its roots in a certain social causes, attitudes, or hobbies. Lady Gaga is known for conquering the niche community of pop fans who face bullying. Macklemore is known as a supporter of the LGBT  community within hip hop.

Check out this great post from Cyber PR on Conquering your Niche:

Understand That a Niche Typically Starts Very Small

The internet is and always has been about BIG ideas. By giving us a further reach than ever before, it has become second nature for us to always think on a global scale.

This is a mistake!

Remember that a niche can and usually does start very small, as in so small that it can be targeted locally. By working with your niche locally first, you can build up buzz in your area, making it easier to connect with all of the influencers in your area, opening up doors to connections with influencers outside of your area on a regional, then national and then even global level.

An example that I always like to use when discussing Niche Marketing is Phish. Everyone has heard of them and they are widely considered to be one of the greatest touring bands of all time, but it is far less understood that by the time they were signed to a label and started touring the country, they were already local heroes, selling out some of the biggest venues in the area on their own. In fact, Phish didn’t even tour outside of the northeast until years after they had formed the band, because they found it better to target the local scene and conquer it first before moving on. By the time they left the northeast, they already had fans waiting for them in other parts of the country, because as we discussed, niche fans are more loyal. Their local fans loved the music and helped make sure the word got out.

Know EXACTLY What Your Niche Is

The more detailed an understanding you have of your niche, the better of you will be. As mentioned above, as your niche becomes a more specific section of a market, the more loyal the fans will be within!

Now, your niche can really be whatever you want it to be (within reason – more on this below), so deciding which niche you fit into best is really up to you. But no matter what that niche is, you absolutely need to have a full understanding of the niche you’re targeting. Here are a few things for you to consider so that you can better define and locate your niche:

    • Demographic (age, gender location)
    • Similar / influential artists (remember to start locally, then branch out to the regional, national and global scale)
    • What are the influential promotional outlets?
    • Where do the fans exist online?
    • What blogs do they read?
    • How do they find out about new music?
    • Are they into fashion? If so, what brands?
    • What are their favorite hobbies?

Now that you have the proper understanding of your niche, you need to seek it out and see if it is truly worthy. Some niches won’t exist online or at all in the way you hope and so the demand for your music just isn’t enough to get you on the map. Some of you will be lucky to decide upon a great niche on your first attempt, but some of you may need to test the waters until you find one that really works.

To read the full article, visit Cyber PR.

There are more strategies than the ones listed above. Comment below and let us know what you’ve done to conquer your niche. 

In this overcrowded industry, the best piece of advice is to find your niche. A niche can be genre-related, but, even with relatively obscure genres, you will still face competition. A niche can also be something completely unrelated to music. You could, for example, align yourself with a certain cause or hobby. Aligning yourself to something unrelated to music may seem counter-productive, but there will be fewer musicians competing for the niches attention.

One artist that this niche marketing strategy has worked very well for is Darius Lux, “the gluten-free rockstar.” He’s been featured on many gluten free blogs and has played at many events, allowing him to reach new fans that he never would have as just a pop musician. Check out this case study from Cyper PR to learn more about Darius’s story.

When Darius came to us he had a video that we hoped would gain some viral traction. After several weeks of promotion it didn’t get the lift we wanted. This happens often in campaigns: We start off in one direction and then we find it is necessary to correct and continue.

We started with a focus group with Darius on the telephone, and on that day he sounded different, and somehow more energetic. I asked him what had changed, and he confided in us that because of a recent diagnosis, he had begun a gluten-free lifestyle. He was feeling better than he had in a long time, physically and mentally. For my team a light bulb went on. I proposed pitching him to some gluten free, health, and wellness blogs.

“I had no idea that connecting to a targeted niche would be such a great way to establish common ground with people rather than just through focusing on my music,” says Darius. “What we later realized was this laser-focused niche was wide open for me. No one else was in this lane.”

Who were intrigued by his story and wanted to interview him about what it was like to be a touring musician on the road living gluten free. They wanted recipes, stories, and the BEST part was, Darius was the only musician being featured amidst nutrition and lifestyle posts. In my book, I refer to this as being a shark in a sea of tuna. It’s an effective tactic because now, instead of just being one of hundreds of artists on a site cluttered with other albums, reviews, songs and musicians, Darius was the only artist on these blogs who were featuring and highlighting him among fabulous relevant posts that already had audiences of established passionate readers and built in communities. Darius created original content and was the subject of lengthy feature interviews. One of the blogs dubbed him the gluten-free rock star and from there many more followed suit.

To see the full case study, visit Cyper PR.

Success in music

Here are 10 recommendations for strategies that can lead to success in music, and in life.  Take them with a grain of salt.  With this new decade comes the promise of digital music, the power of the entrepreneur and the tools to connect with an audience and deliver the goods.

1.  Living a life in music is a privilege. Earn it.

There is very little more satisfying then spending time making music.  If you make this your life’s work, then you can be truly joyful.  However, the chances of being successful are extremely low and the only people who are going to get there are going to have to work hard and earn the right to be a musician.  Respect the privilege of being free enough to have this choice (if you do) and honor the opportunity.

2.  No one is in charge of your muse but you. Be happy and positive.

People can be their own worst enemy.  Countless times I have heard artists tell me the reasons why their career is not working out.  Most of the time they are putting blocks in their way and pointing fingers at people and things that are holding them back.  Stop whining and blaming other people and make the conscious decision that you are going to be successful and that things are going to work out in your favor.  You are creating your own reality every day, so make it a good one and excel.

3.  Practice, practice, practice – then go for it. Over prepare.

You can never be ready enough for opportunity.  Your live shows can always be better, your songs can be more amazing, and your playing can only improve.  As the CEO of your own musician business, you can learn how to run the company more effectively, reach out to more fans and be an more effective social media marketer.  Don’t hold yourself back by not being ready.  Be a professional.

4.  If you suck, you will never make it. Find a way to be great.

Lets face it, it is really hard to be amazing.  Some people have the natural talent and you can see it in the first 5 seconds of meeting them.  They are truly blessed.  The rest of us have to find our niche, our passion, our calling and then reach for it.  Ask people around you for feedback.  Find what you are good at and focus on that.  Get other people to help you.  If you don’t stand out and rise above the pack, you will struggle forever.  Be amazing.

5.  Learn how to breathe and keep your focus.  Stay calm.

There is nothing more pleasant than working with someone who knows who they are and what their goal is.  Remember the old adages of thinking before you speak, and taking a deep breath before you lay into someone.  Most of us have a lot going on in our lives and we can all benefit from staying focused on our goals and remaining calm in most situations.  Learn yoga, exercise, run, meditate, sit still, breathe, learn who you are.

6.  Don’t take yourself too seriously, no one else does. Have fun.

I am amazed at how many people spend so much time looking backwards and trying to understand what people think of them.  This is worrying about the past and not embracing the future.  Reviews are important, but don’t run to them or let them ruin your day.  Not everyone is going to like you, but more people will if you are having a good time.

7.  No matter how difficult things get, move forward. Don’t give up.

The only thing that will help your career take off is forward momentum.  That is how you are going to reach your goals.  A lot of people are stuck in their own mud.  Take action, make a move and then see what happens.  Don’t spend time procrastinating or worrying about how hard it is, just do something positive to advance your cause.  You will feel much better by acting instead of waiting or worrying.

8.  Find a way to make money. Start small and grow. Avoid being in debt.

This is probably the most important strategy of them all and why so many artists have gotten into trouble in the past by taking label advances.  All that is, is a big loan.  Get some kind of cash flow happening right away, no matter how small.  Sell merch, play for the door, license your songs, play sessions, teach, write, start your musician business.  The biggest mistake you can make is to borrow a lot of money and then spend it on things that don’t matter.

9.  Be unique and true to your vision.  Say something.

The people that we remember are the ones that are unique, exciting, special, provocative, fascinating, original, inventive, interesting.  Music is a basic form of communication.  The really successful artists have something to say and work on delivering their message.  Your chances of success go up exponentially if you have a unique position and message and create a following of fans who really listen to you because you have something important to say.

10. Work and play with people you like every day.  Collaborate Often.

Music is a tribal experience.  You cannot make great music alone.  Surround yourself with talented people, write together, play together, try new things.  Bounce inspiration off of each other and learn.  Listen to each other and let the music weave it’s way around you.  Find a producer, songwriting partner, other musicians and dive in together.  The whole is greater than the sum of its parts.

Wonderful things are waiting to happen to you.

Want more strategies for success? Download my most popular ebook, Hack the Music Business, for free here.

The Long Tail theory is being challenged by a pair of researchers from the UK. A new study by Will Page and Andrew Bud, of the MCPS-PRS Alliance, the not-for-profit royalty collection society, suggests that the niche market is not an untapped goldmine and that online sales success still relies on big hits.

“I think people believed in a fat, fertile long tail because they wanted it to be true,” said Mr Bud. “The statistical theories used to justify that theory were intelligent and plausible. But they turned out to be wrong. The data tells a quite different story. For the first time, we know what the true demand for digital music looks like.”

They found that, for the online singles market, 80 per cent of all revenue came from around 52,000 tracks. For albums, the figures were even more stark. Of the 1.23 million available, only 173,000 were ever bought, meaning 85 per cent did not sell a single copy all year.

Read more here.