Article : 10 Smart Ways to Get Started as an Independent Artist !
Updated: Dec 12, 2019
In this article we will help you with narrowing down between working hard and working smart by providing some intelligent tactics which can be applied to your strategy for career growth as an independent musician.
We know that independent artists, managers and labels often struggle with similar issues when trying to get their foot in the door of the music industry.
So below we will be providing some smart ways that you can demystify the process of getting into the music business and get started on the right foot.
1.Learn the trade inside and out.
People often think of music, particularly styles like rapping or singing (with autotune) and believe because the entry level is so low and that "clout" (notoriety) can do alot for a person with little talent; but there is a more complicated background which most people still sold on "the dream" of music success (as opposed to a practical, actual career in the music industry) simply overlook.
Whether that is by choice or not doesn't matter; what does matter is that "EVERY" popular artist you have ever loved has at some point testified to the fact that the key to their career has been consistency.
That consistency stretches round into the area of learning the ins and outs of your desired profession too.
2. Commit time to learning how to market your music
The era of "someone doing all the technical stuff for you" is all but dead, practically speaking would you really want someone else to learn all the valuable lessons you are 'meant to' learn on the road to success ?
Does it really sound wise to have an ambition with no viable model of how you are going to sustain it ?
Studio, music production, engineering services, videographer services and marketing services all cost time and money. Rather than donning the old victimised "struggling artist" hat and moving forward on blind faith treating anything that sounds 'business-like' with distrust and expecting your career to be brought to life by the supernatural.
Ask yourself; Wouldn't it be valuable and more ideal to figure out a model for how you are going sustain your self, career, family and ambitions ? You choose.
Consider your first 6-12 months of recording in the studio as your "research and development" phase, you should be experimenting and growing your sound and brand.
Whether exclusively in the studio or already engaging your plans is dependent on your strategy, but the key thing actually investing the energy and time into learning what works for you Vs what doesn't mesh well.
In marketing this practice is known as A-B testing. A-Grade is recommending your practice this on two layers of your music career. Firstly as an artist and creative in the studio having a feedback group of 3-5 people that can give you proper critiuque on your music before you release it will be gold for you in later days as you will gain multiple perspectives.
Being able to pick up on patterns in consumers will be invaluable to you for when deciding to create projects as well as picking which songs will be the strong candidates for release as singles.
The second layer of experimentation is a little more risky than the first but will prodice you invaluable results as long as you remain consistent in releasing music; we are advising that you release music and pay very close attention to the responses, feedback, type of audience, age groups, gender, locations and so foruth.
An extra gem;
Use Google Analytics, Soundcloud Analytics, Instagram Insights and Facebook Insights and any other data that you can access to start to figure out which sound is working most effectively for you that react to your music.
4. Find "your thing" / niche... narrow in on your talents
Our last point on experimenting leads us nicely to our next point. The purpose of experimenting is to discover your strengths and weaknesses and then to start moulding/creating something unique and better out of it.
Given this advice, we strongly advise that after your first 10-20 songs are made, you start to listen with detail and also get detailed feedback from as many people as possible.
Between your own personal opinion of what is good "to you" and what is actually working "for your audience" you will be able to narrow in and find a balanced, original sound which you can march forward with.
5. Research good recording studios and audio engineers
As much as making cool songs and getting feedback sounds great, now your getting your craft down to the T. It's worth considering the logistics of how you are creating your music from the technical side.
Does the quality of your music sit relatively close to your mainstream competitors ? No ?Then start considering what the issue is.
Forging good relationships with creatives (producers/engineers/instrumentalists) is going to be KEY in establishing a consistent sound and brand for yourself.
Quality is key. Consider this part of your process the "Packaging" stage of creating a brand. Would you trust to buy / listen to an artist if the quality levels fluctuate between pirate Radio and Drake depending on which studio you went to and most importantly; which engineer is present.
In order to establish a consistent standard of quality for yourself A-Grade strongly recommends that you do some market research in your own time. When we say Market Research, we mean the difference between someone saying "I've worked with -insert generic artist here" or taking pictures next to fancy equipment and actually taking a moment of time to take a detailed listen to their work to see whether or not it matches your direction.
Even then, this is not enough; we can say through experience 5/10 our engineering is heavily influenced by our clients preferences so how one song is mixed for one artist would not explicitly be the way to approach another artist doing a different style and genre.
Where most artists go wrong in this category is that they will actively bounce from studio to studio and fall in love with the process of being "romanced" by new studios each week/month.
This may be fun and almost an experience in itself but for working purposes; you may or may not get your desired results and risk blowing alot of money producing an inconsistent sound which will make it hard for listeners to get used to hearing you.
It's very much possible that two (skilled) engineers could make the same song sound like two different people/songs so having a mindful ear and eye for who is doing work that matches your standard and then investing in working with them will benefit you in profound ways.
Having 1-3 consistent and trusted studios and engineers you work with will help you shape an overall sound (also don't sleep on passing on ideas to engineers; some are more open to this than others but ultimately the right engineer for you should be able to adjust to fit your needs).
6. Research or find good producers and build relationships
As we have said about engineers; also reigns profoundly true about Producers. There are plenty of ways to skin a cat and since 2015, the game has changed significantly, it is becoming more and more common for artists to shop for instrumentals in places that were not even an avenue 10 years ago, from YouTube to Spotify playlists to Beatstars and many more; artists have now got more access to producers than was humanly possible in human history.
This is a good thing in one sense; and also extremely good for producers as it means an increased demand for people willing to purchase music upfront. Many do not understand the changing landscape of the industry; and while we are by no means all knowing oracle's of industry knowledge.
We have taken time to actively learn and gain knowledge with the intent of passing this knowledge on to the many independent artists we have worked with so they may best execute and succeed in ther individual goals.
In this case what we are alerting artists to so you may all be prepared; is the fact that the landscape to music is changing Infront of us presently, as YouTube, Spotify and other streaming platforms continue to roll out new technology and algorithms to protect and monetise copywritten content for themselves and creatives.
It can be anticipated that simply going on YouTube and "lifting" beats via YouTube converter websites will soon no longer be a viable route for independent artists, even simply for non-profit promotional content it is very likely that matters are only going to get more complicated.
So moving forward, getting into the "nostalgic" mentality of narrowing in on 3-5 'MAIN' producers you will use to build your sound would be a wise long-term investment. Whether it's in real life or over the internet, forging positive relationships with creatives that are matching your work ethic and sound will only serve you.
7. Research 3-5 strong videographers who are consistent in quality.
By now you must be noticing a pattern here. Consistency with a degree of variation is the formula which is bein taught here. We have worked with a healthy variety of artists and witnessed / been a part of the creative process for many of them.
The pattern we have noticed is that it is not necessarily "uncommon" for artists to come across the "golden combination" of working with a great producer, engineer or videographer. But what happens to the artist when for example your "great and one and only video guy" suddenly has to travel, or takes on a 6 month contract, or any other unforseen circumstance ?
They struggle is what happens. They have been reliant on one person consistently which as we've previously said; is great when you have it. But what when you don't ? Or things suddenly change ?. Far too often we have witnessed great relationships go down hill after ideas begin to differ about how one should work.
It's very easy to get entitled and assume this person "should be" there for you always; but realistically, you may still have their 100% loyalty yet they have greater commitments to prioritise; e.g a family to feed or rent to pay or a contract to fulfil.
Having 2-3 healthy and CERTIFIED options for visuals will be priceless in the long run because you will now have a much more full proof formula for consistent quality than the artist just reliant on that single "golden combination".
It's not about loyalty or leaving anybody behind; it's about growth. In theory, if you grow eveeyobody around you should grow right ? Then worry not !
8. Create a TO-DO list and make it your bible.
Create a Todo list with a budget attached so you have a realistic picture of what needs to be done to achieve your desired outcome.
We always highlight the importance of having a plan for your budget, but still we know it's the single thing that people do not factor in and around practicality within their own lives; particularly artists without a team or management.
This is a matter of fault but in the same breath we know it is completely natural to overestimate just how much we can get done in a day/week/month and under-estimate the long-term.
This is where budgeting kicks in and saves all of us, Knowing how to budget and plan effectively will be another make or break factor in the background of how effective you are in reaching your audience.
In the long-run we have seen that the artist that plans £1 a day in a structured format for 6 months will outperform the artist that spends £2000 in a week.
Naturally this is not always true and it will be relative to the content and campaign strategy, yet it is has become increasingly apparent that the best way an artist can convert listeners into fans/consumers is over a sustained period of time.
So naturally it makes sense that actually planning your budget, whether your budget is £500'000, £5000, £500 or £50. Planning, being tactful (and now the internet permits; mathematical) on how your money is being allocated.
9. Create a online content strategy.
Similar and in many ways overlapping with your marketing strategy as a whole. This is a little more specific; planning your content.
A-Grade strongly recommends that because youay not have a big budget or team behind you, the way that you can best keep up a consistent presence and remain "active" for your new fans/listeners is by creating a planned "backlog" of content.
At A-Grade we have consulted with a variety of artists about how to approach creating online content and have found for artists that are seeking to broaden their range online, having a committed folder of dedicated promotional content about themselves serves as an extremely wise way of generating awareness without facing the usual and all to familiar "burnout" that artists face regularly when faced with so many responsibility as an independent artist.
Many people assume making music is just about "being good at making music" and that may be partially true, but this is one of the key things that is overlooked yet it's a necessary part of being a "career artist" (an artist that earns their living and long-term income through music).
Consider that every time you post either a post or a story or video online you are exposing yourself to doing that; having a backlog of content to establish your brand will only help you.
We strongly advise dividing your content by its purpose and creating subfolders so you can balance between when your raising general awareness and when your actually promoting.
There is an art to promoting and not coming across as spam, this particular element (content strategy) is key to being able to execute this without having to burn much energy daily overthinking what you are gonna post/create.
Now you can focus on making the music and getting it to the right audience !
10. Set a release date structure
Of all things we can promise; it is that setting a structure for promotion leading up to your release date is actually the "Holy Grail" of established record labels (alongside a budget to execute).
Few outsiders notice that most of their favourite artists only ever appear regularly in the public eye when they have a set a release structure.
What is actually taking place is that in the build up to releasing a piece of work, successfully creating "momentum" is a make or break factor in successfully engaging an audience or making something "go viral".
The momentum factor admittedly works better when you already have an existing audience, but even if you are independently releasing music, it would be seriously wise to not under-estimate the power of this structure, anticipation is one the best ways of actually generating interest.
It just requires you to be creative about how you are going to structure the weeks/months leading up to your release date. We hope these tips will prove uniquely helpful for independent artists as well as Record Labels, Indie Labels and Managers seeking to get a new artist off the ground the right way.
Continuously making improvements to how we execute is the sure way we can increase our odds at success so we are sharing what wisdom we have picked up on over the years working with various artists in the music industry and having the pleasure of watching artists develop from ground zero.
Thank you for reading; we hope it helps.