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The Kick-Ass Guide to be an Independent Music Artist

14 Feb 2017

Interview kind: text · Reading time: 20 minutes

Nowadays being an independent artist isn’t as bad as everyone wants you to believe.
 
You’re right, we’re far from the record-selling “golden age” of the 90s (even though vinyl is doing pretty well) and emerging from this big melting pot of different musical innovations isn’t easy. 
In the end, the first thing that encourages a new-born artist to create his own music isn’t so much the revenue as much as the ambition of being listened by thousands (or maybe millions) of people and making them feel something unique.
 
For your own sake, the world-wide-web provides a fair amount of resources to help you build your project from scratch, from the basic production steps to planning a tour!
 
But let’s take it easy and let’s dig into the different “tools” an artist can use during his independent career…
 
 
1) Let’s start from scratch
 
Whether you’re a band, a solo artist or an EDM producer, you’ll always start off with an idea you had while you were playing in your rehearsal room or in your bedroom.
And as soon as you got that sparkle of inspiration for a hit single, the first thing to do is record it as fast as you can (using your phone is usually the easiest way); you can then listen to it over and over again, adding further ideas. 
 
One day, you’ll start combining those thousands of little ideas into a much more structured song, maybe by sharing them with the other musicians that are working on your project.
A fantastic tool to record and organize your demo-tracks and pre-productions is Soundtrap.
 
It’s a fully-equipped online DAW (Digital Audio Workstation) that allows you to record (even with the built-in mic in your laptop), edit and post-produce sound sources in an easy and immediate way.
All of the projects can be saved in the cloud and can be shared with whoever wants to work on them, creating remote collaborations to get your single ready to be produced!
 
 
2) Get the right sound, starting from your gear
 
Let’s be honest! Any sound engineer will tell you that the secrets behind a hit song are the arrangements and the “magic touch” of the musicians and producers that recorded it.
 
Whether it’s electro pop or garage punk, black metal or soul, trip hop or folk rock, what really makes a difference is the interpretation a musician can give to a song.
We’re not talking about extreme technical abilities, but it’s more about the sensibility of an artist in knowing his/her instrument, delivering the best performance and spreading emotions throughout his/her music, during a live concert or a recording session.
 
For this reason even choosing the right gear is an essential step if you want your music to kick ass.
 
Reverb is a marketplace that allows you to choose between an infinite number of those musical instruments and that outboard gear you’ve always dreamed of.
I dare you not to spend hours on their website, scrolling through the never-ending list of instruments (new and second-hand ones); you can use their internal search bar to filter this list depending on the type of instrument, the model and the brand. Just with one click!
You can finally get the right gear to seriously improve the sound you’re looking for, just like a pro. 
 
Disclaimer: this site can cause some serious addiction problems.
 
 
3) Financial aspects of an independent music project
 
If you have finished your pre-productions and your new (or vintage) instruments are ready to go, it’s time to start the actual production of your single/EP/Full Album.
 
It’s hard to contain your enthusiasm when you feel you’ve finally got some kick ass songs ready to be shared with the world. But like every epic journey, even in the infinite ocean of the Music Business, you can stumble across some obstacles: the first one is certainly finding the budget you need to invest to make your dream record come true.
 
Don’t worry, you can use some powerful tools to overcome this issue. Ever heard of crowdfunding? I bet you have! What you probably don’t know is that there’s a crowdfunding platform dedicated to music. It’s called Musicraiser, and it allows you to create a customized fundraising campaign for your music project.
 
The artists who create a project on Musicraiser are also part of what they call “Accelerator”: it’s a guided step-by-step system through which you can achieve different levels of promotion, depending on the number of people you were able to involve in your campaign.
If you manage to successfully complete a campaign with at least 200 people involved, you will get a free distribution of your album through Believe Digital together with a 3 month promotion with a personal booking agency.
  
 
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4) It’s time to hit the record button
 
Once you’ve managed to raise enough funds for your project, you’re finally ready to start the actual production of your album/EP/single.
 
This means finding the right team of professionals to collaborate with, including a producer and/ or an audio engineer, a recording studio that fits the sound you’re looking for and the right mixing and mastering engineers that can handle your project.
You can have all the money in the world, but if you invest it in the wrong team, the consequences could be devastating in terms of the quality of the production and the final sound of your album.
 
Finding the right professional is a bit like finding the right partner: someone who really cares about what you do and falls in love with your music, just as much as you did when you wrote it. Someone who can instantly understands the unique sound you’re looking for and can recreate it during the recording and the mixing process.
 
This right professional isn’t always (it’s actually hardly ever) part of your circle of friends. Internet is a very useful tool, but it’s still hard to know exactly who that person is; and remember, you’re going to spend days or weeks working with him on your own songs, so it’s not an easy choice.
 
Lucky for you, there’s a website that helps you doing so: it’s called Bantamu and it’s an online matchmaking platform that helps talented artist connecting with the perfect professionals for their music projects.
 
On Bantamu you can create your own project by selecting the professional you’re looking for (Producers, Recording Studios, Mixing and Mastering Engineers), the wanted sound (reference artists, genres and musical tastes) and then let the intelligent matchmaking algorithm do the rest.
In about 24h you’ll be put in contact with the best matched professionals; you’ll start receiving different proposals and you’ll be able to start chatting with the pros in a dedicated section of the platform. 
 
Once the team has been chosen, you can manage the different agreements (e.g. terms and eventual publishing & royalty deals with the selected producer), the file sharing operations, communications and payments directly on the website.
If this isn’t enough, every artist is supported 24/7 by a personal Assistant that guides him through the different steps of his project until the work is done.
 
You’ve done it, now it’s time to hit the studio!
 
 
5) Lights, camera rolling, action!
 
Ok, so you’ve finished the production and you’ve listened to the final result over and over again on your home stereo, in your car, on your ear buds and on your laptop speakers: you love it and you get shivers down your spine every single time!
All you have to do now is get your music out there and share it with the world. A good starting point is choosing your best single and putting it on screen: that’s right, it’s time for you to shoot your first music video!
 
There’s no such thing as having an original idea, turning it into a visual content and using it to promote your own music.
How many bands and artists did you discover thanks to one of their videos? The power of images combined with the right song often makes the difference between an independent artist that kicks ass and one that can be easily forgotten.
Even in this case, there’s no need for a sky-high budget if you don’t have a good idea behind your project and if you can’t find the right professional to work with.
 
For this particular purpose there’s an online marketplace that connects artists with different film directors from all over the world: Radar Creatives.
The website is very handy and intuitive, you just have to sign up and send all the details of the music video for your single. You have to insert external links of your social pages, a demo of the song, the lyrics, the music genre and some other already existing videoclips that can be used as references.
Once you’ve signed up, you’ll be put in contact with the directors that have been chosen for your project! They can help you take care of any project ranging from music videos to photography, to graphic design - pretty much anything visual! 
What’s good about this is that you don’t have to necessarily be in the same city or country the director is: you can remotely collaborate together to create a unique video.
 
 
And remember, budget isn’t always a stumbling block in getting your project running. Just take a look at OK Go’s first video and you’ll realize that what really matters is creativity and the will of never settling for ordinary ideas.
 
 
6) Let’s conquer the world
 
It’s all set to go! You’ve got everything you need: a flaming hot production, a kick-ass videoclip and you can’t wait to receive your first feedbacks from every possible fan around the world.
The time has come for you to deliver your songs and start getting into people’s home stereos and earbuds.
 
An excellent way for doing it quickly and maintaining a 100% of the revenues is through Tunecore.
It’s the world’s most famous digital music distributor and it helps artists in every country to publish their songs on Itunes, Spotify, Amazon Music and YouTube.
Signing up is very easy and you can choose the plan that fits you most (it’s a charged service), whether you’re looking to supply a whole album, a single or even a ring tone (yep, some people still buy ringtones).
 
There’s a section in Tunecore dedicated to music publishing management, that includes the royalty collection from your works all over the world, TV and film sync licensing and even YouTube composition royalties.
Speaking of which, there’s a specialized platform that offers a similar service with a further attention to the royalty collection and music publishing management: it’s called Soundreef and it obviously kicks ass! (otherwise it wouldn’t be included in our kick ass guide, would it?)
 
 
7) Word of mouth is the key
 
As you can probably imagine, there’s no use in having a kick ass record available in every digital store if  nobody knows you exist!
Promoting your own music isn’t simple and it requires a certain amount of time and resources. You have to be conscious of your choices, otherwise you’ll end up with a few extra likes on your Facebook page but with no real fans of your project.
 
The release of a new project must be structured and planned with people that know what they’re doing. Don’t take a stab at something that’s not your job!
Rely on a Press Office that has worked with artists that you know and admire (even from your local music scene).
For example, if you want to discover how to manage the look and the promotion of a famous artist take a look at Sandbag. It’s useful to understand the ideas behind the promotion of the artists they follow: a kick ass promotion!
 
There are obviously tons of DIY solutions for your own promotion you can try out. One of these is Reverbnation and its dedicated “Promote” section. This famous website created a service for all of those artists who are looking for self-promotion.
You can create your own custom advertisement and then promote it on other websites your followers usually visit. It requires no particular technical skills and with just a few clicks you can easily monitor the sales from your private dashboard and (hopefully) increase your audience.
It’s great for who’s “testing” the market to see if what they’re promoting is capable of reaching the listeners’ heart.
 
 
8) Play gigs, play gigs, play gigs…
 
Last but not least, play live as much as you can. In the end, this is why it’s worth struggling so much, isn’t it?
I’m sure the biggest emotion for any artist is finally stepping on the stage they’ve always dreamed of. Being able to connect with a spectator through a quick gaze or any gesture of approval is something unique! If you’ve been on that stage you know what I’m talking about.
 
In any case, before headlining any important festival it’s important that you “cut your teeth” and start playing in any venue or situation where you can find some possible fans.
Lets make this clear: this doesn’t mean you have to play in every possible place at any possible condition!
You didn’t create your kick ass project just to play in a run-down pub where the greatest attention you can expect from your audience comes from the owner asking you to turn down the volume.
Always respect your music and get some respect for yourself!
We too often hear stories of bands that are even asked to pay money to play in a venue or support another artist. If someone ever proposes you something similar, turn around and walk away (and slam the door on your way out)… They don’t deserve you!
 
Fortunately, the web provides solutions for everything, for example when it comes to organizing your gig.
I strongly suggest you take a look at Stagelink, an online platform that allows any artist and label to manage its own tour. 
The mechanism is very simple yet brilliant: you just have to connect your Facebook page to the website to find out directly from your followers in which city they want to see (and hear) you play. Also, when you’ve reached what you consider the right number of voters you can then proceed and organize a proper gig.
You can then monitor in real time the fan’s requests and even sell your gigs tickets directly thru the platform!
 
 
9) Additional kick ass promotional tip
 
Always let your creativity out. Just like when you’re composing, do it in every step of your production and promotion!
I’m sure that there are many kick ass ideas you can figure out by yourself to get others to know you and to reach the hearts (and the ears) of who can truly love your music!
For example… Ever heard of Hurd? It’s an online service for both music and beer lovers. If you subscribe to their website you’ll receive a monthly selection of different craft beers together with a vinyl of an independent artist! I love it and I think they truly know how to kick ass!!!
 
Once you’ve finished and printed your successful kick ass project (on vinyl, obviously), why don’t you contact the Hurd team to propose your record as the next in line with their subscription?
 
It’s definitely a good way to make others know who you are, and if your genre is listened by beer lovers, you’ve done it!
 
 
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