With almost 200 shows and multiple music conferences in the past two years, Maddy and I have learned a ton about the current music industry. For those wanting a career as singer-songwriters, here are a two things we think are worth keeping in mind…

PART 1: Making an album is no longer profitable, but we still need to record and release music.

We all know that while royalties and music sales have virtually disappeared, the costs of making a studio album has not. However, the industry still expects us to have a competitive album or demo before taking us seriously. Everyone is presumed capable of recording a high-quality production in their tablets nowadays, and many do. So albums and EPs have become a business card of sorts – a very expensive business card. What’s more, in today’s oversaturated market, fans expect to hear something new from you every 6 months or less. Otherwise, they may forget you exist.

I told someone earlier this week, if I was starting over right now, I would not do a full-length album like we did initially. I would put all my money in a high-quality EP (3 songs) and release them throughout the year as video singles. And then I would use the rest of my money to market those singles. An album no one hears may not actually exist. Concentrate on quality over quantity, and space it out properly.

If you don’t have the patience to release only 3 songs per year (which Maddy and I don’t), then you have to get more creative. Maddy and I write enough material for a new album yearly, and we want our fans to have it. One of the ways we’re tackling this issue is by doing live albums with lots of new material.

Last year we did a live EP at SugarHill Studios with an in-studio audience of friends and family. The response we received was well worth the experiment – especially to the live video footage.

This year, we recorded our first full-length live album at Lucky Run Studios on Feb. 27th, which we are currently mixing. We sold tickets for two separate performances which funded a large chunk of the project, and gave fans a very unique behind-the-scenes look at our work. And after it’s all said and done, we’ll end up with a lot of new material to release as singles every month or so. So far, the project seems like a winner for everyone involved.

PART 2: Most of the money in the industry is being made through licenses and merchandise.

If you want or need to make money making music, you should focus a big part of your efforts (if not all) on getting your music licensed and/or selling merchandise at live shows. For Maddy and I the goal is to become full-time performing artists, so we spend the time we have performing, and learning how to create a live music experience that results in the sale of a CD, t-shirt, etc.

If it sounds like we care more about making money than making music, consider we can’t make as much music if we don’t make money in the process. We work hard at creating a true musical experience for our audiences – which everyone reading this article understands has a huge personal value. If audiences find value in what they experienced, they’ll want to leave our show with something to remember it by. In our case, we keep our profit margins low in the hope that more people take our music home with them.

For those who are not interested in performing as much as we do, our advice would be to focus their efforts on writing, recording, and releasing music for placement in TV shows, movies, video games, apps, etc. With the plethora of media available in today’s market, one can make a reasonable income from this avenue, and the resulting exposure is often better than radio because people are actually watching these shows, playing the games, etc.

I spoke with Jonny Rodgers of the indie band Cincertalk. He has successfully licensed music for films as well as commercials, non-profits, live theater, and dance. He says artists can expect anything from $150 to $50K for a song placement depending on the use.

For example Broadcast or film tends to pay higher fees, but there’s a greater demand for web use or other lesser-paying media. There are a number of large stock music licensing companies like The Music Bed, Marmoset, and Brash Tracks, as well as boutiques music houses like the one Jonny works with thanks to a personal connection. He says if he was starting out in this industry he would join a performance rights organization like ASCAP, BMI, or SESAC, learn how to run a digital audio workstation, and get a couple of great mics ASAP.

“Take ownership of the recording process and get into situations where you are constantly creating great work, for yourself, or others, or both.”

He also cautioned that some of the larger stock licensing companies signs artists and not songs, “so you should make sure your ‘footprint’ as an artist is strong online; good website, Facebook artist page with fans, possibly videos, and just generally compelling work”.

Of course, there are other ways you can make money with your music, but if you want to make a career out of it, it is important to know that these are sustainable options the industry currently affords us.

Both take a lot of work, but for those who take this career choice seriously that won’t be a problem. The days of someone paying for you to make records are almost gone because the sales of records are almost gone. That’s the bad news.

The good news is that if we can figure out how to be artists and entrepreneurs at the same time, we will be the decision-makers of the industry, and we may be entering an unprecedented era of unbridled artistic integrity. People will always need new music. Our hope is that today’s musicians will re-claim the industry and make it their own.

Facebook Live is a pretty cool thing.

Today, I used it to facilitate my first group Q&A with my subscribers in our Secret Facebook Group.

I think it turned out pretty sweet. But I’ll let you be the judge;)

If you’re not a subscriber, go ahead and enter your email address on the right side of this page to join our community!

In this inspiring TEDx Talk, our very own Shannon Curtis talks about what she’s learned through her work as a songwriter and performer about the connections we make with one another. It’s a lesson that began in living rooms and backyards all over the country, and culminated in a viral Facebook video watched by millions around the world.

Here’s the deal:

For the past 30-40 years musicians have been releasing albums. Many times the time between those albums was a year or more.

Many bands and musicians these days still model their own release schedules after this same one.

This is a mistake.

These days you should learning how to release a single and doing it often.

Here’s why.

Why Singles?

A few years back I started to notice that fans were starting to shun albums.

This led me to try an experiment. For a full year, I released one single of my own music once per month.

Here is what I discovered.

1) You Stay Relevant

Assuming you are not god, and can whip out a full album every month, making your fans wait 6 months to a year (or more) between releases is an eternity these days.

Especially when there is so much else going on in the lives of the music fans that we are trying to win over.

By releasing singles, you stay relevant in a music market where releasing music only 1 or 2 times a year is almost the same as releasing nothing at all.

2) You Build A Loyal Fan Base Faster

When you release music, you are essentially opening the up the lines of communication with your fans. The more often that you release music, the faster you and your fans are going to get to know each other.

By releasing singles, you create a loyal fan base faster. A fan base that gets in the habit of getting music from you on a regular basis. They begin to anticipate each release. You win.

3) You Crush Procrastination

By releasing singles you replace procrastination with the sense of purpose that is created from frequent delivery of music.

You can’t sit around and wonder why your career is going nowhere because you have work to do.

4) You Get Paid More Often

Get paid 8 – 12 times per year instead of just once or twice.

If you are willing to put in the time and effort, releasing singles is a great strategy. But how?

How to Release a Singles

Like I mentioned earlier,  I released singles as often as possible over the course of a year (once per month on average).

The following is a rough system I’ve developed which has worked pretty well in some areas but, I’m sure, could use some improvement.

I’ve divided the process into 3 parts; Preparations, Distribution and Amplification.

Here goes:

Preparation

I usually create videos, credits, lyrics, album art, and a blog post up front and have them located in a single folder so when I get to start uploading and filling out album data. Nothing slows you down faster then having to stop everything to dig around for stuff.

Distribution

Time to upload songs, videos and whatever else for distribution. This should be fairly painless if did your job in the preparation phase.

For my song files, I use Bandcamp as my main store where I try to send the bulk of my traffic on release day. I also used CDBaby for my music distribution to services like iTunes, Spotify, Amazon, etc.

For videos, I just used YouTube. In the past I’ve added videos to other sites like Vimeo and have used use a video distribution service like OneLoad too. Just takes more time and I am only a one man operation. For now, I get enough bang for my buck on YouTube. Really depends on how much time you have and what sort of presence you will have on the other platforms.

Once everything is live on your distribution channels, complete and publish your blog post.

Amplification

Now that everything is set up it is time to start telling your world via what I’m calling Amplification  (could be a better term but it just sounds more musciany don’t you think?

Anyway…).

I started by contacting everyone in my email list (if you don’t have one you are screwing yourself).

Then I make my rounds in the social media world as well as reach out to any blogs, radio and podcast contacts that have featured my music in the past.

There’s More Though

That is the gist.

Everything I’ve listed above should give you a pretty good idea of why and how to release a single.

But, if you’re the kind of musician who wants to dig deeper and improve your chances of creating the maximum amount of buzz, adding new fans and selling all the singles you can, check out my free ebook “Sell More Singles.”

“Sell More Singles” contains an in-depth outline of the entire single release process.

Stuff like;

  • How to prepare your files for distribution,
  • Which services to use to distribute your single on iTunes, Spotify, etc.
  • Where to promote your single
  • and more

Sound cool or what?

It is but I am biased. Go check it out for yourself.

Click here to get a FREE copy of my ebook “Sell More Singles” – You will see exactly how I built my fan base faster, generated more buzz and sold more music by releasing singles.

Get to it!

As musicians, our primary focus is on making music and finding ways to grow our fan base.

As entrepreneurs, our primary focus is on expanding our business and grow our revenue streams.

Other things we need to do to grow get in the way like marketing and promotion. So we turn to social media like Facebook and Twitter to make this easier. Yet when we go to social sites, we find other stuff that takes our focus away.

How to gain the focus we need to succeed

I know this and still I find myself distracted by the amount of other things to do that take my time, energy, focus, and attention. Do you find yourself distracted, especially online on places like Twitter and Facebook? You’re not alone. While trying to use these platforms to let your fans know about your next gig or product offering, you find yourself swamped with hundreds of videos, GIFs, and other posts that take your focus away.

What if you had just one little secret that allowed you to get the word out and grow your fan base that didn’t require a ton of time or money?
And what if I told you not just one, but a few different ways to do this, each producing their own degrees of success for you?

Sounds like a winner, so let’s cut to the chase and get you rolling.

I’m all about simplifying how you do things for growth and success. It’s easier to remember when the process is just one or two steps. And when we achieve results in a timely manner, it makes repeating those easy steps even easier to do because you know it works.

Grow your fan base with this one trick on Twitter

Here’s one way to grow your audience today: Go on Twitter and engage with just one of your followers. Pick someone you don’t know well and start a conversation with them. You can just ask a question or say hello.

How this serves you is it starts a dialogue. And it shows you how your audience engages with what you do. Make the start of your conversation about them, not about you. Here’s why: People are more interested in themselves than anyone else. If you want to get someone’s attention, make the focus on them instead of on you.

Here’s an example from a conversation I started a few weeks ago:

DGrantTwitter
A conversation on Twitter gets the fan more engaged with you as a human and not just this person or musician they happen to follow. Somewhere in the ongoing chat you can mention a song you have that you want to share with them and send them a link, or you can ask them a question about the music they’re listening to. Once a conversation is taking place, you have a more receptive avenue to get your music in front of an engaged participant.

That’s one more engaged fan, and all it took was a focused approach instead of a blanket post sent out to no one in particular.

Grow your fan base with this one growth hacking trick with radio

Musicians, here’s one more simple way to grow your fan base and have the potential to impact a greater number of people: listen to an indie radio station online who plays music similar to yours. Spend a little time enjoying their programming and finding something about the station you really enjoy.

Then go to the station’s Contact or About Us page and find the email for the Music Director/Program Manager. Send them an email saying how much you enjoy their programming today, in particular the part you heard that really stood out. You can ask if they accept music submissions or requests and then sign off.

The purpose of this email is two fold. One, you are identifying a radio station that may be a good fit for airplay for you. Second, you’re making a direct contact with a station manager that is not built around just pitching your music. Station managers get unsolicited emails daily from artists they’ve never heard of, all wanting the same thing. The focus of the emails they receive are usually just on the artist and not on the station programming, or how the artist’s music might be a good fit for their programming.

Remember, a station has an interest in serving their audience great content, not just playing music from someone who sends in a few songs. By taking the approach of being interested in the station’s programming (and praising the people who make that happen), you’re appealing more to the interests of the station manager. It makes them more willing and interested in hearing what you have to say.

When you get a reply in your inbox, you know you’ve achieved something, potentially a response that tells you how to make a radio submission. You are now on a more first-name basis with the station manager and have a little more connection to them than just an outsider promoting their own stuff.

Do something taught in the 1930s that has tremendous impact in the modern age

Both of these tactics are organic ways of building connection. In the social media marketing of modern day, where everyone is their own evangelist, it’s uncommon for people to take a genuine interest in others. But when you do the uncommon thing, you stand out so much more than the herd that is all shouting about their latest thing. It’s a similar principle to what Napoleon Hill taught for decades in his book How To Win Friends and Influence People.

To master this simple method, all you have to do is repeat it. Try this every day for a week, then for a month. Look back and see how much you’ve gained and how connected your audience is.

Be uncommon. It’s simple to not follow the herd. This way, you avoid stepping in all the crap that gets dropped, and you make out with better connections.

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.

The holidays are a great opportunity to reach out to your community of supporters and give them opportunities for giving great gifts that involve your music. Here are a few quick ideas:

Idea #1 – The Coupon Clipper: Create a holiday coupon code for your web store and invite them to go nuts shopping. Some example ideas:

30% Off Everything You Buy In My Web Store Until Christmas!

Free Shipping On All Orders Placed By December 15th!

Stocking Stuffer Special: Buy One Album, Get One Free!

Idea #2 – FREE Holiday Song For All: Record a cover of a favorite holiday song, even just a quick acoustic recording, and offer a download of the song for free in your web store. They’ll come visit your web store to grab the free download, and while they’re there, they just might be tantalized by other items you have for sale. Especially if they’re armed with an awesome coupon code, too. (See Idea #1.)

Idea #3 – The Best Gift Of All Time: Offer to write and record a personal song for those who want to give a truly unique and special holiday gift to someone they love. Send them questions to get them writing about the person the song is for, and then use what they’ve written as the source material for their song. Best. Gift. Ever. (Wanna hear a few of the personal songs I’ve written for folks? Check them out here: http://shannoncurtis.net/personalsongs.)

Idea #4 – Play Santa: Pick a few random days on the calendar the first few weeks of December and declare them “Free Album Friday!” or “Free T-shirt Tuesday!” or “Free Poster Sunday!” Tell them you’ll send them a CD/tee/poster for free, all they pay is the shipping, limit one per person. Again, you’ve gotten them to visit the store for the free thing, and once they’re there, they just might shop. In fact, it’s a weird psychological phenomenon that when someone is given something for free, they’re much more likely to buy another thing. Seriously. True story.

Happy Holidays to you! And to your community of supporters, too.

Back in the day, there was a mantra that was taught to songwriting musicians, almost without fail:

“Keep your publishing.”

As I see it, the mantra was a call to keep some kind of control in a world where a lot of control had to be ceded to others. Recording was very, very expensive, and so was the release of that recording. In the age of physical media (heck – physical EVERYTHING), the people with the money to produce the physical media called all the shots.

By “the people with the money,” I am referring to the many and various record companies.

This is not to say that DIY was completely impossible, but for a musicpreneur to actually reach a wide audience in a short time required very large resources. The holders of the resources tended to demand a lot of control in exchange for the privileges involved: Unless you had a lot of pull, they would control what was released, where it was released, and in what quantity, and your opinion wasn’t worth a whole lot.

And they owned the copyright to the sound recording. You could NOT just take your masters and do whatever you liked. The control of the recorded music belonged to someone else.

If the record company owned both the sound recording AND the rights to the underlying song, you really had nothing except whatever fame you had managed to scrape up. All the money involved in anything to do with your tunes would first go to the record company, and then they would cut you in later – likely for as little as they could get away with.

Keeping your publishing meant keeping some control. Having a say somewhere. Owning your intellectual property instead of just being allowed to represent it.

That’s why you should have your own website. Having a web presence that you own and pay for is a 21st-century, internet-enabled version of keeping your publishing.

Who’s Making The Decisions?

If you’re like me, you may have a complicated relationship with social media. On the one hand, it’s a great way to get your material out there. It’s often the digital way to “meet people where they are.” People are naturally present there, and it’s usually a simple process (requiring no extra sign-in) for those folks to request notifications when you have something to say.

On the other hand, social media can vacuum up your time, offer a really troublesome signal-to-noise ratio (people are being bombarded with input, which means your input may or may not be recognized), and it just generally may not line up with how you prefer to interact with others.

As a long-ish form, deep thoughts sort of guy, I don’t really get along with Twitter.

Anyway…

Social media is also not truly under your control.

Sure, you get to pretty much post whatever you want, whenever you want to, but you’re ultimately using a platform at the pleasure of the platform owners. If they want to change how your content is presented to other users of the service, you don’t get any individual say in the matter. If they want to run some traffic-shaping experiment that just happens to wreck your big announcement, that’s too bad for you.

And if they decide to take control of your account, or just dump it off the server, there is basically no recourse open to you. (You can send an e-mail and beg, I suppose.)

Yes, you can pay for being featured, but you originally signed up for free.

If you signed up for free, you are NOT a customer. You and your data are the product, and the company’s well-being depends on them managing their product as they see fit. This may or may not be a good thing for you and your content, and if you have no independent platform for your online existence, you are very stuck with what other people decide.

So, I say, leverage social media. Leverage it in any way that will work for you. Don’t let it be your only presence on the web, though. Have your own site. To whatever extent possible, have it be a far better experience than social media offers to your dedicated fans. You can make all your own design decisions on your own site. You can have a site built specifically to offer the functions you want to offer to visitors. If changes are going to be made, you choose when they happen and how extensive they are.

You also retain complete rights to everything involving the site, instead of sharing those rights with an entity that can modify its privileges at a whim. (I don’t encourage paranoia, but you have to recognize a power imbalance when you see it.)

I could have a lot of the more “compact” material from The Small Venue Survivalist live entirely on Facebook, but then Facebook would have control over that material – and that content would have no presence if it disappeared from Facebook. If I post a meme on the Facebook profile, I almost always create a post for it on smallvenuesurvivalist.com as well. I want complete ownership of what I say, and I also want that material to be search-indexed on my site.

I could have all my longform content posted and managed entirely on Patreon, but then I’d be stuck with the display restrictions that Patreon puts on posts. Patreon’s design is pretty nicely functional, but it’s generic from creator to creator. It doesn’t really fit my specific needs for hosting my full articles. When it all comes down to it, I don’t want to look like everything else on that platform – I want my work to be presented in the exact way that I want it presented, thanks.

Keep your publishing. Keep ALL your publishing. Have your own site, and be THE owner of both your content and its presentation. Be subject to your whims, instead of someone else’s.