grassroots music artists dos and donts

Both in my work as a University Lecturer and in my work as a Grassroots Music Network adviser and co-founder, I am often engaged in discussion about the ‘dos and donts’ of being an aspiring music artist. Of course, opinions differ over some of this advice but, based on my experience alongside much of what I have heard other significant players in the industry and media say, here is a short summary of some of the most important pointers. If you read this and recognise yourself in any of the ‘donts’ you should take an honest look at yourself. Equally there may be ‘do’s’ that you are not currently following but would see real benefits if you tried.

DO: Be nice to others. The more effort you make to be loving and supportive towards fellow artists and others in your/their sphere, the more you will get that love back where your own endeavours are concerned. Fellow artists are your allies, not your rivals.

DON’T: Only join in message threads etc. so that you can take the first opportunity to make them all about yourself. If you start off appearing to be supportive but quickly lapse into banging on about yourself and posting tracks and videos of your own on what started as a message thread about something or someone else, people will quickly see you for what you are and you will find it hard to rescue your reputation. Frankly it will serve you right.

DO: Express thanks to people who support you by playing your music on shows, putting you on at gigs, sharing your music and details with others, complimenting you on your work etc.

DON’T: Ignore people who post supportive comments, ignore notifications that you have been tagged in posts where your music is being played, reviewed etc. and don’t berate radio show hosts, bloggers and online journalists for not playing or writing about your track or for not doing so often enough or whatever other injustice you perceive. Remember there are hundreds of artists releasing great tracks all the time and you will not make people want to support you if you act like a spoilt entitled brat.

DO: Take the time to make your music the best it can be so that you present your best version of yourself as a band or artist to those you want and need to impress whether that is potential fans or industry people. That includes thinking about the song or track arrrangement, how you can build verse or chorus by verse or chorus, adding nuances that keep events moving, taking care over production, mastering, packaging etc.

DON’T: Bash out loads of half-baked material that would have been much better if you had spent time improving the original versions and weeding out the less interesting material. An experienced A&R recently told me there is nothing more likely to put labels, radio stations etc. off a band or artist than hearing that this is their seventh, eighth etc. album when the previous six or seven didn’t make a dent in the public imagination. It is better to save your all-important ‘debut’ album until you are in a position to get it noticed. So, if that is you, maybe you should airbrush all those previous albums out of existence and save your official ‘debut’ until the time is right!

DO: Take the time to find out who you should be sending your EPK etc. to in suitable target radio shows and other media and address each email individually, making sure the names of people and shows/titles reflect the individual approach you are making, even if you are using one copied and pasted lot of text but just altering the details each time you send it. Show people you are making the effort and maybe they will be more inclined to make the effort to listen.

DON’T: Waste energy on sending your music to people or media who clearly are not going to be interested in playing or reviewing it. For example, if you are an unknown artist with no big budget behind you for elaborate marketing and video content, do not bother trying to get airplay on big commercial stations who literally only play current or former charts acts 24-7. Also don’t bulk email loads of media contacts with one generic email that isn’t addressed to anyone in particular. They will see that you are lazy and a corner-cutter when they are looking for artists with the commitment and drive to succeed.

DO: Make sure you use all the main social media for their individual strengths (Facebook for having artist pages & setting up events to invite 500 people to, Twitter for joining and forming engaged communities, Instagram for engaging visual content and quick responses, Tik Tok for short video content and worldwide engagement) and be proactive, responsive and enthusiastic.

DON’T: Use rubbish excuses not to be on social media when it is a free resource that did not exist in pre-digital times or ignore notifications that you should be responding poitively to so that people see that you care about more than just your own ego.

DO: Seek advice from trusted sources before spending money on plugging, PR, submitting to playlists or any other marketing and similar offers that you receive from people appearing to offer you amazing opportunities to promote your music. If an offer seems too good to be true, there is a strong chance that it is because it is a scam.

DON’T: Pay for gigs, playlists, airplay or anything else that it is not standard to pay for. If you genuinely believe you have reached a point in your journey where it would genuinely help you to engage a plugger or PR company/person to take you to the next level, ask the right questions, compare prices and, if you can, get some word of mouth feedback about their work from other artists. Don’t just blow a fortune on the first one to offer you a deal.

DO: Join the Musicians’ Union if you haven’t already done so, register [free of charge] for the Grassroots Music Network and, depending what roles you are undertaking in independent music, consider whether it is worth you joining umbrella organisations such as AIM, Music Managers Forum, The Ivors etc. Join PPL (which is free) and register both as a rights owner [if you are releasing your own music] and as an artist and join PRS [for a modest one-off fee for life] if you are a songwriter or composer and claim your royalties every time you are played on the radio or your music is performed live at a licensed music venue (including when it is you performing it).

DON’T: Take all your legal and contractual advice from unauthorised or unverified online sources (web articles, forums etc.) or enter into contractual arrangements without taking professiona advice. The MU may be able to provide this if you are already a member. Be aware that there is a lot of so-called research material online that has not been thoroughly evidenced in a balanced way. Academic publications tend to be reliable sources for research.

DO: Think about how you can make your story entertaining for others [including industry and media folk] and be succinct and snappy about including your achievements in your EPK etc. Busy people who receive thousands of submissions will take notice of the one that bothered to be fun, interesting and engaging as opposed to the many that are dull and have nothing about them that stands out.

DON’T: Send rambling epic bios and checklists that are likely to bore the recipients to tears (i.e. Dave met Nigel in the local pub when they were on the same team in a sports quiz. They discovered they both like Man Utd and angling. So they formed a band with Sarah, Nigel’s sister who works behind the bar). The band who claim they are aliens from a far away galaxy and are wanted on 8 planets are much more likely to draw a smile and get the reader’s attention! Maybe don’t try exactly that story though as it has already been used!

DO: Be cheerful, upbeat, funny (if you have that ability and can achieve it without being offensive), larger-than-life and enthusiastic.

DON’T: Be smug, arrogant, negative, offensive to people on grounds of ethnicity, gender, sexuality, disability, age etc. or narcissistic, self-obsessed and nakedly opportunistic. NB: If you’re not sure what that last bit means, then ask!

This is by no means an exhaustive checklist and I could probably go on for pages but I hope it provides a useful starting point for how to put yourself across well and not get a reputation for being a bit [or a lot] of a jerk!