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Music Business Tips (Part 1)

Have some basic budgeting “cents”

Bad jokes aside, it’s a good idea when you’re trying to start your own business to make use of budgeting in order to keep your finances in the black. Prioritizing expenditures and adhering to a strict budget (do you really need that $4 cup of coffee?) might not be fun, but it will keep you afloat financially until you’re able to set up a sustainable, predictable income. By the same token, it’s scary to spend money when you don’t have a lot of it, but spending on your business in smart ways is the best way to push your growth forward. When it comes down to it, I usually ask myself the question, “Will this help generate new business (directly or indirectly), and/or develop new relationships?” If the answer is yes, then I will spend the money. If not, I will usually pass.

Forcing it never works

Lots of times you’ll hear about entrepreneurs working 80-100 hour work weeks on their business. The phrase, “If you aren’t working, someone else is” comes to mind. However, I believe there is a point of diminishing return (especially in creative businesses) where “forcing” yourself to work doesn’t help. Hard work and smart work aren’t necessarily the same thing. You can certainly work hard on your business goals without removing the balance of having time off to spend with friends and family, pursuing other hobbies, or just stepping back and resting. A lot of times, a break brings a fresh perspective that helps to refocus and clear my head after being “down in it” for so long.

Don’t tie yourself to outcomes

If you’re checking email more than three times a day, you’re subconsciously developing an attachment to the slight kick of excitement when you get an email (dopamine is actually released when this happens). It’s very easy when you’re first starting to drum up business to want those emails from potential clients to come in. But when you are checking your inbox every 15 minutes, you reinforce a mindset that you need this business to be satisfied. Work will come if you’re doing the right things, and checking email fifty times a day doesn’t make the emails come any faster. Same thing goes for social media. It’s been hard to break my habit, but now I have designated times to check and respond to emails so I can focus on my other tasks without being distracted. I’m a strong believer in actively selecting what does and does not get my attention in the present moment. Make a conscious choice to decide when that email will get your attention and when you will browse through your social media accounts.

Do whatever you can whenever you can

A brief list of things I’ve done in the music business to make money: live sound engineering, music licensing, vocal recording, video background music, business presentation background music, music production, vocal mixing, instrumental mixing, film/TV licensing, DJing, producing lessons, apprenticeship programs, and probably more that I can’t think of. The point is, you have to do what you have to do even if it isn’t exactly your core competency. I would spend all of my time just producing and mixing instrumentals if I could, but I’ve had to branch out and learn other areas of music in order to build relationships and make more opportunities for myself. For a similar example: if you’re a recording artist, instead of just making your own songs and selling them, find other opportunities that are related to your work. Host a spoken word poetry night, offer to do a theme song for a local business, learn how to DJ and play some gigs around town, or even Skype with amateur artists to give advice and help them learn.

Get a job

If you find it’s best to get a part time job to supplement income while you work on your business, I’d recommend something that’s flexible with your schedule and also isn’t the end of the world if you miss time. Waiting tables, driving for uber, or working a retail job are some examples. Getting a job in which you have a lot of responsibility probably isn’t the best idea. If you have a last minute co-write meeting and have to run out for your music, you should be able to do that. Your priority is your business, so pick your job accordingly.

Know when to hire someone

I have an extensive background in IT and computers, so when I was first starting my business it was tempting for me to try and handle all of the IT tasks that I needed to do to get started. Given the right amount of time, I was sure I could figure everything out and get it going, plus I would have total control over the outcomes. However, I soon realized that I didn’t want to spend all of my time doing IT – there was a reason I left my full time IT job in the first place. I wanted to make music, so I started outsourcing tasks to other people so I could do just that. It cost me more money up front, but the time I gained from not having to worry about those things enabled me to create more music. It helped grow my catalog and eventually build relationships.

Hopefully these tips will help you along your journey to music business success. Want specific ideas about starting out, finding a job, or outsourcing? Feel free to reach out with any questions or comments: [email protected]

Gaining Soundcloud Followers (Organically)

Over the past year I’ve gone from about 200 SoundCloud followers (accumulated in the course of 4 years) to almost 1,000. These are all (as far as I know) real people, not bots or followers I paid for.  I actually advocate against payola, but that’s for another post. 1,000 followers isn’t a whole lot in the grand scheme of things, but it’s allowed me to learn about effective ways to grow my fan base that will hopefully continue to 5,000, 10,000, and even 100,000.

The Basics:

I won’t touch on obvious things like having good music and using tags in this post, but I will say one thing about tagging that applies not only to SoundCloud. If you use a certain artist name or a certain song name, you may be able to get extra listens from someone looking for that type of music. Just make sure your music is that type – don’t use “Beyoncé” to tag a heavy metal song. For example, the most-played song on my profile is a remix of a popular song on the radio, so I made sure to properly tag and title my song so that people looking for the original would find mine as well.

Branding:

Having consistency on your profile is important. Potential followers are more drawn towards a clean, consistent look than a page that looks like someone is just throwing stuff on it for fun. Everything from track titles to artwork to banner art, and even how you comment and interact with the community (comments are public) is important to your brand. Essentially, whether you like it or not, having a SoundCloud profile is a branding statement for you as a music creator. Many of the best producers I follow have a consistent thing they always do, such as a certain tag, a certain look with their art, or even a certain sound in all of their tracks. 

Collaborating:

I’ve had some very successful collaborations come about through SoundCloud, and some of them really helped boost my following. One thing to know up front is most people won’t respond to your questions or requests. This is true for pretty much everything in music, and it’s something you have to get used to. The best plan for finding collaborators is to find people who do similar music to yours and have about the same following. Most people have contact information on their profile, so try shooting them an email and see what happens! Once your song is done, you will have twice the number of people promoting it, and some of the fans/followers will cross over. 

Premieres through channels:

This is probably the biggest way to gain a following on SoundCloud. There are hundreds of SoundCloud channels that aren’t made by music creators themselves, but are actually more like SoundCloud radio stations. Their curators post other people’s music and usually “premiere” songs from producers or artists on their channel. Some of these have well over 100,000 followers, so it’s a great way to get exposure if your submission gets accepted. The trick is finding one that accepts the genre you create and then making sure you feel comfortable with how they work. I’ve noticed more and more channels taking “donations” or straight up charging for reposts, premieres, or releases. To me, this isn’t the right way of doing things (again, for another post), but if you are going to pay, just make sure you understand what you’re getting. 

My strategy is pretty simple. I’ve created a spreadsheet with all of the channels I come across, including what type of music they usually release and the contact information. This way when I have a song I’d like to release, I can send it to the right channels and see what the curators say. It’s probably best to go for smaller channels or labels if you’re just starting out, but once you start to have more and more releases you should be able to get released on bigger and bigger channels.

Follow for download:  

There’s something called a “download gate” or “follow gate” that basically allows people to download a track for free if they follow you on SoundCloud. I think this is a great way to release tracks because I am giving something away for free but also getting something in return. There are lots of third party sites that help facilitate the “follow for free download” function (click.dj, toneden, etc.), so I would suggest signing up for one and trying a release through them. If someone likes listening to your music and has the option to download it for free with a simple follow, they probably will. If you’re going to premiere a track with a bigger channel, ask the channel’s curators if they could do a follow for free download (most of them do this anyway).

Interacting with the community:

Just like with Instagram, Twitter, or Facebook, the more you engage with potential followers, the more likely they are to find your music and follow you. On SoundCloud, the best way to do this is through comments, likes, and joining groups. There are tons of public groups on SoundCloud where you can join and post music for feedback. I would suggest getting involved in a few active groups and interacting with the other members (this is a great place to find collaborations too). Commenting on other people’s tracks is another good way to put yourself out there. Likes are the most basic form of interaction, but they are still important. If you’re using SoundCloud as the foundation for your online music presence, promoting your music outside of SoundCloud is important too. Communities like Reddit, music forums, or blogs are good places to start sharing and interacting.    

Wrap up:

Hopefully these ideas will serve as a good foundation to start building up your SoundCloud following in an organic way. If you have any specific questions or want to discuss further, feel free to contact me!