How Independent Small Labels Can Prepare Artists for the Big Ones

Recently some third year students in Falmouth organised a Music Industry Forum in Truro and a mixture of artists, songwriters, producers and people wanting to get involved in music turned up.

The F Word is four music students who wanted to encourage more females to enter the music industry.

Afterwards, I went to Jam on Toast in Falmouth to see various musicians jamming together on a variety of instruments including a banjo, squeezebox, viola, bass, percussion and guitars. This event was set up to give songwriters, performers and musicians a chance to experience playing together to help with arrangements for future performances and recordings.

I work for a small independent record label in Cornwall and see many very talented musicians appear in Falmouth, playing in our many live music venues, and have devised this checklist to help you turn your talent into a music career.

This list starts from the very beginning, when songs have been written. Read from wherever you are at. The order thing are done in is not important.

Once you have recorded a rough demo, the next stage is to choose a studio and engineer/producer.

  • Studio producers can still work as front line A&R but of course it is never good to sign too quickly. Protect your songs and do not give them to anyone until you know they will look after them just as well as you do.
  • Find producers that work with acts in your genre, who are similar to you, who you like. Play your rough demo to the producer – once you have decided you can trust them, never be too eager.
  • If the producer DOES like your songs, they may be able to make a deal to make recording cheaper. Be very careful about making a deal, however, as you may need to make sure it is included in a future deal with a record company. This production deal may need reviewing by a lawyer as the producer may be signed to a label. Just things to look out for. There is never a rush.
  • If you are simply looking to get your songs performed and recorded to submit to radio, record labels or publishing companie a full scale production is not necessary. The song needs to be well performed, arranged by you beforehand and perhaps electronic equipment to save on live musicians – you can work with those later when you have locked down your sound and well mixed, feedback sought from reliable friends and other musicians and then mastered, or compressed, ready for putting out as a Wav or MP3 file.

Excited? Create a team.

There may already be a buzz about you but never rush, give your music away or feel under pressure. If you are creating excitement, now is a good time to gather a team around you and delegate areas of responsibility according to your associate’s interests. Creating a team is easiest when you find out what people’s self interests are as these are what will motivate them the most. ie “I want to learn how to market on social media” means put them in charge of social media.

Once you have a decent recording that conveys your song, performance and your sound ideas, now it is a good time to:

  • Set up social media for yourself as a musician, ie a FB music page, Twitter, Instagram, Pinterest are a good start. Add a list of these @handles in your emails, on your press release to make it quick and easy to find you. (Get your social media person to handle this. Give them a by when and ask them to report back at this agreed time with your account logins on a Word document).
  • Create a Soundcloud and a Bandcamp page to start carefully showcasing yourself to early listeners. This can be used as for private press only links for media to hear or for radio presenters to download or it can be to put up some pre-production demos for producers or fellow musicians to hear. Have a look at other artists’ pages to align your ideas.
  • Ensure you have some 72dpi images of you in action, whether this is live, in a photoshoot setting or casual. So long as the pictures show what you look like and are good enough to convey who you are. Get your social media person to add these to your accounts.
  • Create a website. This is mostly for conveying information about upcoming gigs, to show photographs and link to other social media. A WordPress website means you can get a cheap .com domain – make sure it is easy to find or guess but perhaps has music in the title as any registered domain becomes more expensive to move to another host so best to leave your for when you want to have your official website. In other words it is good to use a cheap to run blog or website on WordPress with a $19 domain while you populate the website and you can circulate posts on Facebook, Twitter (multiple accounts at once), Tumblr, LinkedIn, Google and Path each time you publish.
  • Ideally, for your website, have pages for:
    • blogs/posts (these can link readers to your pages via Publicize on WordPress)
    • Music – links to listen to samples on Soundcloud or Bandcamp (can sell mp3s or even Vinyl on Bandcamp). Plus links to iTunes, Amazon and where to find other copies of your music.
    • Gallery – photos
    • About – do a biography that essentially says: Who, What, When, Where and Why about your music career. This can be the same or different to a biography/press release PDF that press can download from your website.
    • Shop – t-shirts, merchandise, stickers, signed items etc when you have them.
    • Gig dates. Keep this updated with future gigs, full addresses, nearest tubes if in London, times, prices, links to buy tickets. See musician websites to see which ones look well laid out. Let people know if transport has been arranged to take them to gigs. Link up to Local and perhaps a lift share page for your gigs on Facebook.
    • Contact page. Make yourself as contactable as possible. If it is safer, suggest people contact you by the means you prefer: either email or FB messenger. Avoid contact forms as it is more work to keep checking, is never immediate and it could put off people who are interested in offering you gigs or other industry. Find a way to start building a mailing list or fanbase. Get someone to be in charge of this if you can or do it yourself. Perhaps use one particular social media page where you can guarantee people will see your upcoming gig postings. Always try to find a way to get people to make the least effort and to get information under their noses. Perhaps a Twitter account for those interested to follow or a Pinterest Board. It is good to work with your team and experiment, asking people how they would like to hear about gigs and by researching how other new artists are operating their fanbases and mailing lists. If you add a “Subcription” form on your website, be sure to send everyone an individual message once a month with gig dates. Avoid forms popping up when people first arrive at your website unless you have something to give away at that point.
    • Press. It is good to have a downloadable PDF of your biography written as a press release – always 3rd person. Have a downloadable 300dpi picture of you for press too. This is very important for festival organisers, promoters and newspaper journalists to find this in a hurry. This will maximise your publicity.
  • Book yourself some gigs. You may want to find venues that pay if you play mostly covers. You may choose to play a new song you have written amongst covers. Be sure to think about arrangement before gigs. Try to avoid just strumming a guitar and singing unless this is the best way to deliver a certain song. Do not make all your new songs like that. It is a good idea to use bits from your studio recording that you like. You may find other musicians to play with if you are not a band. Or maybe use a backing tape for a song that needs a beat.
  • Bands, avoid just playing your instruments all together. Listen to your favourite bands live and see how they have delegated the instrumentation between them. It is amazing what basic band instruments can do if you experiment and orchestrate in rehearsals. (I know you know this. It is amazing how many guitar bands play at Reading Festival that don’t have much individual sound style).

Once you have done all of this, start thinking about:

  • Sending your well performed, arranged and written songs to publishing companies. This is where royalties come from and publishing companies want songs to be heard as much as possible so they may try to exploit a song through advertisements or in films. You can say no. Don’t forget to protect your music, but don’t be precious. If you hate a product, don’t let you song advertise it. Think mid to long term, not short term.
  • Registering as a Songwriter and performer with the PRS. This can provide you with a royalty share from radio play.
  • Consider using a good radio plugger. At least in the UK many presenters play new music and do not have strict playlist policies so that a good song can be played enough for you to earn royalties. Tony Blackburn‘s Show in Kent, for example, has an approachable producer and of course BBC Introducing is very good for getting your music heard and leading on to good gigs. You can find stations anywhere on Radio Garden, but I am not sharing a link as it seems to crash my equipment so be careful.

I will return to jig this post up with pictures, but just for now, here it is.

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