12 Strategies For Long Term Success As An Indie Artist
1. Never stop networking. Always seek to meet new people and develop and maintain relationships. This includes all people from all walks of life. You never know who they know or will meet. You can’t know who is going to move into a decision-making position that can influence your career. Plus, the more connections you have, the more people you can turn to if times get tough.
2. Don’t take yourself too seriously. You don’t need to be perfect all of the time. Many people don’t like or want to be around someone who can’t take a joke or laugh at himself. Know that you are going to make mistakes, and so will everyone around you. Do your best to avoid mistakes, but learn from them when it happens. Don’t let success go to your head! For the most part, keep it light.
3. Establish and dominate your brand. Make it obvious what you want to be known for or known as. Understand that if you ignore this completely, the public will inevitably create the brand for you. Wouldn’t it be better for your reputation to be something that you designed and are proud to live with? You might want to come up with a tag line that sums up what you are all about. You may want to create your own genre of music. Once you have established your brand, work hard to dominate it. Keep in mind that your brand can be anything at all. For example, if your band plays a variety of genres and takes a wide variety of gigs, your brand might be wrapped around your versatility and adaptability.
4. Be and stay easy to find. Make it easy for everyone to find you, listen to your music, buy your music and contact you. Once you’ve established your contact info, don’t change it. This is vital! You may do something to create a huge ‘buzz’, but if.people can’t find you, it will all be wasted. If someone wants to book you but can’t find your contact information, you will lose out. If they want to buy your music but can’t find it where they normally buy their music (iTunes, Amazon etc.), you will lose the sale. The easiest way to make it easy for people to find you is to have a good website with the name of your act as the domain name. Reserve your domain name for 10 years at a time so you don’t risk losing it. Make your email easy to remember as well by using ‘firstname.lastname@example.org’. Then direct everyone on your social networks, on your videos, on your CDs etc. back to the site.
5. Choose your team wisely. Your team consists of everyone from your band members to your booking agent, manager, attorney, business manager, sound and lighting techs or anyone else involved in your business. Remember that a chain is only as strong as its weakest link. Be sure that everyone on your team has your best interests at heart. Find people who are smarter than you and learn from them. Find people who are better musicians and/or singers and work to reach their levels.
6. Choose your company wisely. You are and will be known by the company you keep. For example, if your ‘friends’ are arrested for possession, the public will just assume that you are on drugs as well. The press can turn something like that into a reputation-buster overnight, even if you weren’t involved in the offense at all. Plus, people who are not positive or encouraging will drag you down. The music business is tough enough without having ‘friends’ who don’t believe in you and push you to succeed.
7. Protect yourself legally. Never cut corners by acting as your own attorney. Have every contract reviewed before you sign them. Protect your intellectual property by registering your songs with the US Copyright office. Trademark your band name, your tag line and your logo if you have them. Have an attorney negotiate deals for/with you. Hire an experienced entertainment attorney for anything career-related. Your uncle Bob, the real estate attorney, just doesn’t know the nuances of the music industry.
8. Manage your money wisely. There will be great times and there will be dead spells. You may be selling one CD everywhere and not have the same success on your next one. Gigs can cancel. You might get sick or injured and can’t perform. Any number of things can go wrong. Develop a budget and stick with it. Put money aside for the lean times. Hire an accountant you trust. If your act is big enough, hire a respected business manager.
9. Keep up with the trends that affect you or your fans. These include trends in music, fashion, the economy, merchandise (what people are buying now) etc. These also include how your fan demographic discovers new music, how their income is changing and more. There is no faster way to lose career momentum than to be considered passé. When it comes to the music, you don’t need to be something you’re not. However, you do need know where you fit in and where you don’t. After all, venues usually change with the times if they want to stay in business. You also need to be aware of how your core fans may be changing. Find ways to keep them for as long as possible. Don’t ever give them a reason to ‘move on’ to ‘the next greatest thing!’ Always go to where your audience is instead of trying to win over people who aren’t interested in you or your music.
10. Treat your career like a business – because it IS! Set time aside every day to take care of business. Of course you just want to write songs and sing! But someone has to market the act, record the music, market the music, book the gigs, put together the press kits and the one page, send out the monthly newsletter, review the contracts, rehearse etc. If you can’t afford to hire others to do these for you, then it is up to you to insure that they get done. I know it may sound overwhelming, but it doesn’t have to be. Take each task, break it into smaller tasks and put them on the schedule. Everything else needs to be scheduled around it. Otherwise, the act will go nowhere. End of discussion. No one wants to continue working with an artist who doesn’t take care of business. It is simply too risky. And if you are on top of everything, you will be ready and able to take advantage of every good opportunity that crosses your path.
11. Mind and protect your health. This includes your voice. If you want a long-term career, it only stands to reason that you need to remain healthy. Of course there are common precautions to take, such as eating healthy and exercising. But just as important is keeping in top form. This means taking ongoing voice lessons to keep your voice strong and trouble free. It means avoiding risks that could cause career-ending injuries. I personally know 2 incredible guitar/bass players whose careers ended by losing a finger – one to a lawn mower and one to a skill saw. On the other hand, many years ago while I was working in a clothing store, Luciano Pavarotti came to shop for clothing. He would not leave his car because he feared the effect our air conditioner would have on his voice. He sent his entourage into the store, and then one by one we brought articles of clothing out to him for his approval.
12. Give and give again. There is never room for selfishness. However, this has never been truer than it is right now in the independent music market! The only way that you will succeed is to be known as a giver, not a taker. Help your fellow musicians in any way you can, and they will help you. Then whoever reaches the next rung of the ladder first can bring the rest of the pack with him. Give 110% to your audience every time and they will stay loyal to you. Give to your band members and they will do their best to make you shine. Give to your team members and they will give you everything they’ve got! Give more than expected to the venues you play and they will call you back time after time. Everyone has unlimited choices in their lives. If you are only a taker, no one will choose you or your music!
I can’t make any guarantees that if you do these things you’ll have a long, stellar, lucrative career. However, I can guarantee that if you DON’T do them, you will have a relatively short and unhappy one!
Vinny Ribas is the founder and CEO of Indie Connect, a global business club for serious independent artists, songwriters, musicians and music professionals. Indie Connect helps its members increase their chances of success by providing practical career direction and education, combined with live and online industry networking opportunities. During his 40+ year career, Vinny has been a full time musician, an artist manager, a booking agent, songwriter and the Entertainment Director for the NV State Fair. He is a published author and popular speaker at music industry conferences.