The music industry isn’t an easy one to make a living in, but follow these 40 tips and you’ll improve your chances considerably. Don’t bank on buying yourself a Learjet just yet, though.
Making it is the dream of everyone who’s ever picked up a guitar, a mic or some drumsticks. Music is a fantasy industry where the major players can rake in millions. Only a lucky few ever reach the toppermost of the poppermost, though. For every Beatles there are thousands of bands who never made it further than the back room of their local.
There’s no magic bullet for success; no secret formula for ensuring you make it to the top. Success in music is as much about luck as it is about talent. You can’t guarantee you’ll be in the right place at the right time, but follow these tips and you’ll improve your chances; no deal with the devil required.
In My Mind My Dreams Are Real
1. Choose a great name
It’s a chicken or the egg question; what comes first, great music or a great band name? Who knows. Led Zeppelin nearly called themselves Potato. Would they have had the same impact? I doubt it. Here’s some advice from MusicThinkTank on picking an SEO-friendly moniker for the digital age.
2. Pick your genre, and stick to it
Bands who say they can’t be pigeonholed usually don’t know what they want to be. Music fans need labels. If they don’t know what music you’re playing, chances are they’ll ignore you. Here’s why genre is so important in modern music.
3. Learn to imitate your heroes
Performers who say they’re not influenced by anyone are just trying to be clever. All musicians are the sum of everything they’ve ever listened to. Let your heroes shine through. But don’t take it too far. And steer clear of imitating these.
4. Learn your instrument
Sid Vicious aside, the myth that The Sex Pistols couldn’t play is just that; a myth. Learn your chops. You can always dumb down later if you need to. Here’s some advice on saving money when you’re buying instruments.
5. Define your image
Music is as visual as it is aural. Image defines your band and (in the most successful cases) rubs off on your audience. Without a great image your fans have got nothing to connect with. This is why it’s so important.
6. Practice, practice, practice
The Beatles in Hamburg? Oasis at The Boardwalk? The best bands are drilled to perfection. Don’t get up on stage until you can play your songs in your sleep. Try these tips from MusicClout on how to get the most out of your rehearsals.
7. Write great songs
Without great songs you’re not going to get very far. Think The Beatles would still be shaking up music fifty years after their first single if it wasn’t for Lennon & McCartney’s songwriting nous? Already penned your “Hey Jude”? Check out this infographic for what to do next.
8. Design a logo
All the best bands have instantly recognisable logos; Wu Tang, Misfits, Abba. The logo defines the band as readily as their music. Make sure you’ve got a good one. Check out this definitive guide to designing legendary music logos.
9. Eat, sleep and breathe music
When you’re not writing songs you should be thinking about writing songs. Jimi Hendrix spent almost every waking minute with his guitar. You need that level of passion to stay ahead of the competition.
10. If you don’t love it, then stop
You’ll never make it in music if your heart’s not in it. Yes, the rewards can be extraordinary but you need to be prepared for a lot of hard work. If its not that important to you, pick another career.
Taking Care of Business
Get a manager
11. Elvis and the Colonel, The Beatles and Brian Epstein, Led Zeppelin and Peter Grant; the most successful artists have all had a manager who shared their vision. Here’s some advice on finding the right one.
12. Get a lawyer
Even The Beatles got screwed over by their record label. And The Stone Roses? Their deal with Silvertone all but ruined their career. Get a lawyer before you put pen to paper on anything. Don’t believe me? Read this article to find out why an entertainment lawyer is so important.
13. Get a publicist
All publicity is good publicity, as they say; but without a dedicated publicist you’ll be lucky to get any. Your mum might love your music, but she’s not going to get you column inches in the hipster press. Without decent PR you’ll struggle to get your band noticed. WeAllMakeMusic have some useful advice on finding a publicist.
14. Sign a contract
How many bands fall apart amid the fallout from the guitarist rocking up to rehearsals in a Jag while everyone else is crammed into the back of a transit? A contract will iron out the potential issues before you’ve made enough money to worry about them. Follow this guide on putting together your band agreement.
15. Choose your leader
You might run your band like a hippy commune where every member has their say, but without someone to make the final decisions you’ll be in danger of going nowhere. Take a leaf out of Noel Gallagher‘s book and choose your leader early on.
16. Buy a van
You’re going to need to get to gigs somehow and, unless you’re a synth-pop duo, you’re not going to be able to lug all your equipment around on the bus. Like every grassroots band, at some point you’ll need to get a van. Here’s some tips on what to look for when you’re buying one.
17. Cherish your Bonehead
Your rhythm guitarist might look more like a plasterer than a rock star, but that’s no reason to give them the push. Every John Lennon needs a Ringo, after all. You need to maintain the right dynamic for your band. Take the NME‘s advice, don’t ditch your Bonehead.
18. Ditch the rock star dreams
The age of the rock star is dead. But guess what? That’s a good thing. The Internet has thrown the doors to the music industry wide open. Here’s why you’ll never be a rock star, and why you really don’t need to.
19. Do it yourself
Forget about inking a major label deal. It doesn’t happen any more. If you want to be successful you need to take matters into your own hands. Here’s why DIY is the way forward for today’s bands.
20. Write your manifesto
All the best movements happen for a reason. Ever heard about the legendary Factory Records blood contract? Right from the onset they had an understanding of what they were all about. Define your manifesto and you’ll go far.
Are Friends Electric?
21. Build a website
Nowadays, the music industry exists online. Without a website, you’ve got no digital presence to help you maintain your image. If you haven’t got one, get one fast. Check out this article on why loads of band websites suck. Make sure yours isn’t one.
22. Set up your social media profiles
Twitter? Facebook? Google+? MySpace (really!?)? It doesn’t matter what social network you choose as long as your audience is there. Do a bit of research, find out where your potential fans are hanging out and join them.
23. Make a video
If video killed the radio star then the Internet made it its primary format. Forget mp3s; videos are the musical currency of the World Wide Web. Follow this advice and shoot yourself a clip that doesn’t suck.
24. Upload it to YouTube
It’s the second-largest search engine in the world. If you want potential fans to find your music then it needs to be on there. If they’re not searching for your website, then they’re looking for video clips. Here’s how bands can make the most of YouTube.
25. Print some t-shirts
Once you’ve got a logo you need to get it out there. And what better way than getting it onto a t-shirt? If its good enough for The Ramones… Here’s what you need to do to make the most out of your merchandising.
26. Get some groupies
No, I’m not talking about the rockstar-shagging pop whores of old. I mean superfans who’ll follow your band to he ends of the earth and bring their friends along for the ride. Find your core of diehard followers and let them get involved. Don’t worry, even your bassist needs groupies.
27. Meet your fans
Social media isn’t a replacement for real-world interaction. If you want to inspire loyalty then you need to give your fans something to follow. Get out and meet them. Talk to people at gigs, hang out at your own merchandise table and start building relationships. It’ll help you in the long run. Always make an effort with your fans.
28. Make friends with bloggers
Bloggers can make or break your band. While social sharing is changing the way we hear about new music, we still need knowledgeable gatekeepers to help us sort the good from the bad. Start making friends with music writers to make sure you’re on the right pile.
29. Find a mentor
The music industry isn’t easy. Plenty have tried and failed to make it in the past. Chances are someone in your local area has been burned by the business and can offer you some sage advice. Get to know people in bands further up the ladder than you and learn everything you can. Follow these steps to find your musical mentor.
30. Take it seriously
Yes, being in a band can be a lot of fun. But if you want to get further than your local Battle Of The Bands, then you need to take it seriously. Being in a band is like running a start up; treat it like a business and you’ll have a better chance of making it than those who are only in it for kicks.
In It For The Money
31. Put out a single
A limited edition physical single shows you mean business. Get something out there and make sure it’s your best work. Don’t believe the talk that physical formats are dead; Taylor Swift just shifted more than a million copies of her new album. Check out this reference guide on how to release your own music for some advice.
32. Start a record label
If you’re releasing your own music then you might as well do it on your own imprint. It didn’t hurt The Beatles or Zeppelin, did it? Here’s how to set up a record label in today’s music industry.
33. Get on the radio
Radio is still hugely important when it comes to breaking new bands. You need to get on there. I’m not talking about Radio One; leave that for the throwaway chart fodder. Make friends with independent stations in your area and do you best to get them to playlist your song.
34. Make a mixtape
You might not have enough songs to fill your Soundcloud page, but putting together an mp3 mix of the songs, styles and artists who inspire you will show your fans where your fledgling band is heading. Here’s why mixtapes are still important.
35. Find a residency
You’ll never get anywhere gigging once a month. Practice is all well and good, but nothing beats the real thing. Find a promoter or a venue prepared to give you a regular residency. It’ll pay off.
36. Put on your own gig
So, you can’t get on the bill at any half-decent venue? Who cares. Take a leaf out of The Stone Roses‘ book and put on your own gig. For the price of a PA and a venue for the night you can start making your own waves. You don’t need to rely on anyone else. Here are six reasons you should put on your own gig.
37. Take some photographs
No, not on your phone. Chances are there’s at least one semi–pro music photographer in your city. Invite them to your rehearsals, a gig or anywhere you think there’ll be some decent photo opportunities and get them to snap some shots.
38. Be controversial
Nothing grabs column inches like controversy. Want to make an impact (and it suits your style) then be as controversial as you can be. It worked pretty well for The Sex Pistols. Here’s how controversy can be a major element of your brand.
39. Don’t spend ages chasing originality
Originality is a myth. Every band borrows from others. You can’t write a song that sounds like nothing anyone’s heard before (unless you’re Captain Beefheart). Quit chasing originality and get your music out there.
40. Never give up
If music was an easy ride then everyone would be a star. There’ll be times when you playing in front of the proverbial man and his dog and you’ll wonder if its worth it. Guess what? Even the biggest bands have been there. You’ll never get anywhere if you give up when the going gets tough.
What do you think? What other tips are essential for making it in music?