7 Areas Of The Music Business That Every Indie Artist Should Master

© 2011 Vinny Ribas

  •  Performing

If you are like most indie artists, the majority of your money comes from performing. So of course it stands to reason that you should strive to be the best performer that you are capable of being. This includes perfecting your instrument and/or your voice, learning to read and please a crowd, knowing how to banter with the audience, understanding the importance of choosing the right songs and performing them in the tight order and much more. That may require taking lessons, hiring a performance coach, taking acting classes or even taking a course on improvisation. You may want to hire an image consultant to help with your ‘look’. Do whatever it takes to be a captivating and entertaining performer, and you will increase your fan base as well as have your choice of gigs.

 You also need to know what equipment you need to out on the best show possible. This may fall into the business category, but it an essential part of both looking professional on stage and putting out a good, clean sound.

  • Booking

Almost every indie artist faces the task of booking himself for quite a while before landing a reputable and hard working booking agent. Many artists, especially solo singer/songwriters, never reach the stage where they need or can attract a booking agent. This is because booking agents work on commission, and they would much rather work for an act that commands bigger money so their commissions are bigger. So, knowing how to find the appropriate venues, how to approach them, how to land the gigs, how to follow up on them and how to plan and schedule your tours etc. are all crucial skills that can make or break your career. 

  • Recording

It is important that you learn the ins and outs of the recording process, including basic terminology. You should know what a good producer does and know how to pick the right one for your project. You should also know what an engineer does and how to communicate with him as well. You don’t need to know the producer’s and engineer’s jobs, but you should be able to give them direction to help you get the sound you want. Lastly, it is important to know how to direct and communicate with the studio musicians and singers so that you are not wasting your time and theirs in the studio, and not creating a frustrating atmosphere. This is especially true if you are acting as your own producer.

 If you are a songwriter and having song demos recorded, these factors are just as important. You can’t expect the musicians and singers to deliver the finished sound that you hear in your head if you can’t explain it to them in language they understand.

  •  Songwriting and/or Song Choice

If you are a songwriter as well as an artist, and you are playing and recording your own material, it is important that your songs are first rate. This is a major stumbling block for many artists who insist on writing everything they perform and record. It doesn’t matter how good you are as a showman, how much marketing you do or how smart a businessperson you are. It all boils down to the song! Bad songs = unhappy customers. Period. There is no room for ego here. The wise artist/songwriter works incessantly to improve his song craft. But he also knows when a song is not ready for prime time, and when playing and recording someone else’s music is the wiser choice for his career. 

  • Marketing

Just as it is with booking, most indie artists are responsible 100% for their own marketing. Therefore it is imperative that you learn the most time and cost effective ways to market your act and your music. This can differ tremendously from one artist to the next. For some, building relationships through social networking works best. For others, getting radio airplay and doing radio interviews is the catalyst. Some artist have street teams, others don’t. Some hang posters or have marketing postcards that they pass out. Some get their music reviewed on popular music blogs. The list goes on and on. 

This may be trial and error for you for a while, but should culminate in choosing 2-3 prime methods that fit your act and music. What you really need to know to determine the right methods for you are the demographics of your most loyal and money-spending fans are (age, gender, location, income level, buying habits, hobbies etc.), where they look to find new music and where they buy music. That is how and where you need to concentrate your efforts. 

  • Business

Unless you have a manager or a full team that is handing all of your business affairs, you are personally responsible for insuring that they are in order. This includes the financial aspects, such as keeping receipts and paying local, state and federal taxes, budgeting for your day-to-day expenses and your recording projects, paying your sidemen, booking agent or other team members etc. You also must take care of the legal aspects such as understanding and signing contracts, setting up a formal business entity if necessary (e.g. LLC or corporation), copyright registration for your songs, masters and arrangements, trademarking your name and more. Of course, it is always best to use an attorney to insure that everything is taken care of properly.

 You may also need to get equipment, health, life or other kinds of insurances. You may require specific licenses (e.g. business license). If you are a songwriter, you also need to understand the ins and outs of publishing, music licensing, royalties etc. You are also responsible for vehicle and instrument/gear maintenance and repairs. You are also the HR department and need to know the proper way to hire and fire band members, employees etc.

 The best advice I can give is to:

      • Study basic business as well as the music industry as much as possible.
      • Find some mentors who you can call on before you sign or commit to anything that could adversely affect your business or career.
      • Bring in experts whenever you have any doubt. For example, hire a bookkeeper and an accountant f you are disorganized.  
  1. Sales

Whether you like it or not, you are a salesperson! You need to know how to sell your act to a venue, sell your fans and prospective fans on coming to your shows, sell your music to the fans at your shows, upsell your fans to buy multiple CDs plus merch, sell your music online, convince a magazine to do a story about you, convince a radio programmer to play your songs, convince a blogger to write about you, convince a venue to give you more money and so much more. Just being on stage requires sales skills! You have to you’re your audience on the fact that they should stay till the end of the night, and should come to your merch table after the show. Even if you have a business team around you, you still can’t escape this. It is simply part of your job.

I highly recommend taking a basic sales course or two. It will enable you to greatly increase your income by giving you tools for your toolbox that will never go out of date! 

I know this seems like a lot of work. In fact, it may be even more than you bargained for. Just remember that it is not an overnight process. You can work your way into proficiency in these areas if you practice, read books, join organizations, get information online (check the sources), take lessons, classes and workshops, and most importantly, find some mentors in these areas who can guide you along at the pace that is right for you.

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.