As indie musicians get more and more freedom and power over their music, it also means they need to start making calls about what they should invest back into their career, and these days, there are a lot of options. Do you focus on hiring an artist, creating product, and developing your merch? Do you focus 100 percent on the music and give up a percentage of your income to a manager or agent to take care of the business side? Do you pay big bucks to work with a top-of-the-line producer? Or do you give your fans some physical product like CDs and vinyl?
Of course, every music career is different, and every artist will need to invest differently to grow their career. But there are a few things that every artist should invest time and money into on an ongoing basis (and they're probably not what you expected).
1. Music training
With all the successful, self-taught artists out there, education is probably one of the first things to get thrown out or disregarded by musicians. But the fact is, no matter how good you are at promoting yourself, your entire career is really built on your musical skills, so it's worth investing in them. That's not to say you need to be the most technically skilled musician on the planet, but if music is going to be your job, you need to do your best to be the best you can be.
Take time to learn new techniques, new musical styles, or just to challenge yourself as a creative person to improve your songs, performances, or playing. It's also important that you learn how to play or sing properly without hurting yourself in the long run. I'm not saying you need to put hundreds of thousands of dollars into a music degree necessarily, but you should invest time and money into learning your instrument on an ongoing basis, whether that be through lessons, seminars, workshops, or just making a conscious effort to jam and play with people who are better than you.
2. A deep understanding of the music business
Especially today, you also need to be investing in your understanding of the music business. As an independent artist, you are an entrepreneur forming a business around your music. Even if you end up working with a manager, agent, publishing company, or record label, you need to be able to discuss your career, your goals, and your strategy with them on a business level.
For many artists, a manager just isn't in the cards, so they need to take a more active role in the business side of their career. You need to know how to grow your fanbase both online and off, how to communicate with your fans to drive engagement and sales, how to book your own shows, and above all, how to find your own unique and profitable place in this industry. Again, you don't need to go out and get your MBA, but there are plenty of courses, conferences, webinars, and panels you can invest in and learn from, like the New Artist Model online course. If you're not ready yet to take the jump into paying for music business training, you can start by downloading this free ebook.
3. Feedback on your songs
On a similar note, because musicians are moving more towards independence, they often won't be able to get a professional opinion on their music. In the past, this kind of artist development may have been handled by a label or publisher, but now, especially in the earlier stages of your career, it falls on you. And being able to step back and critique your music in an unbiased way is really hard!
One of the best ways to improve your songs as an independent musician is to gather feedback. Tools like Fluence allow you to send your music to industry influencers like radio DJs, music supervisors, and music producers for feedback. Because of their experience, these influencers can often give you really specific and actionable advice to improve your sound, mix, and song composition.
Another website, Audiokite, takes a slightly different approach. Instead of sending your music to a few key influencers, you send it to a large group of listeners to gather opinions and thoughts on a larger scale so you can get a better idea of what a typical music listener in the US thinks of your songs. Using both Fluence and Audiokite, you can test out your songs before you release them to make sure they will make the impact and impression you want.
In the New Artist Model online music business courses, you'll learn how to turn your music into a successful business – a business where you're the CEO! You'll create an actionable and personalized plan that will help you achieve a career in music, and you'll be able to do it all with the resources you have available right now. You can download this ebook for free to learn some of the best strategies for indie musicians to help you grow your fanbase and your career.
Dave Kusek is the founder of the New Artist Model, an online music business school for independent musicians, performers, recording artists, producers, managers, and songwriters. He is also the founder of Berklee Online, co-author of The Future of Music, and a member of the team who brought midi to the market.