The Indie Band Survival Guide, 2nd Ed.

The Complete Manual for the Do-it-Yourself Musician

Randy Chertkow and Jason Feehan

St. Martin's Griffin

CHAPTER 1
THERE’S NO BETTER TIME TO BE A MUSICIAN

 
 
REFERENCE PAGE: IndieGuide.com/Intro
THE TOOLS and opportunities you have at your fingertips today were nearly unthinkable just ten years ago. You can record music on your computer with technologies and capabilities that used to be only available through costly professional recording studios. You can easily obtain global digital distribution for your music, and with it you can sell millions of copies of your album worldwide with no need for warehouses, shipping, or up-front money tied up in inventory. More opportunities than ever exist to get your music discovered, heard, and seen. And through Web, social, and mobile presences, you can target your audience, connect with listeners, and build a worldwide fan base.
How people create, promote, discover, distribute, sell, and monetize music in today’s world has changed. What used to be closed off by “the music industry” is now open for anyone who wants to participate. The traditional players in the music industry were like tollbooth operators, and the price of admission was the rights to your music and a large cut of the income you created. Now you don’t have to ask anyone’s permission, the cost to you is minimal, and you keep all the rights and money you earn.
We’re now in a world where the musicians are in charge. The numerous middlemen who decided which musicians “made it” and which ones didn’t have fallen away. Musicians have stopped wasting their time trying to appeal to the mainstream-minded music executives in the hopes of “getting signed” and instead focus on “getting discovered” by the people who really matter: the fans.
For everything a label used to do in the past for their musicians there are now services, sites, tools, and resources available that can let you do it yourself—often for free. You just need to know what to do and how to do it.
And that’s the point of this guide.
You’re holding the one book written by two indie musicians who, by necessity, navigated and deciphered the confusing worlds of music, business, law, marketing, and technology and wrote it all down so musicians could act on it. This is the guide that we wish that we had when we started our own band over fifteen years ago.
In short, you now have everything you need to do it yourself.
WHY EVERYTHING CHANGED AND HOW IT’S GOOD FOR MUSICIANS
THE FOUR TRENDS THAT HAVE REVOLUTIONIZED THE MUSIC INDUSTRY
There are four trends that have revolutionized and democratized the music industry:
1. Inexpensive Worldwide Digital Distribution
2. Democratization of Media and the Death of Channels
3. The Infinite Store Shelf
4. Access to Inexpensive Music Production Technology
1. Inexpensive Worldwide Digital Distribution
In the past, distribution meant manufacturing tens of thousands of CDs, tapes, or records. It meant convincing thousands of stores that it would sell if they’d only stock your product. It meant fleets of trucks to drive the product to the stores in the first place. Most of all, it meant that a great deal of money needed to be invested up front in manufacturing large amounts of the product (creating inventory) and paying middlemen to get the product in front of music fans. Few musicians had the money to fund this themselves.
In today’s world, thanks to the Internet, faster computers, and broadband connections, whether you sell one copy or one hundred million, there’s no marginal cost, no trucks involved, no money tied up in inventory, and shipping music anywhere worldwide is instantaneous. Even better, these incredible distribution channels are available to any musician, and it costs well under one hundred dollars. In fact, you can even get free digital distribution. You can also sell physical CDs with zero inventory, with all of the production costs being paid for by the customer each time they buy a CD.
This change put music distribution in your hands and made the major labels unnecessary for both distribution and for funding the manufacturing of your product.
2. Democratization of Media and the Death of Channels
The media technology of the past was limited and costly. It meant few channels of distribution, with control concentrated among few players. These players decided what music and shows would be distributed to the masses of viewers and listeners at what time and on what channel. This allowed a handful of companies to control what could be seen and heard, and forced musicians to use music labels to get their music heard, since there were no other options. It was a world of one-way communication—of broadcasting. You were either local, or you were signed.
It also meant that since channels were playing to huge, nearly captive audiences, the gatekeepers focused on music or shows that would appeal to as many people as possible to maximize their audience share. Anything that wouldn’t do this got no exposure and was deemed of little value. Generations of people internalized this hits-only economic model and began to assume that there was “a mainstream” that everyone liked. But how much of this was because mainstream entertainment was the only entertainment available?
But the means to broadcast media is now in everyone’s hands. Want to start your own TV station? Just use Ustream (ustream.tv), Livestream (livestream.com), or just post videos on YouTube (youtube.com). Want to start your own radio station? Use sites likes Live365 (live365.com) or create a podcast. Want to have your own newspaper or magazine? Just start a blog or Web site.
This means that the notion of a “channel” is dead. Media is now on-demand, and available for everyone to participate. This change puts media coverage within your reach and has made the major labels unnecessary in getting coverage for your music. People aren’t forced to select their music from a small set of options. There are more ways to get your music “out there” and win fans than ever before—and they don’t have the same barriers to entry the old media has.
3. The Infinite Store Shelf
When music was only sold in physical record stores, the stores would purchase albums from distributors (which bought albums from labels) to resell to the public. These stores had limited shelf space, so, except for dedicated music stores that featured obscure music, the only music for sale was from major labels. Because of this, the music industry, as well as music stores, only focused on hits. This isn’t surprising, since most of the sales for the industry came only from those hits. Why bother with any other music?
But, today, with high-speed Internet connections and digital storage, there is no end of shelf space. There’s now room for everything—new artists, unknown bands, obscure music, rare tracks, and more. Everything can stay on the shelf forever since it doesn’t take up any physical space. If a customer wants to buy a song, it’s always available for purchase no matter how many sales it gets per year.
This change means you are side by side in the same stores as all major-label and established acts and your music can come up in searches and be discovered while customers are shopping.
4. Access to Inexpensive Music Production Technology
A revolution in music production technology occurred because computers and recording gear became powerful, inexpensive, and available to most musicians. Recording, mastering, and music production no longer requires expensive studio time and the financial resources of a label.
“Today’s recording technology both equals that of the studios of the past, and at the same time is a fraction of the cost,” says Norman Hajjar, the chief creative and customer officer of Guitar Center, the largest musical instrument retailer in the United States. If you have a computer and a microphone, you’re ready to record music, especially since software such as GarageBand (apple.com/ilife/garageband), Sonar (cakewalk.com), Reaper (reaper.fm), or free tools like Audacity (audacity.sourceforge.net) can transform your computer into a full-blown recording studio.
As Hajjar points out, this affordable recording technology and gear has “unbottled the creativity that was always there; it was just inaccessible to most people. Musicians today have so many different and exciting ways to not only get access to the creative tools that allow them to express themselves, but also more ways to share their creativity with the world. Ways that were unfathomable in the past. I have zero doubt that we’re hearing music today that would not have been created if it weren’t for this access to technology.”
This change put music production in your hands and has made the major labels unnecessary for funding the recording and mastering process. And since their financing of music production was their justification for keeping the copyright to the master recordings, this means that you can keep all the rights to your music.
YOU NOW HAVE A CHOICE …
Back when studio time was expensive and distribution and promotional channels were limited and costly, musicians needed labels to help them record, distribute, promote, and sell their music. But given the four revolutions above, this is no longer the case.
As Jonathan Coulton (jonathancoulton.com), a successful indie musician making a living off his music said on his blog, “The revolution in the music industry (which has already happened by the way) is one of efficiency, and it means that success is now possible on a much smaller scale. Nobody has to sell out Madison Square Garden anymore to make a living. We now have an entirely new set of contexts and they come with a whole new set of tools that give us cheap and easy access to all of them—niche has gone mainstream. It is no longer necessary to organize your business or your art around geography, or storage space, or capital, or what’s cool in your town, or any other physical constraint.”
In other words, today there’s room for every artist.
“Signing with a label today is just a choice,” says Jeff Price, former indie label head and founder of TuneCore (tunecore.com), a service that allows anyone to digitally distribute their music. Musicians should evaluate a label deal the same way they would evaluate a contract from any business partner. And it might be appropriate for some musicians. But music fans don’t care about whether artists are signed or not; they only care about the music and the musician. And that’s the point: a middle man is no longer required. The distinction of whether you’re signed or not no longer matters in today’s world.
… AND YOU’RE NOT ALONE
Every service that a label used to perform for their artists is now available to every musician. Today there are professionals, services, sites, tools, and resources available to meet every need you have to get your music into the world. Best of all, many are inexpensive or even free. The computer and software industries are creating new tools and services almost daily in an effort to reinvent how people discover and purchase music. Plus, many experienced and talented music professionals, such as producers, engineers, graphic artists, publicists, and more are exiting labels to find their niche in the new music industry. Many have started up companies or are hiring themselves out to musicians directly, charging by the hour or per project. For example, when we decided to get the help of a publicist for one of our CD releases, we found one who had worked at Sony BMG promoting major groups for years, had many contacts in the press and media, and was deeply experienced in getting albums noticed and reviewed. And we didn’t have to give up the rights to our music to take advantage of that experience.
THE EIGHT WAYS YOU CAN TAKE ADVANTAGE OF THIS NEW MUSIC INDUSTRY RIGHT NOW
Although the media loves to talk about the impact these four revolutions have had on the old music industry, the fact is, they work in your favor as a musician. You are now free to be who you are, create music the way you want to, and own all the rights.
There’s no one you need to impress in the industry to get access to distribution, the media channels, the shelf space, or the recording equipment anymore. The only people you need to impress are your fans.
In fact, now that you’re in control, here’s a list of what’s possible for you and your music right now:
1. You can get worldwide distribution for your music and keep all the profits yourself, rather than a label only paying you a few cents per album sale.
You can get digital and physical distributors to sell your music in stores like iTunes, Amazon, Rhapsody, and more. And you can use a manufacturer to make your CDs, DVDs, or other physical media—including on-demand sites that manufacture CDs or DVDs when they are purchased, requiring you to put up no money up front and making you a profit on every sale. You can also use a fulfillment partner to take orders and ship your products for you. And when you hire your own distributors, manufacturers, and fulfillment partners, you keep all the rights—and all the profits. See chapter 2, “Your Music”; chapter 5, “Your Rights”; and chapter 6, “Your Albums, Merchandise, and Sales” for more information about what you can be doing right now to make all of this happen for your music.
2. You can get your music played on radio stations, webcasts, MP3 blogs, podcasts, Web sites, YouTube, and more so it’s discovered by fans around the world.
Radio campaigns are within your reach and digital music services such as Spotify, Pandora, Rdio, Last.fm, and others are available to musicians that submit their music the right way. Also, musicians like Nice Peter, The Gregory Brothers, and Pomplamoose have shown that viral videos can catapult musicians into the spotlight and give them millions of fans. We explain how to run radio and Internet campaigns, make video work for you, and more in chapter 13, “Get Heard,” and chapter 14, “Get Seen.”
3. You can get journalists, fans, and the media talking about you and your music in articles, Web sites, and videos and on social networks so you get noticed and grow your fan base.
New media is especially friendly to the newest and freshest music out there—something that you can provide for them. And once you get some traction in the new media, you can run your own traditional media campaign, or even hire an independent publicist that has worked in the music industry to leverage their press, media, and Web contacts. We’ll show you how in chapter 11, “Your Marketing Strategy,” and chapter 12, “Get Publicized.”
4. You can get venues demanding you for gigs, pack your shows, and tour no matter where in the world your fans want you to play.
Touring around your immediate area to build your fan base is only part of the story. Today live shows are about getting your music out there on the Web and finding out where your fans live. It’s about letting your fans, no matter where in the world they discover you, request that you play in their area, so that you tour places where you’re guaranteed an audience. It’s also about creating a killer live show that sells out venues and boosts your music and merchandise sales. Finally, it’s also about broadcasting your shows live on the Web so your global fans can take part. We’ll show you how to do this and more in chapter 7, “Your Gigs.”
5. You can get worldwide distribution for your branded merchandise and keep all the profits yourself.
Physical manufacturers and distributors can create and sell your merchandise in stores around the world. Also, with merchandise-on-demand stores, there is no cost to you to upload your images and make branded items available for purchase, making you a profit on every sale. And, of course, your sales improve depending on the strength of your identity, logos, and imagery. We explain everything you need to know in chapter 4, “Your Brand,” and chapter 6, “Your Albums, Merchandise, and Sales.”
6. You can create a pervasive Web, social, and mobile presence that makes it easy for you to engage and grow your global fan base.
We outline a Web, social, and mobile strategy that makes it simple for you to share pictures, videos, and news in one place and automatically spread them across all of your social presences. Plus, you’ll get automated alerts when people are talking about you no matter where on the Web or in the social media they are—perfect for keeping up on radio, press, and media campaigns. Most of all, you’ll learn to stay connected and engaged with your fans with as little effort as possible so you can spend more of your time on music. We show you how in chapter 8, “Your Web Strategy”; chapter 9, “Your Web, Social, and Mobile Presences”; and chapter 10, “Your Web Site.”
7. You can have complete creative control over your music, the entire recording process, and your business.
When the labels fronted the money for their artists to record, they had a say over the music and whether it ever got released. Today you call the shots. You decide which albums you create, what gets released, how, and when; you also have a choice in recording: you can create an inexpensive home recording setup or hire a local studio. And it’s even more important than ever to master your music, a process that’s been a mystery to most musicians and yet is one of the best ways to make your music stand out above amateur work. You’re also no longer limited to the musicians you know on your block. Session players can record in their own studios and send you the tracks. You can even hire entire orchestras, in other parts of the world, to record your music. We cover all of these topics and more in chapter 2, “Your Music”; chapter 3, Your Team and Networking Strategy”; and chapter 5, “Your Rights.”
8. You can own all the rights to your music and keep all the royalties and profits from music licensing.
Today you have access to licensing options that musicians never had in the past. You can get your music in films, television, radio, commercials, theater, video games, and more. There are seven different registrations you should perform to guarantee all the royalties that you are owed. But that’s only half the story. Understanding how to use your legal rights to promote your music is critical—especially since you need to get your music on the Web so it can be shared and discovered by fans around the world. We explain everything you need to know in chapter 5, “Your Rights.”
GET OUT THERE
Everything that a label used to do for musicians in the past is now within your reach. You have outstanding tools, services, networks, and resources at your fingertips to help you do it yourself. Right now, you have global distribution, unlimited promotional opportunities, and countless new ways to get your music to millions of people all over the world. You don’t have to waste time trying to “get signed”; you can focus on building a fan base directly. They’re out there. You just need to win them over. The rest of this book has the specific steps you need to make it happen.
Read on to find out how.
LEARNING MORE
Go to IndieGuide.com/Intro for a clickable version of every link, Web site, and service mentioned in this chapter, as well as links to books that cover the changes to the old music industry.


 
Copyright © 2012 by Randy Chertkow and Jason Feehan