50 Common Indie Artist Challenges and Traps And How To Avoid Them Part II

    1. Not knowing their strengths and weaknesses. An example of this would be great singers who insist on also playing their musical instrument, or vice versa, but don’t have adequate talent in both areas. Another example is the rhythm guitar player who insists on taking a lead even though the lead guitarist would do a much better job. Bands who think they can please everyone can sometimes fall into this category (some bands work hard to play all kinds of music and do it well). It is important to know what you do best and to stick with it, especially when someone else could do the job so much better.
    2. Not studying the business. It is important to know and manage the financial side of your career. It is also important to know how the music business really works. Not knowing this can cause you to overlook income streams, enter into bad contracts and just make bad career decisions. Become a student of the industry. Study what is happening in the music business. Keeping on top of current technology, marketing trends, legal situations (e.g. changes in copyright laws), how the economy is affecting venues etc. will all put you miles ahead of your competition.
    3.  Being impatient. Many artists are simply not willing to pay their dues. This plays out in any of several ways. They often get frustrated and take it out on the people around them. They blame the world for not recognizing their amazing talent. Often they end up quitting prematurely, at times just before that ‘big break’ was about to hit. There are very few artists who were truly ‘discovered’ and never had to pay their dues. For most artists, the road to overnight success is a long and rocky one. Keep in mind that there are many amazing underground artists who have been around for decades and still haven’t ‘made it’ to widespread commercial success.
    4. Not relating to audiences. Many artists are very good at what they do, but somehow miss the boat when it comes to connecting with their audiences. An example would be the artist who keeps his or her eyes closed during every song. Another example is the band that drags out guitar solos far beyond what their audience is willing to accept. The goal is to turn your audience into raving fans, and the only way to do that is to make every single person feel like you are singing (or playing) to them alone. After all, they really are the ones paying your salaries.
    5. Getting involved with the wrong people. It is so common to hear artists say ‘my manager isn’t doing anything’ or ‘my record company isn’t promoting me’, or ‘my booking agent isn’t keeping me busy’. Worse yet is ‘my manager ripped me off’ or ‘the drummer never showed for the gig’! ‘ Research everyone into whse hands you put some aspect of your career. Check their credentials. Get references – and once they give you a few, ask for more (anyone can hand you a list of 2-3 friends). Better yet, get personal recommendations to the people you need.
    6.  Putting out poor quality. Regardless of how good some artists are in one area, they often settle for less quality in others. Every facet of your business should be the best that it can be. This includes your recordings, videos, website, social network sites, newsletters, live performances, and any other connection you have with the public or with the industry. These are definitely not areas in which you should skimp.
    7. Insisting on only recording and/or performing songs they have written. Many artists have amazing talent as live performers as well as when recorded. However, it is vitally important that you play and record only the absolute best songs. Even superstars recognize when someone else has written a song that can advance their careers. Until you write the best songs, find the best songs. Period. End of sentence.
    8.  Acting/appearing unprofessionally. Many artists are not taken seriously because they don’t act professionally. This includes dressing appropriately, being prepared for meetings, rehearsals and gigs, returning phone calls and emails and all of the other things that a true professional would never think of neglecting. It also includes polishing or cleaning your instrument and/or your amplifiers. Look and act 100% professional all of the time. And if you’re not sure what that looks like (for example, not knowing how to dress for a specific appointment), ask.
    9.  Failure to plan out their career. This is a huge mistake that many artists make, and often blame others for. You should know ahead of time what you need to do and why you need to do it to move your career forward. You need to develop short-term, intermediate and long-term plans, and implement them with precision. Without a plan, you’re just throwing your career into the air and going wherever the wind blows it.
    10. Using cheap or un-kept equipment. There is no excuse for walking a tightrope every time you pick up and/or plug in your instrument. Keeping your instrument (including your voice and your vehicle) in top condition seriously reduces the risk of losing a gig, or having to stop a show because something broke down that could have been avoided. Make sure you pack your gear right (including wrapping wires neatly), and have replacement parts for things that break routinely (guitar strings, picks etc.)
    11.  Not investing in themselves, or investing in the wrong places. Many artists refuse to take money out of their own pockets to grow their careers. It takes money to get marketing materials, get radio airplay, take lessons, hire a performance coach, hire a producer etc. And if the artist doesn’t have outside financing, he or she needs to be the one making these investments. Even in the music business, it takes money to make money. I am not saying you need to spend money recklessly so that you look like you make a million dollars a year. But there are things that would be wise investments because they will get you more gigs or help you sell more music.
    12. Making promises they can’t keep. The entertainment industry is very much based on hype. But it doesn’t look good for an artist to commit to things like bringing a certain amount of people to their shows, getting local airplay, playing a certain kind of music or delivering a certain energy etc. It is very easy to get a reputation as an act that is all fluff and no substance, or one that will say anything to get the gig. Both reputations are very hard to overcome.
    13. Mis-booking themselves. Many artists sabotage their own careers by messing up their life performance bookings. This might mean writing down the wrong date or starting time, double-booking themselves (booking 2 gigs for the same day and time), booking themselves into a venue for which they are not a fit, booking gigs that are an uncomfortable driving distance from each other, or stretching the truth about themselves or what they can do. The only way to fix this is to keep all bookings in one calendar, only have one person as the liaison with the venues, and confirm everything in writing 2 weeks before every gig. Keep in mind that venue managers make mistakes as well, so these things are important even if you are great at keeping your schedule.
    14. Being completely disorganized. This challenge can result in losing contracts or forgetting to issue them, forgetting to take vital equipment to a job, losing tax-deductible receipts, losing or forgetting to send in product warranties, forgetting that they booked a gig, the inability to find or pack up small accessories like mic clips, a pedal, a set of guitar strings etc. Either develop (or have someone else develop) organized systems for the business and the performance side of your career. Be sure you have a system of checks and balances to make sure that you’ve done or covered everything that is important.
    15. Insisting on singing or soloing. Many artists insist that they get the spotlight even though there are much more talented people in the band. Yes, it is important to surround yourself with great players and singers. And if your singing or playing is at least good enough to not be embarrassing, then it’s fine to take your share of the front work. But you need to get honest assessments of your talents, especially in relation to the rest of your group. After all, a chain is only as strong as its weakest link.
    16. Not learning how to read their audiences. It is critical for every artist to know how to read an audience. This means knowing what they want and delivering it. This is especially important if the venue has its own patrons and you are not the one who draws them in. That means that every night the room might have a different dynamic. For example, in many places singles come out on Friday night and couples come out on Saturday night. That might require playing more love songs or slow dances on Saturday, and more line dances on Friday night. Study your audiences carefully. Monitor what they react the most to and give it to them full force.
    17. Not showing appreciation to venues, team members, band members etc. This is just plain and simple common courtesy. If you neglect to do it, you may be silently and unknowingly causing some resentment. Saying thank you and showing your appreciation makes people want to do more for you. It also gives you another touch point (thank a venue manager and then ask for follow up dates).
    18.  Not giving back. Many artists refuse to play any gigs for free, even though it might be for a charity. This really puts the artist in a bad light. Before you have a strong following, consider ‘paying it forward’, where you do something good now knowing that it will come back to you somehow, some way, somewhere down the road. And once you have a following, use your notoriety to give back to the world by performing for fundraisers, doing free ‘fan appreciation’ concerts etc.
    19. Producing and/or mixing themselves. Whether it’s due to lack of money, or just a strong ego, many artists insist on producing their own recordings. Being the artist and spending so much time recording the songs can really throw your ears off. This often results in a very under-produced and lifeless recording, or one that is an over-produced mish-mash of sounds. It is always a good idea to have an experienced second, and even a third set of fresh ears helping to keep the balance, the flow and the energy at proper levels. In addition, an experienced producer will bring out the very best in you at times when you didn’t even know that there was room for improvement.
    20. Insisting on playing all of the instruments. Many artists try to cut corners by playing all of the instruments on their recordings. Few artists can pull this off and make it sound as good as if they had hired other musicians. If the purpose of the recording is for your own satisfaction and listening pleasure, then it’s fine. But if the purpose is to sell the music, you need to put your best foot forward. If there is an instrument(s) or vocal part that you are weak at, bring someone else in to record them. Don’t let your pride hold you back from putting out something great. And if money is tight, barter with someone, your playing on their recordings for them playing on yours!
    21. Not getting feedback, critiques, coaching etc. Artists are famous for believing that their work is perfect art that shouldn’t be ‘messed with’. The truth is that the greatest singers, musicians, actors, athletes and other performers are that way because they ask for advice, constructive criticism and expert opinions. They strive to perfect their craft, and refuse to show the world anything but their best. Always ask a successful songwriter what they think of your songs. Seek out a respected live entertainer, or better yet, a performance coach, to critique your live performances. Hire an experienced mix engineer, or at the least have another set of trained ears listen to your recordings before you get them mastered and pressed. They just might find tiny flaws or areas that could stand improvement that completely transform the sound of the music for the better.
    22. Having a negative attitude. Many artists complain that there are not enough gigs, but never put the work in that’s required to put themselves in demand. There are always enough gigs for the acts that are in demand. Many artists complain that they don’t make enough money, but they don’t make a conscious effort to create multiple streams of income (licensing songs, giving lessons, being a studio musician etc). Many artists even thrive on the negativity, acting like a martyr for their ‘art’. No one wants to be around, let alone help someone who is constantly complaining, but they flock around people are proactively working to make things better for themselves and others.
    23. Having unrealistic expectations. Many artists simply expect too much, and/or expect it too fast. They believe their talent is so far above everyone else’s that they don’t have to pay their dues. Many believe that all they have to do is move to a major music city and they will be ‘discovered’. One reason for this is because of their own perceived image of themselves, arrived at because they never asked for an honest, critical assessment of both their talent and their plans. Many songwriters expect to send their songs off to a publisher and get a call the next day instantly offering them a lucrative publishing contract. It is so important to study the industry, industry etiquette, trends and the competition. Know who and what is out there bucking for the same recognition, gigs, contracts and money that you are seeking.
    24.  Getting caught up in the ‘star’ lifestyle. Whether they are a major act, touring with a major act, or just playing local bars, many artists develop ‘star syndrome’. Quite often being thrust into the spotlight causes people to lose sight of reality. They forget about staying grounded and get swept up in the lavish attention. Their senses of infallibility and importance are both blown out of proportion, and they start to act like no one can touch them. This often results in abusing alcohol, taking drugs, being promiscuous, cheating on their spouse, becoming arrogant and bossy, spending money recklessly etc. The best way to avoid this trap is to ask one or more people you trust to keep you accountable and keep your attitude/perceptions in check.
    25.  Playing music for the wrong reason. Some artists play music because their parents or friends told them that they have talent and pushed them onto the stage. This often results in intense resentment for both the people and the job. Many artists do it strictly for the money. This isn’t always wrong. It just helps to have a passion for it as you work your way up the ladder. Some artists do it because ‘it’s better than having a day job’. This can work for you or against you. It’s great motivation to keep going, but it often results in getting burned out on the low income that is almost inherent in being a new artist. It can also result in looking at playing music as ‘just another job’. This isn’t necessarily bad, but it certainly can push the fun and excitement out of entertaining.

    The bottom line is that it is easy to stray off course when pursuing the path of being a professional musician (full time or part time). The industry is overwhelmingly packed with countless distractions, trappings and temptations. There are also a lot of dishonest, unscrupulous people who prey on star-struck musicians. You need to be 100% aware of who you are, where you’re going, how you’re planning on getting there, and who you’re trusting to help you along the way. And the only way that you can do this is to always keep a clear head, be insistently professional, do your due diligence on everyone and give yourself and your career the honest chance that you deserve!

    Please don’t let this list stop here. Please use the comment section to add any mistakes that either you’ve made or that you’ve seen others make over and over again!

About The Author

Vinny Ribas

Vinny Ribas is the founder and CEO of Indie Connect, an artist management, consulting and training company. The company also hosts networking and educational events and has published an app that connects people to the Nashville Music Industry. During his 40+ year career, Vinny has been a full time musician, artist manager, booking agent, songwriter, studio owner, producer and the Entertainment Director for the NV State Fair. He has also coached over 1000 artists and songwriters. He is a sought after speaker and has authored over 400 music industry articles. Vinny is also the CEO of Top 4M Entertainment, an independent film and television production company.