Most of the things on this list are under your control so read on the 10 things every independent artist should know about the music business to elevate your understanding of the world you’re diving in. What motivates you, the stage, music, lights, fans, royalty checks, and overall fun time, is, unfortunately only about 10% of what you’ll do in the beginning. That percentage increases over time but you’ll have to cry, endure, sweat, and persist to improve your fun time. So are you truly ready?
10. You Have Higher (The Only) Chances Of Success If You’re American
There’s no other way to put this but the general business rules, laws, and tax benefits for self-made and self-registered artists are the absolute best in the US. Add to that a myriad of national and local grants, emergency funds, and strong support communities, a business-savvy artist has that much more financial margin for actually having a shot in the industry. In the rest of the world, many such things are inexistent. Or if there is some sort of financial backing, it is usually only for those seeking academic education at prestigious music colleges.
9. You Have To Learn To Efficiently Perform At Least 10 Jobs.
Being your own photographer, video editor, marketing specialist, branding expert, image stylist, sound engineer, graphic designer, accountant, publicist, executive producer, are all jobs you will have to pay hefty amounts for others to perform or, as most indie artists learn, you have to study the industry yourself and go knees deep in all of it. Here’s the catch though: if you skip this tedious step of learning the 10 plus jobs, big record labels will scam you and overcharge you for things that if you knew, you’d question the pricing. We’ve also often seen independent artists scammed by self-claimed managers who triple, quadruple, and quintuple charge the poor ignorant artist for things that with a little bit of effort, he could have done for free.
8. You’re Going To Have Bad Letdowns On The Regular.
In this business, you will bump into walls and dead ends and broken promises way more often than you will have actual success. That meeting with the A&R from Universal Music Group who seemed extremely interested in you but then never called you again? They most likely simply forgot about you as they have talents by the thousands on their radar. That big venue that invited you to perform at the grand opening? The old manager got fired and the new guy brought in his own bandmates. The collaboration that was supposed to bring you exposure to tens of thousands of new fans? The girl didn’t do jack to promote the music video afterward and now you’ve wasted 10 grand on a dead collab. It’s just so much sh*t that always goes wrong. Our prediction would be more like: 99% of the time you will be let down and that 1% will indeed help your career move forward.
7. You’re Going To Need A Steel Mindset.
Hand in hand with number 8, as a consequence of being told no incredibly more than yes, your self-confidence may soon begin to hurt and hurt deeply. Most quit after a while. Others do drugs. You though, the smart independent musician, you will need mental clarity and detachment from the business. You need to tell yourself: this is okay, this is normal, this has nothing to do with me, I just need to improve my music and mathematically increase the odds. Because truly, this is all it is to this business. Constantly evolve as a musician and keep trying without ever thinking about quitting and you’ll make it.
6. You Need To Be Okay With Being Ridiculed. At Least In The Beginning.
Nobody with a big vision was ever trusted or believed in by everybody in the beginning. The biggest stars of today were all ridiculed when sharing their vision and passion in the past when they were rookies. A lot of that hate and ridicule and disbelief will come from your own people and your own blood. Which hurts like a b*tch. But it is what it is. It is the road less traveled and if it was easy…. you guessed correctly, everyone would be doing it. Look, if God put that desire in you, then you have the potential to achieve it. And even scientifically, we can’t literally dream at night faces we haven’t seen in real life. Equally, your brain can’t conceive the idea of you being rich and fill stadiums if you don’t actually got it in you. Also, don’t become an asshole because of the non-believers. It’s part of life and usually, they’re not happy with their life and career choices thus subconsciously wishing misery upon everyone else too.
5. You Must Be Okay Networking And Talking To New People All The Time.
If you can’t imagine having to talk your ass off and genuinely caring about strangers a lot of the time, quit now. As an independent artist, you will have to support other upcoming artists. You will also have to be nice and caring about DJs, radio hosts, booking agents, bloggers, and many other key people. Not pretend to care, but actually care to the extent of you becoming friends with them and sending in thank you notes and birthday cards. Same for accountants and lawyers. Being sincerely liked by people you work with or intend to work with, will advance your career so much faster than any money ever could.
4. You Have To Have High EQ (emotional quotient)
Similar to number 4, you have to know when you’ve overstayed your welcome and leave. You also must read the room and see if the ballad you wrote last week is appropriate for this very young crowd of teenagers. You got to be able to perceive if your agent is emotionally off because of his pet that passed away before you start popping bottles at the club the same day. If you learn to be great at reading people’s emotions, you will conquer nations without trying. Reputation is one monstrous motherf*cker. If you play it right, the whole industry will open up to you. Be inconsiderate to the wrong people at the wrong time and all doors will shut. Don’t believe us? Ask Janet Hubert about her beef of 27 years with Will Smith.
3. You Have To Be Wise With Money.
It is so easy to get that first thousand dollars and think: finally! Now we’re going shopping ’cause I put in so much damn work for this! and then find yourself back to your 9-to-5 with no margin to put into marketing or a new music video. When you’re barely starting, any extra income should go back into your music. Or you’re never gonna make it. Simple as that. A hundred dollars every month put into promoting your music brand will do a lot more for you than waiting until you have a 10 grand budget to do bigger promo. You simply won’t have that self-discipline to save that much money initially. So spend your dollars wisely and regularly.
2. You Have To Know Legal Terminology.
The further you advance, the more papers you’ll have to sign. So get to studying the business now. We highly recommend All You Need To Know About The Music Business by Donald S. Passman. Don’t wait until you are being presented with a distribution or management deal to know what the phrase “in perpetuity” means. Fyi, it means that the clause will SURVIVE the contract termination. So even when the three years are up, you still may owe someone money forever if you’re not aware of what you’re signing.
1. You’re On Your Own.
Despite opening yourself and your music up to strangers all the time, you do have to accept that this career path is a rather solitary one. You can very well want to change countries in the future and you won’t be able to bring all of your team with you. You also may be lucky enough to have a one-hit wonder on your hands after which a big tour with plenty of staff will come but then you’ll go back to underground levels where you self-manage your career. If you’re in a band, it is basically guaranteed you will go your separate ways sooner or later. And of course, most artists lose their romantic partners once they get to a certain level of success because jealousy and drama sets in. So learn to stand on your own and expect nothing from anyone. If they want to help, great! If they don’t, don’t let your spirit and drive be crushed by people who are in your life just for a season.
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Image Credits: All photos are courtesy of Unsplash.