No matter how awesome we are, we still have blind spots and learning the most common mistakes indie musicians make can help us make better choices for our music career.
Not investing enough time into building your music career. Most musicians spend most of their time on music, but put very little effort into the many other critical elements needed to make it in the music business. If you are already a talented musician, you should invest at least 50% of your time into starting or advancing your music career. If you are still developing your musical skills, you should still invest around 25% of your ‘music’ time into building a future music career.
I regret not being more innovative and substituting repetition for genuine imagination. I think I’m a creative at heart, but often I let good enough be good enough and though that’s common currently, it wasn’t back in the day.
Jumping at every opportunity.You don’t have to say yes to everything. This is one of the most common mistakes indie musicians make at the beginning of their career. You don’t have to be a YES man/woman. In fact, sometimes, saying no to something can be more beneficial to your career than saying yes.Why do you say yes to things? Take a look at your standards and make them higher. As an example, just because a club has a PA system doesn’t mean that it’s worth playing there.There are some gigs that just aren’t worth playing. There are some connections that just aren’t worth developing.
David Hooper via Music Think Tank
“Winging it” is mistaken for spontaneity.I constantly run across the attitude of “Dude, I’ve got to be spontaneous – I can’t rehearse my show!” Sometimes my reply is “Awesome – but if you really want to be spontaneous, make up the song right in front of the audience… that’d be real awesome!”Of course they practice the music, dynamics, tempo, tones, melodies, and harmonies. And, if they’re a group, they work on making the music really tight. But instead of learning the right way to be spontaneous onstage, they mistake “winging it” for spontaneity! They jump around onstage and try different things, hoping something will work.
—Tom Jackson via CDBaby
Having merely mediocre live performing skills. Many musicians, who are not yet in a good band, put off developing their live performing and stage presence skills. This is a big reason why talented musicians don’t get into really good bands that they audition for. Your music may be good, but a live ‘show’ requires more than great music.
—Tom Jackson via CDBaby
Talking too much between songs. In between songs / tracks that you perform, don’t spend a long time talking to the audience, just get on with the music. If the audience wanted to hear stories or jokes they would pay to go to a comedy club, but they have come to hear your music so keep time in between songs short.
—Nick Dunn of Help for Bands
Talking “normally.” When you speak to the audience, speak clearly and more slowly than you would in a normal conversation amongst friends. Many people often forget this simple rule and talk normally but for those at the back of the room, it becomes hard to hear what was said.
—Nick Dunn of Help for Bands
MAKING AN ALBUM
Pressing a record before you’re ready. “Probably one of my biggest missteps was pressing a record before I was ready. Of course, I didn’t realize it at the time – but I soon became embarrassed of that record, almost found myself apologizing for it. After that I kind of took a step back – improved songwriting, leaked songs, etc. The following record sold more in a week than the entire previous records existence.”
—Dave Huffman via Independent Rock Star
This is indeed one of the most common mistakes indie musicians make. They come to us for CD replication too early but are not able to dispose of their CDs.
[But many believe this is not how it works nowadays. So here’s the other side of the coin.]
Waiting for the material to get “perfect”before getting it out there.
New artists should fail early and often. We’re in an environment now that really rewards face-first learning curves. Get your material out there ASAP, and integrate the feedback into your creative process. The sooner artists can get “out there” and start fucking up, the better prepared they will be when it really matters and their material is polished.
Coming in with very tight timelines. Some bands come to our office with very tight timelines. They submit their artwork today and expect that everything will be done in 2-3 days. They want their CDs fast because they still have to promote their album and their CD release party afterward. But what most bands don’t know is that CD Manufacturing actually takes much longer than 2 days if the requirements are not complete or if it needs technical adjustments. Two to three days is the time allotted for the actual manufacturing of the CDs, but we still have to meticulously check the master, the artwork, and the codes and make sure everything is perfect before making thousands of copies.
James Hill, CEO, Unified Manufacturing
Not promoting the album while the CDs are being manufactured.Instead of using this time to promote the CD release party, some new bands just do nothing. They just rest and wait for the CDs to get done before they start promotion. I ask them if they’ve promoted their CD release party already and the usual response is “No. How can we promote the CDs if we still don’t have them?”. Well, I’m pretty sure they have copies of their album artwork and copies of their songs, so they have enough material for promotion.
James Hill, CEO, Unified Manufacturing
Not putting much effort in building a really solid fanbase. As a label owner, the biggest mistake I see is that the bands focus only in the music with the idea that someone magically will pour millions on them and that will take you to stardom. #1 RULE OF THE MUSIC BUSINESS: PEOPLE DON’T REALLY CARE ABOUT YOUR MUSIC. They are after your fans, as soon as you’re making some money they want a part of it. BUILD A FANBASE and you will be signed, played on the radio, etc.
Not having a compelling image that is congruent with your music. Most musicians (and bands) severely underestimate the importance of their image. Yes, music is about ‘music’, but music business success is about a total package that includes music, image and visual stage show among other things that need to be fully developed in a congruent way.
Focusing on increasing the ‘quantity’ of fans instead of the ‘intensity’ of your fans. The ‘number’ of fans you have should always be your secondary focus (not your primary one) if you want to become successful in the music industry. The fact is, it is not the number of ‘fans’ that matters most, it’s the number of FANATICS which will contribute more directly to your success (or lack of it).
Believing that social media websites are the keys to online music promotion for musicians and bands. Social media websites are a tool. They are ONE piece of the online music marketing puzzle. Music industry companies (record labels, artist managers, booking agents, etc.) are far more interested in the popularity of YOUR website, not how many friends you have at MySpace, YouTube, Facebook or any other website that you do not own and control. Want to impress the industry with your band’s promotion? Build your website traffic.
Being just a ‘salesman’. I see all the time, in my social media news feeds, musicians who once per hour ask people to buy their albums, books, etc. Internet marketers agree on the fact that social media are not the best tools for selling what you have. Newsletters are definitely better in that field. Social media will make you nurture your relationships with fans and turn them in proud ambassadors of your music, but their impact on sales remains low.
Inviting the whole world. “I live in New York. Please do not send me a Facebook invite for your show in Chicago, Cincinnati or Chattanooga, and please do not send me an invite for any raves in Goa.”
— Ariel Hyatt, head of Cyber PR
Becoming a tag tease. “I can’t stand it when musicians get on Twitter and send me stupid or irrelevant @mentions to gain my attention. They want me to notice them, but they go about it all wrong. It does more damage than good!
—Madalyn Sklar, head of GoGirls Music
Posting too many automated posts / tweetsThis is another of those features provided by tools like HootSuite, but also by some email maketing softwares that once per day automatically post on your profiles asking to join your mailing list. The only automated tweet service I use is Paper.li, a webapp that create an online newspaper with contents from sources and keywords of your choice. Every morning it makes your Twitter account tweet the new version of the newspaper along with three sources, that often retweet, reply or favorite that tweet.
Franz Vitulli via Music Clout
Of all the mistakes indie musicians make, this is one of those that are not so obvious because after all, it’s not something totally detrimental to your career. It’s just PR and sure you can be annoying sometimes but if you are in this for the long haul
Wasting too much time online.But, as with so many things, the web’s greatest strength is its greatest weakness: By allowing one person to do everything himself, the web creates a massive time suck, not only in keeping up with social interactions but also in keeping up with the knowledge using it effectively requires. In the end, despite the web’s massive promise, if you want to leverage it, you should hire an expert.
No clear online marketing strategy. You can’t just jump on the internet with one of the digital distributors, get a myspace page and a facebook account and then consider that aspect of your marketing plan accomplished. You have to think it through and figure how you are going to connect it to your shows, your merch, your mailing list and so on. All of it has to make sense.
Tom Siegel of Indie Leap
Being impatient to leave the day job. Of course, you should not quit your job just like that. Don’t rush things and study the pros and cons carefully. Once you’ve saved up enough money that you won’t have to work for a year, be ready to take baby steps towards achieving your dreams.You should talk to your wife and family about this and ask them for help. Tell them that you really want to pursue your passions and that you have a plan to leave your job eventually-without sacrificing the finances.
Not enough cash flow to support your music career. Like it or not, it takes money to build a music career. Even if other people/companies are paying for your record, tour support, merchandise, etc. you still need to have the freedom to pursue opportunities as they come. Sadly, many musicians miss opportunities because they can’t afford to take advantage of them. In addition to a decent income, you also need the flexibility of being able to take time away from that income source to go into the studio, go on tour, etc.
Not developing your social skills because talent is everything. Some musicians focus mainly on their music because they believe that talent is everything. They somehow look down on those musicians who are social butterflies and who have excellent social skills because they somehow associate it with the lack of pure, raw talent. But let’s face it- when it comes to music, personality and social relations do matter…a lot. This is one of the top mistakes indie musicians make– not giving importance to relationships.
James Hill, CEO, Unified Manufacturing
Not enough depth in your music relationships. There’s an old expression, “It’s not what you know, it’s who you know.” In music this is often modified to, “It’s not who you know, it’s who knows you.” The truth is, it’s not about either. The most important aspect of connections within the music industry is how deep are the current relationships you have now and will develop in the future. You don’t want to simply know people or be known, you want people who know you to have a real deep connection with you so that you are always on the top of their mind when opportunities present themselves. Ask yourself, “What can I do right now to deepen my existing relationships further on an ongoing basis?”—Tom Hess
Not talking to your fans before or after your shows. To often I see bands go talk to their friends, parents, girlfriends, boyfriends, etc. but don’t reach out to people in the audience, venue staff, etc. Spot some folks in the crowd that are enjoying your music and let them know afterwards you appreciate them being there. One “Thank You” could make a life long fan out of a lot of folks.
[Other end of the spectrum]
Being too available on the onset but eventually not keeping up. This is one of the Mistakes Indie Musicians if they already have an established career. Being contrarian here, but by becoming completely accessible to fans bothers me for two reasons; if you successfully grow a large fan base, there will be no way to continue the close “relationship” (meaning responding to individual fans, vs tweeting, etc. the group), thus upsetting your biggest asset, and second, THERE IS NO MYSTIQUE ANYMORE!
DG via Music Think Tank
Do you know other mistakes indie musicians make that we can add to this list?
James Hill is a veteran of the music industry. He first worked at Warner Reprise Records then later joined Interscope/ Geffen Records where he managed producers and songwriters and got his first platinum record for Keyshia Cole’s The Way It Is. He is now helping indie artists with branding and manufacturing through his company Unified Manufacturing, a CD/DVD/vinyl and merch company in LA.