Perhaps one of the most basic principles in the business world is the notion of being easy to do business with. Is it going to be a painless process, or will barriers surface the minute someone tries to interact with you? Some of this comes down to efficiency and some to psychology – is your band up to the challenge? Your success will certainly depend upon it.
First and foremost, can someone get a hold of you when they are most in need of your product (your music)? Can they easily preview a web site with sample recordings? Can they purchase your songs and download them without a hassle? Can they find out where you are playing next without having to push through 17 web links? Here are some ways to make sure you are accessible:
Rapid Response Time
Then, when they try to reach you, how soon are you able to reply? A venue trying to connect you with a performance date can’t keep the calendar open forever. When a fan wants that T-shirt…they probably want it while your band is still relevant. Response time is also important when you are trying to find new band members – if someone replies to your Craig’s List ad, you owe it to them to keep the dialog going. Flaky behavior usually means you are going to be playing in someone’s basement forever.
Can you adapt your band configuration and sound system to match the room? Many times, scaling back can be an opportunity to increase your pay (follow this link to give yourself a raise).
Occam’s Razor: the simplest solution tends to be the correct one. Are you trying to convolute things? When a talent buyer asks you if you are available for a date, don’t tell him/her that you are waiting on five flaky bandmates to confirm. They won’t want to know if the drummer is on vacation, the guitarist has strep throat or the bassist is trying to make parole. Just tell them “yes” and go out with the best configuration you can muster. Veteran local band leader, Chuck Hughes of the Hillbilly Hellcats used to book shows on tour and then figure out the lineup as he went along (sometimes you just have to fly in a drummer).
As a business, you are constantly developing your credibility. Are you going to show up for the gig? Are you going to pay off your bar tab at the end of the night? If you are playing a showcase, do you respectfully watch your time, pack your gear off stage and stick around to support the next act? Or are you the band that pulls out a 20 minute Jazz Odyssey when the soundman is indicating “one last song?” Reliability is more valuable than any other quality.
If your band is easy to do business with, your band is going to be asked back again and again. And each time you will have an opportunity for greater impact, better shows…and a chance to negotiate a better offer. Are you prepared to negotiate? Stay tuned…
One of the best ways to separate yourself from the competition, in any business, is to focus on a culture of quality. When your music is well-written, when the performance is jaw-droppingly good, when your audience feels like they can’t take their eyes off your live performance…those are all clear ways to stand out. Quality comes down to a handful of principles that should be pursued every day.
Content is King, or Queen
There is no substitute for quality music. When your sound is infectious enough that others may want to cover you or copy you, you’ll know you have arrived. And you may notice that there is already a lot of copycat behavior on the radio – one band so often sounds like another.
A song becomes that much stronger when the words and melodies compliment each other (also known as prosody). And when your music fans start memorizing the chorus and then take the time to memorize the rest of the words, or start quoting lyrics on social media, yes, you will have arrived.
If the music or words (or both) then start to trigger emotional responses, your content is capable of reaching people in a powerful new way. You’ve possibly heard the phrase “affecting change on a molecular level?” That’s what you are approaching when you can create an emotional reaction from a song.
Trust your instincts
There is more than one way to write a song just as there is more than one way to find meaning in life. Every songwriter has the ability to channel their own unique style, combined with their own unique experiences, and their own unique expression. Do what you do best and it will probably be a quality effort.
If you’re not true to yourself, like the copycats mentioned above, it will probably become apparent to the listener immediately. Your real fans can be your best critics. So don’t censor yourself or force yourself to be like some other “success” out there. Trust that you have everything you need to succeed, and then let it out.
Being selective means not settling. Part of selectivity is making some clear choices, and being willing to forgo an easy option for a more quality effort. And as with so much in life, choosing Quality over Quantity usually creates the most impact. As a musician, these choices might be reflected in:
The upward spiral
On-going education and constant improvement are reflected in the model of an upward spiral. If we are making progress, we will keep expanding our knowledge and skills and return to the same concepts on higher and higher levels. And the view will start to become spectacular.
Coming back to the same concepts on a higher plane may mean it’s time for a song re-write. It may mean stepping back and critiquing how you are engaging with your fans. Or maybe you start to realize that you aren’t pushing yourself as much as when you first picked up an instrument, and it’s time to take skills to the next level. Keep thinking constant and never-ending improvement – there’s always something that can be done better.
A word of caution: if you remember the game Chutes and Ladders, the objective is to avoid those pesky slides. The path of least resistance presents itself when you find yourself static, not writing new material, not practicing your instrument, and basically just giving up to the force of gravity. It may seem like a fun, carefree ride down, but eventually you will find yourself heading into a downward spiral. Remember to keep climbing and don’t ever be complacent about quality.
The purpose of a business plan is to set some goals, primarily like figuring out how (and if) you should go to market and how to make it financially do-able. If it’s done well, a good business plan can also help motivate and improve the whole band.
Who Are You?
The first step in your plan is to define the structure of your business, A sole proprietorship is the simplest business structure for most musicians starting out. You can always upgrade to partners, LLCs, corporations, etc. but simple is better when bands have such short shelf lives. As an individual, you really don’t even have to declare yourself as a formal business entity. You can just use your social security number when a venue passes you a W9.
But a better step is to create a dba (“doing business as” aka tradename) and create a business name for yourself. The state of Colorado will be happy you did that, venues will be happier, as well as most bandleaders because it will indicate that you do have a business intent (and don’t plan on being some other band’s employee). Smart band leaders will make sure this is clear up front by having you sign an Independent Contractor agreement along with that W9. It currently costs $20 to reserve a tradename and $5 per year thereafter to renew it.
If you want to take it a step further, you could get an EIN (Employer Identification Number). This comes from the federal government and does not cost anything if you apply with form SS-4 online. The benefit of an EIN is that you won’t have your social security number floating around with various entities. You use the EIN on the W9 instead of your SSN.
Back to the dba. If you’re ready, you might try “doing business as” a band name. But if you think about it, band names often change. And you might want to be a sideman for somebody else someday. Think about creating a general company name that could be an umbrella for lots of different activities. For instance, apart from being a musician, you might also generate income providing sound for other musicians or teaching music lessons or even selling music gear. Why not keep your options open?
How will you go to market?
This concept is pretty critical. It’s an evaluation of your viability and how you will weather the competition. Is there a demand for your type of music? Have you reached the skill level to charge a fair market wage? And will you know how to ask for that fair market wage? What other barriers will you face?
If you’re planning on being a paid performer, how often are you going to play out? Where is this going to occur? Why will people come? How will you market yourself? When will you know that you have obtained your goals? If you take the time, this series of question marks will help you flesh out your place in the universe and your ultimate direction. But there’s more…
Are you unique?
In marketing, there’s a core concept know as your Unique Selling Proposition (or USP). This is what separates you from all of the other run of the mill, “me too,” unexciting musicians in the world. After all, practically everyone is in a band these days. What’s so special about you? Take the time to figure out what separates you from the competition, then amplify it and you’ll be onto a real plan. Follow this link for some more thoughts on a USP. And here are a few examples:
There are plenty of other ways to separate yourself from the competition. One of the most important is when you focus on a culture of quality. We’ll talk a little more about that next…
It’s always tempting to call music “just another hobby.” You’re doing something you love, you’re probably doing it mostly on the weekends, you may have a day job that shares no resemblance to your musical activities, money seems scare and people are often trying to serve you food and drinks in lieu of pay – you get the picture. Why not call it a hobby and just call it good, right?
Original Music – Covers of the Future
But you are an innovator if you are actually writing new songs. You’re bringing something new into the world. Don’t stop! You are actually much, much closer to long-term success as a musician than any cover band that’s walked the planet.
Don’t forget that you may be writing the covers of the future. And this has a real value.
Then, when you start recording and perfecting your craft, you are rising several notches above the fray. And there will come a time when you will start to play out live and attempt to build an audience and gain some traction…or not. There will be management decisions to make, legal nuances with the songwriting rights and recording rights and digital distribution rights, there will be lots and lots of branding options, as well as tour management, possibly merchandising opportunities, and, oh yeah, trying to keep the band together.
You Better Mean Business
That’s a huge list of duties. In fact, it’s a lot of work! There are going to be deadlines and lots of selling yourself, figuring out a budget, possibly securing some financing, and hopefully you’ll get to a point when you need to meet payroll. Like it or not, those are all business terms. You might want to start thinking like a business owner – even if you wish you were just a “hobby band.”
Of course, there are all kinds of business structures: sole proprietors, partnerships, limited liability companies, corporations (S Corps and C Corps) and even nonprofits. So there are lots of ways to approach that business. Are you onboard? Do you intend to be open for business? Congratulations! The first step is developing a plan, and that’s what we’ll cover next…
Well, what do you know? The Denver Original Music Initiative returns to your internet mailbox, just in time for the holidays. Did you miss it? Just like the songwriting process itself, sometimes a period of incubation is necessary to recharge and churn the cream to the top. But here’s a reminder of the mission and what’s to come…
The Denver Original Music Initiative is a platform for supporting local artists. To be successful, most musicians need to be able to: write, record, manage a band, figure out their brand, draw a following, manage tours, conduct group therapy sessions, engage their fans, promote shows, and many more logistical nightmares. That’s a very tall order. Far too many hats to be worn…and too many choices.
The bottom line is, nearly all bands desperately need organizational and promotional support but hardly any can afford it.
The DOM’s purpose is to help bands: understand entrepreneurship, learn from other bands, help navigate the world of changing music distribution, and provide some free opportunities for musicians along the way. Free is always good.
If you are a local musician wanting to contribute to this mission, send us a line (marc@DenverOriginalMusic.com) and give your two cents. We welcome unsolicited band and venue advice from every corner of the Denver Metro area. But also, please put some of these ideas into motion and give us feedback on what’s working…and what’s not. Denver needs your original music!
A nod to the Goat [aka Chris K] for this one…
It just doesn’t matter if you play originals, covers, rock, country, jazz or polka. It doesn’t matter if you’re a soloist, a quartet, or have so many members that you spill off stage. And it doesn’t matter if you play out once a month or quarter, or 300 times a year. What matters, if you’re going to play out live, is that you are entertaining on some very definitive level.
Are you a Performer?
Notice, the question is not “are you a musician?” There are tons of musicians scattered all over town, with various degrees of competency. And even though the ratio of bands to venues is something like 1000 : 1, most bands can get booked somehow, somewhere in our great state – which is why it’s so important to know how to perform.
A performer knows how to do one or more of the following:
Perhaps most important in the entire arsenal – can you make a connection with your audience? Do you convey passion, raw energy, charisma, sex appeal…or at least a good sense of humor? Can you make an audience feel something? Music alone can stir up emotions, but can you as the conduit take it to the next level?
If this sounds daunting, remember that you have your own unique capabilities, quirks, and image. It doesn’t need to be a carbon copy of someone else and it will be far more effective when it is genuine for who you are as a person. But when you enter the stage, you are sharing yourself with the audience, so make the connection as strong as possible.
You probably perform most often as a group. The great thing about this is that you now have multiple characters on stage (if they play their roles) to make things even more interesting for the audience. Yes, the front-person has a lot of responsibilities. But every other person that agreed to play live should also be agreeing to perform. Stir that pot!
Energy is infectious and it starts on stage. A crowd will respond if the energy is real, and that’s when you have a chance to create a genuine upward spiral. But a band needs to bring that all-on effort, regardless of whether the room is packed or lean. That’s why empty rooms can be a good thing – a chance to rehearse energy-building.
Your Life is a Dance
Choreography is actually a pretty broad subject. Every movement you create on stage can contribute to the ultimate performance. Guitar necks in a chorus line or in sync with the kick drum, drummers twirling the sticks and pointing at the audience, clapping, snapping, exaggerated sweeps on the keyboards, or maybe you are the near-motionless bass player, with one leg up on the wall. That could work.
The fact is, you are a choreographer with every human encounter and those efforts just need to be amplified on stage. The farther away your audience, the more important this becomes. Play to the back of the room. A common secret to cover the whole room is to find someone at the very back, looking over all of the other heads, and show them your stuff. Try it…people up front will still think you are looking at them.
We Live in a Multi-Media World
Blame it on the ADD. But humans are wired to incorporate audio and visual senses constantly. Music is a form of art and supports other forms of art exceptionally well. While the first half of your “show” is sound, don’t forget that the second half is moving pictures. And people actually hear with their eyes.
We’ll talk more about this and the rest of the “show” in the next installment.
If you’re willing to make the drive, Loveland Startup Week has now added an Art Track with several free sessions related to performing artists. On April 7th, the Rialto Theater will be hosting a session called “Inside the Mind of a Venue Manager.” Yes, this sounds like scary stuff, but it’s necessary insight for any performing artist. It also doubles as a great music networking event.
This particular session takes place at the Devereaux Room at the Rialto (Friday, April 7th; 10am till noon) and will be a panel format, moderated by Rialto Theater Manager Bryan Zellmer. It will feature four, influential panelists:
It’s a great opportunity to meet these venue managers and get a sense of their needs, and how they think about your needs when it comes to scheduling and marketing your shows. They will most likely talk about the Do’s and Don’ts of booking efforts and how to present yourself to the powers that be. Plus, it’s an intimate enough format so that you can meet these decision-makers in person, find out their likes and dislikes, maybe get a private cell#, etc. – networking and education are always great things for any musician…make the drive!