Can You Achieve Success as an Independent Artist?
By George Shantzek,
life as an independent artist has been regarded as a one-way ticket
to Smallville: great college crowds, a great college student quality-of-life,
and a double lifetime supply of beer. This career choice is known
to be, at best, difficult-- offering a menial and even thankless role
in the music world.
you happen to be in the industry or just an innocent bystander --
also referred to as a fan, many will measure the success of an artist
in simple terms: how many units have been sold; how much exposure
has the group received; how many can they pack into a room or concert
hall? And whether you want to admit it or not, EVERYONE regards
the mainstream media as an indicator of whether a group's success
is significant or marginal.
of us in the industry ask ourselves, repeatedly: how can independent
artists reach a broader audience? We respond with great certainty,
declaring the internet as the artists' newfound Mecca. And then
some will go on to lambast MTV, the radio industry and music store
chains for refusing most independent artists access. "That!" we
say, "is the 'Great Barrier' to independent artists reaching a broader
audience and a successful career!"
we are left with this simple recipe:
= Good: the music "Promised Land," offering endless opportunities
to attract hundreds of millions all over the world! An artist's
direct link to potential fans, knocking out the middle man.
Business = Bad: The bad guys who ignore good music - except for
the moments they take a calculated risk with a great new discovery
for MTV's "Road Rules."
problem with this recipe is that it gives us a false view of the
real industry playing ground.
a brief look at the Internet: the Internet can be an excellent business
and marketing vehicle for artists. But look no further than Google
and you can find endless case studies on the "dotcom bust," proving
that the internet is NOT a business model, whether you're a farmer
or a world-class media company. It is only complimentary to your
product, your vision and your marketing strategy.
let us say, for all intents and purposes, that there is an artist
who is pretty talented and has a good product to offer unsuspecting
eager listeners. From here, we move on to the vision: following
the "thinking with the end in mind" approach, we establish that
the artist would be very happy with regional airplay, a six-album
record deal and limited exposure on MTV2.
unless this artist majored in Business, Marketing and Entertainment
Law, his or her marketing strategy might remain a bit unsophisticated,
making it highly unlikely that he or she will ever see the day that
one of the songs will receive regional airplay, let alone a six-album
record deal or MTV2.
anyone who has managed to "break into the business" or has landed
a record deal can tell you: turning your music into a business can
be an extremely risky, and sometimes disturbing, venture. An artist
is simply an entrepreneur full of passion, ideas and creativity.
The music might be good and the concert crowds might love it, but
it will never generate huge amounts of money until the artist is
ready to work hard at developing a sophisticated focused marketing
plan and whip out 4-minute industry-friendly jingles.
even then, the artist needs to be savvy enough to survive formal
collaborations with producers and record labels. No producer or
record label looks out for the interests of the artist. That is
not their business. Their business is maximizing and exploiting
a consumer-friendly product. Nothing more, nothing less. The bottom
line is all that matters. Once there is no more bottom line, there
is no more artist.
musicians who have had some significant success with their music
are still hesitant to claim that success as an independent artist
is possible. Tor Hyams (www.tor.net),
a well-respected singer/songwriter in Los Angeles, has successfully
written music for motion pictures and network television and still
has grave doubts about making it as an independent artist.
is almost impossible to achieve success anyplace as an independent
artist. What I truly think about the Indy scene is that it is important
and crucial to the evolution of music. Though I become less jaded
every day, I must be a realist and insist there is truly no future
at this point for independent artists except for the rare occasion
when all the stars align and luck is a lady tonight.
if you just look at raw figures (Sound Scan numbers, ad dollars
spent each year on records, etc), you would literally have to be
a millionaire to make it right now. It is simply impossible to have
anyone know who you are without mega-bucks. You are competing against
the major labels and Indies with a lot of money."
this is someone who has relied heavily on the internet for establishing
his business. He even has a cyber claim-to-fame:
was the first indy artist to acquire financing for a record online...
wrote an article about me and the event and so did many other
internet and print pubs. There was a lot of hype. I got 35K to make
a record, spent 6 weeks at one of the hippest studios in the country
making it (Fantasy Studios in Berkeley) and then it all went South.
(industry managers/producers) said they were going to make big things
happen, that I should let go of control and they would act as my
managers, etc. Zippo. They dropped the ball. I had another business
contact who was supposed to get commercial radio to play the record.
Again, ball dropped. The label that got me my deal went bankrupt.
Nothing happened and the investors never got their money back."
even though he had some pretty strong words for his own record deal
experience and the state of the industry today, he has still found
a way to carve a niche in the music world and make a good living
out of it.
I bitter? Not really. I actually got to live the dream; 6 weeks
in a major recording studio with a real legit producer doing my
songs. Not bad. What I realized later on was that I was actually
pretty satisfied with just that part of the dream.
suddenly didn't need to be rocking out at Madison Square Garden.
I realized that I was a good songwriter, but that my particular
brand of performing was just not being accepted. People wanted Justin
Timberlake, not a 30 something pop rock singer."
sometimes it just takes staying true to the brand and sitting it
out long enough so the trends shift back in your favor.
my 'brand' is actually coming back to be trendy. People have actually
started buying my record again and playing it on the radio without
me having to do anything at all. At the same time, I am finally
writing and producing commercial records as a living. Life is good
and the path I took here (including this whole Indy thing) was correct
because now I am here and I like it here. I feel like I have gained
a lot of knowledge in a very short time and that is certainly a
is there a simple recipe for success as an independent artist? Definitely
there are just some words to live by: stay true to the product,
search out a niche to exploit, and get a damn Business / Marketing
article was made possible by a call-for-articles, Focus
Marketing, a company bridging data analysis and marketing
strategy development for the music industry, to independent
artists and labels on their experiences in promoting and
selling their music.
by the MusicDish
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