Updated: Jan 6, 2021
As the world once again falls back into tighter COVID-19 restrictions and live entertainment is paused indefinitely, the music business goes back into mourning as a large revenue stream for many artists is in the balance.
I am strongly suggesting that you use this time to get your shop in order and take practical steps to sustain your career in music. It is very easy to get caught up in the opinionated rants shared by your peers across social media and the uncertainty is seriously concerning, but to keep your sanity and your wits about you, you have to stop, take a step back and use this down time constructively. You can never be too organised or prepared and a bit of housekeeping and groundwork now can only serve you when normality comes back into play later down the line.
1. Review your database of contacts
The music business is about contacts and connections. It is also ever-changing with people moving about rapidly. It is time to spend an hour or two going through your contact lists, consolidating and categorising them and weeding out anything and anyone who is obsolete. Use whatever method works for you – Excel, Outlook Contacts, even a traditional address book – it doesn’t matter, you just want easy access to the right contacts at the right time with no hassle. There are many music industry directories available and it could be worth buying a subscription so that various sectors can be reviewed and added to your list.
2. Reach out
Time flies and no sooner have we got to the end of January, then Christmas arrives! We get busy in this thing called life and communication with family, friends and business associates often falls off the wayside. As mentioned earlier, the music business is relationship driven and it is about your connections, which, by now you should have organised. Use this dormant time to drop your prized people in your little black book an email or a phone call… just to say “hello!” They will be glad that you have called as they are also going through the stress associated with the current wave of uncertainty. Find out what they are working on, what is happening in the business from their perspective, what their views are on the ever-evolving landscape and, mostly, reach out as a friendly voice. If you are up for it, reach out to your fellow musicians, they will more than likely need as much support as you do. Chase the relationship and the rest will follow.
3. Get on top of your business admin
If you are earning money from your career in music, it must be treated as a small business. If you haven’t already, go through all your receipts and capture them and file them away in a safe place, for easy access. You can even scan them and save them to a folder on your computer if you are more digitally inclined. The same goes for bank statements, contracts and supplier databases.
In addition to the basic bits of admin, review who you are working with in terms of publicists, booking agents and publishers. It may be time to change them or get them out of complacency. Do you have any forgotten about subscriptions that you are paying for but not using? End these and save some cash.
4. Get your songs in order
I have seen many a musician’s computer desktop that looks like a hurricane has just hit it. You ask for a version of a song and it is a gamble as to whether or not you’ll get the right one, or even if it can be found! Your music is your art and should be archived in a way that there is no risk of it being lost and that any version can be easily found. Perhaps create a folder per song, in which you have a data sheet with all the publishing details and other vital information, a lyric sheet, a chord sheet, production notes, contact details for all musicians who contributed to the songs as well as sub-folders for demos, separates and vocal stems, backing tracks and the final version in various digital formats. This will make everything easily accessible if you need to send something to a radio station or a record label. And, for God sakes, BACK EVERYTHING UP! Laptops crash and get nicked, so get yourself a hard drive or invest in a cloud service such as Google Drive.
5. Audit your social media and other marketing assets
When last did you have a close look at your biography? When last did you look at your website and into every nook and cranny of it? When last did you have a look at your Facebook, Instagram and Twitter accounts, not only to review numbers, statistics and demographics, but branding? When last did you look at your video and audio content that is up on YouTube? Is your content relevant to your fans? What do you need to do to have this part of your shop in order? Now is the time to spend a day or two delving deeply into each asset and making sure that it is current, consistent and professional. Of course, this is an opportunity to plan ahead, although planning anything amidst a pandemic can be challenging.
6. Think about the live show
As they say, fail to plan, plan to fail! Now is a good time to plan your live show. Pull out all the old set lists and visualise how you’d like your show to be when music-starved fans are allowed to come and see you perform once again. What do you want to add, what do you want to take out, what areas do you feel were a bit sketchy, how can you tighten the show up? How did you market your previous shows? How can you do this better? What are your fans saying about your gigs? Is there a ticket sales portal that is either less expensive or adds more value to your existing one? What about the merchandise? Are you sitting on old stock that cannot shift? Do you need more CDs printed? What alternative shows can you do whilst venues are shut? Can you do something via online streaming? Can you collaborate with any fellow artists? The live show is the biggest money spinner so get your act together and when venues open, you’ll be slick and in good professional shape.
7. Research what your competitors and idols are doing
There is a lot to be said in the statement that when you gain career momentum, your “idols become your rivals.” Too many artists are trying to be “the next” Adele, Ed Sheeran or Guns ‘n Roses. We have these already, why do we need more? Be YOU! Named Artist! Instead of reinventing the wheel and replicating what they do, find out how they got there. Did they have a strong manager? Or did they get lucky? Either way, it wasn’t handed to them on a plate and most of the have been through exactly what you are going through now. Also observe what your main competitors are doing? How are they engaging with their fans? Where are they playing? Where are they getting reviews and press coverage? You can get your hands on this material by scouring the internet, reading biographies, watching YouTube interviews and documentaries and digesting the comments their fans make about them across social media platforms. You could ask yourself; how did they get it right and how can I implement these tactics in my own career? Observe, absorb and, where possible, try out some of these tactics.
8. Knowledge is power
A lot of artists are in the fortunate position to have a manager who deals with everything but the music. But many artists do everything on their own. Self-managing or marketing doesn’t always have to be “winged” as there is a library of knowledge out there waiting to be gobbled up and absorbed. There are blogs, books, videos, podcasts, online learning courses and magazines all there for the taking, many for free. Figure out what you need to improve on and educate yourself. The music business is a complex beast and the wiser you are, the more control you will have over your career and lower the risk of being ripped off becomes. You don’t have to become a professor in a certain area, but a basic knowledge will help.
9. Compose, compose, compose
If you are a songwriter, your craft should never stop. Record ideas on your phone, write lyrics on the back on an envelope, just let the creative juices flow. It isn’t as if you can go anywhere during lockdown and it is frustrating, but channel this frustration into something creative. You have the time now that you are on top of your admin and other bits and bobs, so use it.
10. Record demos and exploit your home studio set up
You probably have dozens of song ideas tucked away on your phone or on your computer. There is a strong change you have a small home studio set up too. So why not knuckle down and put together some decent demos that you can use to shop around for publishers or even producers. A crap recording on your phones voice note app doesn’t cut it, so start putting together a new catalogue. You will probably find a treasure chest of gems that you have forgotten about and you can spice the chorus of one and the verses of another together and this could end up being your next single.
Use this downtime wisely and get your shit together, because it is going to be more competitive than ever out there when some sort of regularity arises. You need to be ahead of the game as it is definitely more of a case of survival of the fittest than it has ever been.