How do you define yourself as an artist? This may be one of the most important questions you’ll face as a musician. Unlike actors, who have the luxury of wearing a million faces, you have to decide who you want to be. This decision can change over time (see, e.g., Michael Jackson or Taylor Swift), but it’s generally a pretty static brand. Also, you need to become comfortable with wading in heaping amounts of bullshit. There is no shortage of shameless self promotion in the cutthroat entertainment industry, and musicians are not exempt.
First and foremost, surround yourself with talented artists who take themselves at least as seriously as you do. If a band’s drummer is winking at the lead singer’s girlfriend, then you should try to steer away from that drama. That band will be broken up in a month and you do not want to be stuck choosing sides in the inevitable fall out (some exceptions may apply, such as Fleetwood Mac). As an added bonus, surrounding yourself with talent will only improve the quality of music you produce. Just as working with smart people will force you to develop more creative ideas, so too shall you develop more as a musician by crafting a group of talented, professional friends.
Be reliable. Always show up on time and abide by the rules of your contract. If you get screwed by a gig, then you need to be able to prove that you complied with all contractual obligations up until the time of performance. (As an aside, you may want to consider refusing to play a gig if you are getting screwed shortly before a gig, but that’s a story for another day). Always show up on time and always over deliver. If you’re pledged to bring in $2,000 in tickets or sales, then you had better get $2,000 someway or another.
Reliability extends to studios as well. Show up on time and be respectful of the producers. You’re not the best musician they’ve ever seen. Get over yourself. The good news is that the best musician they ever saw likely had other personal problems that kept them from rising to the top. So, act like a professional and get your job done.
Craft a plan. If your goal is to perform in a stadium packed with 50,000 people, then you need to start somewhere. First, get very good. Without chops you’re going nowhere.
Second, get your paperwork in order. Only an attorney lists paperwork as the second step in the music industry, but take my word for it. It’s better to have uncomfortable conversations about splitting costs, profits, and royalties when things are good than when things fall apart. If you’re a real band then you’re going to start getting Forms 1099 from gigs. These are taxable and are required to be reported to the IRS. Again, if you’re a real band then you’re going to make real money. The money that you’re paid is a write off to the venue that hired you. Never forget that the IRS actually checks to see if you reported the earnings from your 1099 you received. If not, then you can expect an audit. That being said, how much of the income should you report? This brings us right back to the paperwork. Check out our other article on incorporating bands to see some of your options.
What’s your product? To whom are you selling and where are they? You’d never perform John Mayer covers at heavy metal festival. Don’t show up at a jazz club and pull out your DJ equipment. Sit around on the Internet and find out where people who love your product are online. Join the online communities and get into the underground of your musical subgenre. The deeper you go the more dedicated your fans will be.
Finally, never forget your image. Never forget that Alice Cooper went to great lengths to hide his appreciation for golf. The man was a talented musician and had a devoted following of metal afficionados, but golf did not fit with his branding. It sounds silly to think of branding yourself, but you are selling more than just your musical talents. You’re selling a show. Part of your show involves bringing the crowd into an idea that’s bigger than yourself. In a way, the performance is the whole art. Your brand is a carefully crafted image that resonates with a certain category of people.
Stay tuned for more posts that unravel the business of the music business.