A few years ago I saw a bumper sticker that said “Increased Happiness by Lowered Expectations.”
In my opinion, this little gem of wisdom can be applied to so many areas of life–including our independent music careers. Now, I’m not saying we shouldn’t aim high and reach for the stars, but it’s also positive to achieve and celebrate small wins. Let’s face it, we all have limited time, energy and resources, and what we set out to do should actually be, well doable. So, in keeping with the idea that 1) goals are good and 2) goals should be something we can reach, here are:
5 Resolutions Singer/Songwriters Can Stick To
1- Creatively write every day– set a timer, pick a random object, and free write on it for a few minutes to keep your writing skills sharp. These exercises can generate a lot of good ideas you can use later in writing sessions. In the book The Artist’s Way, it talks about starting out the day with ‘morning pages’- stream of conscious writing when you first wake up as another way to get your creative brain in gear. Writers write…simple as that!
2- Pick up your instrument every day (if you don’t already)- while you may not be able to practice for three hours every day, at least play a little and spend some time noodling. You never know what you might come up with in these sessions—and what will turn into a future song. It’s also a great idea to learn cover songs, and experiment with new arrangements of old standards.
3- Interact on social media every day– even if you spend a few minutes here and there throughout the day, make sure to keep your interaction consistent. I use Hootsuite to schedule out tweets, and the Facebook scheduler to pre-schedule posts. Especially if you’re going to be extra busy one week, it’s great to pre-schedule the content then just ‘check in’ to respond to comments. It’s important to vary the content…don’t post the same thing on every social media account on the same day.
4- Make one contact a day– every day, reach out to one booking agent, one music supervisor, one music reviewer, one new co-writer or one artist who is looking for songs. Even with the ‘one a day’ rule, you’ll be surprised at what you can accomplish in a year!
5- Be a learner/improver– pick an area you feel like you are weak in as an artist and take a class or a workshop to improve in that area. A few years ago, I felt like my live shows needed some help, so I went to a performance coach a few times. It made a world of difference to me! If you struggle with pitch, get a vocal coach. If you aren’t great at social media or emailing your fans, take an online course in it. If you need to learn more about music publishing, read a book on the subject. There are also great songwriter camps with professional writers you can attend to learn writing techniques from the best.
I’d love to hear your ideas about what you’re thinking of doing this year to build your music career! Please share in the comments below.
I seem to do a lot of mentoring and coaching of other artists. This isn’t because I feel like I have this all figured out in building a music career, not even close. It’s mostly because I know how hard it is, first hand. I’ve been on this road for 17 years now. And, I also know how frustrating it can be to not have any help as an indie artist when you are trying to figure out the next step.
When I get asked questions from young artists, or artists new to Nashville, I can guarantee I will be asked at least one of these questions. So, I wanted to share the answers for those who might be wondering the same things. In fact, I might just send a link to this blog instead of sitting down for coffee with people from now on. 😉
1. I’ve written some lyrics, could you put them to music?
Usually about twice a month someone asks me to write music for lyrics they’ve written (or lyrics for music). The short answer is “no.” Why the answer is no is that I already have a great group of professional songwriters that I co-write with. We write some really good songs, and we also have some connections to further promote the songs we write- so it’s a win-win for us all. Yes, it is a harsh reality, but it’s also true for me too. For example, I haven’t had 20 #1 hits so I would never walk up to someone who has and ask them to write with me. It’s just one of the unwritten rules in Nashville.
Having said this, some professional songwriters will do paid co-writes with people who have never written a song. It’s one way they monetize their skill. I know a songwriter who does about five of these paid writes a month, and it’s a main source of income for them. And, you can also look for collaborators who are local to where you live too through local songwriting clubs like NSAI.
2. I’ve written a song that would be great for (insert famous person’s name here), how can I get it to them?
First of all, good for you! And, honestly, you have a very slim chance of even getting to the artist with that song and some MAJOR competition. The reason is that most artists write for themselves because they don’t want to lose money in songwriting and publishing royalties. Here’s the real deal…
On every given major artist’s country album, there are usually only about 2 songs that will come from outside the artist’s camp. The artist’s camp is comprised of their producer, publisher and songwriters they know. A good example of this is Luke Bryan. Luke has close-knit group of hit songwriting friends: Dallas Davidson, Rhett Akins and Ben Hayslip (known as the Peach Pickers) who write songs with and for him. Dallas and Luke were roommates when they moved to Nashville and have been friends forever. So, unless you are a Peach Picker or writing with one of them somehow, you have a very slim chance of getting Luke to record your song.
So what about the other two songs on the record that weren’t written by the artist or someone in the artist’s camp?
The first place the label is going to go is to their catalog. For example, if Brad Paisley is looking for songs he didn’t write, Sony will go to their publishing company Sony/ATV and they will look through literally thousands of songs they have. The reason is that they have invested money in those songs because they paid staff songwriters (songwriters with publishing deals at Sony) to write them. They want to make their money back, and it makes total business sense they would want to keep that money in the Sony family.
The last place the artist/label is going to look for songs is from a song plugger (someone paid to pitch your songs for you, like an agent) or another publisher. Let me just say that there are a lot of sharks in the water in this world. If you want to try this route and are just starting, use a service like TheSongTuner.com because they actually work with reputable song pluggers and you only pay if you really have a song that fits what are looking for instead of a monthly fee. They also give you constructive feedback on the song.
Ah, the big one. There are lots of ways to make money, but making a living is a whole other story. Let me give you a couple of real examples from my career.
About six years ago, I had my first song cut and released to country radio as a single. The artist spent around $1,200 recording it and $8,000 to promote it, and we were all really excited. The song climbed the charts into the top 60 or so, and got airplay on hundreds of stations. People were sending me emails about how I had ‘arrived.’ It was awesome, and it still is! But, financially from that song, we all made about $30 each on the songwriter/publisher side. Yes, that is all.
Here’s another real-life one. In my experience, indie films pay about $200 to license a song. Recently, I placed a song in an indie film for $75. This was because one of my cowriters really wanted their first film credit, and the story/actors looked reputable. We spent $350 on the demo of that song; we lost $275.
I wish I could say I make a full living doing music. But, I don’t yet. I have a full time day job to fund my music career. And the reality is that most people in Nashville do as well, or they have a bread-winning spouse, parents or an investor. And these economic realities are not only at my career level. I had a friend who was nominated for a Grammy this year, and they couldn’t afford to go to LA to the awards. They are obviously at the top of their game as a Grammy nominee, and they are also someone who has to pay the bills. Just like the rest of us.
5. Have you written any songs I would know?
If you watched Hart of Dixie then the answer is ‘maybe’ because I had some songs on the show. But more than likely, no.
So are you depressed yet?!?! Please keep reading…
Look, I don’t want to give you or anyone else the reality smack down. At the same time, I really don’t want you to have wildly unrealistic expectations of the experience and the economics of pursuing a career in music.
If you truly love writing and performing, and are willing to face the realities above, then move here and do it! It’s like I always say, dreams are free but hustle (and hard work) is sold separately.
We see it everywhere in the music biz: [Insert Artist Name here] has a new single!
But, what does that really mean?
Well, to break it down, there are SINGLES, Singles and singles…
The SINGLE- AKA Major Label Release or the Times Square Billboard
When a major label artist releases a single, it’s a big deal. It’s a big deal because it means the label is investing tens of thousands of dollars (yes, that much) in advertising and promotion to get that single out there in the market. They literally have teams of people calling up individual program directors on a daily basis to get them to play the single on their radio station. This involves both relationships and favors. For example, a label radio promoter might ‘sweeten the deal’ with a program director by offering free tickets to a big name artist show in exchange for spinning a lesser known artist’s single. It happens all the time. Major labels pretty much own the content that gets played on major radio stations, which is why you hear the same playlists over and over.
And, just so you know, a #1 song in the country market will make a million dollars. So, if all the promotion works, it pays off big for the label, the artist, the publishers and the songwriters.
The Single- AKA Legit Indie Release or the Highway Sign
When a legit indie label or indie artist releases a single, they can hire radio promoters to work their single at radio for a fee or they can run a professional DIY campaign.
Now depending on the charts they are targeting, fees vary widely from a few thousand for the ‘life’ of the single – or however long it is still moving up the charts – or a few thousand a month. In country radio, for example, major label artists typically release and promote to Billboard charts and up-and-coming artists generally release to secondary charts (Music Row, Billboard Indicator). Even these secondary charts come at a pretty hefty price tag, and artists I know have spent $20,000-$30,000 on promoting one single. Because of royalty rates, don’t expect to earn a bunch of money back either. A few years ago, I was a writer on a song that reached the top 60 on the Music Row charts and it paid a whopping $30.
For myself as an indie artist, I’ve found a great option in radio promotion in the UK and Ireland. I partner with KEMC Global; they are reasonably priced, and they get results that turn into actual revenue because the royalty rates are so different there.
If you do hire someone to help you promote your music, make sure they have a track record of working with artists in your genre. And, as always, ask around to see what other successful indies are doing.
The single- AKA I’m Saying it’s a Single or the Yard Sign
This brings us to the last type of single. This is basically when you say you have a single, but what it really means is that you put it on iTunes and maybe your hometown radio station is playing it. It’s sounds cool, yeah, but it’s just not the same as the two types of singles described above. At the very least, if you’re serious about your career, consider trying a DIY campaign around a new single or album, or clarifying your release as an iTunes Single release.
The Closing Thought
So, there you have it. There are SINGLES, Singles and singles. While we can’t all be major label artists, the good news is that you do have options to run legitimate single promotions with an investment of time and money. And, remember if you want to be legit, then you have to work on getting your music on legit music industry charts,; ReverbNation doesn’t count.
Have any questions about radio promotions? Hit me- I’ll answer whatever I can!
Let’s face it. Being an indie artist is hard work.
For many of us, it means we serve as our own booking agents, music publishers, record labels, publicists/marketers, distributors and accountants. We have to get creative, roll up our sleeves and make things happen in our careers often with very little support or funding. How many times have you searched for resources online, ask friends for advice or just jumped in and learned by doing?
Lately I’ve been working on a new record Ghosts in the Field, and I’ve been thinking about the complex process of releasing a record as an indie artist. And it is a process—one full of planning and a lot of moving parts.
To help bring it all together, I’ve created the Ultimate Indie Album Release Roadmap for you! And, because I’ve been blogging for a few years, I included bonus how-to resource links (dashed line boxes indicate links) on topics such as lyric videos, radio promotion, media tips, pitching to film and TV and more. (Note that the same concepts would work if you were releasing EPs or even singles).
Have I missed anything? What would you find helpful to add to the mix? Share your comments below!
If you don’t have big money to make a big budget video, consider making a lyric video to bring your song to life!
There are essentially a couple low-cost ways to create a lyric video- DIY or hire someone at a reasonable indie musician rate.
If you’re a techy person with a good eye, try getting a program like iMovie to make your own lyric videos. Essentially you can just drop in the song as an Mp3 and then make titles over photos or plain backgrounds. Here’s a pretty neat sample of a DIY video that my friend Marcum made for a song we wrote. There are some great tutorials on YouTube about how to make these types of videos like this one.
Hire a Reasonably Priced Pro
When I was personally in the market for lyric videos, it took me some time to find some affordable and professional lyric video makers. Prices vary depending on what you want specifically, but the average you can expect to pay is anywhere from $200-$400.
Below are a few resources and a sample from each video maker I found, and they all have videos priced in the range listed above:
When you finish with your video, post it on your YouTube page, then on your website. It’s important to put the video on your website, because you want to drive people to your site, not YouTube where they can get distracted by cats!
Once posted, share, share, share! Send emails to your fans and friends and create social media posts. Remember to share it multiple times on Facebook and twitter especially in different ways- tag the video maker, pick out a line you like the best to highlight, shout out to your co-writers or musicians that played on the record, etc.
I can’t wait to see your new lyric videos- so tag me with your new lyric videos on twitter at @shansmusic and I’ll be sure to re-tweet and share!
For the first time I’m promoting a record of my own to radio. I wanted to do this because a) it’s a great way to get my music heard and expand my fan base and b) radio airplay can open up touring opportunities in new areas.
Being new to DIY radio promotion, I’m learning a lot about it works. So, here are a few tips for you artists who are about to embark on the same journey!
Just as a bit of background, radio promoters essentially work to sell your record (and you as an artist) to radio stations and programmers. The costs of these services vary widely, but in the Americana market you’re looking at about $5,000 for the life of the record (i.e. about three months worth of promotion). Americana promotes a whole record, not just a single. In the country market, a single is promoted. It’s a very different story and price point, because typically in country there is a team of promoters that specialize in getting your single onto different stations and charts.
In the absence of funding for promotion, you’ll be going the DIY route like me. Here are a few ideas to get you started:
1- Start by creating a plan. When will the official add date be for radio (typically you will want to promote a few weeks leading up to the add date)? How will you handle all of the contacting? By yourself, or with the help of friends?
2- Identify your contacts. A full list of stations is listed on the Americana website of reporting stations, but I would also suggest reaching out to Fred Boening (a radio promoter) to ask him about a list of additional stations as well as an hour’s worth of consulting. He not only promotes to radio, but he also helps indie artists succeed. It will be well worth your time and a small investment, believe me.
3- Start to connect on social media. Find and like Facebook pages and follow on twitter. This page on my website has all the Facebook pages listed you can like. You can begin to learn more about the station, DJs and what kinds of music they are playing.
4- Prepare a one-sheet to go along with your cd. This will tell the programmer about the CD and you and an artist. Click here to view my one-sheet as a sample.
5- Join AirPlay Direct. It’s a site where radio programmers (and only programmers) can download broadcast quality tracks from your record. Here’s a sample of my site. They also have advertising you can purchase to help spread the word.
6- Mail out your CD. Remove the shrink-wrap and put a sticker that says FCC Safe over the UPC code if there are no swear words on it. Put a couple of songs on the sticker that you want to highlight as featured tracks. Include the one sheet in the package you mail. You may also want to add a little something in the envelope to help people remember who you are (for example, I added a cow tale candy because I grew up on a farm).
7- Follow up with calls and emails. Programmers have call times when they accept calls about music. Here’s a list of those call times for you, thanks to Fred. This is probably the most important step of all because stations literally receive hundreds of CDs every week. You want them to hear it, not get lost in the huge pile on their desk.
This is just a high-level outline, and I’m happy to say that this process is working for me so far. But, I could really use your help too…so will you please call a station on this list and ask them to play something from Better at Goodbye?
Look forward to hearing your songs on the air too- and please let me know if I can help you!
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