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Planning Your Music Career,
One Step at a Time

Article by David Nevue
The Music Biz Academy - Oct. 27th, 2002

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Internet Music Promotion 101

It's not that difficult to figure out what and when to write a new article on a particular topic. Usually, I'm prompted to do it when two or three visitors to the Music Biz Academy ask a similar question. Sometimes it's just easier to put my thoughts down in an article for everyone's benefit. Such is the case with this article.

How to you begin planning for a serious career in the music business? What are the steps you need to take to 'make it?'

Getting Signed
Before answering the question, let me share with you some of my own thoughts on the business. First, a lot of musicians are looking to be signed by a major record label (duh!). You, the reader of this article, may yourself have aspirations of Ďmaking it big.í However, if there is one thing that Iíve learned over the years, itís that these days record labels arenít looking for fly-by-night musicians they can turn into stars.

What 'Labels' Are Looking For
What they
are looking for are musicians that are already doing the work. They are looking for artists that have proven they can create a huge fan base, sell thousands of CDs and sell out shows all on their own. They are searching for musicians who are already Ďstarsí in their own region. What Iím saying, in a round-about way, is this; if you want to Ďmake it bigí and get signed to a major label, the best way to do that is to forget about being signed to a major label and do the work yourself. Get out there, play your music, build your fan base, and sell CDs. Your goal should not be to Ďget signedí, but to bring yourself to a point to where you donít really need the backing of a record label anymore. Once youíve reached this point, and you have a marketable name and product, then you might find some A&R people knocking on your door. Maybe.

My intent with these comments isnít to discourage you, but to
empower you. You really donít need a major label deal to have a successful music career. If you are seeking only fame, then yes, you need the backing of big money. But, if youíre just wanting to do music full time and be the quintessential artist (as I now do), thatís something you can do all on your own. But it takes a lot of hard work.

Planning Your Music Career
Now to the topic of this article. In regards to planning your career, you need to treat it (your career) just like a business. That means, you need to think about where you are now, and plot out where you want to be a year from now, two years from now, and then five years from now. You might even break this down, plotting your 'life' out in six month increments, giving yourself small goals to aim for. That way as you progress you can see how well you are doing on achieving your goals.

Here are some steps you'll need to take if you're serious about your business. This is intended to be a very high-level summary overview. For a more detailed look at some of these points, please see Chris Knab's excellent three-part guide to
Career Planning, which I have summarized (and added my own thoughts to) below.

1) Write the Business Plan
It's just something you gotta do. If you don't plan and just take each day as it comes, improvising along the way, well, sometimes the 'day' you're dreaming for never comes. Take control of your future, and sit down and put together a business plan. Peter Spellman has a great article on this topic which includes a music business plan template called
Writing a Music Business Plan That Works.

2) A Band Agreement
Put together a band agreement covering such issues as copyright ownership, sharing of profit (and loss), the band name (who owns it), rules around hiring and firing members, who pays expenses, what rights ex-members have, and whether you are going to operate as a solo proprietorship, partnership or corporation. Once you've decided on the latter, register your business name with your state government (you can usually get the forms from your bank) and you can open up a checking account.

3) Publicity Photos
Find a professional photographer with experience in the music industry to create some publicity shots. You will also need to determine (in your band contract) who in the band owns those photos and the negatives. Whatever you do, don't use cheesy K-Mart photos for your press kit! You're not posing for your high school yearbook here. Hire a pro to make your image one worth marketing.

4) Local Gigs
Local shows will likely be your first source of income. You'll need to put together a 45-60 minute set of music. Once you have that, contact and start sending your press kit to local venues and follow up with them via telephone and in person. Write out a written performance agreement that both you (representing the band) and the venue will sign. Get all the details on paper so everyone's expectations are set, and then sit down and go over each point with the hiring manager.

5) Make Your Own CD
When you start booking shows, consider recording a CD to be sold during your shows, distributed to local and regional record stores, and marketed via mail order, your fan mailing list, and via the Internet. Research local studios, find which studios are popular with other local bands, and interview bands who have already released a CD about their experience. Learn from their mistakes, and ask them what they would do different if they could start all over again.

6) Local Radio Promotion
Which local radio stations support independent music? Start by calling college and university stations in your region. Ask for a program schedule and find out where your style of music would fit in. College radio is where you are going to build your following. Most 'commercial' stations have no say over what they play and aren't going to be able to offer you much in the way of radio support. Kenny Love has written an excellent article which includes some tips on promoting to college radio called
Greed: The Diarrhea of the Music Industry.

7) Tell a Story / Benefit Concerts
To create a sensation you need a story. Why should people, who have never heard of your music, care about you or your music? Find a story, something unique about your music, something you can stand up for and use that to promote yourself to the local press. You might get involved in a local cause, support a benefit, or find a community service/event you can team up with. Read your local news, figure out what your community is emotional about
right now, and find a way to get your music involved.

8) Maximize the Internet
Use the Internet as a tool to enlarge your fan base, both locally and abroad. This is a huge topic. Let me recommend my book,
How to Promote Your Music Successfully on the Internet, considered by many to be the essential guide to web promotion for musicians. Also see my other articles dealing more specifically with online promotion.

9) Booking Agent
You don't need an agent to help you book your local and regional shows. That's something you can do all by yourself. However, if you decide to tour nationally at any point, you'll want the help of an established agent. How do you know when to get a booking agent? If you create enough buzz locally and are selling out venues, they will come to you. But don't think touring is all fun and games. Check out this
prototype tour schedule to get an idea of the kind of grueling hours you can expect to put in.

10) Research Publishing Companies
Signing with a publisher has a lot of benefits; they can promote your songs, shop demos, issue and negotiate contracts for you and much more. But, as a result of signing you also lose a big part of your copyright. For questions about publishing, let me recommend viewing Nancy Reese's excellent
Copyright & Publishing Q&A Column.

11) Join a Performance Rights Organization
Performance Rights Organizations (ASCAP, BMI, SESAC) collect royalties. If someone plays your music on the radio or uses it in film or television, it's the users responsibility to report that to your P.R.O., who distributes your income generated from mechanical and performance royalties.. Decide on one and sign up.

12) Get an Entertainment Attorney
Eventually, you'll want someone to look over your contracts that knows how to protect your long-term interests. Don't enter into any major agreement without counsel. See this
great article from Entertainment Attorney, Bart Day.

13) Educate Yourself
Learn everything you can about the music business. Understand how it works from the inside out. There are a ton of articles here at
The Academy to help you get a grip on the realities of this business. Read them, absorb them, know your business. Music is Your Business by Chris Knab, is an excellent resource.

14) Work, Work, Work.
Now you're starting to get the picture. It's hard work, and this is just the beginning. With everything there is to do, you can see the importance of sitting down and plotting out your strategy on paper. The music business really isn't just for anyone. Playing music for fun? Sure, anyone can do that, but to make it your business? Well, it's a long, hard road, full of unexpected twists, turns, and hair-pulling frustration. But, if you can endure, if you can persevere, if you can work and not grow weary, if you're both obsessed and talented, well, you might have a shot.

Again, for more details on planning your music career, let me recommend Chris Knab's
three-part article which goes into more detail of some of the things covered here.. Also a must-read, is Kenny Love's article, Are You Really Ready?


David Nevue is the founder of The Music Biz Academy. He is also a professional pianist, recording artist, full-time Internet musician, and author of the book, "How to Promote Your Music Successfully on the Internet."

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