Being a musician today requires a very different way of working compared to 20, or even 10 years ago. The digital world is constantly developing and diversifying, making it initially easier to gain exposure, but more difficult to succeed as a musician.
A major difference today is the increase in artists ‘going it alone’ without the support of a record label. When the statistic frequently thrown around is that “99% of artists signed to a label fail”, it's no wonder artists are finding labels less appealing nowadays.
Going it alone does mean you have to work harder, and not just on your music. Knowing the ins-and-outs of recording, sound engineering, marketing, PR, artwork and managing a budget is essential.
For example, our own EP was recorded by a friend in his home studio and our artwork was designed by us but produced by a family member who works as a graphic designer. In addition, we both work in marketing and communications so were able to deal with these aspects ourselves.
There is still a huge amount of work involved though. This includes working endlessly on our website, writing regular blogs, creating business cards and leaflets, and updating our social media. On the plus side, all the profit we made from selling our EPs stayed with us. We also, most importantly, maintained the freedom to make the kind of music we wanted to make, without any Simon Cowell figure hovering over us and controlling our musical output.
These are our top 10 tips to be a musician in the digital age:
Search engine optimisation (SEO) encompasses a variety of methods in order to get your website ranking higher on Google for not only its domain name but a number of key terms you select. For example, if you are a London-based function band who focuses on wedding gigs, you would probably want ‘wedding function band London’ to bring up your website.
Most artists nowadays have a website, and getting traffic to your website is crucial, hence why SEO is so important. When was the last time you scrolled to page 3 to find what you wanted?
It doesn’t have to be as complicated as it sounds; the main facets are pretty simple and can be studied online using websites such as Moz.com. Even changing a few words and phrases on your site can make a difference to your ranking.
Getting the press and music bloggers writing about your music can get you noticed by a wide audience, who might then go on to check out your site and create a buzz. A simple way of doing this is to network like crazy – sending out press releases of your new album to your local papers and music bloggers who are always searching for new sounds.
Every artist knows that recording is what the piggy bank money is for – it is frightfully expensive. However, a decent condenser microphone can be bought for a reasonable price and so an increasing number of us are kitting our homes out with recording equipment. We recently purchased a C01U USB condenser microphone for recording tracks onto Garageband, which is fine for demo tracks.
A couple of hundred pounds could equip you with a reasonably good basic recording set-up and save you hundreds. If you lack funds and space speak to your mates and get mates' rates or check online for those advertising cheaper recording facilities.
If you’re struggling with Cubase or Logic, there is an abundance of tutorials at your fingertips on YouTube.
If you get any radio play from your songs, make sure you claim your royalties! You usually have a year or so to do it. You can join the PRS or PPR, or do it through Sentric or other royalty collection sites. It’s always worth claiming – they soon add up, even if you sometimes have to wait a while to receive them. You can also claim for any live performance where you’ve played your own songs in a venue that is registered with Performing Right Society (PRS) so, if you gig a lot it's worth checking out.
Ever heard of ‘Creative Commons’? It’s a non-profit organization which exists to expand the range of creative works available for others to build upon and share, legally. The organization has released several copyright-licenses, known as Creative Commons licenses, free of charge to the public, which allow people to use your music. Now that’s not as sinister as it sounds. There are a plethora of YouTubers/budding filmmakers/TV production companies who might want background music for their videos and don’t have the budget for more ‘established’ stars.
Having a website means you have one main place to direct your fans to. It showcases your music, press links, professional photos, videos and contact details. It makes life a lot easier for people trying to search for new music. Today websites such as Wordpress and Wix exist to make it easy to produce your own website and, if well-designed and optimised, can lead to increased hits, resulting in new fans.
Blogging is great for a number of reasons. It does wonders for your SEO and it keeps your fans up-to-date with what you’re doing. Blogs can be personal, informative or simply about something that’s been on your mind that you’d like to write about (assuming it relates to music in some way). We’ve written song-writing guides, album reviews, gig reviews and personal pieces about artists who inspire us. It also gives you added content to splash on your social media pages.
YouTube still reigns supreme when it comes to getting your band out there. One of my favourite music artists, LEJ, started making it big in France after their 2015 mash-up of hits went viral on YouTube. All it took was that one video (which gained 70.9m views to date) to start pulling in lucrative revenue and new fans.
Making a video can be extremely easy, from a simple all-in-one take on a webcam/digital camera to an expensive, complicated, separate multi-tracked audio, which is overdubbed. It’s important to weigh up your options. If you are short of funds and time, consider fixing up your camera with an external microphone and placing it on a tripod for a simple but effective setup.
So there we have it, some of the main factors to consider when ‘going it alone’ as a musician in the digital age. Refining your music so that it is the best it can be is the priority, but these other factors will help push your music further when you enter the competitive ocean of new artists.
It’s a tough road, but stay positive, motivated and most importantly, don’t give up!