It seems easy enough:
– Step One: Make some music
– Step Two: Put music up on the Internet
– Step Three: Tell people that you have put music up on the Internet
– Step Four: PROFIT.
The truth is that there is a lot of work that goes into creating a successful freelance music career and/or online revenue. But if you are ready to start working hard and you’ve got a good product, you will very likely succeed. Just ask Jonathan Coulton. Or MC Frontalot. Or Macklemore.
So how do you do it? How do you go from playing with beats in your bedroom during your spare time to selling so many albums you’re able to fully fund a tour?
Step One: Admit that You Need Help.
You absolutely do not need a label’s backing to be successful. That does not mean, though, that you aren’t going to need help. Remember, as a creative, you’re basically making a business out of yourself. That means you’re going to have to keep track of your income, pay your taxes, deal with legal stuff, sync licensing…nobody is qualified to do all of that themselves.
In addition to hiring, at the very least an accountant and a lawyer, you’ll want to hire an aggregator.
An Aggregator is a person or a company that helps you distribute your music to the major sellers like iTunes and Amazon. Some are simple distributors. Others help with more comprehensive aspects of your business, too. TuneCore, for example, teaches you how to publish music, how to distribute music and how to set up your sync licensing.
Step Two: Never Work for Free.
We all agree that art — whether that art is music, painting, literature, journalism, whatever — should be accessible to as many people as possible. That doesn’t mean, though, that you should ever agree to work for free — or worse, for exposure. There are other and better ways to get exposure.
Now, obviously, if you really want to participate in a project or you want to donate your music or time to further a cause you believe in, you should feel free to do so. What we’re talking about here are the people out there who are going to try to use you for your art.
A really good example of this (and how high up it goes) was the Jonathan Coulton/Glee debacle last year. Glee appropriated a Coulton arrangement and didn’t even credit him for it, claiming he should have been happy just for the “exposure”. How he got exposure when he wasn’t credited seemed to be lost on Fox’s lawyers.
This is where things like copyright, trademark and sync licensing are important (and why you’ll want to have hired a lawyer). It’s wonderful to want to release your entire body of work under a Creative Commons license. If you want to earn a living though, you need to get paid when someone wants to appropriate your work for a for-profit project (like using your song in a video).
Step Three: Get Used to Selling Yourself.
It sounds so dirty, but it’s true. If you want to earn a living as a musician, you have to promote yourself every single day. This means having an active presence on social media. It means regularly sending out newsletters to your email lists. The standard stuff.
The real secret to selling yourself, though, is to sell without selling. That sounds redundant, we know, but think of it this way: you can let people know you exist without acting like a used car salesman or a late night infomercial.
A few years ago, Kevin Breuner said on CDBaby’s blog: “Be a real person… be a friend… Have the confidence to know that being a cool person, being a friend, will sell you more than being a pushy salesperson.” It’s something that holds true today.
What this means for you is that the best ways you can sell people on your band are the same ways you’d want to sell yourself as a great friend:
· Offer to help with projects — you don’t have to play for free, but you can help another musician with merch at a show for free. You can promote their projects to your own twitter feed for free.
· Ask people questions about themselves — you don’t have to be a black belt in small talk but a simple question about something non-music related shows people that you are interested in them. This makes people interested in you (and makes you easier to remember).
· Check in without having an agenda — if your emails always require a lengthy response or a favor, you’re going to alienate more people than you attract. Emails, calls and texts just to check in or talk because you want to see how someone is doing help you build real friendships and relationships within the industry.
Remember: like with every other business, it’s not just about who you know; it’s about what who you know thinks of you.
Be prepared to work every day in at least a small capacity on your music career. Learning how to publish music is just the beginning. Always be writing, recording, publishing, playing, building your fan base. Creating a successful music career is just like building any other business — if you’re willing to work at it, you will succeed!