You’re Not Just an Indie Musician. You’re a Start-Up Business.

As a creative, it makes sense that you’d want to focus all of your efforts on your art. Learning the business side of the industry may not seem as important as learning to hone your craft. But if you want a career, especially a robust one, then you need to understand the flip side of the coin. Talent is the foundation of an artist’s success, but marketing, networking and branding is what not only builds careers, but empires. Just take a look at Jay-Z. That’s why we recommend you treat yourself not only as a musician, but also as a business.

Mentally Embrace The Idea of Art As Entrepreneurism

You need to mentally strip the idea that you are just an artist. That might seem hard to do when you genuinely care more about the art and creating meaningful work, BUT if your goal is to pay the bills with your music, sell records and merch, go on tour, get songs plugged…then you’re not just an artist…. you are a business.

You yourself are your own brand. Your music and merch are your “products”. Your performances are your “services”. So, treat your approach to building your career no differently than if you were starting  a business.

Follow these tried-and-true steps to build the business of your band/solo career

  1. Building the product
  2. Branding
  3. Market Research
  4. SWOT Analysis / Unique Selling Point
  5. Marketing & Strategy
  6. Finances
  7. Funding

Building the Product (AKA: Your Music)

Getting together with your band to practice, record and write songs out of your garage is no less of a start-up business than Apple Inc’s humble beginnings in a garage. The difference is the product. They were building a business of computers and technology to sell. You’re building a business of records, merch, performances and content.

But no business can have success without a great product. You need to first invest in having quality records and content. This means...

  1. Know your talents (be self-aware) and work on your weak spots to become even more competitive.
  2. Take time to produce quality sounding records. Get the equipment and learn recording yourself, find a friend who can, or go to a studio.
  3. Package quality music with quality visuals. Use engaging graphics, press photos, and videos. Luckily, iPhones these days can take pretty great stuff and you don’t need a huge budget to create quality content, but you may also want to invest in a photographer, graphic designer and/or videographer if you have the funds.

Build Your Brand As An Independent Artist 

Branding is one of the most important things a business can do because it identifies who you are. You might be taking a comedic approach, sharing funny photos and posting memes, or maybe you have a seductive character approach, or brand yourself as an environmental activist. Branding for your band, or yourself, is going to go along with your product and market research. What type of music you’re playing and who is going to be a fan is going to impact how you brand yourself. This means your graphics, messaging, logo, name, bio, website design, etc. Everything that displays how you come across to others needs to be consistent and compatible with your intended audience and look.

Do Your Research and Know Your Target Market 

One of the first things any new business should do before launching a new product  is market research to find your smallest viable market. It might be tempting to skip this as a musician, since most artists welcome all and would love for anyone to listen to their music. However, as marketing guru Seth Godin points out in his book This Is Marketing, “For the independent creator of intellectual property … it turns out that a thousand true fans might be sufficient to live a better-than-decent life. While it might be comforting to dream of becoming a Kardashian, it’s way more productive to [truly] matter to a few instead.” Figure out who your likely fan base is and what other artists share that market. When you’re just starting out use other similar artists as a benchmark. Who influences your sound and who else do you sound somewhat similar to? Lean on Spotify, YouTube and social algorithms for your brand as well as competitors -- what artists do those platforms suggest as “similar?” Then take notes on those artists’  audiences and what type of people they are. As you progress in gaining followers, you can take a look at your audience insights and analytics to continually hone in on your fan base.

Determine your Unique Selling Point using a tool called a SWOT Analysis 

SWOT analyses are exercises businesses will do to help identify their strengths, weaknesses, opportunities and threats. This could also be applied to artists and help identify your unique selling point (or USP). Maybe your strengths are that you have a killer lead guitarist, and you have social content with high engagement. Your weaknesses might be lack of industry connections and funding. Your opportunities might be a new social platform that you got ahead on before others. And your threats will almost always be the sheer number of other artists out there that you're competing with for attention. 

This exercise isn’t meant to boost your career alone, but a starting point to help you know where you stand and how to strategize from here.

Use it to help discover your USP to figure out what makes you stand out. Find your story and your edge that sets you apart. What are your strengths and opportunities that you can capitalize on? Remember 40,000 songs are uploaded to Spotify EACH DAY on top of millions of songs already available. To stand out in the noise, you need to appeal to that smallest viable market. Figure out why anyone in your target market would stop to listen to you when they have millions of other options. It’s a saturated market so it’s crucial to identify where you’re at, and how you can exploit your strengths and opportunities to stand out.

Build Your Marketing & Strategy

As mentioned above, it’s a saturated market. There is no shortage of content. That’s why marketing is paramount. There’s often too much noise to stand out on talent alone.

So where to start?  First, we have a bunch of blogs here about building marketing plans, getting started on different social media platforms and creating engaging content for socials. But, to start - put together a marketing plan like any other start-up company would. You know what your story is, and who your targeted demographic is, but how will you reach and convert them to fans? A free and accessible place to start is putting together a social media schedule. You want a solid organic strategy with consistent posting to engage fans as a foundation. But posting organically on social media will eventually hit its limit in effectiveness, as you aim to reach more than the people that follow you. Sure, in some cases, organic posts can go viral. However, it’s wise to also invest in paid advertising to reach the most people. Invest in digital ads to start with. Diversify and try different platforms (Facebook, Instagram, Twitter, Snapchat, Google, YouTube, TikTok).

Once you’re ready to start with digital ads, it’s important that you do your research and put a plan together. Draw out a timeline of different ad campaigns. What’s your budget? What do you want to allocate to different platforms? What’s your targeting strategy? What’s your funnel strategy?

While digital strategy is super important, don’t forget about the importance of person-to-person networking. Find artists that you can collaborate with. Meet with industry professionals, other musicians, producers, etc. Don’t approach everyone asking to listen to your music, of course, but focus on genuinely making friends and building relationships. Who is more likely to add your song to a playlist, give you airplay, or a blast on social media – someone you sent a cold email to or a good friend?

Lastly - let’s also clear one thing up. Marketing does not include botting (read our blog on that). DO NOT directly buy followers, playlists inclusions or listeners. Spending money on legit marketing means you are only buying ad space to place yourself in front of real potential fans. Don’t let botting be a part of your marketing plan.

Get Ahead of Your Band (or Brand’s) Finances

Like any other business - you will have expenses. Figure out what these expenses are along with potential revenue sources.

Examine your costs. Fixed costs vs variable costs - just like a real start up. Estimate how much money you will spend on a website, merch, music equipment, digital advertising, marketing and recording. If you’re touring, estimate much will you spend on gas, hotels, food, etc.  

And then the fun part - what are the various ways you can bring in money? Music sales (digital & physical), streaming, running ads on your channel, sponsorships, merch sales, licensing royalties, performances, etc. Perhaps you can even apply for a grant.

Once you’ve got those numbers crunched, make some estimates, based on your expenses, of how much you need to make to break even and start making a profit. What are the number of sales, streams, followers, etc. to get there? 

This part might be sobering, but don’t be discouraged. Most businesses don’t make a profit at first. You will be in the red at first as you invest in yourself. But with time commitment and a clear vision, you will  get in the green.

Figure Out How To Fund Your New Business 

Just like any other business you may need funding. You have all the expenses mentioned above, but not much revenue yet. You may need funding to help keep investing in yourself until the revenue can take care of the expenses. Put a deck together like a startup in an investment meeting to help paint this picture for potential investors, then think through who might be willing to invest in your business. 

The first source of funding you should look at is yourself. Do you or your bandmates have a job that can fund the expenses of starting a business (the business of your band or solo career)? If not, maybe a part-time gig or side hustle can help with funds.

If you can’t cover the funds to produce and run your music career, then like a start-up business you will need to start with seed funding. A great place to start is with family and friends. Show them your amazing music, content, and your marketing plans. Show them you know who your potential fans are, any traction or press you’ve received, how you plan on advertising and acquiring these fans, and any potential revenue that can be generated. Plan to repay them back at a greater amount to provide incentive. You can also participate in crowdfunding such as GoFundMe, Kickstarter or even Patreon for your initial fans to help you out as well.

And don’t forget - as stated earlier,  you can actually receive a grant from the government in some cases. They are designed to help fund artists in creating their art.

Finally, there’s always credit cards and business loans. It’s important to register yourself or your band as a business, which will make it much easier to get a loan or line of credits. And as a registered business your band is eligible for setting up business accounts, certain tax advantages, liability protections, and even funding such as securing bank loans.

So, are you ready to get your business started?

We know this is a lot, but the more serious you are about the business of your band, the better chance you have at success - and the more time you will have to create great art for the world to hear and see! We recommend following all of these steps to help jumpstart your career, but even if you do just a couple, your career will be better for it. Plus, won’t it be fun to tell your concerned relatives that you’re launching a startup? 

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