In recent years, Macklemore and Ryan Lewis have proven you don't necessarily need a major label record deal to "make it" in today's music industry. That said, the duo had already been performing for a decade in their hometown, so their fanbase has had time to accumulate. When they released their acclaimed album, The Heist, they did so with the help of Warner Music Group's independent distribution company, the Alternative Distribution Alliance. This helped the album expand into markets the pair would have otherwise not had access to or an easy time navigating.
Regardless of whether you're hoping to be signed to a label or navigate your own artistic path like Macklemore and Ryan Lewis did, there are key things you must take the time to do either way if you want to make a living as an artist (assuming, of course, that you've already put in a significant amount of work on honing your craft). While the following are all much easier said than done, they're all completely possible to achieve as long as you incorporate them into your long-term goals and strategy!
1. Establish your audience
When it comes to attracting a label, one of the main things industry execs are looking for is an established act that draws a crowd. Will you make them money? Do you have staying power? Can you grow as an artist or band? These questions will all be considered by label representatives when evaluating your band. Aside from an established act, they're looking for one that is gaining exposure and drawing interest of listeners. Promotion is key, be it in local papers or nationwide blogs. Continuing to grow your presence through various forms of promotion will better prepare you and your group for the possibility of a label. Even if you're not looking for a label, these questions on staying power, growth, and financial success are still crucial to ask yourself.
Expert advice on establishing your audience:
- How a New Band With No Fanbase Can Start Building Local Buzz
- 6 Ways to Build Personal Relationships With Fans That You Probably Haven't Tried
- 3 Easy Social Media Tweaks That Have a Big Impact on Fan Engagement
- How to Identify the Perfect Niche Audience for Your Music
- 3 Surefire Ways to Turn Fans Into Superfans
2. Establish your brand
For those who aren’t interested in support from a label, the importance of promotion, growth, and establishing your brand should be even more heavily emphasized. While it's true you don't need a label to break through to a mainstream audience, there are certain benefits label representation brings. Without one, your workload is going to be much larger when it comes to taking your music to the next level and expanding into new markets.
If you're in pursuit of a label, having an established brand will make your band a more likely candidate to meet their expectations and give you a leg up against the rest of the competition.
Expert advice on establishing your brand:
- 8 Ways to Build and Strengthen Your Band's Brand
- 3 Branding Lessons From Music's Biggest Superstars
- What the Ad Industry Can Teach You About Running Your Band Like a Brand
- 8 Tips for a Strong Band Name
3. Find your team
Just because you're an independent artist doesn't mean you need to (or physically can) handle every aspect of your career on your own. At a certain point, forming a team including a manager, publicist, financial assistant, booking agent, and lawyer will be something to consider. Almost every artist in the public eye has an amazing team behind them helping elevate their careers to the next level. In terms of maintaing creative control, handpicking your team as an independent artist will guarantee that you're in charge of which direction you head.
On the other hand, if you're in discussion with a label and have a say in who your team will be or mesh well with those hired, choosing the route of a label can be a better opportunity financially and exposure-wise. There are plenty of options out there, so take time to consider all the possibilities.
Expert advice on finding your team:
- How to Build the Dream Team for Your Music Career
- 6 Signs That Your Band is Ready for a Publicist
- Is It Time to Hire a Manager?
- Is It Time to Hire a Booking Agent?
- Do You Need an Entertainment Lawyer?
- 3 Music Career Responsibilities You Can Start Delegating Today
4. Have a ton of patience
Not everyone has the financial means or connections to make a major break as an independent artist. That said, if you feel capable of managing this road on your own, or have the finances to hire your own team and understand that this doesn't happen overnight, then venturing into the world of mainstream music may be a smoother journey for you. If you're hoping to attract a label, patience is even more key. Taking the time to establish the right kind of relationships with industry professionals and fans, as well as focusing on branding yourself, will help propel you in the right direction, whichever direction you choose.
Expert advice on being persistent and positive:
- 5 Tricks to Remain an Insanely Positive Musician While Barely Scraping By
- 12 Simple Ways to Be a Happier and More Productive Musician
- The Artist Pep Talk: 10 Tips for Staying Positive in the Face of Rejection
What steps are you taking to achieve success as an independent artist? Do you hope to remain independent or attract a label? Let us know in the comments!
Kathleen Parrish is a singer and songwriter from Seattle, WA. While she specializes in lyrics, she enjoys writing short stories, poetry, and journalism. For more information, please visit www.kathleenparrish.com.