How does one make it in the music industry at this day and age?
Short answer: It’s going to take time.
Long answer: It’s going to take lots and lots and lots and lots of time.
The truth is this: There is no shortcut to success—wherever you are right now and whatever passion you chose to convert into a paying profession. The only easy way… is to learn.
It’s 2018 and artwork appreciation (music) has never been this aggressive, radical, and thriving. Everyday, people discover new artists thanks to social media marketing. Everyday, we are given something new to listen to thanks to digital music streaming platforms like Spotify, Soundcloud, and even YouTube.
Everyday, there is something new. Therefore, everyday, the competition gets more and more interesting. To stand-out is a need. So we go back to the topic at hand: How does one make it in the music industry on the DIGITAL age?
As already established, it will take a lot of time. What I am about to discuss here are based on personal experiences and full-time observation of the ever-growing independent music community in the Philippines, which I belong to and a huge fan of. Some points may merit an argument, but surely this is what’s going on and what’s effective right now.
- KNOW WHAT YOU WANT
The most important bullet, the direction-setting. Are you in it for the long haul or are you just in for a one night stand with the spotlight? If you don’t know which one is the answer, you have to start reconsidering because your heart is really not into it.
If you’re in it for the long haul, you must know upfront that the music industry is a very tiring, stressful, and toxic, yet very rewarding industry you’d want to be a part of. It’s going to be a difficult journey. But, as cliche as it is, the moment you go out there and play your music LIVE and see that the people are into it (or not) is already a stuff that will make you say, “it’s worth it.”
Needless to say, the next four points will be able to help you in your long journey as a rockstar, Rockstar.
(Let’s not talk about the other choice.)
There are many important factors to put into consideration when it comes to this. And everything below matters.
- BAND NAME
You have to understand: No one is going to take you seriously, let alone listen to your music, if your band’s name is somewhere along the lines of Mouse Rat, Scarecrow Boat, Muscle Confusion, Fleetwood Sex Pants. You have to be really interesting.
A helpful tip for those who can’t settle for a band name: Brainstorm with your bandmates, then run the list through your close friends/acquaintances and know what they think. Catchiness and simplicity are what makes a good band name recall. What may sound pretentious to some, might just work to your target market.
- BAND LOGO
You may find it ridiculous, but this, too, works. It has to be simple, neat, and not too busy. Don’t put everything in it! Give room for your fans to think about your logo’s meaning. The more vague and minimalist it is, trust me, the more it pulls them in into knowing you more and your music.
To name a few, here’s a shortlist of the local bands who have done a great job in naming themselves and as well as the look of their respective logos:
- Tom’s Story
- Farewell Fairweather
- Up Dharma Down
How you dress up, too, is a factor. You have to wear what you play. You have to present yourself in a way that gig-goers will remember you. Stand out. You know who’s great at it right now? IV OF SPADES (or 3? I have to confirm, hang on). The band has fully embraced their disco/funky-esque musical genre that their commitment stretched as far as how they dress up. And it really, really worked.
To reference foreign bands, you need not to think of other examples than The Beatles. Arguably the band who gave the classic suit & tie a new avenue other than just a standard business attire.
If you think this is ridiculous and not a factor, always remember this: Being in a band and in the show business is a commitment. Either you go all-in or not at all.
Here’s another important thing: How will you communicate with your fans? Will it be pedestrian, your typical jologs? Or are you going to be an approachable English-speaking band who is really into cool stuff? Or (do not go this route if you are not ready for the consequences) the snubbish, aloof band who’s into obscure things and acts awkward during fan interactions?
Well, to be fair, your personality will be the one to determine this. But it is important that you should prepare yourself when it comes to socializing because it’s one of the foundations of the music industry and show business. You need to establish connections and relationships with people; widen your network because you will need them along the way. Who knows? The person you are talking to right now is a writer for a music publication that you’re dying to have your band be featured on.
Once you determine the personality of your band, make sure that you will be consistent in all of your publicity materials, especially on social media. How your posts will sound, how you will engage with fans… everything!
- KNOW YOUR AUDIENCE AND THE RIGHT PLATFORM
Target market matters. You have to know who you are playing for. You have to know where you want your music to go. It goes back to knowing what you want. The reason you write songs is because you want to be heard, you have something to say, you see things from an interesting perspective. No matter how much you deny it, you write songs because you want people to listen.
So now you were able to record your first song and you are creating a cult-like following that consists of your close friends and relatives, what’s next? You figure out where to put it.
First, know where your fans frequent. Determine the platform. Are they on Facebook most of the time? Are they still watching on YouTube? Do they still listen to Soundcloud? Or is everyone on Spotify already? Dedicate enough time to observe or even ask. It won’t hurt to #crowdsource. It works. The more you ask questions, the easier it gets for you to market your music.
Now that you know where they frequent (read: always online), put it there. Setting-up a Spotify account is not that difficult at all. For starters, Distrokid offers affordable deals that will only cost you around P1,000/year to upload unlimited songs.
It’s not enough that you upload your song on Spotify. Expand! They say redundancy is a crime, but today, it’s a must, especially if you want to be really heard. Upload your song on YouTube. You don’t need a fancy lyric video! Just pair your song with the artwork and you’re good to go. After that, upload the video as well on Facebook. And if it’s not yet enough, upload snippets via Twitter and Instagram stories. The more aggressive and more present you are in social media, the higher possibility that you will catch the attention of the market you’ve been eyeing to penetrate.
Try and try until you succeed… works.
It’s also important to know relevant music media outfits on social media, to name a few: Bandwagon, Billboard PH, PULP, and Vandals On The Wall. We are now in the digital age where everything is just one direct message away. Gather enough courage, construct your brief and direct letter, hit send. (Don’t forget to attach your music, dummy.)
PRO TIP: It won’t pain you to go direct marketing via Messenger. Let people know about your music. Remember Autotelic? Before they are Autotelic, they used to message everyone in their friends list asking them to listen to their new song or invite them on their shows.
Tagging works, too. You may be annoying but at least they know you exist. The more human your band is, the more fans will appreciate you. Don’t think for a second that reaching out personally doesn’t work.
- DON’T BE AFRAID TO CHANGE
(BUT ALSO DON’T BE AFRAID TO STICK TO YOUR GUNS)
This is a bit tricky and scary. Things didn’t go your way or you were disappointed on how things turned out? It’s okay. Everybody went through it. Usually, bands tend to change their identity tend when they feel things are not working.
SPOILER ALERT: DO NOT DO IT… at least sooner.
The music industry is a waiting game. Maybe your music isn’t just fit in today’s trend. That doesn’t mean you have to stop making music you like. You just have to wait. For months, years, doesn’t matter. You don’t have to change your ways just to fit in.
But when you feel the need to… do it right. And be consistent.
Before all the bright lights and millions of fans, THE 1975 (another branding gods) used to be your average dirt-garage band called, DRIVE LIKE I DO. It took them so many years before they finally decided to change their name and their music. And look where and what they are now: Apart from being loved by millions, they have also established themselves as marketing and promotion mavens whenever they are about to release a new album. Once their Facebook page has gone all white, it only means one thing: AN ALL-NEW THE 1975 MUSIC AND LOOK IS COMING SOON.
- AT THE END OF THE DAY
IT’S ALL ABOUT THE MATERIAL
Let’s do a quick recap of bullets 1-3:
- KNOW WHAT YOU WANT
- AUDIENCE AND PLATFORM
“I have mastered them, but nothing’s happening.”
Well, my friend, I have some bad news for you…
Maybe there’s something wrong with the output itself? I don’t know. Maybe.
We musicians, especially the songwriters, have very fragile egos—admit it! We don’t want other people commenting about our work unless we asked for it. We take criticisms very personal because the work itself IS personal. AND THERE IS NOTHING WRONG WITH IT. It only goes wrong on how you react about it. Are you going to take their advice or just throw them off and be stubborn about it?
Don’t do the latter. Just don’t. Be someone who is willing to learn and to grow. Be the former. It will do wonders.
If you think the numbers aren’t reciprocating the amount of work you’ve poured into your work, don’t hesitate to step back. Ask opinion from people you respect and look up to. Ask them about your music. What do they think? What are the rooms for improvement? How will you be able to make things right? Just prepare yourself with their answers, handle it well, be calm as much as possible… then sulk around for a week or two.
But make sure you’ll get back up and redo everything.
You want to be a rockstar, right? ACT LIKE ONE. Never give up, no matter how tiring, hurtful, and tricky things will be. There’s a lot of bumps in the road but I assure you (coming from someone who had tasted bits of it), everything is worth it. As Jack Black puts it in one of his songs for School of Rock, “It’s a long way to the top if you want to rock and roll.”
A balance of everything will be just fine. Consider the previously stated bullets (don’t put it into heart that much!), practice them, and soon enough, your rockstar dreams will come to life.
Whatever rockstar dreams mean.