You could call these New Year’s Resolutions if you wanted to, but then you’d stop doing them after two weeks, along with the diet and exercise resolutions already on the list. Think that through.
Assuming that you are really intent on doing something meaningful about your music career this year, you could implement these somewhat random and relatively straightforward but not necessarily simple tasks. OR you could just keep on doing things the way you’ve been doing them. But you need to stop and ask yourself at this juncture: How’s that working out?
So let’s assume then that YOU DO WANT TO DO SOMETHING about your music career this year. Below are 101 suggestions. But before we go there, here are a number of personal things that you need to tend to first:
Make sure that this is the ONLY thing you want to do in life at the exclusion of all other things.
Get a high school diploma and at least some college, preferably in the arts – music and/or literature.
Get 6-7 hours sleep every night, and by night I mean somewhere between midnight and 9am.
Stick to a high-protein, low carb diet and exercise enough to keep the weight off.
Don’t drink, even sociably, and avoid all drug habits, and that includes antibiotics and Afrin.
Avoid playing amateur sports or doing home repairs. Your hands are your life.
Avoid watching or following professional sports – they take up way too much pointless, precious time.
Do not listen to your family, friends or fans – they’re too close to you to be objective about your music.
Make sure all of your friends have benefits, preferably ones that benefit your career. If not, lose them.
Lose the wife/husband/partner or live-in boyfriend/girlfriend/significant other. And there’s no reason to have kids since everyone in your band will behave as if they’re 12 anyway.
Get rid of your cat/dog/plants and all other time-consuming, time-wasting non-musical responsibilities, i.e., home-ownership maintenance.
Get large, cheap, low-key, dependable transportation in which your gear can be hidden and secured.
Now that the personal stuff is out of the way, let’s get on to the career-changing manifesto! I’ve grouped the 101 items in groups of no particular order of importance or chronology.
If your name (or band name) isn’t star quality, change it. Make sure it’s easy to spell and pronounce, like Sam Smith. Better yet: just use one name.
Get a copy of Don Passman’s All You Need To Know About The Music Business, 9th Edition.
Get a copy of Randall Wixen’s The Plain and Simple Guide to Music Publishing, 3rd Edition.
Get copies of Martin Atkin’s Tour Smart (Amazon) and Band Smart (Bookbaby).
You cannot do this alone – you need professionals and a support staff who know what they’re doing.
Get an entertainment lawyer (way different from any other kind of law) for 5% of your annual gross.
Get your attorney to look over everything before you sign it – they don’t have to change it necessarily, just look it over.
Get a personal manager, for 20%, but not until the point when you have something to manage.
Get a business manager for 5% of your annual gross, but not until you’re grossing $50k/year.
Find a booking agent for 15%. Actually, once you start drawing crowds to your shows, all of these people will find you.
Get at least a DBA registered at your local county recorder to legitimatize your publishing and other income. At some point, you’ll want to form an LLC.
Get a business license, if required where you live, and a business checking account where you bank.
Get registered with ASCAP or BMI – both as a writer and a publisher.
No label deal? No problem. There are a number of different alternatives. 1) I personally recommend The Artist Cooperative, which offers sales and marketing and promotion in-house with all other services third-party, limiting overhead – www.theartistcooperative.com 2) Check out a new site for artists just getting started – http://www.indiehitmaker.com/dropkick-music-release-platform/ run by my friend Bram Bessof. 3) Sign up with either CD Baby, if you are expecting to sell fewer than 50,000 tracks, or Tunecore.
Get signed up to SoundExchange.com to track and get paid for digital play – writers and performers!
Get signed up to TuneSat.com to track your music on TV and Internet worldwide. First 50 tracks free.
Get a copyright for all your important songs that are getting actual attention in the marketplace – http://www.copyright.gov/fls/sl35.pdf
Get signed up to the Bob Lefsetz Letter blog email list. It’s free and it will upgrade your knowledge and change your attitude about the music biz in 2016 – http://www.lefsetz.com/lists/?p=subscribe&id=1
Get insurance on your gear: www.musicproinsurance.com
Add an asset page to your website for club and concert promoters – photos, bio, videos, links, riders, stage plots, etc.
Get some media training. Learn how to talk to the media well. You don’t have to be nice – just smart.
Only one person can get your song on the radio – a professional radio promo person. Be nice to them.
I shouldn’t have to say this, as it is a well-known mantra in the industry, but keep your publishing.
Get a good recorder app on your phone to record important meetings. Do not record phone conversations without prior consent. There are laws against that.
Don’t complain to anyone about the vagaries of the current state of the music business. It is what it is.
Stop speaking loudly in public places – restaurants and elevators in particular – or on phones.
Get in the habit of not writing, emailing or texting anything that could be used against you in court.
Learn how to perform as a solo artist or a duo at most. It’s cheaper to travel and you avoid having any band meetings.
Get a cheap but tunable and playable electric guitar. Use headphones to practice – no one wants to hear you as you learn.
Get a Mel Bay Chord book (available online) and learn how to play rhythm guitar really well – you can hire a lead player later for all the flashy stuff.
Get a cheap electronic keyboard, maybe three octaves, that has several piano and B3-organ-with-Leslie presets. Use the same Mel Bay book to learn chords.
Get a book on theory and chord progressions – practice, practice, practice.
Get a real nice set of headphones that you can wear all day comfortably. DO NOT blast out your ears.
Get very good at singing and playing at the same time without looking at your frets or keys. It takes time.
Get to the point that you can sing and play your songs without thinking about the chords or lyrics.
The art of writing a great song is a gift, but you won’t know if you have that gift until you learn the craft.
Get a Kindle account to download books on your iPad and READ, preferably fiction and poetry. Great songs are really just three-minute books, poems and plays.
Get a complete, authorized Beatles songbook and memorize everything. Stream the songs while you sing along and play all the parts.
Write a dozen songs, ripping off the Beatles. When completed, throw them away and write your own.
Write up-tempo songs or slow ballads – there are way too many mid-tempo boring songs already.
Once you’ve written a song in your bedroom or wherever, move it up a couple of keys for the live show.
Your songs must hold up with only one instrument and one voice. Additional instruments and layered vocals cover up bad songs.
Make sure that your songs contain the three ways to entertain an audience – melody, lyrics and rhythm.
Use as many one-syllable words as possible – easier for the audience to understand and remember.
Write from personal experience, but make it poetic and relatable to a wider audience.
No one wants to hear how incredibly happy or sad you are, but maybe somewhere in between.
Get a short and sweet, but legal, co-writing/co-publishing agreement and present it to everyone involved before your songwriting sessions begin. Record all songwriting sessions on your phone.
Get a MacBook laptop with as much memory as you can afford to record and store all of your demos, rehearsals, videos and shows.
Get Pro-Tools and learn at least the basics. Know your way around GarageBand, too. Befriend a real audio engineer for your demos and live show.
Avoid covering other people’s songs when recording – you’ll lose the writing and publishing income.
VISUAL AND STYLE
Get a look for your hair that is one step away from the norm – not two steps. Make it your own.
Get a friend who lives for style and fashion and take them shopping at thrift stores.
Get a stage wardrobe of tasteful solid color clothing and footwear – no skin. Save the flashy stuff for where you want the audience to focus – your face and hair, hands and arms.
Get several black&white and color headshots of you with your distinctive look – both smiling and serious. Practice various expressions with selfies first.
Get a logo of your name (or band’s name). Make sure it can be read easily from 20 feet away.
Get video ideas and treatments for all of your songs written down. Make friends with a videographer.
Whenever you get a video production schedule and budget, double the time and the costs predicted.
PERFORMANCE AND STAGING
Construct a mini stage where you live that has bright lights, maybe a small PA monitor, and a mirror across the room so you can watch yourself. Get real comfortable rehearsing in that environment.
Get a cable package that includes Palladia and watch live concerts for entertaining performance ideas.
Get a list of all club shows in your area and try to see as many national touring acts as you can afford. Watch and listen for what goes on between songs.
Get a list of all of the club bookers in your area and start hanging out at those clubs to meet them.
Always have your own vocal microphone. God knows where the club’s mic has been.
Get an Audix OM series or a Shure Beta 58A hypercardiod dynamic mic – one that you can sing over the top of and not have to hide behind it to be heard.
Get to work on mic technique – practice singing over the mic so that the audience can see your mouth.
Get a tripod with an iPhone holder attachment to record your rehearsals and shows for critiquing.
Get a dance or movement coach to help you with stage presence and performance style, even if you think you can already dance. This is different.
Get a durable, easy-to-store banner with your name and/or logo on it to drape across the back of every stage.
Practicing is learning the song; rehearsing is making the performance of the song entertaining. Two different things. One begets the other.
There are three types of songs: those meant for listening, those for the live show and those for both. Just because you like a song, doesn’t mean it works in a live setting and vice versa.
Make up set lists of one, two, three, four, five and six songs – that way you’re covered for any event. They may not be made up of the same songs.
Multi-song set lists are like books and movies – a great beginning, a strong middle and a logical end.
If you’re an unknown artist playing your unknown songs, your set should last no longer than 30 minutes.
If your song is very familiar to your audience, play it as written. If not, then take some liberties with it.
Be sure to include a cover in your multiple-song sets and rearrange it to make it your own. If you can’t make it your own, then don’t do it, no matter how much you and the audience may like the song. Again, make it your own.
A live audience knows little about music. 90% of them don’t sing or play an instrument. So you have to entertain with them with visuals and stories.
Once you’re good enough (not necessarily great, just good), play in front of people whenever you can.
Befriend the club sound person before your set. Ask him or her nicely to play music before and after your set that would be more conducive to your sound.
Get in the habit of showing up on time, and be ready to do whatever it is that you do.
Lose any semblance of pride, even to the point of making a fool of yourself on stage, albeit a confident fool. People love that.
Make the hard things look easy and the easy things look hard.
Used to be that there were certain seasons to tour certain projects. Not anymore. Tour whenever you can.
Avoid outside gigs – the production is never as good as inside – and there’s the heat and the bugs.
There are certain festivals where it would be cheaper and just as effective just to say you played there.
Rule of the Road #1: Assume nothing. Call ahead. Double check. You’ll never be sorry you did.
Rule of the Road #2: Eat whenever you can. Avoid local cuisine; eat the same things every day.
Rule of the Road #3: Sleep whenever you can. There may not be another chance anytime soon.
Rule of the Road #4: Always have your own transportation. Do not depend on anyone else.
Rule of the Road #5: Never drink anything or take anything without knowing what’s in it.
Rule of the Road #6: Never take underage people or illegal substances across international borders or state lines. There are very specific laws about that.
Rule of the Road #7: Avoid international events – too many foreigners, languages and cultural barriers.
Rule of the Road #8: Always get a receipt. It doesn’t matter what you do as long as you get a receipt.
Rule of the Road #9: Nothing is definite until after it happens. Do not rely on the promises of others.
Put whatever merch possible up on one of the sites that makes merch up on demand, eliminating inventory.
Get a few styles of hoodies and hats – with your name and logo on them – that can be read from 20 feet away.
Get your wearable merch in large sizes – your audience is not nearly as petite as you think they are.
SOCIAL MEDIA & YOUTUBE
Get your current photo and logo onto your website, videos, Instagram – everywhere you post.
Keep in touch with your superfans, but not too much. Keep it current, but keep the mystery.
This is a matter of personal taste, but I believe that social media is for keeping in touch with and interacting with your fans AND that it can be used for calls to action – but not for direct sales. Keep the merch store on the website. Maybe that’s just me.
Get an online marketing guy or girl who doubles as an IT trouble-shooter and coder. So valuable.
Get a YouTube page and get in on monetizing your music there by clicking on this link: www.hypebot.com/hypebot/2015/10/how-to-monetize-your-music-on-youtube.html
Luck favors the prepared. Be in the right place at the right time with the talent to back it up. Good luck.
Larry Butler is a 40-year veteran of virtually all facets of the music business – musician, songwriter, tour manager, band manager, booking agent, club and concert promoter, major label exec, publishing admin and a few things that have no appropriate title. He can be reached either through his website – www.diditmusic.com – or by email: firstname.lastname@example.org.