Fan-Sponsored Music: Two Perspectives
July 9, 2008
Fan-sponsored music sounds like a great concept, doesn’t it? Thanks to sites like SellaBand and SliceThePie, fans have the opportunity to invest in a band or solo artist, financing the artist’s album (for a cut of the profits – they can even buy and sell their “shares” in a sort of stock market environment). The artist doesn’t have to give up rights to their work or deal with a label calling the shots. Sound like heaven?
I’m not knocking fan-sponsored music. I think it’s a fascinating evolution in the music industry, and imagine the concept’s going to continue to grow rather than disappear in the foreseeable future. But is a fan-sponsored album right for you? Read more
Let Your Old Music Make Money for You
January 7, 2008
Most indie bands would love to be able to add a passive revenue stream to their work. Why not do that with your old music? As a fan of indie music, I occasionally get frustrated when I come across an accomplished indie band, and I can’t find anything but their current material available. I always try to get a feel for the band’s roots, and how they’ve developed. You can make it easier on your fans by keeping your old work available, and can bring some extra money into the band by keeping old CDs for sale. It’s a win-win situation really. But the cost of continuing to mass-produce your own CDs would make it unrealistic for most bands. The solution? POD (print-on-demand) publishers like Lulu.com and CafePress.com, who create your CDs only when an order is made, provide an online store, process the orders for you, and ship the CDs. My favorite is Lulu.com, so here’s how they work:
First of all, let me say that while I’d recommend Lulu.com as a way to archive and continue selling your older CDs, it’s probably not the best option for your latest work. Here are the cons:
- CD printing is affixed with a label, not printed directly on the CD.
- I’m making the assumption (didn’t get an answer when I asked) that the CDs are burned, since they’re made on a short-run basis.
- Lulu.com currently doesn’t offer UPCs for the CDs.
Now that we’ve got that out of the way, here are some of the benefits of using Lulu.com:
- You just upload your files and artwork once, and you don’t have to do any more work.
- CD prices start at $5.50. You just set your price above that, and collect the difference. (If you sell the CD online for $8, you receive $2.50 for each sale). Packaging, shipping, customer service, orders and payment processing are all included in the base price.
- Your old music can continue to work for you, and your fans will have access to more of your music.
- You can make a few tracks free downloads (if you give them away for free, Lulu will host them free for you), so fans can preview the CD before buying it.
- If you’d like to be able to sell your music, but don’t want to sell the old CDs, you can set prices on each track for download. Just upload them to Lulu.com, and they keep a small portion of the download rate that you set.
- You also have the option of selling DVDs through their print-on-demand service, so you can add yet another passive revenue stream by selling videos of your live performances, or music videos.
For more information about selling your CDs through Lulu.com, read their CD & DVD FAQ.
Tax and Legal Issues for Musicians
January 7, 2008
Here are a few sample tax and legal issues that indie bands in the US will have to worry about, and where you can find more information:
Taxes - If you make any money at all from your music (payments for gigs, CD sales, merch sales, etc.), you’re required to report the income to the IRS, no matter how small it is. Remember, you can deduct some of your expenses to lower the amount of tax you’ll be required to pay (such as for your equipment, CD manufacturing, travel, and more). Read our past articles on Self-Employment Tax for Musicians and Tax Deductions for Musicians for more information about taxes.
Copyrights - When you write or record a song, it’s automatically copyrighted (as long as it’s written down or recorded – just playing it in a practice session doesn’t afford you any protection). While your common law copyright may be enough, you may want to consider registering your copyrights with the US Copyright Office, as added protection if someone accuses you of stealing their work, or if you find someone has stolen yours.
Trademarking Your Band Name - Do you have to trademark your band name? No. Should you? Maybe. Just like with a copyright, there is also a common law trademark. The difference is that you have the common law trademark once you use the name for the purposes of business, or you announce publicly (and can prove it) that you intend to use the name for business. So, once you accept money under your band name, you’re granted a common law trademark.
Here’s the catch: If someone else already was doing business under that name, and operating in your area in some way (and selling online can make this a gray area, especially if there’s any room for confusion between the two bands), you don’t have any trademark rights. You could even pay the fees to register the trademark, but if it’s proven that someone else was using it first, your registered trademark will be worthless. And since you didn’t do the research ahead of time, don’t think you’ll get your registration fees back (and registrations, plus legal advice and research will often go for as much as $1000).
So, what’s your best bet? Make sure you have a completely unique name. Search sites like Purevolume and MySpace, and see if other artists are using your name. Find out who was using the name first. If it was you, you have the right to trademark it and protect it (to maintain your trademark you’re required to actively defend it … meaning you’ll need to send cease and desist notices to other bands using the name … or you can lose your trademark rights – in other words, you can’t wait around for a competitor you know about to make it big, hoping to sue them for a lot of money. You have to defend it when you discover the infringement.) If you weren’t the first band using the name, you’ll need to change your band name, including on any CDs, merch, and promotional materials. If you don’t, you run the risk of being sued by the rightful trademark holder. For more information about registering a trademark, visit the site of the US Patent and Trademark Office.
For more tax and legal issues that affect indie bands and musicians, read Music Law: How To Run Your Band’s Business by Richard Stim.
Tax Deductions for Musicians
January 7, 2008
In this week’s article, I’d like to continue discussing taxes as they apply to indie musicians. Last week I talked about the US self-employment tax. This week, it’s tax deductions. You should review the following list of possible tax deductions for musicians (in the US), and decide if itemizing your deductions and including them will save you more money than simply using your standard deduction. This list is not comprehensive, but it will get you thinking along the right track. The following expenses may be deductible for artists who treat their music as a business:
1. Instruments / supplies / mics / amps / etc.
2. Recording equipment
3. Studio rental fees
4. CD production costs
5. Travel expenses for getting to your gigs
6. Your van / bus / etc., and related expenses, if you tour
7. Hotel rooms if you tour
8. 1/2 of your meal expenses while on tour
9. Fees paid to your manager / publicist / booking agent / lawyer / etc.
10. Promotional expenses (flyers, business cards, merch you give away, etc.)11. Rental fees for equipment you didn’t buy
12. Parking / tolls / and other travel expenses for shows
13. Gifts to industry professionals (up to $25 is deductible)
14. Music business books / directories (or other books / software you need to manage your band’s business)
15. Copyright and trademark fees (for your songs and band name) if they’re registered
Remember that in order to deduct the items listed here, you need to file an itemized tax deduction, and you will need to operate your band as a business. If the IRS later rules that your music is a hobby, rather than a business, you may end up owing back taxes and penalties. You can avoid this by registering your band with your state as a business, filing a dba form (“doing business as”) with your state – there may be a fee for this, and operating in a professional manner (keeping contracts, receipts, a business plan, and full financial records just to get you started).
You also need to remember that in the US, you need to report all of your income, and that includes everything you make as an indie musician. If you have to pay your taxes on the income, you might as well take the deductions allowed to you for the expenses involved.
As with any tax matter, your best bet is to consult with a tax professional before filing. And guess what; the fees you may them would also be deductible!
The Self-Employment Tax for Musicians
January 7, 2008
If you’ve read any of the past music industry articles on The Indie Files, you’ve likely heard me say time and time again that if you’re trying to make money as an indie musician or band, you’re most likely legally in business (whether you intend to be or not). Being in business has its benefits (like bigger tax deductions for your equipment and other expenses), but it also has its responsibilities. One such responsibility is the self-employment tax, if you’re a US artist. Seeing as tax time is right around the corner, here’s what the self-employment tax can mean for you:
What is the Self-Employment Tax?
It is a US federal tax, collected by the IRS. It is a social security and medicare tax, payable by freelancers, independent contractors, and some business owners. (In this case, you would classify as a freelance musician.) When you work as someone’s employee, these taxes are generally paid half by you (withheld from each paycheck) and half by your employer. When you’re self-employed, you serve as both the employee and the employer, so you pay the whole tax yourself.
How much is the Self-Employment Tax?
According to the IRS web site (www.irs.gov) the current self-employment tax rate (as of September 2005) is 15.3%, with 12.4% going to Social Security and 2.9% going to Medicare.
How do you know if you have to pay the Self-Employment Tax?
You owe self-employment tax if you make more than $400 from self-employment activities during the year, even if you only complete those activities part-time while holding a regular full-time job. (So even if you work a “real job,” if you make over $400 from your music – selling CDs, live shows, etc. – you owe the tax.)The tax must be paid throughout the year, as you’re earning your income, just like employees who have to make contributions from each paycheck. You have to make what are called “estimated tax payments” throughout the year if you expect to owe $1000 or more in taxes, by using schedule SE. You can’t just wait until you file for your tax return at the end of the year. There are some exceptions, as with most tax rules, so be sure to check the IRS site for more information about how the Self-Employment Tax might apply to you.
Is Your Music a Business or a Hobby?
January 7, 2008
When you work as a solo musician, or in a band, and you’re trying to make money, you’re essentially working as a freelancer. So, is that freelance work (your music) a business or a hobby in the eyes of the IRS? Either way, your income is still supposed to be reported to the IRS, but having your music classified as a freelance business rather than a hobby can have tax benefit, like greater deductions for equipment and travel expenses.
It can be in your best interest to consider yourself a freelancer, and deduct your expenses. However, if you keep reporting a business loss year after year, the IRS may decide to step in and classify your music as a hobby, which means you’ll be able to deduct far less, and may have to pay back-taxes for money you previously deducted. Although this isn’t “official,” it’s commonly understood that the IRS expects you to make a profit during 3 out of every 5 years. But, if you’re not, don’t worry! Other factors come into play too. If they try to classify your music as a hobby, you’ll have to defend your business classification. That doesn’t have to be difficult. According to the IRS, here are some things that are considered:
1. You carry on your freelance work in a business-like manner. (In other words, you’re not getting drunk at your shows, you honor your commitments, you keep track of your finances, and you sign and keep performance contracts.)
2. The time and effort you put into your freelance work indicate you intend to make it profitable. (If you’re spending significant time writing new material, recording, and performing regularly, you may be able to prove that you’re making a sincere effort to be profitable.)
3. You depend on income from your freelance work for your livelihood. (This won’t apply to the majority of independent musicians, but some are earning enough to at least equal income from a part-time job. If the money’s essential to you, or if your music is your full-time work, just keep track of the finances to be able to prove it.)
4. Your losses are due to circumstances beyond your control (or are normal in the start-up phase of your type of freelance work). (Few independent musicians are profitable early on, so your music could reasonably be considered a business with a normally slow start-up phase.)
5. You change your methods of operation in an attempt to improve profitability. (This means if you see something’s causing you to lose money, you change it. That could mean cutting back on free or low-paying gigs in favor of fewer but higher paying ones. It could also mean that you switch from renting studio time, to buying your own equipment, or vice versa. Instead of sticking to local venues, maybe you’d start touring. The possibilities are pretty much endless.)
6. You, or your advisors, have the knowledge needed to carry on your freelance work (music in your case) as a successful business. (If you’re hiring a manager, publicist, or someone else with specific expertise in an effort to become successful, you’ll satisfy this requirement.)
7. You were successful in making a profit in similar freelance work in the past. (That means that maybe you were in a profitable band in the past, so you know the work involved.)
8. Your freelance work makes a profit in some years and the amount of profit it makes. (If your music has ever made a profit, it’s in your favor. They’ll also look at how much profit you made in the past, if any.)
9. You can expect to make a future profit from the appreciation of the assets used in your freelance work. (Maybe you invested in recording equipment and you can rent that out to other artists.)
No single factor listed above will guarantee that your music will be deemed a business instead of a hobby, and you don’t need to satisfy every one of them. Instead, the circumstances surrounding your freelance work are considered collectively. Here are a few things you can do to be sure that you can make a case for your music being a business, if you ever have to:
- Write a detailed business plan for your band, and update it regularly. Be sure to include financial information and projections stating when you expect your music to turn a profit, or how you intend to solve problems from the past that led to losses.
- Keep an organized office space for your admin and financial records, and a separate practice space, completely separate from your typical home life. You can even keep a photograph of your office space available, just in case your business intentions are ever questioned.
- Keep excellent records! Have receipts, invoices, and all of your books available the moment someone questions your business intentions as a musician.
- Continue your education. By taking classes, or other forms of continued training, you’re demonstrating that you’re trying to maintain your expertise and stay competitive in your field of freelance work. Take an online music course, take some basic business courses, invest in music law and music business books. Prove you’re trying to learn and develop as a business person.
- Advertise! If you can prove that you’ve actively been marketing and advertising your music, you’ll stand a better chance of proving that your music is really a business and not a hobby. Buy some cheap online ad space to push your new album. Up your promotion efforts in any way, keep records of everything you do, and keep records of your results.
The basic idea is to gather and maintain enough evidence that you’re making a good faith effort to earn profits over time with your music. If you take the necessary steps early on, if your business status ever does get challenged, you’ll be prepared. Start reaping the benefits of classifying your music as freelance work, and do it smartly by following the steps I’ve outlined here for you.
7 Simple Things to Set Your Band Apart
January 7, 2008
Follow these 7 simple steps to set your band apart from all of the other indie acts around:
1. Pass out business cards. – Get band business cards printed professionally, NOT the print-at-home variety! Make them colorful, eye-catching, and include important information, like a contact name and phone number, the band’s name, logo and preferably location, an e-mail address, and your URL. Pass them out to everyone that can help spread the word, such as fans, club owners, members of the media, employees at your local music shop, or anywhere else you’d like to get your name out.
2. Make your web site interactive. – It’s not enough for your band to have a web site. You need to give people a reason to keep coming back. Stream your own mp3s, share video clips, keep an updated tour or show journal, run your own forum, run your own store, have street team sign-ups, have your EPK on your own site, and have contests or give-aways. Don’t outsource all of your interactive features to places like Purevolume, MySpace, LiveJournal, online CD retailers or outside forums and message boards. Those things are all fine if you’re using them as supplements. You should never have anything on one of them if it’s not also directly on your site!!! Far too many bands make this mistake. You’ll see a lot of indie labels using these services, but you’ll find more on their own sites generally. Use these things as a way to lead people to your virtual front door, don’t use them exclusively where you have to tell people to leave your site to find what they want! That’s nothing but unprofessional, and it can represent a lousy image to the people you’re most trying to impress.
3. Develop your stage presence. – Most bands I see perform live are one of two things when it comes to being on stage: 1. They’re uncomfortable. or 2. They’re cocky. You can’t afford to be either if you really want to set your band apart. You need to talk to your fans, which most bands get. What they don’t get is that they’re “performing.” It’s not so much about what you say, but how you say it. You have to make people listen to you. You have to make them care. You have to wow them, and make them think you’re the greatest band on Earth, even if it’s just until the next band gets on stage. If you’re not leaving your fans feeling anything about you, you’re not doing your job. Take an acting class if you have to. Just learn how to get comfortable working the crowd. Just being yourself is usually not enough. Everyone does that. Watch some of the greatest performers in history. Forget all the new cookie-cutter BS you hear on the radio. Look back a few decades to the “real” performers like Sinatra, Armstrong, Elvis … just to name a few. Why do you think people still love them after all this time?
4. Answer every email. – I don’t care if you’re playing shows in your friend’s basement or if you’ve just signed to a major label. You need to be accessible to your fans. No, not your manager. Not your booking agent. YOU! I don’t care if you’re in the middle of a huge tour. You would be nowhere without your fans, and at the end of the day, you owe them something … respect. If a fan emails you, answer it! I don’t care if they ask you the dumbest question in the world, that’s answered 50 times on your web site. Answer them! And do it within a few days. Set aside at least 20-30 minutes a day to interact with fans either via email, your blogs, or your site’s forum. You don’t have the the time? Guess what. I don’t care! Make it!
5. Spend one-on-one time with your fans. – This goes hand in hand with what I said above. When you’re at a show, don’t hide backstage somewhere. When you’re not performing, mingle with fans. Sell your merch yourself. Get out there and enjoy the other acts with them. Don’t ever snub your fans. You never know when someone “important” is going to be around. You wouldn’t want to accidentally turn your back on that A&R rep, now would you? If someone’s at a show scouting you, they want to see how you handle your performance, how you handle your fans, and how you handle your business. Always act like you’re trying to impress someone, and you’ll never let anyone down.
6. Don’t make contacts, build relationships. – So you just met the hottest DJ on the NYC airwaves? Woohoo! Guess what. They’ve met hundreds of bands. Are they going to remember you? Probably not. Just making a contact is never enough. When you meet someone in the industry, whether they helped you out at the time or not, send a quick thank you note or personal invitation to your next big show. Do something to keep your name on their minds. They might not be able to help you now, but you’ll want them to think of you if something eventually does come up.
7. Embrace a true DIY attitude. – Learn to do things for yourself, and learn to do them well. You really don’t need to hire a manager as an indie band. Every member should know how to run every aspect of the band’s business. Even if you do go the manager route, every member should still know! They also need to take an active role. Music is only 50% of the equation. Making yourself marketing, handling finances, and dealing with administrative tasks is the other 50%. Get used to it. Learn to love it. A label loves a band that can already take care of themselves. While it’s OK to outsource certain one-time projects, like getting help to promote a major event, you rarely need to have anyone on your side full-time. By showing that you can handle being an outstanding DIY artist, you’re also showing that you can handle the music business, and professionals and fans alike will respect you more for it
Five Places to Sell Your Music Online
January 7, 2008
Consider these 5 places when deciding where to sell your music online:
Your Band’s Website
There’s no better place to sell your music than on your own web site, simply because you’ll have a higher profit margin and keep traffic on your site longer.
CDBaby is one of the most popular methods for indie artists to release their work to the public. The site offers CD sales or digital releases. Basically, you pay them a one-time set up fee to get your CD for sale on their site, and they keep a small portion of the CD sales. The profit is paid out to you on a weekly basis, depending on what payment level you choose to have check sent. Sign up here to sell your CD. CDBaby’s digital distribution has no set-up fees, and you’re paid 91% of the download sales. They distribute your music through iTunes, Rhapsody, Napster, MSN Music, MP3tunes, AOL’s MusicNet, Yahoo MusicMatch and more. Sign up here to sell your digital downloads.
Apple’s iTunes is a fiercely strong resource for independent artists looking to sell their music digitally. If you don’t sign up for iTunes through larger distributors, such as CDBaby, sign up for them independently by filling out their online application.
Lulu.com is an awesome site that gives you a free storefront and allows you to sell CDs or digital downloads at no upfront cost to you. Lulu.com is a print-on-demand publisher, meaning you don’t have to send them any CDs, and you don’t pay for production up-front. You just provide them with the audio files, CD art and cover art. When someone places an order online for the CD they print one copy and send it out. They keep the production cost and a small % of the markup, and you set your own profits. There are two drawbacks: 1. The site primarily focuses on POD book publishing, so not many people are there looking to buy CDs, and 2. Discs are burned, not pressed. While it may not be your top choice for a new release, keep this site in mind for distributing older releases. You can keep your music available indefinitely with no further cost to you. And if you decide to offer your downloads for free, the site will host them for you, and they won’t charge you a dime. Find out more about selling CDs with Lulu.com.
Amazon.com is another great resource for selling your indie music online. You can use the site to sell CDs or digital downloads. The only drawback is that the site’s viewers aren’t really a targeted audience, so if they’re not specifically looking for your music, they’re not as likely to find it. Sign up for Amazon.com Advantage to start selling your music.
Unlikely Resources for Musicians
January 7, 2008
Most musicians are aware of the best web sites, magazines and other traditional resources for musicians. But there’s a lot more out there! Here are some worthwhile resources you may not know about:
Media Directories – Media Directories are used by PR and Marketing professionals on a regular basis, but many bands don’t even know they exist! By using them, you can find information about almost any media outlet, including music magazines and radio stations (even college stations), who the major staff members are, and what the circulation or wattage is for the outlet. Directories can get very expensive, but you’ve got options. Some offer their directories online, and you can even test out free trials, such as with Burrelles (www.burrellesluce.com). Some libraries offer free access to the Gale’s Broadcast and Publications Directory through www.galenet.com, or offer print versions of one of the directories in the library. Check with yours to see if you have access!
Lulu.com – Lulu.com is known by most self-publishing authors for their print-on-demand services that are second to none in the business. However, what’s less known is the fact that you can also sell your CDs or even downloadable MP3s through the site. They’re also produced on-demand, only when someone orders it through the site. You’re even given a free storefront. It’s a great option for musicians just starting out who can’t afford a large upfront purchase of CDs, and better yet, it’s a great way to offer some of your older albums. You can keep them available without the added cost of keeping them stocked. When you sell on the site, the company keeps a small percentage of the sale (you completely control the mark-up you want for your profit), but if you choose to offer any downloadable work for free, it’s completely free for you too, and the company keeps nothing. Definitely worth a look! www.lulu.com.
CafePress.com – CafePress is probably one of the better-known resources on this list, but I wanted to include them anyway. It might be a little pricey for your fans if you run everything through them, but the site offers a great way to put together a more diverse set of merch. Even if you sell your own tees and stickers, check out some of the other stuff the site has to offer. They’re even testing out a new direct-to-fabric print method now, and should soon be off of the heat transfers completely. (EDIT: CafePress will even soon be offering black and other colored tees!) Have a look. www.cafepress.com.
NPR – When musicians are preparing a radio campaign, they tend to only think about the commercial and college stations that are directly related to their genre. However, if there’s even anything truly unique about your sound, it could be worth sending a press kit over to your NPR station (National Public Radio), especially if there’s something going on that would make you particularly newsworthy. NPR doesn’t just play an artist, they actually feature them. They often run on-air interviews, live sets, and really give the artist a chance to get heard. And you’d be surprised how diverse the audience is! Find your local NPR station at www.npr.org.
NOLO Press – As a musician, you may not think of legal books as one of your best resources, but NOLO Press has released the best series out there. In addition to “Music Law: Running Your Band’s Business” they’ve released books covering legal topics ranging from working for yourself (which you are when you’re a musician) to starting your own business (which you technically do when you become a musician) to tax deductions (which you’ll definitely want, as a musician). Check out some of their titles and pick one or two up from your library! (www.nolo.com)
Ten Steps to Quitting Your Day Job
January 7, 2008
It’s every musician’s dream to be able to quit working 9 to 5, quit answering to someone else, and to finally make some “real” money with their music. Most of these musicians tend to think of themselves as artists first and professionals second. With that mentality, it’s no wonder most never make it in the music business – key word being “business.”
Before you can start out on your own, you need to know what you’re getting into. Musicians could well take a lesson from writers, designers, and other professionals that have been working in freelance-friendly fields, since you will in fact be a freelancer. For starters, they’re rarely looking to sign their lives away like musicians are with a major label. Instead, most freelancers work directly with clients on a per project basis, in your case the venues you play for, and writers sell their work one piece at a time, and never lose their rights to it. Before you think the only way you’ll make money in music is to get “discovered” by a label, follow these 10 steps to help you get on your way to making a living as an independent musician.
Do Your Research – Take time to really understand the music industry, familiarize yourself with legal issues, and decide if you think label backing is really worth selling your soul. And don’t just research music! Research other freelance fields. Research ways to start a small business in general. (Check out www.entrepreneur.com, www.ideacafe.com, and www.allfreelancework.com.)
Save Your Money – This should go without saying! Before you quit your day job, you need to know that you can pay your bills while you’re starting out. A bare minimum is to save 3 months’ pay. It may sound like a lot, and you may think it’s impossible, and it’s certainly not going to happen overnight. But look at it this way: Is complete freedom worth a few sacrifices and putting up with your boss another year? Or would you rather keep spending now, and be stuck in your same rut a year from now?
Create a Financial Plan – It’s not enough to have some money saved up. You need to know exactly what bills you’re going to have to pay, any added expenses (like getting your own insurance when you leave your job – so don’t forget to get your last medical and dental exams), and figure out what you’ll need to be bringing in. Add the totals together for all band members, and you now know how much money the band needs to make every month. Don’t forget to factor in at least 10% more than your total expenses to cover anything unexpected. Although now you know how much you need to make, you’re not finished until you can outline a realistic plan to achieve it. Don’t forget to add show revenue, CD sales, and merch sales. Also, don’t exaggerate your potential earnings. Keep them conservative, as you’re more likely to be realistic. Never look for gigs and ask a venue what they’re willing to pay you. You know what you need to make. Be realistic, but set a rate that you can live with, and never work for less, unless it’s for a charity show or something that you’ll get good publicity from. You’ll be in business. You’ll be supplying the talent that keeps these places open. Don’t allow yourself to get suckered by cheap venue managers. If they still offer you too little? Figure out what their suggested pay amounts to, hourly, for each band member, and ask the manager if they could live off of that! If they say other bands would be happy for that pay, let them have it! You’ll never get anywhere in this business by de-valuing yourselves. Then, find someone who appreciates what you’re worth, and build a good relationship with that venue so you can try to get regular sets. Also, try to think of other, less common, income sources for your band. Maybe band members could give music lessons. Maybe the band members can form a partnership with another form of music business, such as an indie label, promotion company, or doing graphic and web design work exclusively for other musicians. The possibilities are really endless!
Network! – The key to most businesses is knowing the “right” people. Start building your contact lists with members of the media, promoters, managers, other musicians, venue managers, or even small record store owners. Anyone that can potentially help you in your music career is worth getting to know. Do it before you quit your day job.
Act Like You’re in Business – Like it or not, when you’re on your own, you really will be in business! You’ll need to pay your own taxes, because they won’t be held out from your paychecks. You’ll need to take care of your own insurance for your health, your family, your equipment â€¦ everything. Start taking care of the legalities of going into business for yourselves before you quit your jobs. Contact an entertainment lawyer. Draw up a partnership agreement between band members. Look into any permits you may need (some states require general business permits), and make sure that wherever you’re running your band’s business is zoned accordingly. You don’t want to start off with legal hassles. Get them out of the way early!
Have Shows Line Up – Here’s a simple step. Don’t quit your day job thinking you’ll then have time to set up shows. If you don’t have at least 2-3 months of shows lined up, you’re asking for trouble. Book your show dates as early as possible. And remember, you can’t afford to just work weekends. Start booking shows at least 3 nights a week, preferably 4 or 5. Being a musician isn’t a slacker’s job. It’s hard as hell, and you have to be willing to put in the time, even if it means pulling late nights to get on that show schedule before you actually have the opportunity to quit your day job.
Be Ready for 24/7 – Speaking of hard work and late nights â€¦ you’ll need to spend enormously more time working on your music career than you are in your 9 to 5. Don’t think for a second that quitting to focus on the band is going to leave you loads of free time. If it does, you’re not doing something right. Playing shows will only amount to 10-20% of your time working. Your main focuses will be on promotion or “selling yourselves” to the fans, maintaining your image, pushing CD and merch sales, writing new material, recording, meeting with store owners about distribution deals, designing and creating merch, album art, and any other creative elements you’ll need, practicing, maintaining your band website which should be updated at least several times a week, and very importantly, you’ll be spending at least a third of your time working on the “business” – dealing with paperwork, managing your finances, taking care of the band’s vehicle, taking care of your equipment, paying your taxes, reviewing contracts, and planning out the rest of your show dates and your career in general. Just like with any other business owner, in the beginning, it really will be 24/7.
Work on Your Music EVERY Day! – Even while you’re still working full-time for someone else, you better be prepared to spend at least an hour or two every single day working on your music career. If you can’t stick with it, or if you can’t find enough to do, then you really don’t know what it takes, and you’ll never make it on your own, so get comfy where you are.
Always Think About Your NEXT Project – You can’t spend your time thinking about the here and now. If you’re not thinking about what you’ve got going on a week from now, a month from now, or even just a day from now, then you obviously don’t have anything important going on! Successful people don’t watch their feet, they keep their eye on their goals and every step they still need to take to reach those goals. While you’re playing one show, think about how you can make the next one better. While you’re in the studio, be thinking about how you’re going to promote the hell out of this album so sales skyrocket. If you’re not completely focused on the goals you’ve set, maybe you need to rethink them, and make sure you’re focusing on something you’re truly passionate about.
Have Fun! – As simple as this sounds, it’s probably the most important thing you can do. You certainly have to take yourself seriously. But that doesn’t mean you have to be serious all of the time. You’re doing this because you love it, and the moment you forget that, you’ve lost everything that you’ve worked for. If you’re not enjoying your music enough now, while you’re still working your day job, you’ll absolutely hate it when you’re eating, sleeping and breathing it later.
The most important thing you can do is to be prepared for anything. Not everyone will support your decision. You’ll probably struggle a little, or a lot, for a while. Just keep your head up, eyes on your goals, and you’ll eventually find your own way to make a living with your music without even thinking about label backing, big name promoters, or anything else that’ll take more from you than it’ll give. Good luck!