How do I promote myself as an artist?
Any way you can. Success in the music business at any level requires
dedication, persistence, energy, and passion. It simply isn't
good business to wait for an audience to find you. You must reach
out to your audience and find them. Do your homework. Read books
and articles. Talk to successful artists in your area, and borrow
their techniques. Most importantly, you must take charge of your
own career development. Don't sit around waiting for a Brain Epstein
to come along and make everything ok while doing all the work.
You will likely be waiting a long time. Do it yourself!
How do I get my music on the radio?
Radio has always been one of the most difficult nuts to crack
in the music industry, and with many radio stations now being
owned by a small number of corporations that make centralized
programming decisions - it's not getting any easier. It's not
impossible, though. Try making contact with college or public
radio stations in your area (in the U.S. these are stations on
the FM dial that have frequencies in the 80's) that play your
kind of music. Many commercial stations have local and new music
'specialty' shows (usually on Sunday nights). Find out who at
the station is responsible for programming these shows, and try
to get your music in their hands. The DJ's on these shows usually
pick which music they play - unlike every other DJ you hear at
other times, by the way. The days of DJ;s choosing their own music
are long gone. Those decisions are now made by Music Directors
and Program Directors. Try to make friends and allies at your
local stations. Go to the station and bring them food. Offer to
play at any live charity functions they may be sponsoring. Be
creative - if you can win them over as fans, they may be able
to help you along the way.
How can I build a fan base?
Get out there and work at it. Offer to play clubs for free that
are reluctant to book you. If you win over the crowd (or bring
a healthy crowd of your own) they'll have you back. Do this in
an ever-widening regional circle, returning on a regular basis,
and you will eventually build a regional fan base. Build and maintain
a database of ground and e-mail addresses of your fans. Always
look for opportunities to add names to your mailing list. Keep
them up to date on your gigs and any other important news. Offer
free tickets, t-shirts or other incentives. Put together a "street
team" of fans in areas where you play who can help promote
your shows, and spread the word. Many young, die-hard fans will
work like crazy just to be recognized, included on the guest list,
and be considered something of an insider. When producing CDs
for sale, be sure to include a Universal Product Code (aka a "bar
code") and register your product with Soundscan (the service
used to track record sales). This allows A&R research people
at record companies to notice and track your sales from their
offices. Be creative. Go where your audience is. Does your music
appeal to high school students? Play lunchtime shows at high schools.
Or shopping malls. Trade gigs with like-minded bands in your general
region. Offer to have them open for you at clubs where you draw
well. In return you open for them in their strong areas. There
isn't any one road map or required way to build a following. There
are techniques that work well, but you are free to come up with
your own ideas, too.
Do I need to hire an outside marketing company?
Probably not. It doesn't require an expert to do the kinds of
self-promotion that many artists have used to achieve local and
regional success. If you do decide to hire a marketing or promotional
consultant, make sure that your goals are absolutely clear, specific,
and agreed upon by both parties. Most importantly, make sure that
results are verifiable. There are quite a few unscrupulous radio
promotion people out there, for example, who will generate false
airplay reports. Make sure airplay ( aka 'spins') can be verified
by the airplay monitoring service, BDS. You should also personally
call and verify that all radio stations that are supposed to playing
your music, are actually doing so.
How do I book my own gigs?
Call club owners and bookers and send them a CD. Offer to play
for free if they are reluctant to take a chance on you at first.
Offer to trade gigs with popular bands from nearby towns. When
you get a gig, market the heck out of it and get as many people
in that club as possible Build and maintain a comprehensive mailing
list of your fans.
How do I get a booking agent to book gigs for me?
Booking agents can be hard to come by. Ask club owners and bookers
at suitable venues for your kind of music which booking agents
they work with. Make contact and send them a CD. All the better
if you can show that you are already drawing well on your own.
Ask touring bands (signed and unsigned) that come to your town
who their booking agent is. See if they will contact them for
you, or simply give you their number. Then go to work.
What does A&R stand for?
Artist & Repertoire. The term was coined to describe the function
of people at record labels who are in charge of finding and developing
new talent. Development typically includes finding the right material
for the artist to perform if they don't write their own songs, hooking
them up with the right producer, engineer, studio, etc., deciding
which of their songs are the most viable, and shepherding the making
of the record. After the record is done, it's not unusual for the
A&R person to be responsible for getting the other departments
such as retail sales and radio promotion excited about the record
so that they do their jobs well. If all the parts of the record
company "machine" work well together, the act just might
have a hit. Today, A&R people seem to concentrate less on developing
artists, and often look for artists that have "developed"
themselves. It's not unusual for the boards of directors to look
more at the bottom line and less at talent development. Hence, A&R
people are under pressure to find hits, rather than finding potential
hits and nurturing them until they bear fruit.
How do I get my music to an A&R guy?
The best way to get your music to an A&R person is to cause
them to come to you. You can do that by building a fan base through
constant touring and relentless self-promotion. Couple that with
making, marketing, and selling several thousand of your own CDs,
and it's likely that you'll show up on their radar. When you do,
they'll call you. Can you get through to them with an unexpected
phone call? Very doubtful. If they took calls from every person
who wanted to pitch their music to them they wouldn't have time
to do any of their other work. Can you send an unsolicited demo?
Yes, but it will most likely come back to you or end up in the
round file. A&R people are extremely busy, and generally listen
only to the material that comes to them from a trusted resource
such as a high-level manager, a publisher, a music attorney, and
if you'll forgive the little plug — TAXI.
What makes an A&R person want to sign you?
Hit songs and "star" quality. Those are requisites.
Beyond that, you can increase your odds by doing your own artist
development and proving that the public loves you and is willing
to plunk money to buy your CD.
How do I improve my songwriting?
The best way is to constantly and persistently study what hit
songwriters do. Learn from the best. Listen to the radio and take
notes on what hit songs have in common. What is their structure
like? Do they end verses on major or minor chords? Do they have
a bridge? How many bars are in the intro? The best novelists are
people who constantly read, and the same just might be true of
songwriters. Reading helps develop a writer's sense of worldliness.
The more things you know about and understand, the more you can
write about. Reading books about songwriting will also put you
at a tremendous advantage. Become obsessed. Study and write every
day. You couldn't be a starting quarterback in the NFL without
spending years in training. The same is true of great songwriters.
They are rarely, if ever born into this world as great songwriters.
They become great by learning from the great writers who came
before them. Hint: Stay current. Don't write songs that could
have been hits when you were twenty-one (unless you are twenty-one).
Write songs that will appeal to today's audience. Remember that
you aren't competing with your friends and peers. To really be
in the music business and get your songs cut, you need to be competitive
with the top writers of the day.
What if I just write lyrics?
Frankly, it's exceptionally rare that someone in the music business
asks, "Can you find me a lyricist - quick?!" Not to
say that somebody who is strong with melodies might not look for
a collaborator whose strength is lyrics. But it is very rare that
a record label would hunt down somebody who just writes lyrics.
Could working with another songwriter improve my chances
Yes, in at least two ways. Number one: Two heads are often better
than one. You just might write a better song with a collaborator.
Number two: If you're really lucky, the person you co-write with
may be more advanced and/or better connected than you are, giving
you a leg up on getting your songs cut.
How well-recorded do my demos need to be?
Great question. We get it all the time. The answer is actually very
simple. For song pitches, the recording can be much less "produced"
than it should be for artist pitches. Some people believe that a
song pitch demo should leave some room for imagination - let the
artist or A&R person develop some emotional ownership of the
song by imagining a tambourine part or a vocal harmony. For band
or artist pitches, you may want to flesh out more tracks that show
the artist's whole vision. Remember though, A&R people are far
more interested in the song's potential, and the artist's appeal
than they are about the quality of the recording. Nearly every act
signed to a major label will be recording their entire album over
again with a pro engineer and producer. The demo is only a demo!
Home recorded 8-track demos are often sufficient for Film &
TV placements. For examples read our article Is Your Sound Quality
Good Enough For Film & TV Placements.
Should I record in a professional or home studio?
For song pitches, you can almost always get what you need from
a home studio. Frankly, the same is true for artist and band demos,
but you will need more expertise behind the console if you are
doing a fairly developed demo. You would really be surprised to
hear how many great 4-track and 8-track demos come in to TAXI
that were recorded in "home" studios. The equipment
is so good today, that if you've got the engineering skills, you
can literally record a top quality album at home. The converse
is also true. If you place somebody who is pretty clueless behind
a million-dollar Neve console with a killer array of microphones
and outboard gear, the result they get will sound like it was
done in a low-end home studio. Like so many other things in life,
it's not the equipment; it's the skill level of the person using
Should I use a producer?
If it's possible to find somebody with a great reputation who
really knows how to produce, the answer is yes. A highly skilled,
objective ear almost always makes for a much better product. On
the other hand, there are a lot of unscrupulous people who claim
to be producers, but don't really know what they are doing. Research
your choice carefully. Try one song together before you commit
to doing more work.
Should I sing my own demo?
If it is an artist pitch, absolutely. If it's a song pitch, try
a professional demo singer if you can afford one. An exception
to this rule of thumb is when the writer (meaning you) has a great
voice, or just the right kind of voice for the song. I've heard
demos sung by people who had gravel in their throats, and couldn't
nail a note to save their lives, but somehow their voice worked.
Maybe it was because they conveyed the meaning of the song better
than a stranger could. But please don't take this idea as an excuse
to put a lackluster, crummy, or inappropriate vocal track on your
demo. One last tip: For a song pitch, many industry pros try to
match the gender, ethnicity (when appropriate), and key of the
person they are pitching to. It makes sense. Why would you want
a white, Country sounding, male vocalist singing in the key of
F, id you were pitching a song to a female R&B singer who
sings most of her songs in A or B? It's not a racial or sexist
thing - it's just a way to make it more apparent to the artist
that the song would be a "natural" for them to cut.
Do I need a manager?
Managers become necessary once you've got a record deal and you
need an advocate to represent your interests at the different departments
of a record company. They help to coordinate efforts and get maximum
results at radio, retail, and publicity. Many labels will want an
artist to have a high-powered manager before a record is released
and will often recommend top managers. Managers can also help in
shopping you for a record deal, but only if they have the connections
to get your music to the right people. It's not impossible, but
friends, family members, or acquaintances with no music industry
experience usually aren't going to be able to get through locked
industry doors, and will probably be in over their heads even if
they can get through. Good managers help the artist assemble a competent
team of professionals to handle various aspects of the artist's
career, including an attorney, a business manager (for financial
affairs), a booking agent (for live performances), a merchandising
company (for t-shirt sales, etc.) and more. Experience counts for
a lot when it comes to choosing a manager.
At what point should I get a manager?
Most of the manager's duties and responsibilities come into play
once an artist is generating income - especially through a record
company association, but also for active local and regional artists
who are touring and selling product on their own. Therefore, many
people think it isn't really necessary to have a manager until
there is an income-producing career to 'manage'. One exception
is the manager who can help you obtain a record deal. The right
manager for this task can be hard to find, and must be carefully
chosen. You don't want to get tied up in complicated legal contracts
with inexperienced managers who will need to be replaced once
a record deal comes along.
What are some key points in a management contract?
Most managers will take between 10% and 20% of an artist's gross
income - including record royalties, publishing income, and touring
and merchandising income. There will sometimes be a "sunset
clause" i.e. a declining scale of payments due to the manager
over a few years should you decide to fire or part ways with him
These are negotiable points, and many nuances and technicalities
are involved. You should always have an experienced music business
attorney (not your uncle Bob, the divorce attorney) review any
How do I get paid when other people record my songs?
Contrary to popular belief, songs are not "sold" to the
artists that record them. In fact, artists who record "outside"
songs, pay nothing for the privilege – until records are sold.
Songwriters earn money in two ways: a) When records are sold and
b) when their songs are played on radio, TV and other public areas
(restaurants, concerts, etc).
How do I get paid from record sales?
Payments from record sales are called mechanical royalties and
are paid by the record company to the publisher of the song through
the Harry Fox Agency. The royalty rate is set by congress (the
"statutory rate") and is at this writing set at 8 cents
per song. Therefore if you had one song that was written and published
solely by you on a million selling album, you would earn $80,000
in mechanical royalties.
How do I get paid from radio airplay?
Performance royalties are collected from radio and TV broadcasters,
etc. by the Performing rights organizations ASCAP, BMI, or SESAC
in the United States (each country has its own P.R.O.). The P.R.O.s
distribute these payments to their member songwriters and publishers
based on formulas that calculate how many people have been exposed
to the song. A number one pop single might earn as much as a million
dollars in performance royalties in its biggest year.
How do I get paid from film and TV usages?
That varies widely depending on the kind of show or film using
your music. Money is earned in two ways: the licensing fee, paid
up front to the writer/artist, and the performance royalty, which
is distributed to the writer by a performing rights organization
( ASCAP, BMI, or SESAC in the U.S.). The license fee is determined
by the overall music budget a music supervisor has to work with,
and the negotiating power of the artist. Unknown artists get far
less license money than superstars, for example. TV shows and
small films pay less than major studio feature films. A prime-time
network TV show might pay a license of $500 - $5000 for an unknown
artist - same for the smaller films. Major studio pictures pay
well-known artists in the tens of thousands of dollars. Performance
income is determined by the number of people estimated to have
seen the show and therefore heard the music. The more popular
the show - the more money you make on performance royalties. A
network TV usage might pay in the $1000 - $2000 range for one
broadcast. You make new royalties every time the show is re-run,
which is particularly good news if you've got music on a show
that goes into syndication and airs frequently in markets around
the world. Cable broadcasts generally pay less than broadcast
networks (less viewers). No performance royalties are generated
on theatrical showings of films in the U.S.A. (though they are
paid in other countries), but when the film is aired on TV, you
would make your performance money. You may also make money when
videos or DVDs are sold, depending on the nature of your original