With so many blog posts and books about "how to succeed in the music business," it's easy to get confused about what and what not to do. So let's take it back to the essentials: make sure your band's got the following five things covered before you move on to anything else!
1. Have amazing songs that convey your unique sound and style
Nothing will be more important to the success and longevity of your career than having well-crafted, original songs that stand out from the rest of the pack. No matter if you're self-writing or co-writing songs with other professionals, your career might be short-lived or nonexistent if you sound exactly like everyone else in the flooded marketplace.
While exploiting your inner strengths and staying true to your artistic integrity, strive to be both unique and relevant. Pay attention to where music is today, as well as to where it may be heading (or needs to be heading) in the future. In the best case scenario, strive to find a market need or void that aligns with what you do as an artist, and an opportunity to fill that need or void better than anyone else.
To sum things up, hockey legend Wayne Gretzsky once commented on the key to success: "A good hockey player plays where the puck is. A great hockey player plays where the puck is going to be." Believe that!
2. Deliver unforgettable, standout live performances
There is a live performance element that is a crucial part of selling your songs. Not gimmickry, but a complete auditory and visual live experience that's aligned with your brand and is positioned uniquely among the competition. The idea is to deliver a live performance that your fans will remember.
Consider hiring a professional sound and light man, having dancers joining you up on stage, using interesting instruments, projecting a film on a screen, or engaging with your fans by allowing them to text in requests real-time while you’re performing. And don't forget about throwing those amazing afterparties, too. Whatever you do, just be amazing!
3. Strive to create quality recordings
Whether you record your music yourself or you outsource the services of a professional producer and engineer, always aim to produce the highest quality tracks you possibly can. Don't accept that sharp note on that vocal scream in the last chorus, that cheesy drum or keyboard sound that is an important part of the track, or that slightly out-of-tune guitar that’s noticeable on the solo.
Sure, I believe in something called "the perfection of imperfection," but I don't believe in the phrase "fix it in the mix" or "it's good enough." If you're especially interested in licensing your music in film and television, make sure your recordings are at least comparable to what the pros are putting out there. A/B your tracks with other artists, and consult with music professionals who'll give you honest feedback. Just remember that marketing and promotion can never make up for shoddy production and low-quality recordings.
4. Treat your songs like the valuable pieces of property that they are
Your songs (aka, your copyrights) are perhaps one of the most valuable assets that you'll ever own. A song can go on to live and generate money long after your career is over, and even long after your time on the face of this earth, too. Compose songs with reliable people you trust, discuss songwriting splits with co-writers and producers before leaving each writing session if possible, and never enter into an agreement that you do not understand with a music placement company or publisher.
Stay up to date on the latest in music publishing news by visiting websites such as the Copyright Office, HFA, ASCAP, BMI, SESAC, SoundExchange, the National Music Publishers' Association, and the Recording Industry Association of America.
Remember that music publishing is the business of songs. It's an area where fortunes have been both lost and found. Hopefully, for you, it will be an area of success.
5. Remember that marketing starts long before your first song is ever written
Unless you're someone who's hoping to stumble upon success, or you're just doing music as a hobby without concern about making money, be clear that marketing starts long before writing, recording, and packaging your music. That's right!
While always maintaining your true artistic integrity, marketing begins with discovering great ideas, researching those ideas to ensure that they can be profitable, setting goals, and choosing the right mix of strategies to achieve those goals. Marketing is a very misunderstood area of the music business, and it's often associated with salesmanship and trickery, but it's vital to the success of any sustainable business – including your band.
So, don't wait until your songs are written and recorded to think about "the marketing" and "how you're going to get them out there to the world." Think about marketing from the start. Have a strong vision, pay attention to the world around you, and strive to connect with the most important people in the world: your fans! With persistence and luck, you can succeed.
Bobby Borg is the author of Music Marketing for the DIY Musician: Creating and Executing a Plan of Attack on a Low Budget (September 2014). Find the book on Hal Leonard's website under "Trade Books" or on Amazon. Signed copies with a special offer are also available atbobbyborg.com.