What services should musicians expect to pay for on their way to a sustainable career?

Assuming you’re a performing singer-songwriter or are in a band, you basically have one supreme goal; to make enough money with your music to support yourself or even better, to live like a rock star.

The sooner you come to grips with the way things are (as opposed to the way things used to be or the way you think they ought to be) the sooner you can get down to the work it will take to make your supreme goal a reality.

In the new music business, just like in the old music business, you are the creator of a product. Once you’ve created some music and you have recordings you’re satisfied with, you must reach the ears of an audience that will compensate you. The responsibility of getting your music discovered by fans and industry professionals rests more squarely on your shoulders than it ever has in the past. There are several ways to create an income stream but in the end it all comes back to an audience hearing your music and you getting paid for that. No one is more interested in your music being discovered than you are. So grab the bull by the horns and make it happen.

When you think about it, you realize this is the way it is for any product or service. Companies often spend far more money generating awareness, marketing & selling than they spend making their products. Your music is no different. Accept that and get on with it or stop complaining that you’re not getting anywhere. Secondly, even with today’s modern tools for musicians, it can still require a lot of work to stand out. If you’re not willing to put in the effort yourself, the first thing you need to do is get a manager who is. You cannot escape the need for this work to happen on your behalf, either by you or by someone who works for you.

Sure, you can hope your music goes viral and suddenly everyone knows about you and it didn’t cost you anything. Good luck with that strategy. I’ve stumbled upon awesome music that deserves to be ubiquitous but is buried deep within YouTube. Blowing up virally works for far fewer than 1 in a million. Hope is not a strategy. Having a good plan and executing it works far more often and most people who have made it in any profession followed that strategy.

Pay to acquire fans:

First and foremost, you should be acquiring fans. The only reason you should do it exclusively the old fashioned way (i.e. playing gigs to as many full rooms as you can) is if you have no other options, which only happens if you don’t have any halfway decent recordings. But if you have some recorded music your options increase exponentially because you can reach so many of your potential fans online.

Doing so isn’t free and you need to understand that. I don’t care if you spend all day on LinkedIn, Facebook, Twitter, and the new MySpace chatting people up and getting them to listen. Time is money and while you pound the digital pavement you have to pay your rent and feed yourself. It only feels free. It’s pretty costly when you add up the time you spend doing it plus the time you didn’t spend doing other things. That doesn’t mean you shouldn’t be active on social media. It’s great for managing an already acquired fan base but It’s no longer the most efficient and least costly way of building one.

Don’t buy ghost Twitter followers. Don’t buy YouTube views. Don’t buy Facebook likes. Don’t waste time creating the perception of traction. Spend your time and money creating real traction with real fans.

We live in an attention economy and no one will pay you money until they first pay attention. Legitimate companies are emerging with great services that essentially guarantee potential fans will hear your music. If they love it, you get their contact information and presto, a relationship is established. Compare the time, effort, and money it would cost you to play to 10,000 people to acquire 1,000 true fans vs an online service who can expose you to that many people in a few days or even overnight and deliver the fans’ contact details to you.

There are plenty of artists who earn a living with 1000 true fans. Get your 1000 true fans (at least). Learn how to monetize them. If you aren’t using the new tools out there to get this done, you’re not only working much harder than you have to, you’re being outpaced and out-competed by artists and bands who understand the new tools available to them.

Pay to get deals:

There are two kinds of deals that matter to you. Exposure deals (that expose you to a mass audience) and commercial deals (that pay you money for your work or for a license to your music). Deals can be both exposure deals and commercial deals at the same time, like getting your song in an advertisement, signing to a label, or licensing your song for film and TV. But notice that exposure deals are simply catalysts to reaching more potential fans and remember, your income always ties back to an audience hearing your music and you getting paid for that. That’s why exposure deals matter. If your song plays on network prime time or in a video game like Call of Duty it is worth more than you can imagine in saved time and money that you would otherwise have to spend to reach that audience.

Most artists who get deals are leveraging the exposure to further their career goals while often also getting paid.

But since you don’t know where all the deal opportunities are (and if you did it would take you months to network your way in), you shoud pay to expedite the process. There is nothing wrong with paying for a service that saves you time or money or both. In fact, that’s the smart thing to do.

Beware though! The landscape is rife with shady companies and shysters who will rip you off if you aren’t cautious. Your aspirations to get a deal and the closed nature of the music business makes you a target for getting scammed.

Pay for help getting deals if the following criteria are met:

* The company or professional is reputable with verifiable references you can query.

* They can point to verifiable and very recent success stories.

* They are transparent. Don’t just take someone’s word for it that they have contacts.

* They don’t take a cut of a deal or any rights to your work that isn’t at least contingent upon success they directly help you achieve.

You’re a professional with a product to sell. You should be treated professionally. You shoud have your questions answered. You should easily understand the answers. If it feels like you’re getting the runaround you probably are.

Pay for distribution:

You can’t get your music into iTunes, Spotify, Amazon and a hundred other consumer outlets on your own with any efficiency. There are companies that do this for you. It’s not expensive. Pay them.

Pay for an awesome online presence:

Unless you’re a good web designer / developer you should pay someone to do this for you. You should have your own site where you control your image and messaging. Update it frequently. Scroll your tweets from your homepage. Show fans ways they can engage with you. Run contests for a live in-home performance. Be creative with how you engage your audience from your own site.

Pay for the use of tools to help you manage your fan base:

You need to stay in touch. You need an mass email service. You need to let your fans know where you’re going to be playing. You need to sell them some t-shirts and other cool items that enable them to feel connected and part of the exclusive club.

Pay to get better:

There is almost no one in any profession that can’t learn more, can’t hone their trade, can’t be more effective. Even top athletes train every day with a trainer. Seek professionals in your field who have more experience, who have won a Grammy or two, who have worked with other top professionals and get real feedback, critiques and career coaching from them. It’s not costly and there are companies that facilitate these kinds of contacts for you.

In conclusion:

It has never been easier for an artist with good music to make a living but the responsibility for making that happen has never rested so squarely on the shoulders of the artists themselves. Instead of lamenting about all the things you must do to become successful in addition to making great music, rejoice that your destiny can now be in your own hands. You don’t have to wait around and hope to be discovered. Hope was never a good strategy in the old music business either.

Devise a good plan and spend some time executing it every day and don’t hesitate to pay for services that advance your career and that save you time and money.

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