The top 8 things unsigned/independent artists do wrong

How do all, after last week’s shambles of a post I’ve decided to do something that all encompasses the ethos of this blog, so this week I will be employing lexiphanism left right and centre as I humbly muse over the top 8 things that unsigned and independent artists do that arguably hinder their (potential) musical careers. Some of these points may have been made in previous blog entries but in more detail so I’ll put a cheeky link at the bottom of them all so you can read the original posts. As the blog has increased quite significantly in readership since I started writing this stream of conscious regularly on a Monday then most of you won’t have read it before anyway so enjoy:

1) Charge for cd’s at gig This is just stupid. Now don’t get me wrong, I can completely understand why you’d want to charge for them as who doesn’t like having an extra bit of pocket money? And those Malboro Reds aren’t going to buy themselves are they? But think of it as simply as possible: The more people who hear your music the better yeah? So as soon as you start charging £3 a CD then someone who thought your music was ‘alright’ but ‘not worth £3 alright’ is going to go home, sober up and forget who on earth you are. Give it to them for free though; they wake up, dread the next day at work in that office they can’t stand with a boss who is a prick, on their way out to the car they see your CD marked ‘Generic Indie Band’ on the kitchen side, pick it up, listen to it in the inevitable traffic jam and enjoy it. Or even if they don’t enjoy it they pretend they do when they’re talking to Sue from accounts so you still get talked about either way. And you never know; Sue’s dad might own a record label (please note: Sue’s dad probably won’t own a record label).You don’t have to spend too much cash on these either, all the CD needs to be is 3 or 4 tracks long on a CD-R with your name, tracklisting and myspace scrawled on the front in child like felt tip handwriting. No one is expecting full colour printing with an inlay with dedications to your dead dog in it. They can have that when you release material in a couple of years time. All that matters is that they’ve got something to listen to when they get home. The more people hear it, the more people like it, the more people tell one another about it and the more fuss is created over you. Remember – WORD OF MOUTH IS THE BEST FORM OF MARKETING. Fact.

2) Don’t read industry press You’re trying to make it in an industry that is currently in turmoil. The music industry has no idea where it’s going and where it’s future lies. There is a whole smorgasbord of suggestions of ways it could go, but no one is certain. The rise of MP3’s and the decline of tangible sales is much talked about, but boffins are currently testing mobile phones that are 4G and can download at up to 1GB a second, so that means MP3’s could be dead within a matter years! Who needs low quality MP3’s when we can download WAV’s from iTunes instead? And how about advertising led free downloads? Give your music away for free and receive a cut of the advertising money? Spiralfrog? That went away as quick as it came. You can find out all this stuff and read interesting articles on sites such as Music Week and Guardian Unlimited. When I say music press I don’t mean Q and NME (but I’m not saying don’t read them) I mean music press that is aimed at the industry side rather then the consumer side. Not only is it in your best interest to read these titbits, but you should want to read them anyway shouldn’t you?

3) Wind people up Why can’t we all just get along? As Longfellow uttered the infamous words “Music is the universal language of mankind” he obviously hadn’t met the arse from Southport who played at Kwids In once who tried to hit another one of the acts playing that night, midset, as he borrowed his guitar strap without seeking permission first. Because of that incident I’ll never work with that band again, and if any of my promoter mates were thinking about putting them on I’d tell them that story and they would also not work with them. On top of that, imagine if I was actually important! Like Jesus, but less so. Maybe a Tony Wilson type figure, by doing a stupid thing you could pretty much rule yourself out from playing gigs in a certain city or area ever again. Just be polite, I’m not asking for bone marrow here. Further reading: Gig Etiquette

4) Don’t utilise free/cheap marketing tools Myspace, bebo, facebook, mailing lists, cheap text pay-as-you-go packages, forums of bands who influence you etc. All these tools can be used for free or very cheap. When I’m playing promoter I personally don’t use or like flyers, I prefer using text-outs from a collection of mobile numbers collected from mailing lists at previous gig nights. Orange and O2 both do deals where if you top up by a certain amount per month you’ll get a bucket load of free text messages. Send one out a week before the gig and on the day of the gig, people are guaranteed to read it and also, lets not forget our carbon footprints now children! Also be sure to take a mailing list to EVERY gig you play and collect as many email addresses and numbers as you possibly can. Even get a cheap PDA or Electronic Organiser from ebay or where ever so therefore you can read it the next day rather than spending hours trying to decipher drunken hieroglyphics by people who have forgotten how to spell their name. We all know about myspace but please remember that your myspace page is for your fans and is not an electronic press release. Give fans a reason to check your page regularly, blog weekly about interesting and funny stuff like this one from Ian Britt, and if you just happen to have a photoshop wizard for a bass player then do something crazy like the Bedford Incident. Remember the whole malarky about the Arctic Monkeys becoming famous through myspace? Reet load of old rubbish you know. Apparently it was the Libertines forum that their humble name was mentioned and songs were swapped. Go onto forums dedicated to bands that have influenced you and tell them about your band. Be warned though there is etiquette that if you show negligence to then you’ll be berated and vituperated by all on there. 1) Start a new thread and call it something that isn’t misleading; ‘My Band – thoughts?’ 2) In the message come straight out and say ‘look, I know this is blatant self promotion but (insert name of influential band) have been a big influence on our band and we’ve been told it shows in our music. Could you have a listen and see what you think?’ – or something along those lines. Also, be warned yet again that you’ll probably get slated off a few people so be strong. And read point 5. Further reading: Super Marketing Sweep

5) Not thick skinned enough Everyone has their critics be they in music or not, I’m sure even Mother Teresa had someone think dislike her at some point in her life, but did she let it get to her?! No! She carried on doing what she did best. Being bloody lovely. Simply, you’re going to get criticised and because you’re in the music industry you’re going to get criticised often. You simply CANNOT let it get to you or you will have no future in the industry whatsoever. Try and take the positives if any out of the review and if there isn’t any at all then use it as constructive critisicm. And if you still can’t get anything from it after that then just throw it in the bin and move on with your life.

6) Don’t think outside the model The ‘traditional’ music industry model is still working at the uber famous level but below that it’s dying on its arse. Too many bands these days are just waiting from that call from Sony offering them an advance they’ll never be able to pay back and thinking that that means they’ve ‘made it’. Look outside the model, look at people like Enter Shikari doing the DIY and OkGo with their viral marketing youtube antics. Remember that copyright is king and work to that rule; take Hard Fi *shudder* for example. They’ve sold a quarter of the records The Kooks have but have made twice the money for their own pocket because their manager was entrepreneurial. What can you do to get noticed? How can you stand out? Do you need a label? Again, from embracing point 2 on this list you may get several ideas from just reading other peoples ideas. And of course, if you read the Sentric Music blog every week… Further reading: Enter Shikari and all that Malarky

7) Are blind ignorant to their own music Confidence is vital if you’re an artist. We all know that, but it is very highly likely that you are not the best band in the world (and if the Twang are reading this, I unfortunately do mean you as well gentlemen). Dependent on how long you’ve been together, how long you’ve played together and how long you’ve written together will all contribute towards your sound. If you are a new band, the songs you write now will be extremely different from the ones you’ll be writing in 18 months time as you ‘mature’ as writers. Ask for honest feedback from trustworthy sources, ask them to be brutal (remember point 5) and take the critisicm and do something constructive with it. You know deep down that you have songs that you prefer to others, do others feel the same way? Does the rest of the band agree with your setlist? Do your fans prefer the songs you don’t like? Further reading: SWOTs and PESTs

8 ) Don’t realise what a music manager does A music manager is not there to do all the stuff you can’t be arsed to do. There may be elements of it, but that’s not the be all and end all of it. They’re not there to purely send out demos and put up posters. You can do that. What does a manager do though? Lots of stuff, trust me. Today for my artist I’ve been researching potential merchandising opportunities, looking where to get vinyl pressed in the Czech Republic, sorting out a fringe gig at In The City, researching the possibility in getting him to SXSW in Texas next year and also looking into a PRS fund which means I could get £5k to put on a massive gig for him. Then again that is just me and each manager is different. If you have the potential to get a good music manager then get on it. A good music manager earns their 20%. Further reading: I’ll manage by myself

I hope you all embrace this blog out there, spread it round to anyone you know who is an unsigned/independent artists and if you don’t agree with any of it then let me know! I enjoy a good angry ear bashing now and again.

What I’m listening to this week: CLIPE SEXO AMADOR

What I’m reading this week: Stereogum

Stay tuned

sP

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~ by Sentric on September 24, 2007.

38 Responses to “The top 8 things unsigned/independent artists do wrong”

  1. Charging for CDs isn’t necessarily “fucking stupid”. I think it’s about respect for your product. If you believe that you’ve produced something that’s worth paying for, you should charge for it. And if you haven’t, why the fuck not?

    Give away 50 CDs at a gig and I reckon that 10 people will listen to it. Sell 10 CDs and I reckon that 10 people will listen to it. Plus you’ve got 50 quid to go towards recording some new tunes. How’s that “fucking stupid”?

  2. This is a really interesting article and I agree with most of it except for point 1. I’ve tried giving away music and I’ve tried selling it at a high price and I’ve tried selling it at a nominal price.

    I agree with the philosophy behind what you’re saying. The aim is to get your music out there and WITH people. But nonetheless, you don’t want your music with people who don’t actually want it.

    In my experience its much the same as chucking it away.

    But giving it cheaply I DO agree with. Its a similar concept but it has value if people have to sacrifice something (even if its just time).

    I’d say that if you want to go down the give it away route – don’t. Charge something like £1 instead. People who kinda liked you will get the cd cos its only a quid – but you won’t be throwing the cd away on those who really didn’t care.

    The way I think of it is to compare the Merseymart to the Metro. Both are free. But the Merseymart is imposed on me. I don’t ask for it or do anything to get it. Its just there and I put it in the bin every single week.

    The Metro is free too. But I’m the one who has to do something to get it. Consequently, people read the Metro. Few people read the Merseymart that I know.

    Good advice and very savvy in terms of the general philosophy – and I’d argue that music should be free on your website (again people have to go and get it). But in person, imposing your CDs doesn’t work. I’ve tried it, and I’ve found that a nominal price of £x or more works better.

  3. [...] Also check out popular music in India and new trends in Bollymusic.  Are you a musician?  Review the top 8 things that unsigned/independent artists do wrong.  [...]

  4. [...] Also check out popular music in India and new trends in Bollymusic.  Are you a musician?  Review the top 8 things that unsigned/independent artists do wrong.  [...]

  5. I never buy unsigned bands CDs as I dont see why I should pay for their taxi home, after already paying at the door for their drinks at the bar. A free CD is welcome, and people only take free CDs if they really want to hear the band. What cunt takes a free CD and doesn’t listen to it? Find me him so that I can piss in his mouth. Anyway…

    Make Free CDs more interesting by adding a free badge, having a hot topless girl handing them out, ENGAGE with your customers so they feel forced to listen to it later. If you put character into your product, it cannot be ignored. And blank CDs cost NOTHING except the equivelent of a hangover the next day. Save your pounds not for pints, but for promotion. Buy blank CDs.

    • Yeah just give em away. Least the band the band will have their payment from playing the gig…oh what? no they won’t? It was a free gig? Ok so at least they’ll chuck a tenner for fuel for the car – oh what they wont?

      So. No payment from playing live. No money from CDs or other merch. No fuel to drive back from.

      Loss loss loss loss loss. But yeah, at least word of mouth will have worked cos that pissed up lush in the pub is really gonna spend his time telling others.

      Silly boys – an independent act isnt blowing their income on cigs and booze you deluded tossers, costs money to record, make cds, pay for badges, rehearsal, pr, fuel, food, flyers, business cards, posters, strings, sticks, skins, cables, repairs, website hosting..I could go on but you’ve probably got your fingers in your ears.

      Now an independent act HAS to do these things by themselves beacuse they have no external investment – the ones that piss their money away and smoke it away DO, because its not their money and they dont have to consider the real world situation.

      Give it up, get a real job I hear you cry – ‘not my fault they cant afford it’ yes it is you tit, because you dont pay for their products, dont pay to see them and live in this tiny bubble where all artists get a massive payday just by virtue of doing it. Silly cunt.

  6. i agree with most of the advice, and personally always have my cd on me ready to give to someone i may meet, or find myself chatting to and if it comes up that i make tunes, then i have a disc on me to hand over to them and i always chase up what they think if i can. At gigs though, from the perspective of a gig go-er, I would only want something free if I knew the band, I have no problem paying up to a fiver if I was blown away by what I’d just seen on stage. I know acts who sell their wares, and i mean they sell out completely of all their cds each time they play live as what they do is so unique. So each to their own, i think it’s good to send and give out free stuff to all and sundry and sell at gigs to make money to continue to tour or whatever you wanna do, oh yeah, check out my page at myspace.com/djashtres
    Thanks again for the article, very handy – especially the stuff about being thick skinned. I did sales for years so built up a thick business skin, but when it comes to one’s own art/work it’s a lot harder to take harsh advice on the chin. So far i’m loved by all who hear me (ahem..)and have made it into the likes of William Orbit’s top friends(!!), but i have been told my music is a little outlandish to those who are looking for the ol’ ‘generic’ (insert genre here) sound. This kind of comment I can handle and take as a compliment even if they didn’t mean it as one.
    Jess xx

  7. In response to Chris’s comment, he obviously don’t get it. You spend maybe $20 max on 50-100 CD-R’s and burn your own music from your own computer and write on it with your own fkn pen. All you’ve spent is $20 (and some of your time) on a possibility of 50-100 people owning your CD and playing it for other people. I mean didn’t they just spend money to listen to you? give em a freebie afterwareds. You sound like a commercial spoonfed idiot already and probably don’t deserve a local following. People love free shit and they’ll probably boast about you more for being generous, other than a tight-wad dick. Oh by the way, to the author of 8 ways, you hit every single one on the nail bro.

    • I actually agree with chris. Its not worth it to give away your music completely for free. Those who are real fans of your work will pay something for it even if its just a dollar because they will want to support you. There is no need to waste money giving away free cds to people who weren’t even that interested to spend a dollar on it anyway. Chances are they will just throw it away without listening to it and they won’t remember to even tell anybody about you. Those who are truly intrested will come out of the pocket at least for a dollar bill and they will tell their friends and fam about you too.

  8. Chris, moron, X-X, right on! Give your music away, YOU AREN’T SPECIAL ENOUGH TO CHARGE YET, get over it!

  9. Remind me again how it financially benefits me if 50-100 listen to the free CD I just gave them? Is it because they become fans and then get another free CD at the next gig so I can continue to stay broke? Oh, I get it now, all the big music companies are at all the gigs looking for me and all they need is my free CD. Please.

  10. i’m currently living in Los Angeles. I have a couple of projects that i’ve put together. do you know how i would get a list of music managers, venues in England. thanks

  11. I know that this is is quite an old topic but I wanted to give my opnion on the whole “to sell or not to sell” arguement.
    I agree that CDs should be given away for free at gigs. My band has given away about £200 of free merchandise over 2 years. It depends on your situation, if you already have all the fanbase you want then go ahead and sell away! If, like us you often find yourself at a gig with a large number of people who have never seen you before then you want to interact with them and turn them into fans.

    I think “Chambers” clearly has no idea about building a fanbase. Give away 100 CDs and yes they will become fans and come to the next gig, and pay on the door (many promoters will pay you a percentage of the door money from your fans, you know that right?).

    I know I still listen to the free cd I got off a band called Blah Blah Blah about 2 years ago, and from playing that CD I know a lot of my friends who have travelled in my car now have also become fans of BBB and HANG ON, they released a single! (and it sold out). Now I know at least 5 of my friends are fans of BlahBlahBlah from 1 ONE cd they gave away. Do you think they would have sold as many singles if they hadn’t given away thousands of free cd-rs to fans at gigs for signing the mailing list?

    I doubt it.

  12. OK!!! PISSLIDS!!! I’ve found the solution. Why not do BOTH. Have a pile of free cds with 2 songs on it and your FULL 6 PANEL digipack with your full album on it for sale right next to it.
    bloody hell. Right. Now that I’ve made my comment, I’d like you all to take a moment to picture what kind of person I am. The life I lead, the kind of music that would come out of someone who banters the word “pisslid” around….got it? now get ready to be disproved…www.myspace.com/themusicofamandabloom

  13. Good Post! I agree with your first point about the CDs. I am currently managing a band and they are getting fantastci reactions whereever they play. People are prepared to pay for the CDs but they are pleasantly surprised when I give them one for free and they always spread the word for us and get people to come down to our next gigs. They will be the same people that will buy your album and reccomend it to everyone they know when you have a big enought fanbase to release one. It costs me £35 for 100 printed CDs in sleeves, we split the cost amongst 7 of us and it is peanuts but the effect that it has is worth a lot more.

    I also agree that subscribing to pulications such as music week is important. I keep up to date with everything going on in the industry and it means I am always a step ahead of the game.

    http://www.thecrimes.co.uk

  14. Well said.

  15. all i want is a good international manager, that is what i want right now thanks.

  16. [...] 1) The Top 8 Things Unsigned/Independent Artists Do Wrong [...]

  17. True.

  18. 1) agree you want to get your music in their hands disagree that you should not sell it. How about a compromise throughout your set say something like the next 3 people to the merch table get a free cd everyone else pays for it.

    2)Yes the industry is in a state of chaos so read these mags with that in mind.

    3)I totally agree

    4)Great thought provoking point here

    5)Good points here I would like to say believe in yourself and don’t give up

    6)o.k. I got a bit confused on this point. Though do agree content is king

    7)Yep you need that input from those who enjoy your music after all you are a bit more personally involved and not nearly objective

    8)Ah the icing on the cake of this list. Yes a manager does tons of things and each manager works a bit differently then others. I would strongly here suggest looking at your own strategies and find a manager to either work with that or complement that strategy in some fashion.

    Great post I think I agree overall

  19. [...] 1) The Top 8 Things Unsigned/Independent Artists Do Wrong [...]

  20. My buddy sold 10,000 cds at his shows for $100,000. Why would you give them away?

    • @Christian music, me thinks this blog post was directed at artists farther down the ladder than your buddy. In order for your buddy to sell 10,000 cds he probably had to have around 10,000 fans at his shows (for the year?) – and I’m guessing a lot more since selling to 100% of your fans is uncommon. My point is, there are many, many artists out there who don’t even have 5,000 fans at their shows for the year … so for them farther down the ladder it might make sense to give some CDs away? not all their merch/discs, just some cheap demo CD-Rs aimed at building a fanbase. ATTN: ALL YOU WANKERS, DEMOS USED TO BE FOR GETTING RECORD DEALS THAT WAS THE OLD DAYS NOW THEY’RE USED FOR GETTING FANS. RAPPERS AND HIP-HOP HAVE BEEN DISTRIBUTING DEMO TAPES IN THEIR ‘HOODS FOR 3 DECADES GET WITH THE TIMES!!!!!! OY

  21. I dont gig myself (I used to)just looking for a publisher now :O I think that if you have someone at the gig giving awy your stuff on CDs you should get something for them, but not £££. Why not get email addy or mob phone to text ‘em or email ‘em when your next gig or new CD is imminent. “the money is in the list” its called marketing folks

  22. [...] The Top 8 Things Unsigned/Independent Artists Do Wrong – Sentric Music [...]

  23. Nice post. Difficult with number 1 really, I personally think it depends on the occasion. My band, Arabella, have done both. We play club gigs and give CD’s away (we record everything ourselves and print everything so it’s pennies to make) then make people pay at a wedding gig for example.

    Just our view at the moment anyway…

  24. I agree with point 1 somehow,but in he other hand people will not respect something free,and if they don’t respect it there’s no hope for word of mouth.

  25. [...] 7 things to consider before you enter the recording studio Everyone loves a good ‘list post’ where the author sums up everything into X amount of handy succinct points to therefore make them easier to drink in and follow. Remember the ‘9 Twitter Tips for Artists’ or the ‘8 Tips On How To Make The Most Of Your Mailing List’? Or who could forget the classic* ‘Top 8 Things Unsigned/Independent Artists Do Wrong’? [...]

  26. Giving anything away for free de-values it. If that were’nt an ultimate, universal truth, money would have gone out of fashion by now…

    Also, I’ve sold 40 CD’s at one gig but previously sent out 100 demo/press CD’s and got 6 reviews, 2 crap offers, and I’ll take a bet those 40 folks will go to another gig I play near ‘em.

    ALWAYS SELL CD’S AT GIGS!

  27. Re Point 1: COMPLETELY agree with Amanda Bloom’s comment on November 11, 2008… Of course do both. A free CD-R sampler with two of your very best tracks is a great idea for spreading the word, and of course you should give away as many of those as possible.

    But also consider the people who’ve been completely blown away by your performance. People who’d be thrillied to take home a nice digipack of your music to treasure and play to all their friends. People who’d gladly hand over a fiver, or even a tenner, knowing all the money will go directly to the artist. Unlike the cash they paid on the door to get in.

    Selling CDs at gigs is one of the few ways a really good unknown performer can earn hard cash on a day to day basis. Earlier this year I saw Mr B The Gentleman Rhymer play a short set in a side tent at Wychwood Festival. When he came off stage he went straight to the merch stall and sold £500 worth of CDs in about 15 minutes flat. NOT to have had CDs on sale would have been a major mistake.

  28. can’t understand why some people don’t get the first point

    if you have people coming to your merch stand, they’re already interested! interested enough that they’d appreciate free music for sure.

    in the early stages of being in a band, it just makes sense. considering how free music is in general these days, an unsigned and hopeful artist asking for money when someone can torrent discographys for nothing is missing the point completely.

    fair enough if you’ve made a full-on professional CD with artwork and all, but that’s not what the 1st point was about at all.

    amazing blog – really glad i found it.

  29. 1) i dont like giving out free CDS but Free downloads, oh yeah!! if they sign up the the mailing list that is-costs you nothing-they get the music to listen to the next day-It will always be on their itunes (never going to import a CD that wont have the names synched) and you get to tell them about more gigs, more free tracks and they will be more willing to buy a physical copy of your single if you get that far! oh and http://www.arpattack.co.uk ;)

  30. [...] So I took a bit of my own advice and had a good old snoop around the analytics of my various social media outlets; blog, twitter, links, podcast, Google alerts etc and I discovered that one of my most read blog posts is one I did back in September 2007, the now ‘classic’ ‘8 Things Unsigned/Independent Artists Do Wrong’. [...]

  31. Awesome input, My brother & I are indie Reocording artists from Oklahoma City. We’ve been performing & recording for 15years & agree on just about everything you had to say.
    IF YOU NEED A PARTY THROWN, CALL MIKE BONE!
    405-708-BONE

  32. My writing partner and I are currently recording material for an EP or album. We plan to complete the recording project, copyright the material and make a video or something. Is it possible to shop our songs to Ad agencies and distributers on our own without a label or even any major fanbase? (I guess what I’m asking is could it be possible to make money and get your songs on a commercial without belonging to a record label?)

  33. I loved this article, I have an idea for a cool post, i wanted to see if you were interested. Thanks! – Adam

  34. You should not give away your music for free or play for free at any point, whether its a wedding a party or anniversary. If you charge money for something then people will value it. Play one free gig people will expect it again.

  35. I agree with the article there’s some good advice but you have to make money at some point, maybe by selling merchandise. Perform at a party or a family wedding but you should always ask for something.

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