Category: Free

Team Building 101: DIY artists, you are not alone…



Ever since Napster and its sinister brethren appeared on the scene a lot of my peers (even those with the purest of hearts) have added to their music collection without spending a dollar.  In addition to getting music for free, the actual method of creating and distributing music has fundamentally shifted.  Threats of lawsuits from the RIAA may have slowed the free music exchange sites, but social websites, blogs and China have continued to make music available to the masses au gratis (that’s french for free or with cheese, not so good with the franscais).

It is far from original to state that the way the public obtains, shops for or even listens to music has changed over the past decade.  Countless reporters, bloggers, industry experts and politicians have noted the fundamental shift in the music industry.  Your humble author has also contributed to the rhetoric.  But now it is time for musicians and their respecitve teams to stop talking about the change and adjust their own business models in order to succeed in this “all-access-all-the-time” era of music.    Here’s my roadmap:


1.  Amazingly good music.    If you don’t have number 1, there is no point in reading past this point.  Because of the ease of getting music out to the public without the cost restrictive hurdles of cd manufacturing, warehouse and transportation costs there is more music available to the public than at any time in history.  While the digital shift has seen many positives, the overhwelming result is an overly saturated market full of average music.  No one likes to think of their music as average, so I’m assuming that you are still reading to see what else you need for your team.  I don’t want to belabor the point, but seriously, if your music isn’t good, you are not going to get far (except for the aboritions of people like Lady Gaga, Soulja Boy and Nickleback).  It all boils down to the music; and that’s a good thing.

2.  Hire A Lawyer.  Yeah, yeah, I know, I’m a lawyer and I’m telling you to hire an attorney.  But it doesn’t have to me.  As you will see in steps 3 and 4, you will be consistently entering into contracts.  Hand shakes are cool, especially funky ones with fist bumps included, but they are not cool for agreements that will involve money and your career.  A lawyer who understands new media, intellectual property protection and more importantly contract interpretation and law is essential.  The new music model involves, digital distribution of music, corporate partnerships, website policies, copyright and trademark protection, royalty collection, license deal, etc. etc.  A lawyer who you trust should be step number 2.  (If a lawyer tells you she will “get you a deal”, you need to politely excuse yourself from her office and never look back.  This old school model is as dead as Chris Brown’s Drink Milk ad campaign.)

3.  Hire a Manager.  Your buddy might be a fun guy and is good at working a guest list, but you need a professional that will not only manage your day to day career but find new opportunities for your music.  The manager needs to think as creatively as the musician, but instead of making music, they should be making deals with new partnership opportunities, tour deals and promotions.  A manager should get a percentage of the money that the musician makes for the work that the manager actually does.  DO NOT sign a manager agreement that blindly gives your manager 20% of everything you make unless that manager used to work for U2 or Jay Z.  Another old school tactic, managers should get paid for what they bring to the table and not just feast on all of the opportunities that come to the band without the managers’ help.  Your agreement with your manager should spell this out in great detail (NOTE, having a written agreement with your manager is a mus.  See point #2).

4.  Get a PR/Marketing Firm.  A firm that understands the music business is obviously important.  But what is more important is a marketing team that understands your music and your niche.  If you are trying to cross over from a hip hop audience to a more mainstream pop market, look for a PR firm that has both clients on its roster.  PR firms can be expensive but if you have a budget to spend they can typically tailor their efforts to match it (see point #2, again).  Posting your music on popular blogs and on social sites  is definitely worthwhile.  However, if you want to take it to the next level, you need the network and reach of a competent PR/marketing firm.  Yes is cool, but is better.

If you have the “new team” assembled you are in a good spot.  This team should be able to act in much the same way as the archaic labels once did.  One remaining step is physical cd distribution.  While the CD is dying it still makes up a large percentage of music sales.  However, unlike the old days, your team can approach physical distributors  after you have enough buzz and digital sales racked up.  If a distributor sees good numbers, a deal can be inked for small distribution of physical copies of your album.

The DIY artist has a lot of opportunities now.  But like many experts have noted, (click here for a great article on the perils of a DIY artist)   just because an artist can produce and publish her work for the public to hear, does not mean that she will succeed.  If your music is good (and your mom thinking it is good does not count), start building this team and you just may be able to achieve success in the music industry.

Good job team

Good job team


Speaking of a DIY band, check out French Horn Rebellion.  Originally from Milwaukee, now embedded in Brooklyn, these guys have made their own opportunities and have worked hard to get a foot hold on the indie electro pop scene.  Good music and a sense of humor make them a popular band with cross over appeal.  Now with a good TEAM behind them, you are undoubtedly going to hear a lot more french horn in your music.


Free Today, Paid Tomorrow

Let’s stick with the giving stuff away for free theme for a bit. So you have established yourself with a steady dull hum if not yet a slight buzz. Your local shows are selling out, you can sell your merch without a problem at the shows and some on your website, you’ve had a couple of A&R types sniff out your manager, you are basically on your way. At this point, there is a good chance that a couple more facts are accurate: 1. while you may be hot sh*% in your home town, the country, let alone the world, has no idea who you are and hasn’t heard your music and 2. you are probably dead broke.

If you have been cultivating your buzz and building your band’s brand, you have put your group in a potentially great position. Here’s why. Think of all of the television shows, commercials, movies, webcasts, radio promos, infomercials, etc. that use music. Granted, some of the big companies like Ford and American Arilines will pay gobs of money to use a Rolling Stones or Led Zeppelin song for their next commercial, but think of all other smaller fish out there that do not have the budget to pay a publisher half a mil to use 19 seconds of Paint it Black. That’s where you and your band’s buzz may come in.

The “hip” companies out there always have an ear to the streets/clubs/myspace music pages looking for the next best thing so they can glom onto him/her/them thereby making their company appear uber cool. If one of these marketing geniuses sees your buzzworthiness you may just find your music or even your bands image, likeness or name in a commercial on television or net. Even if you haven’t released a single or an EP, you can still license your music and wind up in front of a national or international audience. Granted, there are a lot of what ifs in this scenario, but it does happen and its pretty sweet when it does.

A commercial? A song on a tv show? I bet you can visualize the money taking the place of your subway card and random email addresses written on a sticky note in your wallet. Not so fast. Chances are the compensation section of your license agreement for this commercial opportunity reads as follows: promotion value only/no further compensation shall be paid. Well that doesn’t seem right, does it? We’re broke, how can we do anything for free?

While it would be nice to get paid at least the union rate for appearing on a commercial, the fact that you are not in the Screen Actors Guild or the American Federation for Television and Radio Actors is probably a big reason that you got on tv. Even though a video game is purchased by 6 million people across the globe or an episode of the Dog Whisperer was viewed by 2 million doesn’t mean that your music on either one will net you much more than a credit which momentarily flashes on the screen.

4 DVD set of the entire first season of “The Dog Whisperer” at

Chin up, even if you don’t get paid for this commercial or license opportunity, chances are many, many more will follow. Putting aside the fact that after this one placement television producers or video game developers or advertisers now know your band’s name or music, just think of the new opprotunities that will open up to your band. Whether they remember it or not, a huge audience has heard your music. This type of placement will go to the top of your press kit and will be the first thing you or your manager or booking agent will say to when trying to secure any type of new business for the band. I’ve seen a free appearance on a commercial or a free placement of a song during a sporting event benefit a singer’s career in a monumental way. More doors open in terms of licensing opportunities, your asking rate for concerts and appearances will go up, more clubs and venues will want to book your now national or international act, and record labels will definitely take notice.

Again, I am not a proponent for giving everything away for free at all times. But, any manager worth his or her salt will tell you that for promotional purposes only sometimes means big money is on the horizon. Well timed promotional licensing of your music or of your band itself is a key to taking the next step to making your music your career. (that’s deep, huh?)