Thursday, October 16, 2014

How To “Make It” In Music, Just Like I Never Did

Well first, please understand that I’m not suggesting that “making it” in the music industry is even the right goal to begin with. Nor am I saying that “making it” is defined in just one particular fashion. However, if we define "making it" as a way to sustain a living at your art, a business mind and strategic plan will need to play a significant role.

I have been involved in the music industry professionally since for about 25 years.  I’ve played in touring bands, wedding bands, corporate bands, with solo artists and fronted my own original group. I’ve been part of bands signed to labels (both big and small), nominated for several Grammy awards, had professional management, radio success, publicists, agents and even the occasional (much needed) stylist. Although I had an amazing career as a professional musician, I didn’t understand what it took to get that ever illusive “break” we all talk about, or even perform at a level to where I could get ahead financially.

My life as a full time musician behind me, I now find myself as the director of new business development at a marketing company that works behalf of some of the biggest brands in the world ( if you are curious)

I’d add that music is still a big part of my life. I’m a member of a band that plays in Las Vegas each month for a major casino on the strip. But again, as a hobby, not a profession.
I’ve learned a lot from both of my career paths.

So if I still have your interest, although I learned these things a bit late, my advice is as follows: Begin to think and behave like a brand.

Below are a few things that brands do everyday that musicians, bands and artists can do well to incorporate.

Focus on your product
Imagine for a moment that instead of making music, you make a shoe. I understand that the reasons for producing a shoe are quite different than the desire to share your art, but go with me for a moment. When making a shoe, you first ask, “What problem is my product solving?” “How is my shoe different, or unique?” By defining your product in this fashion, you’ve just identified what is commonly known in business as your key differentiator. After addressing the aspect of what makes you different, you must now make sure that all of your products connect and speak to this: The name of your shoe. The logo. The design and look of the shoe. The materials you choose to create the quality of shoe you need to set yourself apart.

To put it plainly: YOU are a brand and everything you put out for public consumption is your product line. Your songs, performances, the way you dress and speak to audiences (live and on social media), your albums, photos, etc. Identify what sets you apart and build on that. Refine your brand and take time to develop your products.

Stop looking at major artists with your nose in the air saying things like, “They don’t even play an instrument, or write their own songs.” Katy Perry, love her or hate her is a strong brand. So are Kanye and Jay Z, and Taylor Swift. In fact, their brands are so well defined that they’ve created other non-musical products as an extension of their brand. (Vodka, perfumes, clothing, etc.)

To be clear, I am not suggesting that the fact these individuals are strong brands make them good artists. However, I am saying that if you think your music is genuine, authentic, full of artistry and nuance, then take the next step and learn from what these artists are good at and become a complete package. I would much rather see you succeed and rise to the top with craftily written songs and skillfully produced and performed music than to see who will be the next Skrillex. (Great light show by the way)

Be active and consistent in communication
Brands spend a lot of time (and money) trying to connect with their “target demographic”. Some do it well, others not so much. The more deeply you understand your own audience, the more authentic your communication can be. Don’t fake it.  Don’t create a Facebook page if all you plan to say are things like, “Come to my show.” Or “Please like my band”. Rather, speak to what fits your brand. Social media for an artist should be a means by which you deepen your brand and your storytelling.

Lastly, don’t forget that you’re communicating in real time with your audience when you perform on stage. Make sure what you’re saying on stage is important, reflects your overall brand and enhances the audience experience.

Overall, there are two quotes that I love to help bring home this point. “Be brilliant and be brief. And if you can’t be brilliant, PLEASE be brief!”
Abraham Lincoln said about the Gettysburg address: (one of the shortest presidential addresses in history, by the way) “If I had more time, I’d have written a shorter speech.”

Like your song lyrics, communication with your audience through social media, on stage and otherwise, should be well crafted and meaningful.

Know your audience
Brands will regularly do focus groups and research to understand who their target market is. They want to know who is buying products in their category. How old they are. Where they congregate. How they share information. The more they understand who their potential consumer is, the more authentic they can be in connecting with (and selling products to) them.

You’ve identified your brand. You know who you are and how you plan to communicate.  But who will appreciate your art and drive an increase in fan base? Don’t just play gigs because you can. Don’t be a bluegrass band playing at the Viper Room. Don’t be blazing rock band playing a fancy hotel lobby. Brands know where their audience is and they make sure they get in front of them, sometimes at great expense, leading me to my next point:

Invest only in activities that can prove measurable success
Brands have marketing budgets and at the beginning of the year, they determine how to best spend money to generate the best ROI. (Return on investment) They create a mix of advertising including billboards, TV commercials, print ads, event marketing and promotional stunts. They analyze how effective each silo of activity is so that they can make informed decisions on how to invest their budgets each year. Your brand needs to do the same.

No budget? No excuse. With new opportunities out there like Kickstarter, the landscape has changed. Begin by laying out a plan. As they say, plan the work then work the plan. Raise funds and awareness but moreover, be wise about spending any money you do have.

In the world of brands, we focus on KPIs, which are the key performance indicators. In other words, set some guardrails from which to measure the results of what you choose to do. Did you actually gain exposure? How many CDs did you sell? How many signups to your email list did you get? (and please tell me your using modern technology to handle this-you have an iPad, use it!) How were merchandise sales? After every gig you play, take an inventory of these metrics and analyze whether it makes business sense to play there again. Whether the venture was effective or not, you’ll know it.

This overall strategy applies to more than just gigs you choose play. Another example is your recordings. Identify why you’re recording your music. Is it to use in your EPK? Are you planning on selling the music at shows? Online? Is it to form a band or perhaps an attempt to score a record or publishing deal? The answers to these questions will help identify what kind of investment you need to make into the venture from both time and financial standpoint. A good sounding record is always the goal, but the difference in quality for a record you intend to put out to the public and what you might use to convince a club owner you’re good enough to play live, can range widely. Loosely recorded song demos are enough to get you attention from a publishing house but they may not be polished enough to score you a major deal. Identify the goal of your recording endeavor, and invest appropriately. I hate seeing bands throw money into polished records when all they need are quick demos. Conversely, I REALLY hate buying a CD from a band I just fell in love with live that doesn’t do justice to the skill demonstrated in their performance.

Build you brand team
All brands, big and small have some consistency their structure:
  • CEO/Founder-The most senior officer in charge of overseeing all brand activities
  • Chief Marketing Officer-An officer in charge of developing and managing marketing strategies
  • Brand/Marketing team-An individual or group responsible for getting the brand and its products seen by consumers
  • Sales force-An individual or group responsible for selling the end product to consumers

Some of you are already saying: “These are the roles that my manager should be taking on, not me.”
Realize that you are the CEO and Founder of your brand. It’s ok if you feel like other people are more qualified to manage some of the above job descriptions, but don’t play the blame game. As an artist/CEO, everyone you bring on works FOR YOU! Guide them. Some artists bleed their brand without even being conscious of it. Others have to work a bit harder to define it. Whichever type of artist you are, know that ultimately, you’re responsible for what you become in your career.

When looking for help, find a manager who gets you and has connections that mean something. Remember that as much as managers will try to guide and direct you, it is you who is at the driver’s seat. If you’ve created a strong brand, it will be easy for your team to see it, understand it and ultimately sell it.

Final thoughts: 
There was a study done recently that highlighting that there may be physiological differences between people who consider themselves artists and those that don’t.  (Click here for more info)
I bring this to light because like it or not, we don’t all have the same natural abilities or characteristics (or even physiology) that make us “artists”. You know that painter friend of yours who just oozes artistry. From his style and look to the way he talks all the way down to his core. Some people simply are artists. But if you look closely, you’ll see that even though your painter friend is a natural, he is simply behaving like a brand without being conscious of it. That said, there is no harm in following the artist path and being smart about it. 
You're passionate, skilled, practiced, and have a strong desire to share your art with others. Just know that the harder you work, plan, strategize, and develop your art and your brand will ultimately put you in the best position to get “make it” in the music industry.

You can find me on LinkedIn here

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