Six Skills All Indie Musicians Need Today
Today’s indie music artist needs to understand branding and marketing, community building, live ... [+] GETTY IMAGES
Guest post by Roberto R Hernandez (Robonzo) via Forbes Magazine
A rapidly changing music industry and technology-driven consumer preferences have forced a great deal of new skills on today’s independent musician. It’s been over a decade since record labels, PR reps and managers could help the average indie artist find and reach their audience. Today’s indie music artist needs to understand branding and marketing, community building, live video streaming, home-recording, digital distribution and entrepreneurship. This on top of staying creative and delivering a great product.
I have been an independent musician for over 25 years, having personally witnessed many changes in the business of music. In 2016 I started the Unstarving Musician project to help other musicians get better paying gigs. The hundreds of conversations I’ve had with other independent musicians and industry professionals has enlightened me to the broader picture of industry changes, the latest skill requirements and opportunities therein. This is a high-level view of my most recent observations, based on personal experience and interviews with other musicians.
Branding and Marketing
Musicians with a solid understanding of branding and marketing principles have always had a leg up in the music business. Career musicians in fact require an increasingly in-depth understanding of these principles. Artists who lack this understanding are less likely to get the attention of record labels, PR reps, artist management or artist development professionals. Fortunately, independent musicians are not as dependent on these professionals as in past years.
Artists also need to be versed in the nuance of developing a fan-based community of supporters via social media, email marketing, membership and patronage platforms. Savvy musicians use good branding to amplify their unique style and weirdness in a way that connects them to a niche audience of supporters. Most artists and industry professionals agree that without branding, we have nothing to sell.
Community Building and Fan Based Supporters
The art of building community is no longer solely about building an email list, although musicians are advised to keep some of their focus on email marketing, rather than social media alone. While Facebook is still a popular community building platform, services like Patreon, Bandcamp and Bandzoogle cater directly to the artist in pursuit of creating a fan-based community of supporters through membership. The challenge here is that artists must learn how to engage and sustain unique communities that support their work.
Financial fitness for most indie artists relies on fan-based community. Musicians must actively engage followers to build real relationships, while creating awareness about exclusive offers for fan-based tribes. This is a proven model for creating a recurring stream of income. It’s not just a matter of asking for support, however; artists must consistently give something special in return. Artists typically offer followers exclusives and first looks at music releases and live performances.
Building community also means giving varying levels of access to themselves. A growing number of artists are offering music lessons, mentoring and coaching to their supporters. These types of offers can lead to added income for artists, but also add to the balancing act of community building, sales funnel execution and more. Artists like Shannon Curtis and Pomplamoose are pioneers of this new model. Pomplamoose is a top-ranking act on Patreon that creates monthly videos for new songs in various collaborations. Curtis has made a name for herself by funding yearly recording projects and promoting them with house concert tours, all made possible by a supporter fan base she and partner producer Jamie Hill have built.
Live Video Streaming
Live video has long been important for many artists. Now it’s arguably a must. The Covid-19 crisis has accelerated the adoption of live streaming and the technologies surrounding it, as the future of live music has been dramatically altered. Musicians who wish to perform for fans have been forced to learn and embrace live streaming. They’re also faced with evaluating several platform choices, including Twitch, YouTube Live, Instagram Live, Facebook Live, Periscope and Crowdcast among others. Thankfully, services like Restream offer solutions that allows musicians to live stream over multiple platforms simultaneously.
Live streaming has big upsides, allowing musicians to connect with previously distant fans happy to show their support through online tipping. Quality of live streams is of growing importance, and companies like IK Mulitmedia are helping artists make the experience better with specialized audio interface products like the iRig Stream. This exemplifies changes in consumer preferences that impact both fans and musicians. Fans are consuming music and related products, while musicians are consuming services that help them create and deliver their art to fans.
Recording music in a home studio was relatively affordable 20 years ago, but an explosion of new products and technologies has made home recording even more accessible. A growing number of music artists are entering the world of home based recording, which has also been driven by Covid-19. This isn’t limited to an endeavor in learning new technology. It’s about understanding physical setup, mic placement, proper form, production, the physics of audio and more. Fortunately, the allure for home recording has been accompanied by seemingly unlimited learning resources, including YouTube and education platforms like Udemy, Coursera and Lynda.
Streaming is now the primary source for music distribution, and today’s music business has largely bypassed labels for the actual process of distribution. Digital distribution is now very much a DIY activity, not too unlike self-publishing books. On the upside, independent artists are much less dependent on gatekeepers. The downside is that distribution is yet another thing musicians need to understand, as not all services align optimally for all music artists.
Musician Mawk (Marc) Phoenix, who spent many years as a Los Angeles based producer, recently returned to creating and marketing his own music. Phoenix sees a career in music today as an endeavor in entrepreneurship. He’s diving into a new learning curve that includes the creation of music production courses. This is a beautiful example of re-purposing skills and pivoting. Singer songwriter Eli Lev puts his entrepreneurial skills to work as an artist development consultant and coach, obtaining clients and partners from within his growing community of supporters.
So where do music artists find the time to invest in the art of actually making music? A career in music relies heavily on goal setting, prioritizing, re-prioritizing, creating and collaborating, one project at a time. The arc of a career in music is longer and in many ways, more fulfilling than in past years. The opportunities are boundless. Niche audiences are waiting to be served. Music artists are striving to discover these audiences and to deliver their music in this new entrepreneurial model.