By David Hooper | August 2008
If you want to get a record deal, get people to your shows, or sell music like crazy, the answer isn't some kind of "magic pill" website that you post your music on, blindly sending out a bunch of demos, or anything to do with having good music... although good music certainly helps. The answer is to develop a mindset that naturally attracts people to what you're doing as well as an understanding of how the music business game is played.
As you develop as a person, your music career will develop with you. Sounds crazy, but it's true, and I've seen it time and time again, with thousands of acts that I've worked with, from garage bands, to the guys selling out arenas.
Of course, part of developing includes making mistakes along the way. Check out these ten common music business mistakes, and ways to avoid them...
10. Being too difficult (or too nice)
First of all, let’s get this clear... Just because you wrote a few good songs and recorded them, it doesn’t mean the world revolves around you. Lots of people write and record good songs, so get in line.
Contrary to what the online rumor mill or media would have you believe, people in the music business are involved because they love music, and they’re not making enough to deal with jerks. And they won’t deal with jerks. If you’re a pain, they’re just go to the next guy, who also writes good songs, but has a better attitude.
With that said, don’t be too nice. You don’t have to say yes to everything. Pick your battles. If there is something you really feel strongly about, don’t settle for anything less.
Bottom line: Keep your ego in check and behave with courtesy and respect. At the same time, don't let anyone treat with you anything less.
9. Trying to convince people of anything...
You play music, and people have strong opinions about music. Either people get what you’re doing or they don’t.
So, some reviewer, booking agent, or manager doesn't like your new album. Let it go! Don't try to convince him he'll like it better after a second listen. He won't. And the more you press him to give your music another shot, the more he’ll remember how annoying you were. This means he’ll be far less open to ever listening to you again.
There are a lot of people who won't "hear it" when you approach them. So what? Move on. There are plenty of other people in this business who can help you. Go find the people who do "hear it" and put your energy into building good relationships with them instead.
8. Looking for industry approval
There was a time when the "industry" had a lot more pull when it came to breaking an artist, getting them distributed, and everything else. This is a new time, so we're playing with different rules now.
Distribution is easy. Every day, more and more albums and songs are being sold online, physically and digitally. Recording music is easier than ever. You are not limited by a lack of options for getting something recorded that sounds professional.
But more importantly, once you get a recording together, you don't need the industry to tell you your music is worthy. The consumers, the people who buy music, are really the only opinions that matter. And when you have the love of the consumers, the industry will come around.
The thing is, in the music industry, technology has changed faster than mindset. Stop believing you are at the mercy of any record label executive. You're not. Connect directly with your fans on your terms. The feedback, loyalty and money you receive from them will be far more gratifying than you spending your time beating your head against a wall trying to figure out a way to get an approving nod from a record label.
7. Not building strong relationships with fans
People aren't stupid. They know when they're being marketed to. They know when you're looking to sell them something.
Do they mind? No.
In fact, if you have a good relationship with your fans, they won't mind being marketed to, and if you do it well, they look forward to being marketed to. However, they have to know you care. Building relationships with fans take time. You have to show them you care.
Do things like:
• Give them a few free songs to download.
• Have message board on your website and build a community there.
• Do a "fan appreciation" show.
• Record a holiday album or an EP that you give out exclusively to members of your fan club.
Show them in special ways that you not only care, but that you're willing to go the extra mile to show your appreciation. In turn, they will buy your music, travel to see you play, call radio stations on your behalf, and promote you all over the web.
Every day – no matter if you're busy recording, on the road, or at home worrying about how you're going to find the money to make your project happen – do something (no matter how small the gesture is) to reach out to your fans.
6. Not "getting" how the fan/artist relationship works
You’re the leader and your fans do the following. You make the offer, they choose whether or not to accept.
Take charge, record the music, play the shows, print the t-shirts, and let them have the options of buying your album, coming to see you, or getting something to wear.
The average person has enough leadership duties to deal with in his or her own day. People are looking for somebody else to take control, so take control and let them ride along for a little while.
5. Laying Everything on the Table...
You're a rock star. You’re living the dream. Keep up that fantasy. Don't tell people how broke you are, that you're still living with your mother, or anything else that breaks the image of you fans have in their minds.
One of the reasons people like music is because they have the opportunity to live vicariously through the people they are listening to. When you are on stage, they're up there with you. When you're on the road in your tour bus, they're riding shotgun. Don't take that away.
Give them insight into your life and what it's like in your world, but always remember, you're not just selling music – you're also selling a persona.
4. Thinking the key to success is just musical talent, money, or looks
Yes, if we're talking about pop music, MTV, or the major label system, a certain amount of a contrived "image" probably helps sell records.
Obviously, money helps things. And it's always good if you can play and sing.
But "image" without marketing won’t get you on MTV. Good songs without marketing won’t get you on the radio. You can play well, have money, and look like a model, but if you don't have the marketing to back you up, none of it matters.
You know what? If you don’t have a good, solid marketing plan in place, everything else doesn't matter so much.
3. Giving up power
Keep control as long as you can. Yes, a label deal will give you opportunity that being an indie won't. And a professional manager has connections that you don't.
But when you sign with these guys, you're handing over your career to somebody else. Nobody cares as much about your career than you do. When you and your talent are the most important commodity you have to offer, do not give up your power easily and without a damn good reason.
Your music is worth something. You are worth something. Think of your career as being "virtual real estate" which, if marketed correctly, will pay dividends for years to come. So, treat it like that.
2. Jumping at every opportunity
You don't have to say yes to everything. In fact, sometimes, saying no to something can be more beneficial to your career than saying yes.
Why do you say yes to things? Take a look at your standards and make sure they’re high enough. As an example, just because a club has a PA system, it doesn't mean that it's worth playing there. There are some gigs that just aren't worth playing. There are some connections that just aren't worth developing.
When you say yes to something, especially something that takes your time, you're likely saying no to a host of other things by default. Leave yourself open to saying yes to the opportunities that really matter.
Trust your own judgment. If something doesn't feel right and you want to say no, it's okay. At that moment, you may worry you're passing up a great opportunity and will be missing out. The reality is better opportunities (that are a better fit for you) will come if you are open and ready for them.
1. Not getting help
You don't know everything. This business has been around for a long time – long before you were involved.
Read books, get advice from people who work in the industry and keep studying every aspect of the industry. Don't be afraid to ask for help. You can bypass a lot of the problems you're likely to run into simply by asking people who have already been in, and dealt with, the situations you find yourself in.
Remember this: Time is worth more than money. You can always earn more money, but you have a limited amount of time. Don't waste your time. If you don't know something, or need specific help, don't be afraid to pay somebody to help you deal with whatever obstacle you face. Don't let anything stop you from having all the knowledge and know-how you need to have the success you aspire to have.
David Hooper has been serving the independent music community for over a decade and is host of the syndicated radio show, Music Business Radio. Visit www.MusicMarketing.com for more information on David and additional music business advice. For more Top 10 lists, go to www.musicmarketing.com/top_10/.