We live in a time when the top 2% seem to extract most of the earning potential from our economies. The music industry is no different, in fact never before has the wealth divide been so apparent. With dwindling music sales and the rise of the streaming platforms and their complex, convoluted royalty distributions, it can sometimes feel impossible to get by unless you’re Madonna.
It is still however fully possible to make a living as an independent artist, but it is by no means an easy thing to achieve. The industry is now so saturated with hopeful artists, the aim of the game isn’t so much about who can make the best music, but who can shout the loudest and be heard. Having good music is only half of the equation.
There are many tools out there to help address your situation and improve your chances of getting heard, most of them are pretty obvious and with a little applied common sense, patience and tenacity its amazing how much you can do to improve things for yourself.
As an independent record label we know only too well how frustrating it can be to break into this industry. We’ve certainly suffered many more misses than hits and will continue to do so no doubt! But for every miss it helps us understand what is needed to create a hit. So here are 10 things we’ve identified as reasons why your music or creativity maybe falling short of being noticed.
1. You lack visibility
Probably one of the first things we as a label will look at from an artist sending a demo is their online presence. If their music is good enough to release the next question we ask is how much time would we need to invest in promoting them. If the artist is completely hidden within the shadows of anonymity, that means we have a big job on our hands. An artist who has made the effort to create good web channels for themselves is a much more attractive investment. It shows they are serious and committed. It also suggests potential cross promotional opportunities for us as a label via their online channels. The more engagement and activity they have generated for themselves the better for all parties concerned. Releasing music is a question of reach, and the more reach the artist has built for themselves the better chance we all have of making a success of their music.
If you are expecting to be seen as a professional artist you should have the following online portals live and well maintained.
- Facebook band/artist page
- Resident Advisor artist profile page
- Youtube channel
- Personal Website
- Twitter handle
2. You’re a perfectionist or lack confidence in your own product
Another thing we see all the time is artists who are so precious about their work
they don’t share any of it on line. They are forever tweaking, compressing, eq-ing and picking away at their music, never happy. Successful artists don’t do this. In our experience they are much freer in their expression. They don’t take themselves so seriously that they are always afraid to show their work. Music is a spontaneous creative expression, and sometimes the imperfections are exactly what give the music its charm.
3. You don’t see projects through to completion
One of our pet hates are people who send unfinished demos. Tentative demo submissions with statements like “I’m still working on this” or “I haven’t mixed that down properly yet” indicate someone who is either to impatient, desperate to get a release, or lacking in the ability to see something through to completion. Don’t do it. If you are sending a demo, send a finished product that you’ve seen through to the end.
4. You don’t go out
A crime we too are very guilty of is not going out enough. The studio can be a wonderful sanctuary, a place where you can be creative on your own terms, where no one can stop you or cast their judgments on you. You can make music in your pyjama’s with a comforting cup of tea and a chocolate biscuit. You don’t have to stay up all night, blasting your ear drums in night clubs. Staying in is nice, but do it too much and you will miss out on important networking opportunities. To be successful is to be connected. When we disappear into the self and become separate that is where the trouble can start. Opportunities don’t come knocking at the front door, opportunities come from being out in the world connecting with other peoples work and sharing your own ideas.
5. You don’t know the right people
Making a great tune is a very rewarding experience, but if the only people you are playing them to are your Mum or your Nan then you will not get far. You may have a core group of close friends who support you but thats still not going to get you off first base. Before you can hope to take a step towards recognition you have to connect with your target audience and professional peers. This doesn’t happen over night, and we’d advise against trying to force this process. The best connections are genuine ones. When you can relate and experience natural affinity with someone in your professional circle then thats a good sign that the two of you will work well together and form an alliance. Good business is based on trust and friendship, no matter how much bureaucracy or how many contracts we burry it under. Those are the underlying qualities that create strong working relationships.
6. Its all about you
It can be frustrating when you feel your efforts or creativity go unnoticed or unappreciated, but if you are coming from place where its all about you, people will instinctively tune out. Artists who have achieved high levels of success can perhaps be excused from talking about their own work more because they are in demand. In this situation the artist is not acting selfishly because they are providing a service to their fan base. In the case of an upcoming talent this approach doesn’t come over so well. Even if your music is great, the fact is we live in a time when pretty much anybody can participate. Gone are the days when you needed access to a 100K studio to turn out great tunes. With a creaky old laptop and a few cracked plugins it is possible (with a bit of raw talent) to belt out tracks which the un-trained ear would have difficulty identifying against songs produced at Abbey Road. So what to do? Our advice is to connect again. Spend time connecting with artists who’s work you admire, find your mentors, celebrate the successes of your peers, learn from and share in others work as much if not more than you do your own and generally you will then find opportunities to be heard by those who matter. Trying to push your own music all the time is at the exclusion of others. Create win win situations for you and your colleagues, where everyone stands to benefit from a project, not just you. You’ll get a lot further this way.
7. You’re being deliberately obscure
Whist its important to have your own style this doesn’t mean deliberately going against the grain by trying to sound obscure. Many will just perceive your output as weird and disconnected. Unless of course you’re Aphex Twin. Aphex is allowed, because he has the rationale to back it up with. But any idiot can make strange sounds and noises in the studio. In order for music to be marketable, it needs to be connected in some way. People need to be able to relate on some level, in the same way that being able relate to a stand up comedian makes them funny, its the same principle.
8. You suck
If you are doing everything else right and things are simply not working, you may have to assess your own musicianship. Perhaps you need just to study harder, practice a while longer, really put your music up against those who’s work you admire. People respond well to work that is developed and demonstrates commitment and mastery. If you haven’t yet fully done the ground work and properly learned your craft, people will sense that. There are no short cuts.
9. You’re doing it for the wrong reasons
Lots of people are drawn to the rock star life style, the travel, the money and the kudos. Its easy to feel envious of the touring artist who is is flying to South America to play in front of 100,000 people while you fight for a spot on the train into the office every morning. Life can seem unfair but music isn’t your ticket or escape from this. The reality is that although touring can seem glamorous we rarely see the tireless hard work and hours these artists put in to achieve those goals. The artists who tend to do better in this business are those who just do it because they deeply love it. The people who struggle are those who say, I want to get a tune out on such and such a label so that I can quit my day job and get booked to play all over the world. If thats your reason for playing or performing than that is the wrong reason and it will poison your creativity. When the intention in your work comes from a place of purity, your music will sparkle. It will inspire others, people will want to share it, and your profile with levitate naturally.
10. You lack authenticity
When making music it can be very easy to fall into the trap of trying to please others. We all know that the banging tracks sell well right? Make it more ‘dance floor’ they say! But what if that music isn’t in your nature? What if you prefer to create chill out ambient soundscapes? Are you going to forgo your own natural expression to please those people? Bad mistake. You will create for yourself a whole world of inauthenticity. You will be surrounded by clients who don’t appreciate the real you. You will feel unhappy and unfulfilled in your work. And what about the people who do appreciate the real you? Are you going to deny them the beautiful gift of your music? There maybe less of them in the world, they may be harder to find; but when you do find them, you will form loyal and lasting bonds. Now doesn’t that sound all together more agreeable?