|TEN TIPS FOR NEW ARTISTS FROM CMU:DIY
We run lots of workshops for new bands explaining how the music industry works – what a label actually does, what music publishing is, where the ‘sync’ word comes in and how the music media operate. And despite all you might have read about the death of the record label, and how old school media aren’t important in the social age, the question every new band asks is this: how can I get my music in front of decision makers in the music industry and music media – A&Rs, agents, managers, bookers, DJs, journalists and heads of music?
Well, there are a number of ways to do that, though whatever approach you take, you’ll need both persistence and luck. But there are a number of things you should be doing right now, before you even look up the name of the A&R scout at RCA or XL, or start stalking your booking agent of choice on Twitter, or leaving jiffy bags of goodies and music for George at Radio 1’s HQ just off Regent Street.
Some of these things might seem pretty obvious, but you’d be amazed how many new bands arrive in the inboxes of label execs and music journalists without these basics done. Which means that if you do all these things, you’ll have a head start once you finally get five minutes with an all important dream maker. So, here goes…
1. Write some good songs and get really good at playing them. Lots of guides for new bands don’t mention this, presumably because it’s a given, though when you listen to some of the music new bands post on SoundCloud and YouTube, possibly not! Obviously most of the truly great artists in history achieved their greatness by breaking all the rules. But more people achieved success by following some.
Be honest with yourself about your songwriting; try collaborating with and learning from other songwriters and producers; and try to find some trusted knowledgeable friends who will give you truthful feedback. And play as often you can, because that’s how you get good. If possible, play in front of an audience, and try to get as much feedback as possible.
2. Get a good name and register your domains. It’s a nightmare choosing a band name these days, because there are so many bands out there, and nearly every decent domain name has gone. Plus you have to consider how well your chosen moniker will ‘Google’ (The The and A would not be viable band names in the internet age).
Also, all bands are global these days, so if you pick the same name as a hip hop outfit in Melbourne, that will become problematic much more quickly. But unless you’re a singer-songwriter planning on using the name your parents gave you, you’re going to need to pick a title to perform under. Make sure you do a good Google search of any possible names, to check they are not already in use.
And do think about what domain name you will register for your website. It doesn’t have to be identical to your band name, but shouldn’t be too different. As soon as you’ve decided on a domain name, register it (it’s easy to do via a service like 123 Reg or GoDaddy and only costs £10-20). And try to get the same words as ‘slash names’ on key social media (eg if your band is called ‘Sign Us’, and your domain is www.signusmusic.com, then try and register facebook.com/signusmusic and twitter.com/signusmusic). And that brings us to this…
3. Set up at least a Facebook and Twitter account and use them. Social networking is compulsory for new bands these days – if only because agents, bookers and labels are going to want to know how many Facebook and Twitter followers you have before working with you.
So get these set up asap and work out what kind of things you are going to post to each, and when. And also, if you’re a band, who’s going to take responsibility for keeping these things up to date. You’ll find ten tips on setting up your Facebook Timeline from CMU’s Sam Taylor here, and we’ve got some advice from CMU’s Andy Malt on scheduling Facebook updates and tweets.
4. Write an agreement between bandmates. If you’re in a band, you ought to have a serious conversation at some point early on where you discuss at least three things: who is going to take on responsibility for the various aspects of band business, who is going to look after any money, and who owns any intellectual property.
Bands often create two kinds of IP – copyright and trademarks. I explain the difference in this short article here. There are actually a number of different kinds of copyright which I explain in this article here. And if you’re now in the mood for more IP stuff, you can find out a little more about who owns copyright here and how copyrights make money here.
But the important thing to know is this: the minute you write a song with lyrics two copyrights exist, one in the music, one in the words. By default they are owned by the composer and writer. If you record that song a third separate copyright exists in the sound recording. By default that is owned by whoever pays for the sound recording to be made.
If your songwriting and recording sessions are a collaborative affair, you should really reach an agreement about who will own any copyrights, so there are no ambiguities if and when those copyrights are worth money.
Any agreements should be written down. You don’t need a big long contract drawn up by a lawyer, a simple document that outlines what was agreed signed by all members will suffice at stage one.
5. Join PRS and PPL and register your music. The minute you create copyrights, if anyone else wants to copy or perform your work they owe you some money. That means if your song gets played on the radio, then you are due some cash. If someone else records a version of one of your songs, then you are due some more cash. And if you sing your own songs at a gig or festival, then the promoter of that event or owner of that venue owes you money as well (in addition to any performance fee they might have agreed with you). It might only be a few pounds, it might be quite a bit more, but you want to make sure you get it all.
In most cases, when your songs or recordings are played in public, royalties are paid via the so called ‘collecting societies’ – the Performing Right Society for royalties due on your song copyrights (music and lyrics) and Phonographic Performance Limited for your recording copyrights. If you don’t register with these organisations you won’t get paid – so join, and make sure you register all your songs and recordings with the relevant body. For song rights, it’s worth checking out services like Sentric Music, which simplify the whole process a bit.
6. Gig relentlessly. Firstly, because this is how you’ll get better at playing. And secondly because this is how you build a fanbase. Social media is great once you have a couple of hundred fans – you can communicate with those fans daily, and encourage them to spread the word via their own social networks. But you are unlikely to get that initial fanbase online. So play live regularly, trying to move beyond just your local gig venue (gigging relentlessly in one place can backfire, because people might get bored of seeing you).
Initially this will probably involve looking for open mic nights, offering to play at cafes and bars for free, and/or staging your own gig night. But once you get a bit of momentum, look out for club nights with gig slots, apply to festivals that have new band stages, and network with other artists and bands who may know of other opportunities.
Despite what you read about live music being where the money is these days, you will almost certainly lose money gigging at this stage (though once you’ve joined PRS, if you are singing your own songs you’ll get a little cash that way).
At this point gigging is all about building your profile and fanbase. Make sure your band name and web address is visible on stage, plug your web address at least twice during your set, and have someone taking email addresses in the crowd. Make sure there’s an incentive for giving an email address – eg “give us your email, and we’ll send you a link to where you can download that song for free”. Which brings us to this…
7. Record an EP. Once you are gigging frequently you really need to get a few tracks online, so that if people hear you at a gig, they can go home and find out more, and then spread the word.
A four track EP is fine at the start – having four tracks really well recorded is so much more better than having ten badly made ones. These days decent recordings can be made at home if you have some technical know-how, so you don’t need to spend thousands on studio time.
That said, it is worth getting these right, and if you’re not a budding bedroom producer it is worth speaking to slightly more established DIY artists and find out how they did it.
8. Make sure your music is available everywhere once it’s recorded. I’d make it available to stream on both SoundCloud and YouTube (if you don’t have videos, put it on YouTube with a picture of the band). You can let people download your music for free if you want, but personally I’d let them stream everything for free via those websites, and offer one track for free download in return for an email address, but sell the rest. You probably won’t sell many, and of course people can always share copies with their friends for free, but it’s good to set yourself up as an artist who sells music early on.
Services like Bandcamp and Reverbnation will help you sell your music direct from your own webpage, and there are other companies – including Ditto Music, Tunecore and Believe Digital’s Zimbalam – who will help you get your music into established download stores and streaming platforms. If you are gigging, it is worth considering pressing up a few CDs to sell on the road – again, tapping slightly more established DIY artists for advice on pressing CDs or records is a good way to go.
9. Set up a website and mailing list. You will probably sign up more of your fans to Twitter and Facebook, and talk to them primarily via those platforms, and share your music via SoundCloud and YouTube, but having your own artist website is still important.
Blogging software like WordPress can be used to create really good sites. On there you should have at least a way of signing up to your mailing list, links to social media activity, a SoundCloud player embedded, and all your contact info. Bandcamp and Reverbnation can provide lots of other widgets too – and if you have the time and skills, it’s good to have other content on there as well, though make sure it’s still easy for people to find the basics.
10. And finally, have a great story and some great photos. Once you have done all this, you are ready to engage with the music industry and music media. But before you do – remember, hundreds of new bands are contacting A&Rs and music journalists every day. Your music might stand out, but most people won’t get as far as even listening to it from a ‘cold call’ email. Everyone loves great stories, what’s yours? How did you start making music, how did you get to where you are now, what have you already achieved, and what drives your passion for creating and performing songs?
Don’t over-sell – because chances are you’re not the next Beatles / Pink Floyd / Nirvana / Radiohead (sorry!) – but show that you have personality and drive. And work out how to communicate all that in just a few sentences! Great pictures come in here too – it’s so worth spending a little time (and possibly a little money) getting some great photos, some posed, some of you playing live. Sharing on the social networks is getting more visual by the day, and great imagery can make an impact with the decision makers you are trying to reach too.
There’s some more tips on how new bands should go about approaching the music press here, and an overview of the music media in 2013 here. Plus we’ve got some tips for writing press releases here and advice on band photos here.
AND THERE YOU GO – ten things to do before you even ask the question how do I get signed / onto BBC Introducing / into NME Radar. And if you do now want to look further ahead, this article explains how artists and their business partners can make money, an important thing to think about before you start planning your involvement with the music industry.
Last updated: October 2013