Advice for Emerging Artists & Musicians
Sentric Music Blog
Ask the music industry - 2017 Refresh April 2017
Everyone loves a rehash, yes?
A couple of years ago I asked a bunch of people in various areas of the music industry this rather simple question and their answers differentiated wildly. To date, it’s one of the best posts we’ve done here at Sentric and I can only assume it’s a coincidence that it’s also the post where I did the least writing.
You can see the original post HERE alongside my justifications on why I choose £1k as a starting point so I won’t go into that again here. Let’s just kick off, shall we?
Simon Pursehouse - Sentric Music - @Pursehouse
My assumption here is that you’ve got six tracks ready to go (which sound ace because you’ve been writing and practising loads and you’ve recorded them in the right studio with a relevant producer for your genre).
Then, take a look at the music industry for the emerging market and realise that LPs are dead and that EPs are not long left for this world either. Announce on your social media channels that you’ll be releasing a song every two months digitally and on streaming platforms so you’ve constantly got content to push, promote and talk about. Also, announce that when the first track is released digitally you’ll be selling a truly limited edition of super duper special CDs/vinyl for hardcore fans who’ll be the only ones who get to hear all six tracks before the rest are released over the coming year. These CDs/vinyl should include hand painted artwork, handwritten lyric sheets, maybe a polaroid from your recent tour, maybe a branded plectrum etc. basically loads of unique tatt which will make your biggest fans feel like they’re getting something dead special. Charge £10 for them, sell 100 and voila you’ve made your money back to do it all again.
I should also say I pitched this idea to a couple of artists last year with modest sized fanbases and it worked quite wonderfully. One of the artists in question went on to make 300 of his second batch of tracks which all sold out and resulted in him more than tripling his money.
Lara Baker – AIM - @LaraKBaker
‘Emerging artist’ is a pretty vague term and my advice really depends on what stage the artist is at. Let’s assume they’re really new, in which case I’d spend the money rehearsing - just get really amazingly good at performing live (and make sure the songs are shit hot too). Then, if there’s any of it left, get some decent (well designed) merch produced and get out there playing some shows, connecting with fans and with a bit of luck you’ll generate some revenue back from the merch. At that early stage, definitely DON’T spend it on professional services like pluggers, PRs and the like, it’s too soon and they won’t deliver results until you’re really good and have built up a fanbase and buzz yourselves. Save £130 quid of it to join AIM, then you can tap into loads of great advice and resources to help you professionalise.
Ally Mccrae - plugger - publishing scout - manager - former obscure late night radio host - 60% emotion - 40% arsehole - @allymccrae
If I was an emerging act with one thousand Great British pounds I would, if possible go on a sabbatical from my regularly scheduled employment, and even if I made money from writing music exclusively I would still do this (and give your team a month off), and I would, as a full-time job, research, study, learn, meet, question, engage with and try to truly understand every aspect of your business as an artist/band. Use that time and space to diligently explore other campaigns and ideas and success stories. Bands still spend silly amounts of money recording in remote studios because some old band once did, nobody cares mate, go away to somewhere remote and obsess over everything you think you need a team for, then when you come back to normality you will realise how much you can do yourself and probably find yourself, leaving you with more money the next month.
"The race is long and in the end, it's only with yourself" and all that.
Joe Frankland – PRS Senior Grants Manager @Joe_Frankland
Work really hard honing my best two songs, working on pre-production with the best producer in my hometown, hire a studio for 2-3 days to track and mix the songs to make sure I’m really happy with the results. Most of my money will have been spent on that. Assuming I’ve had little coverage and attention so far, I’d put the second best (but still great) song out first – sending it to the 10 most relevant radio DJs and producers, to BBC Introducing and Amazing Radio, to Spotify and Apple Music, and to 30 of the most relevant blogs. I’d spend £50 on targeted digital marketing. A couple of months later - once I’ve booked 4-5 UK dates I’d put out the best song I’ve been holding back. This time I’d target higher profile blogs, the best DJs in the UK for my genre, playlist curators at Spotify and Apple Music and a couple of printed press journalists. Any remaining cash will be spent on digital marketing and petrol for the gig dates and I’ll have piqued the interest of a few people in the industry who have their ears to the ground. Needless to say, I’d join PRS for Music and PPL to start bringing in some money from broadcasts and gigs!
James Moodie – Vevo - @Moodie
“I would spend £995 cheapest possible rehearsal space you can find, in order to write and hone your craft live, before hitting the road. What grabs everyone’s attention, in the music business or outside, is your hooks. These days it’s so easy to do press shots, websites, artwork etc on a shoestring so don’t worry about that from a financial perspective.
At an early stage, the role of a traditional record label is diminishing, want to get on a streaming service? Do your research, get on there and then find the people there that can help. If you’re lucky, that is enough to twig a labels attention. You just need bangers first. With the remaining £5, I would go to Greggs to get a tomato soup and 2 sausage rolls.”
Jen Long – Kissability - @JenLong
So, let's say I spent my initial £1k on touring because I decided that was where I had the best traction, and now I've built up a solid live show, a good reputation, some useful contacts, and a nice mailing list. And I've been given another £1k to take it a step further? I would pick the songs that have best connected with audiences when I've played them live, and record them with a good producer who isn't too costly. Someone who could add something to my sound and make me think outside my usual perimeters, but not like a Flood. Not for £1k. Then I'd used my friends/contacts and get asking about - who out there is a fan/likes what I'm doing and is willing to come aboard for a nominal sum to help me get interest at streaming services, radio, or some grassroots press/blog coverage. It's always best to go with someone who believes in your music once the 'chequebook' is out. And if they believe in you, they'll be willing to start off on a small costing knowing their cut will grow as your career does. Don't just throw out £500 to the first PR that emails you just because you're envious of a couple of bands on their roster. Take the time to find someone who's in it for the long haul.
Pip Newby – PIAS - @PipVsRecords
There’s a bit in John Niven’s music industry satire Kill Your Friends where the protagonist advises young musicians something like ‘you might as well spend your money on lottery tickets, as your odds are much the same.’ It’s a pessimistic view, but one worth considering. The odds are exceedingly long, if you can’t afford to see no return on this grand, don’t spend it.
With that dose of misanthropy aside, as you’re an emerging band I’m going to assume you’ve taken your first steps and have some music that other people might want to listen to. Loads of people will advise you to go out and employ PR. That was definitely the case a few years ago, but mainstream media are picking up on new artists later and later, and if you want to put the work in (and you should want to, if you don’t, go home) you can service most online outlets yourselves. Blogs and websites are almost exclusively staffed by those looking to be on the cutting edge of new music and take joy in being first. Use this to your advantage, everything else comes later.
So with that in mind, set yourself up nicely for when later comes. Split the money between petrol for touring and marketing your project online. Don’t overthink your live setup. Tour in a car. Nobody cares what amp or kit you’re using at this stage. What counts is that you’re good and entertaining. Before and whilst you’re doing this, get the smartest/most unemployed member of your project to do a free or cheap online marketing course. Apply what you’ve learned with the rest of your budget. Never underestimate the power of familiarity to make your project seem more appealing. Smartly targeted ads hit more people more effectively than most other low-level activity. Drive them towards your tracks on Spotify and hope to hell they like them. That way you might even see an early return on your investment. Monitor your results, modify and repeat. Or go and buy some lottery tickets
Darren Hemmings - Motive Unknown - @Mr_Trick
As batshit a notion it might be to say this: I would spend £1k on training courses in Facebook Advertising, Google AdWords and Google Analytics. We are moving into a world where - if they are bold enough - artists have every opportunity to remain entirely self-empowered around their releases. Just look at Skepta, Stormzy et al; by and large, they are all self-run operations. Within that, I feel a huge number of artists would benefit from truly understanding the power of platforms like Facebook. For context: with one client we have, we reached a peak of making about £38 back for every £1 we spent on marketing. How? By correctly managing the data around the artist and focusing on it properly to serve fans the very things they wanted at whatever stage they were at in the fan relationship cycle. So learn these platforms inside and out: doing so, and understanding how that can be applied to a strong strategy, could be all you need to make a LOT of money without signing much over to labels or other rightsholders. Frankly, though, you might not even need to spend £1k on training: YouTube has a free PlayBook you can read cover to cover. Facebook has its Blueprint University - again, free. And Google does run free guides too - just finding them can be a pain. So, be bold: get educated, learn how to make the most of these platforms and then get stuck in.
Claire Mas - Communion @MasMusicMadness
When I was managing a new DIY band I asked this question at a few music conferences and events. Often the reply would be spend the money on a good online PR. Having now worked in the industry for some time I would argue that is one of the worst advice I was ever given. Music blogs' glory days are long gone. People have shifted from blogs to playlists to know what to listen to. With the increase of ad blocking diminishing their much needed small revenue source and Soundcloud imploding, music sites are struggling.
Don't get me wrong, it's not that online PR doesn't have value, but you if are just starting out and have a limited budget it's just not the priority. The top sites that are well respected in the industry, very much have an impact. But the chances of you getting onto those when you are starting out are extremely low.
So where would I spend it? Well, it depends on what you can get for free. You need to invest always first and foremost in your music. So spend all the time you can creating the best one or two songs. Then when you think you are done, practise some more. Then spend what you need to record it to a reasonable level. Make sure you working you socials as best you can and follow other bands that are good online and steal their tricks.
Next, I would come up with a simple to shoot but original music video idea. If you are not that creative find friends that are. You need to pull strings and try to get a friend or a friend of a friend to shoot it for you on a minimum budget. Maybe about GBP300. Whoever is shooting the video will either be using an SLR camera or will own one. So while they are there get them to take some press shots too. Use these for your socials. Then release your song and do all you can do to get that puppy far and wide. Be your own digital PR. Once that is done a few weeks later release the video. Important: snip the best 30 seconds of the video and upload it natively to FB and add the YouTube link. This is much better than just sharing the YouTube link. Then spend the remaining budget you have advertising the video - hopefully at least GBP200 but the more the better. Spend about half boosting your post or even better create a traffic advert with the 30 seconds of the video driving to YouTube. The other half spend on Google Adwords creating preroll adverts.
Sarah Haswell – Soundcloud - @SrhHswl
"It is a great time to be an independent artist in 2017 with there being more options than ever before to launch your music your own way. There are so many tools and support networks available to increase exposure and build a fan base without spending huge amounts so, assuming my music was already produced, my money would be spent on making the most of self-promotion.
Emerging artists can access more information about their fanbase and popularity than ever before via streaming services. Without sounding biased, I’d put £75 towards an annual SoundCloud Pro Unlimited account. It really is a key tool for new artists and using it would allow me to track top listeners, respond to comments, interact through socials, monitor which tracks are played most frequently and find my hottest cities to plan my touring around, on the go and in real-time.
Secondly, I’d join AIM. It costs £130 to sign up as a DIY artist and the independent-focused organisation gives you access to networking and training events, advice on marketing and business affairs. Additionally, AIM can connect you with some of the industry’s leading contacts and companies. Along with this, they’re just lovely people to know.
Finally, and perhaps most importantly, I’d invest in travel. I’d aim to get myself along to key music industry events such as The Great Escape, Sonar, WMC, SXSW, ADE or Dekmantel. You’ll never network as hard or get as much free publicity and fun out of anything else."
Hannah Daisy – Daisy Digital - @Braidy001
A tough one, especially it seems in 2017 however, being the online PR that I am - I’d say assuming you’ve recorded some amazing music ready for the world to hear, paying for a good online PR to help target an audience and expand your fan base is pretty important. It’d really suck to be sat on something amazing, yet no one has had the chance to hear it. Or, in my boyfriend’s wise words (1/2 of an unsigned band) "Take the whole of Spotify out for dinner”.
Yaw Owusu – Nothing But The Music - @MrYawOwusu
The first thing I'd do is spend some time working out what type of artist you are, who your audience is, where your audience is, how to reach them and who/what they trust. That's free.
Then go and get those songs practised - this is good to do before recording or gigging. Your first spend should, therefore, be on rehearsal time. After the repertoire is tight or concurrently, spend a bit of getting some good press images, designs, blog, recordings and maybe a one-page website with key info and ability to capture data and audience details. At this stage, it's time to go back to your plan and push for the right gigs and use free online tools to get music uploaded and shared. Use solid initiatives like BBC Introducing. Maybe release using Ditto or Tunecore or any of the other great and affordable distribution platforms. Promote. Listen to feedback from your audience and tastemakers. Adjust when necessary. Maybe spend a little on targeted online ads. Then with your final hundred or so, reach into your pot again to attend any conferences or networking events or initiative that really help develop talent. These are usually free but you may have to travel.Do it! Learn, network and follow up.
Keep going back to your plan and updated and spending where necessary.
Danny Roberts – A & R @ Decca Records - @dannyjnrroberts
The key word here is content. I would probably look to spend the majority of the kitty on this. For the sake of this exercise, let's say £600. Create as many tools as possible to help extend a campaign. Think outside the box and focus on being distinctive in presentation. With £600 and some talented friends, you will be amazed what you can create. I would encourage an artist/ band to record an acoustic version of the single (which you can aim and different Spotify playlists), commission a friend to do a remix (to get blog traction in a different genre), film live sessions and interviews and film as much footage of the creative process as possible. This will all be incredibly useful when you release the song and don't immediately get 'New Music Friday' across the globe.
£50- You can of course now submit to blogs without paying all of the £1,000 kitty to an online PR company via a website called submithub. From my experience, if the song is 'blog friendly' you can see real results here. An act I manage had 15, (yes 15) positive responses through this process which saw him attain the number 1 spot on the submithub chart. I had people from various corners of the industry reach out to enquire about the artist due to this chart-topping success.
£200- Facebook sponsored posts- With all this amazing content you will need to spend a bit of money on getting your stuff noticed. If you have created visually stimulating, impressive content, this CAN be a very good way to spread the word.
£150- Put on an amazing gig with the coolest trendiest unsigned artists on the bill. Make sure your band have the key slot! Try to create a scene! There's not enough of that these days. Who knows, you might even make a bit of money back at the end of the night to get a Nando's. Probably not, though.
Kelly Wood – Musicians’ Union - @Kelly__Wood
If I were an emerging artist with £1,000 to play with, I would start by investing in myself to the tune of £500 for 5 days hard work. Artists are often so consumed with creating music and supporting it through other jobs that they neglect to spend the time making a business and subsequently a success of their music. Even the best songs, recordings, videos and performances need to form part of a strategy, and artists should be prepared to do this background work themselves.
I would start on day 1 by looking at the act’s administration, output, activities, future bookings and current audience, and over the space of 5 days, I would ascertain the short-, medium- and long-term goals and how these can be achieved. These could include creative actions like local/national/overseas gigs, festival slots, single/album releases and crowdfunding projects, as well as administrative issues such as external funding opportunities, assessing the need for a band bank account and partnership agreement, and the creation or updating of documents like gig contracts, tech specs and EPKs. I would make use of all available information from the likes of the MU and would sign up to newsletters from the Unsigned Guide, CMU and Generator etc in a bid to stay informed about the industry. I would dedicate time to reviewing finances to ensure that income streams - including royalties, gig fees, media fees and merchandise - are being sufficiently exploited. I would also look at financial commitments and how these could be offset to avoid having to find money outside of the act. In order to create an efficient business model moving forward, I would diarise all relevant dates (festival applications, funding deadlines, industry events etc) and where possible I would delegate duties – social media, gig bookings, admin, finance, tour management – to individual members so that everyone plays an equal part in the running of the band.
At the end of 5 days, I would be in a position to know how to invest the remaining £500; be that on merchandise outlay, rehearsal/recording costs, membership fees for relevant organisations, or simply to put towards the cost of an upcoming tour.
Jim Gellatly – Broadcaster - @JimGellatly
I probably did end up putting the first £1000 on a horse. No doubt it came in at 100/1 and I hired a really cool kid to do all the social media, with loads of cash to spare to invest in some great recordings and a splitter van for touring. I'm now reaping the rewards and looking down on everyone from the top of the charts. Reality check. I'd use it towards some good recordings and call in some favours to get a series of great videos to share online and build my social media presence.
Dave Pichillingi – Sound City - @SoundCityPich
I think if I was an emerging artist in 2017 I would spend my hard earned money on the same things as I did in 1977, 1987, 1997 or 2007. That is the right tools to do my job as good as I can do. Today the cost of technology has come down so far that you can have a half decent home set up to record and capture all of those amazing songs that you are writing. Nothing else is worth wasting your money on.
Louise Dodgson - The Unsigned Guide - @EditorUnsigned
Putting £1,000 into one thing is unlikely to bring you any concrete results, although that said, there's no guarantee any money you spend will equate to desired results. So I would spread my £1,000 around, and be as creative as possible too, to ensure they money could go as far as possible.
Assuming the band/artist already have some decent music recorded, if I were them with £1,000 in my back pocket, I'd get on the road and gig up and down the UK, and spend some cash on getting some merch made up to sell at shows and online.
I'd also try and allocate some money to enlisting the services of a PR company to try and bag those all important blog reviews and radio airplay. Get some good photos and make a video to promote your track - of course, this will require some of the £1,000 but it's very easy to get creative and do this relatively cheaply or tap into your network of arty mates to help you out.
Hopefully, some good exposure from PR and playing plenty of decent gigs will potentially propel you onto some great festival slots, and generate some interest from the wider music industry which could lead to you working with a label or agent to move things further up the ladder.
Before I got started on all the above, though, I'd definitely put £29.99 to one side for a subscription to The Unsigned Guide music industry directory to help me get in touch with the right contacts along the way :)
Jack Clothier - Alcopop Records - @ilovealcopop
If I was an emerging artist with a spare £1k I'd be tempted to take the powers that be from Spotify for a drink, give it all to them and ask them to dust my music across all of the most tailored playlists that money can buy...! Sadly, they don't take bribes, so I'd probably get myself in the studio, get a couple of my best tracks down and spend time plotting a sensible 3-4 month campaign to release it and make the most of it alongside a string of dates, and a push on press and radio who you've spent time researching, getting out to the likes of Amazing Radio, John Kennedy, Huw Stephens, Upset, Dork, Clash - all those kind of places that genuinely support emerging artists. Key to this though would be to ensure you've got enough to say to help make you stand out... Trying writing a mini paragraph or two summing up what your band will be doing over the campaign, and see if it sounds interesting enough to catch people's attention. If it doesn't, have a rethink.
Shiv Kalaria - Sky Music Team
Before you even start spending anything make sure you’re confident you’ve written some truly great songs. And I do mean really great. To stand out from the 1000’s of tracks people in the industry listen to every day your song has to have something special about it. If not then hire a rehearsal room & practice as much as you can. Hone your songwriting skills in any way you can - listen to bands/artists/songwriters you admire and dissect their sound. Once confident you’ve got something, hire a half decent producer to get good quality recordings down of your best tracks and then work your arse off getting the tracks out there to people whose opinion you respect – good blogs, websites, a&r’s, radio DJs, music supervisors etc. You really don’t need to spend a lot, people with good ears will pick up on talent when they hear it. Without the great songs though you’ll just be jizzing money down the drain!
Toni Malyn - Emu Bands - @ToniMalyn
"Obviously the situation is different for every artist, but above all else, you need to have a solid live show and great songs. I’d spend £500 rehearsing and writing, £200 getting some songs recorded. Spend a few days with a decent engineer/producer who won’t break the bank. Listen to bands & artist’s recordings in your local area, and if they sound good - find out who recorded them! If you’re feeling confident, mix it yourself and spend it on a mastering engineer. The remaining £300? See where that gets you with an online PR who cares about your songs. Upload your music to BBC Introducing, Amazing Radio, and send your demos to local promoters and bookers - these things cost nothing.”
Liam Keightley - ITB
After spending my first £1k on the van, I'd put the next £1k into making the best possible recordings… try finding a up-and-coming producer working in a similar genre and cut a deal with the studio, try and save yourself some money where you can for the best possible outcome.
Once your music is online, it can be heard instantly around the world. Opinions will be made on that first listen, make it as good as you can.
Gareth Allison - BT Sports - @GarethJJAllison
For me, every artist/writer needs that one killer track that will enable them to have a lifelong career in music
Great songs are the bedrock of the whole industry and they take great skill to create, so if I had £1000 I’d spend it on anything that will help me to get better at the craft of songwriting.
I don’t mean on fancy guitars or cymbals, that’ll all come once your successful. I’d spend the money to allow me to have the space and time required to write music and/or words.
That may mean rehearsal space if you’re a band or if you’re solo and still live at home, soundproofing for your bedroom
Also, to write great songs history tell us the composer requires inspiration so make sure you spend a little of that money on having the experiences that’ll give you something to write about.
Michael Kauffman - The Music Business Association - @MichaelJoel
1. Go to your favourite watering hole.
2. Take enough money out for two rounds of drinks for your crew.
3.Buy first round.
4. Divide the remaining money into four budget areas: band, fans, charity, and collaboration.
5. Brainstorm and answer the following questions:
Band - what can we add that would enhance our live experience? Maybe a good camera to capture performances and behind-the-scenes life, or silly hats, matching guitar straps, and a new bass drum head with band logo...
Fans - what can we give to our core VIPs to surprise and thank them? Stickers, limited edition t-shirts, branded cookies, buttons, etc. Plot out a way to hand-deliver. Everyone likes getting something cool and unexpected. What would excite you? Fuel the love. Do the unexpected.
Charity - pick a local charity that ties to what you value: contact them and determine how to best roll-up-the-sleeves and support them via a small donation + volunteer time combo, a charity performance, spreading their message via your social channels. Take a stand.
Collaboration - peg some cash to pay for transportation and training courses (if not free) to both learn and connect with other local creative forces. Join national and local trade organisations or investigate educational resources for offer relevant classes for the creative arts. Work diligently with others in your creative community (musicians, painters, poets, writers, designers) to collaborate and sharpen your artistic skills. (YouTube, for example, offers classes and events at the YouTube Spaces, production facilities located around the globe.)
6. Now buy the 2nd celebratory round of drinks. You have a plan to invest in your music and your community. Cheers!
7. Have fun. Keep writing songs. Be nice.
Chris Bye - Arts Council England - @ChrisnBye
A grand would certainly throw up a range of seductive-sounding options, but all the PR, pluggers and production in the world is not going to be much use to you without two key ingredients: A catalogue of incredible songs and the sort of live show that will have people crawling backwards over broken glass to witness.
Admittedly this does present a few hurdles and unfortunately, there are no services available at the time of writing to neatly side-step any of them. So brace yourselves, as my take on this is scenario is going to sound pretty vanilla:
Firstly, take a hefty chunk of the money, call your local rehearsal rooms and negotiate a decent deal on as much practice time as humanly possible. As the man once said, for every ten songs you get down, one might be decent. Well, the man might have been a bit harsh but the principle is sound. Write more songs than however many you think you need. Then nail them down hard. Repeatedly.
Next, use any cash left over to put towards a second-hand van. However long this takes to save up for, it is worth it. Getting out beyond your locality is absolutely essential for developing stagecraft, mutating songs, building your fanbase and ultimately, getting noticed by folk you want to get noticed by. Anything you can do to reduce the often-prohibitively crap cost of touring is a worthy medium to long-term investment.
And that’s basically it. Not a quick-fire or complicated strategy but definitely the one I’ve seen work the most times. If you have the songs, the word *will* make it to the right people. The best way to do that, in my opinion, is to generate a reputation for playing said killer songs really really well live. Send all examples of Wyld Stallyns-based van designs to @ChrisnBye
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