The music industry has changed so much in the past few years alone. The old model of trying to raise revenue by selling records or even downloads is outdated; at least it is unless you are either a major established artist or you are the kind of artist(s) who can sell significant numbers of CDs at live shows. This guide looks at the different areas of activity involved in managing your music career in the digital era. All the views expressed are my own and I try to make it clear that the advice, which is free, is based on my experience. Others might disagree with some of it.
1. THINK ABOUT WHO WILL NEED TO LISTEN TO YOUR MUSIC
Why have I started with this subject? Simple really. As a moderator for the Fresh on the Net Listening Post run by BBC 6 Music presenter and Pop music legend Tom Robinson I have to listen to and judge about 180 to 200 new tracks every week by aspiring and emerging bands and artists. So I have become very used to knowing what little things can make a difference between those tracks that grab my attention straight away and those that can be a bit irritating (or just a little forgettable).
Think about song (or piece) structure. Do you need to have an intro that goes on for over a minute without an awful lot happening? Do you think radio programmers will sit through that long intro when considering your track for their playlists or will they have switched it off before they hear how good the rest of the track is? I know which I think busy producers are likely to do.
Think about where you are pitching your track. It’s fine to want to be true to your values and not compromise but if you, for example, are a Grime, BritHop or Alt Rock/Punk band or artist, do you think it will help you get airplay if you submit tracks that are choc full of swearing and/or use derogatory terms describing women or LGBT people? Firstly you should not be using sexist or homophobic language in any circumstances. This is the twenty-first century, not the dark ages. Attitudes like that have no place in contemporary music. Would you accept someone using racist language on a pop record? No, of course you wouldn’t and, if you would, then frankly you need help!
But even if you do feel it is important to use expletives to illustrate your feelings or your point and I absolutely accept that this is a legitimate and sometimes important element of expression, you can still make a clean radio edit which gives radio shows more opportunity to play your music. And when you are looking to be heard by the widest possible audience, you need airplay.
Think about whether you are trying hard enough to be both original or at least distinct and the best you can be. For example you may be surprised to learn that breathy voiced singers accompanied by folky acoustic guitars are actually ten a penny.
So are songs that begin with a few sparse notes and long slow lines that are meant to sound profound in a song that gradually adds layers and builds to the point where it nearly threatens to have a modicum of energy!
Likewise chirpy Indie guitar bands with pretty riffs and big choruses; in fact indie guitar bands who sound like all the bands they are influenced by but don’t have anything about them that makes them unique.
Likewise rappers trying to sound like other rappers, dance tracks that sound like a million other dance tracks and so the list goes on. As a Fresh on the Net moderator it is difficult at times to retain the will to live when I have to wade through so many of these kinds of tracks by artists who appear to have based their idea of what is original on whether anyone else in their street is doing the same thing and appear to have convinced themselves that what might impress radio producers is the fact that they could be bothered to switch the record button on when they put their track down!
Last but not least, remember that when you submit tracks, you are asking the radio station or presenter to play your track as it is. They are not going to remix or remaster it for you. So it needs to be performed, produced and mastered to a high enough standard to be playable on the radio. In the current age with all the free and cheap digital programmes and gadgets available, it is not difficult. So if you want to show that you are serious about really wanting success, you need to reflect that passion by taking the time to make sure that:
your vocals are in tune (without exception)
your instruments are in tune. You would be amazed how many tracks I hear where the guitar has not been tuned accurately enough and it grates so much that it becomes unlistenable
your playing is in time and there are no bum notes
the music is mixed and produced so that everything is audible & resonant
the track is mastered so that it is loud and vibrant but not distorted or too boomy
AND LOSE THE ATTITUDE !!!
The worst thing you can do is convince yourself that you are so incredibly special and talented that you shouldn’t have to try! Get over yourself. There are loads of talented people. If you have talent, use it positively by working hard, producing your best work and being someone who people want to work with [as opposed to being a prima donna who people can’t stand to be around]. Confidence in yourself and your ability is a good thing. Arrogance and acting like you’re the most important thing on the planet are bad things!
Remember that, despite all the nonsense other people might talk about there being no talent out there, I can tell you there is a huge amount of talent out there and every week we get a host of superb new tracks sent in via the Fresh on the Net uploader. So think about how you can make the extra effort to make your track stand out from within a very talented crowd.
2. RELEASING & DISTRIBUTING YOUR MUSIC
To be clear this advice only refers to releasing music digitally. There are a number of digital distributors around who will provide broadly similar services; placing your single, EP or album in digital stores across the world. I have worked with quite a few of them over recent years and my recommendation is that you use Tunecore. I have found them to be the best value, the most efficient and the quickest to respond when I have raised an issue with them. They also get your music onto more digital platforms than anyone else including CD Baby, Ditto Music etc.
However CD Baby offer a good value price that does not require you to pay a renewal fee once the release is a year old which is one advantage they do have over Tunecore. In all honesty, both are perfectly fine.
Ditto Music have the unique distinction of being a UK-based digital distributor which might make some artists more inclined to use their services. I am not going to say anything against them or any other distributor but I will say that both my labels were distributed by Ditto for a time and I decided, for my own reasons, to part company with them. I will also say, because it is 100% true, that they charge not inconsiderable fees to register their clients’ music with the UK & Ireland charts compilers and a much higher amount to register with the US and other charts. I can tell you that it actually costs literally nothing to register your releases with them yourself and it only takes a few minutes too. So I will leave it to you to decide whether you think a company that charges for these free facilities and does not inform its customers that they could register themselves for free is the best option for you.
Before giving your track to any distributor though you first need to make sure you have the following items ticked off:
a track or tracks recorded, produced and mastered to release standard
cover art (usually minimum 1600 x 1600 pixels but check with the distributor) of sufficient quality with clear title, artist & label info on it
agreement with any others involved in the making of the single, EP or album about how you will split any royalties, written into signed contracts if necessary. You may think this isn’t important but, trust me, if your recordings make significant money, it can become the catalyst for bitter friendship break-ups. So sort it out in advance.
any appropriate licenses applied for and obtained if you are releasing recordings of material written by others who are still alive or who died in the last 50 years.
Once you are satisfied that you have a single, EP or album ready for release, go to tunecore.com and, if you are not already registered with them, register with them and then follow the links to upload your track, artwork and information. Be careful not to tick additional offers of record stores, CD manufacture and other extras as you will be charged for them. My advice is to go for the basic package and to tick yes to including Pandora in your distribution as it is the USA’s top streaming platform.
Set a release date that allows you time to build up a promo campaign and which gives the likes of Amazon the opportunity to offer pre-release purchase of the download version. I would recommend at least a two week gap and ideally longer between finalising details and making payment and the actual official date of release.
When inputting the track and artist info, if there is more than one artist or band name involved (i.e. Nick Cave & the Bad Seeds), you need to list them as two primary artists. If there is a featured artist (i.e. in my case Environmental Sound Foundation ft. Dilara) there is a separate box for that info. You do not need to have an ISRC code or UPC code (Bar Code) when inputting the data as Tunecore will automatically provide these for free once you upload the track and track data. The ISRC code is what identifies your track(s) and you will need to quote it when registering tracks with UK charts compiler, PRS etc. The UPC is the universal bar code which allows your music to be sold across the world.
Tunecore only charge $10 to release a single (at the time of writing) which, depending upon fluctuations in the US/UK exchange rate, equates to around £7. An album is $29.99 ($20 less than CD Baby although, as I mentioned previously, you will have to pay an annual renewal fee if you don’t want to delete the album whereas CD Baby do not charge for renewal).
There is mixed opinion about the usefulness of putting your music on Bandcamp (where it can be sold or streamed or both). Some see it as a really useful platform for unsigned artists where they can begin to build a fanbase. Others see it as a dead end that is overcrowded with no-hoper artists who are not taken seriously by the music industry or media. Initially I tended to steer clear of Bandcamp. However the more I consulted with others in the independent sector the more I realised a culture has emerged around Bandcamp being something of a spiritual home for independent artists. So Demerara Records now has an account with Bandcamp and we sell our music there too. At the end of the day it does not affect our relationship with Tunecore and it potentially enables us to connect with a wider audience. It is also worth noting that BBC presenters like Tom Robinson and Max Reinhardt will often list your Bandcamp link on social media if they play your music.
One of the welcome developments since the days when I managed a physical (pre-digital) record company is that it is now possible to have CDs pressed in small quantities [as opposed to pre-digital times when the minimum you could order on a first run with a glass master was 1000]. So if you want to, you can now produce a CD album or single and just have 50 copies made. Moreover you can have 500 made which, for many artists and small labels, is probably a more realistic figure than 1000 in terms of being able to sell those you have not given away to media and promoters.
The other welcome development in relation to CD pressing is that the prices have actually come down since a decade ago. This is clearly a consequence of more non-UK pressing plants offering their services to CD manufacturers. To be honest though, the reasons are of little interest to me. As a self-employed musician and entrepreneur trying to scrape a living, the price is the issue along with the choice about how many items I want to order.
So, while I am not interested in putting CDs into stores like I would have been ten or more years ago with all the incumbent headaches of finding a distributor with the clout to shift your products on a high risk sale or return basis, now I only produce CDs so that they can be sold at gigs and, where we are talking about a compilation or an album by a band with a loyal following, the risk can be further reduced by crowd-funding the album so that you have enough pledges to pay for all the costs of manufacture, mastering, artwork, marketing etc. and once you have sent the finished article to all those who pledged their money in advance you should have plenty of copies left to sell at gigs and other suitable events.
Depending how important the slickness of the physical product is to you (and why), you can save money by simply ordering CDs that come in a simple card sleeve with colour front and back. Instead of filling a jewel cased booklet with track and artist information, you can insert a web address on the rear cover under the tracklist so that fans can log onto a web page and read all about the artists and the tracks on there instead.
3. REGISTERING YOUR SINGLE, EP OR ALBUM WITH CHARTS COMPILERS
To register your new releases with the organisation that compiles charts data in the UK and Ireland you need to go to the Millward Brown website and set up a Tornado account. It is free. Once you have the account set up it is a quick and easy process to log in, fill in the track details (including ISRC code) and register it so, if you are ever fortunate enough to generate huge sales, you can qualify to get into the charts!
To register with the US and Canadian charts, go to Nielsen Soundcan’s website and make sure you tick the box that says ‘both’ when confirming which country or countries you wish to be registered in. For this registration you will need your UPC.
You do not need to register for other EU countries’ charts and I have never attempted to register with any other territories. If you do have a reason to do so you will need to research this process. At this stage I do not know how Brexit is likely to affect this position.
4. ROYALTIES: HOW THEY WORK AND WHAT YOU WILL GET
There are different types of royalties so it is important to understand the distinction. There are sales revenues (which aren’t really royalties in the strict sense). Some distributors will take a percentage cut of any revenues they collect despite charging an upfront fee. Tunecore will pass on 100% of sales revenues to the customer which is another reason I prefer them.
The sales revenues you receive are likely to be very modest unless you are fortunate enough to have a serious hit. Most people are used to paying no more than their monthly subscription to Spotify or Applemusic and streaming as many tracks as they like. If you think about how many tracks they can stream for their ten quid, it is hardly surprising that the amount the label receives per stream is about 0.01p! You get more for a paid download but those are few and becoming fewer as most people turn to streaming. So I would strongly advise anyone whose business plan is based on projected sales to forget about it.
That is why membership of appropriate royalties collection bodies is more important than ever. There are two organisations you need to think about joining if you are UK-based. They are PPL (Phonographic Performance Limited) and PRS (Performing Rights Society).
PPL collects royalties from broadcasts (i.e. radio, TV), streams (if you achieve enough), video plays (YouTube, Vimeo) and live broadcasts (in licensed venues & clubs where the DJ setlists can be reported to them) on behalf of the ‘rights owner’ of the recording. So that is the person or business who owns the actual recording that is released; usually the record label. As most of you will be self-releasing, you ARE the label so you should join PPL (which is FREE as they collect their money from licensees), register as yourself trading as whatever label name you use and then you can start registering all your music with PPL.
If you are also the artist you should additionally register as an artist with PPL because you can claim a royalty for your performance on the track too.
PRS collect royalties from the same avenues I have described in relation to PPL plus live performance of the music (i.e. gigs at licensed venues, festivals etc. as reported to PRS). But PRS collects on behalf of the composer/songwriter. So if you are releasing music you have written/composed, you should consider joining PRS. There is a once-in-a-lifetime joining fee of £100 but once your total royalties have surpassed that figure, you are then making money without having to pay any renewal fee.
You might also be interested in joining MCPS (Mechanical Copyright Protection Society) as they collect royalties on sales of tracks. However, if you are already playing the role of label, publisher and artist, there is no point inviting MCPS to collect your royalties from you, take a cut and then give you back less than you started with! I would recommend joining MCPS either if you are publishing others’ music (as well as or instead of your own) or if you are signed to a professional publisher and want to ensure your correct monies are being collected and passed on to you.
A word of warning though. In theory these organisations collect from ALL licensed radio and TV stations (including online ones), venues and social media channels that facilitate streaming. But in reality they only take random samples of most of these licensees from time to time so whether you actually get paid when your track is played on internet radio or community radio etc. depends upon whether you are lucky enough that PRS took a sample the day your track was played. The BBC plays are worth having though and a few of them can quickly wipe out the fee you paid to join. You should make sure you use the facility on the PRS site to inform them about any YouTube views and to report any live sets (yours or other people’s) at licensed venues or festivals that include your music.
PPL accounts once a year around summer time. PRS accounts every three months. So make sure you register new tracks as quickly as possible especially if they are likely to be released as recorded tracks.
5. MUSIC PUBLISHING & SYNC DEALS
Although you may prefer to own your own songwriting or composing catalogue and receive royalties direct from PRS and PPL, there is a case for allowing a music publisher to have ownership of your music provided the deal they offer you is acceptable.
What are the benefits? Firstly because PRS and PPL are UK-based organisations who collect royalties on streams, broadcasts etc. within the UK, receiving royalties from streams and other sources from outside the UK can be harder and take longer. This is because the UK organisations have to collect the royalties from their equivalent bodies in the non-UK countries and how efficiently that process works depends upon each individual country’s royalties collection organisations.
A good publisher will register your music with all the different international royalties collection bodies and collect those royalties for you. Furthermore they will employ their own teams who have the expertise in chasing money owed and negotiating the hurdles that can slow down payment.
Signing with a publisher is, however, about more than just getting your royalties more quickly and accurately. If you are writing music that could be of interest to other artists your publisher will take your works to labels, artists and managers. If this results in others recording and performing your music both you and the publisher stand to make money.
Another important role a good publisher can play is to seek ‘sync’ deals. This is where your music is used in other media such as film or TV soundtracks, documentaries, computer games, adverts, bar and cafe music, call waiting systems etc. There is some seriously good money to be made in some of these areas and the more eclectic your catalogue (especially if you own your songs and recordings and there are no complex multi-co-writing agreements that need to be signed off), the greater the potential for your music to find suitable media to be deployed in.
Companies like Sentric Music offer deals where you only sign the tracks you want them to publish and they only take a cut of royalties for money they help to generate. They also allow you to terminate the arrangement with a month’s notice which makes it a very musician-friendly arrangement. Sentric have a track record of landing sync deals all over the world and across a wide spectrum of genres. So they are worth checking out. But a word of warning. You will need to be patient because these deals clearly do not grow on trees!
6. OTHER MEMBERSHIPS
You might also consider joining other organisations. The Musicians’ Union (MU) is the most obvious one and most professional musicians are members (myself included of course). The MU can assist in various ways, collecting royalties on live performances, offering business advice and providing legal support and advice in disputes.
AIM (Association of Independent Music) is an umbrella organisation that provides a collective voice for the independent music sector in the same way that the BPI (British Phonographic Institute) does for the majors. It also runs courses and offers various advisory services.
You could join the BPI too but my advice would probably be that this is not necessary and if you want to be part of a trade association with independent sector interests at its heart, AIM is the more obvious choice.
7. MAKING A VIDEO
These days most new releases are supported by a YouTube video. If you want a posh state-of-the-art video that is likely to be pretty costly but it is easy enough to make your own videos if you film sufficient footage on your phone and use Movie Maker to make a video. You can download Movie Maker free of charge and it is easy to use. If you learn how to use the Trim Tool function you can get singing and playing in sync with the track so it looks professional. It allows you to edit and use as much or as little of each individual video clip you upload and you can use the media balance function to silence any sound on your videos so that only the audio file (i.e. the WAV or MP3 of the track) can be heard. Play with the different background scene options and other devices and you can quickly learn how to make your video look better without spending any money.
I would advise setting up your own YouTube channel. It costs nothing but it enables you to keep all your videos together and to be able to play them back to back like a playlist. People like to see a video when listening to a track so it provides people with an added incentive to stream your music and, if enough people view the video, you can also get paid.
8. SOCIAL MEDIA
I am always dismayed when I talk to musicians who claim they are trying to achieve success with their projects but then tell me they are not interested in being on Facebook, Twitter etc. I am old enough to remember how much time and money it would cost me to do mail-outs to friends and fans every time I played a gig, promoted a club or released a CD. The combination of digital formats and social media has removed all those costs and enabled musicians to reach potentially thousands of like-minded individuals with news of new releases, gigs etc, links to listen to their music and so on all free of charge. So let me put it as simply as it gets. If you are not on social media, you are not going to achieve your dream of a career in music.
Different social media platforms are useful in different ways. Facebook is very effective for putting up a page about your band or yourself which you can edit, post short articles and news to, add photos etc. It is also very useful for inviting all your friends to events and generating fanbases.
Twitter is the best for building large volumes of followers, connecting with like-minded individuals, consistently sharing news, opinions, ideas and links and also for getting into online conversations with the media people whose support you are seeking (i.e. hosts of radio shows that play your genre of music).
Instagram is considered useful for quickly adding followers although that has not been my experience. Given that is entirely dependent upon having more or less daily good quality images to share, it is probably essential if you are involved in more mainstream Pop Music genres where your audience is likely to be predominantly younger. It is probably less useful for classical music and certain more niche and leftfield areas where the audience is likely to be more mature and specialist. However it is wise to pursue this option and certainly the best piece of advice I have had from an experienced Instagram user is that it is using appealing hashtags that is key to attracting followers.
Linked In is very good both for connecting with and then being able to message people across the industry whose support you may need to help take your career forward. It also enables you to continually add to and develop your online CV complete with links to pages where people can hear your music etc. And it is very good for publishing news and articles relevant to your music which might be a lengthy article you want people to read in which you set out ideas and perspectives or it could be a few lines announcing your new single with a link to the video on YouTube and/or the track on Soundcloud.
Soundcloud is currently the best place to set up a page where people can stream your tracks for free and can choose to register their like of the track (if they have a Soundcloud account) and to repost it on their own pages so more people get to see and hear it. Soundcloud appears to have recovered from a period in which its future was uncertain. Annoyingly the solution appears to be over-zealous and intrusive adverts which waste my time but I will put up with it if it means the untold hours I have spent building multiple Soundcloud pages for specific purposes have not been in vain! If Soundcloud folds, there are other options like Reverbnation (though be prepared to be bombarded with unsolicited emails if you use their services).
YouTube is obviously the undisputed favourite place for people to watch music videos on line so your video needs to be on there and it needs to be easy to find it. If possible I would advise putting it on Vimeo too as some people prefer it due to its alleged superior picture quality.
There are other areas of Social Media that some musicians find useful. Snapchat and Whatsapp are good for quick-moving stories linked to visual elements and snappy soundbites but again are more likely to be of benefit if you are appealing to a younger demographic. Pinterest and Tumblr have been mentioned to me but I am yet to be convinced of their usefulness as marketing platforms for music. Others may take a different view though. And there are always new concepts that come and go so it is a pretty reliable rule of thumb to keep up with developments and work out what is useful and what isn’t for you.
9. SOCIAL MEDIA ADVERTISING
The concept of Social Media Ads is an interesting one. I used to use them a lot but have been more reluctant in recent times. But they certainly offer a low risk, low cost approach to marketing in which you set the upper limit depending how many days the ad is meant to run for.
Also you can be very specific about the demographic you are trying to target. You can pick the territories (even including regions, counties etc.), age range, gender mix and the kinds of music the audience likes and what its interests are. So in theory you could decide only to target 25 – 30 year old women living in Reading who list one or more of Electronic Music, Kraftwerk and/or Brian Eno in their interests. Of course you might find you have wasted your money because you have only reached 50 people but you get the point!
Thanks to a great deal of negative publicity around the misuse of Facebook by unscrupulous digital marketeers, they have changed the algorithm for their adverts and, from the evidence I have seen recently, the effectiveness of the ads has been reduced. Also it is no longer possible to continually edit and re-edit the wording of the post the ad is linked to which I find particularly irritating as it hampers ability to respond to the information that arises as the campaign pans out.
Whether you should use Social Media Ads depends upon what you are hoping to gain. In my experience, Facebook Ads can be very effective at increasing the number of ‘likes’ for your page and reaching a large number of people based on the information you input to the system about age, location and interests. However while those people may be happy to click that they like your post or even your page, evidence suggests most will not bother then clicking on your link and watching a video or listening to a track and even fewer will go on to purchase your music (in any form). So it is fine if you just want to gather numbers liking your page and lead posts and that has its advantages because every time someone likes your post you can invite them to like the page and if they like the page they will then receive all your future posts on the page as notifications. But it is not effective for selling downloads or streams.
Some people say Twitter Ads are more effective at least for building a following for your particular project or business activity. My own experience was not positive and I opted not to go back for a second chance. But like Facebook Ads, they enable you to set a tight budget and be quite specific about who you target.
With both these types of ads it is worth noting that the volume of people your ad reaches will change according to the locations you choose as the habits of users in different countries affect price. For example it will cost more to target people in the USA and it is harder to pinpoint where exactly to choose whereas you will probably generate a much higher ratio of post and page likes if you target countries like Thailand, Taiwan and Malaysia. The UK is one of the hardest areas to get responses from. So think long and hard before making these sorts of decisions.
Google Adwords can be very effective in attracting internet traffic based on the use of key words that lead people to your page when they use those words in a google search. However you need to be very careful about setting your daily spending limit in the right way so that you both avoid overspending your budget and target numbers effectively.
When I have spoken to people from labels and other organisations whose budgets are bigger than mine (although not always hugely so), they have tended to advise that spending small amounts with several different platforms can be the most efficient use of your money which seems like good advice.
10. PROMOTING YOUR MUSIC TO RADIO
One thing that has not changed in all the years I have been involved in and have followed popular and other (classical, jazz etc.) music is that being played on the radio is important for building a following and helping you to get better gigs. How you go about it however has changed beyond recognition.
First off it is worth giving yourself a reality check. Whatever your genre of music you will not get played (at all, even at 4AM!) on stations like Capital, Heart, Virgin or Magic. They only play music that is or has been in the mainstream charts. If you want to send them your tracks anyway (in case they end up being hits and they are forced to play them) you can do but I would advise not wasting time chasing them and campaigning for airplay.
Whatever your area of music you are always most likely to get on the radio via the BBC and they have set up a mechanism to help you achieve that. You need to go to bbc.co.uk/introducing and set up a BBC Introducing page with your artist details, links, membership numbers for PRS etc. and the tracks you choose to upload (which used to have to be as MP3s but can now be WAVs provided the files do not exceed your page limit).
Your tracks will then be assigned to your regional BBC Introducing Show (i.e. if you are from Kent, it will be BBC Radio Kent and so on) and to shows that are linked to the style of music you describe on your page. So for example, if you are making EDM and related music your track will probably be assigned to Monki on BBC 1Xtra who oversees new House, Techno and EDM artists. If you are a contemporary classical artist you will be assigned to Late Junction and In Tune on BBC Radio 3. If you are a Pop artist you will be assigned to Huw Evans on Radio 1 and so it goes on.
You should also set up a Soundcloud page (https://www.soundcloud.com) using the same email address as your BBC Introducing page. This means you can then submit your track to Tom Robinson’s BBC 6 Music Mixtape. It is one of the most eclectic shows on the radio anywhere in the world and he and his team consider all types of submissions with an open mind. If you are selected for the Mixtape your track will be broadcast at 2AM on a Monday morning on BBC 6 Music and the podcast of the show will be available for 30 days. You might even be fortunate enough to get an additional play on Tom’s Saturday night show on 6 Music which goes out from 9PM to midnight.
If you miss out on selection for the Mixtape you may instead be included at the Listening Post on Tom’s Fresh on the Net new music website (http://freshonthenet.co.uk/) where hundreds will listen to your music and decide whether to vote for you as one of their five. I know this not least because I am one of the team of moderators who will consider your track for that forum. Between us we choose 25 tracks for the Listening Post from the tracks submitted from when the Mixtape uploader opens on Monday morning until it closes, usually late morning on Thursday. Once our votes are counted, the Listening Post opens on Friday afternoon and closes early on Sunday evening so visitors have around 48 hours to vote [and comment too if they wish to].
The ten winners of the public vote then become the Fresh Faves and we take it in turns to write up the reviews of those for the website; usually published on the Monday. So it is another great platform for new music.
A word of warning though. If you get your mates to turn up mob-handed and vote for you at the Listening Post and it is obvious you have done so you will be disqualified and barred for life from sending further submissions. You would be amazed how frequently this happens despite all the warnings from Tom on the site not to do this.
Another good piece of advice is that you should submit tracks that are not too lengthy (bearing in mind that the Mixtape is a one hour show and thus a five or six minute track would take up too great a proportion of the available time at the expense of other deserving artists). I fell foul of this myself once when I put forward a single by myself and The Music of Sound which was around six minutes long and Tom rightly pointed this out to me. If I could have had the time over again I would have (and should have) made a shorter radio edit. So that is what you can do that I didn’t!
Although Tom makes it clear on the website that the votes at the Listening Post will not determine your likelihood or otherwise of getting airplay (and that is 100% true), what does sometimes happen is a track initially selected for the Listening Post can end up being played at a later date on the Mixtape Show and sometimes also on Tom’s Saturday evening show on BBC 6 Music which has a massive and loyal well-informed audience.
But it is equally important for you to know that just as Tom will not play a track on the radio just because it does well at the Listening Post, so it is also true that he will play a track he is impressed by even if it doesn’t make the Listening Post! So the most important priority for you as an aspiring artist is not how many votes you can gather but getting your best tracks uploaded where influential people can listen to them.
The Fresh on the Net website is a resource you should make use of. It is set up by Tom Robinson himself. Tom is both a hugely successful artist and songwriter (whose many fine moments include the likes of Glad to be Gay; War Baby; Up against the wall; 2 – 4 – 6 – 8 Motorway etc.) and a popular broadcaster who has taken on the role of being the BBC’s leading voice in advising and helping upcoming artists to take their careers forward.
The site has advice about the music business along with archives of the Mixtape and Listening Post and his comments are always worth reading. He has funded and established the website and the whole surrounding system from his own money because he is genuinely committed to giving others the best possible chance of being heard. So support and love this amazing platform and please don’t abuse it as a few notable individuals have periodically tried to do.
You also need to make sure you are regularly contacting the target shows which are most like your music. Take time to research who the producers of each show are. You can simply email each BBC Radio Station and ask for a list. They will respond by sharing their schedule and the names of producer and co-producer for each show. In most cases the individual email address for each producer will be firstname.lastname@example.org . There are exceptions though either where a name has been used by another BBC employee or where a show is produced by a third party such as Reduced Listening who produce Radio 3’s Late Junction and, in some cases, have email addresses ending in @reducedlistening.co.uk.
I would recommend contacting them once a year for an updated version as personnel changes take place regularly. You can also find out some of this information by searching for titles on Twitter (i.e. Producer, XXXX Show, BBC 6 Music) or by scouring the pages of Music Week on a regular basis.
You will find that many of the large independent stations in the region are under the same leadership as their more well known national station partners. For example Capital decides the playlists for other Global Radio-owned stations in cities like Birmingham, Cardiff, Liverpool Manchester, Belfast, Glasgow etc. Global also owns Heart FM, Smooth FM and Classic FM. Their personnel have email address ending thisisglobal.com.
I would recommend emailing press releases and information to the producers of shows that cover your area of music. Make sure you let those who are on BBC Radio know your track is on your BBC Introducing page as they can access it directly there. Also include your Soundcloud link and, if appropriate, YouTube and website links too. For non-BBC stations who cannot access your introducing page, you will need to send tracks by other means. The most popular is WeTransfer.com which is easy to use and enables you to send up to 2 GB of data. Another is Send GB who allow up to 4GB of data. I find WeTransfer more reliable but conversely if I need to send images or other files that are on my phone, I find Send GB works better.
Needless to say don’t pester people too much and definitely don’t criticise or attack them because you believe they have ignored your previous posts. Remember they all receive vast volumes of submissions every week. Concentrate instead on what you can do to get noticed – a snappy headline, a novel video concept etc. And invite them to be on the guestlist for any good gigs you are playing in the areas where they work (i.e. London, Manchester etc. depending who you are talking about).
Internet radio stations are increasingly becoming important and influential in breaking new acts and providing an open-minded platform for new artists. There are numerous internet radio stations but the ones whose social media presence and consistently professional approach stand out include Radio Wigwam; RKC (Radio Kaos Caribou); XTended Radio; Lonely Oak Radio and Sound Fusion Radio. These stations have a strong track record of playing music by new and emerging artists. Look them up on Twitter and get details of how to submit tracks.
Community Radio can also be very useful and supportive, especially where there is a local connection. For example, through my connection with my hometown of Hemel Hempstead, I have had incredible support from the excellent Radio Dacorum. There are also individual stations who play a range of new artists including Radio North Angus (RNA) in Aberdeenshire and Lochbroom FM in North West Scotland.
Returning to the BBC Introducing process your track will, as I mentioned earlier, be assigned to your regional BBC Introducing programme. These can also be supportive and provide a really useful platform from which to launch your wider campaign. I have had music played and given live radio interviews on BBC Three Counties Radio (as recently as 2017 and as long ago as 1997). Somehow, through being from Hemel but having lived in London for so long, my music gets assigned to both Three Counties and to BBC Radio London. However the latter are by far the toughest regional station to get played on unless you play certain types of music. For example they have no track record of playing new classical, sound art or experimental music. But if you are outside London and not living in a a large city, you may find there is a lot less competition for airtime. At the end of the day, you just have to keep trying.
Specialist genre-based radio is not as prevalent as it once was but there remain some really good stations specialising in particular areas of music such as Mi-Soul in South East London who play Soul music and some House, Reprezent (Urban & Dance), The Arrow (Rock) and Jazz FM (the specialist wing of the old Jazz FM which became Smooth FM when the latter abandoned its pretence of being a Jazz station).
You should be able to find out how to contact and submit music to all these stations and many more by searching google and by visiting the individual stations’ websites and using their Contact Us pages (and remember, never be afraid to ask for the information they want). I would also recommend Wikipedia as a good way of learning more about music media and piecing together the jigsaw of UK broadcasting.
A few more tips and I apologise if they seem a bit obvious. If you get airplay on any BBC show there will be a podcast of the show available to download and listen to for around thirty days so get the link and share it as widely as possible (website, social media etc.).
If you know in advance when your music is going to be played or you are on air giving an interview, playing a session etc, make sure you tell as many people as possible and provide the details that make it easy for them to listen in.
If you can, make time to listen to the radio shows and stations that represent your genre or scene. It will help you both in terms of developing a feel for what works and what ideas you may want to incorporate into your own work and in terms of knowing who is most likely to give your music airtime.
Last but not least, share all your live gig info with radio shows who support your scene as they may well read them out on air.
11. DESIGNING AN ELECTRONIC PRESS KIT
The digital era has seen the development of the Electronic Press Kit (EPK) which has largely replaced the Press Release as the means for informing the media and others of your activities.
The advantage of an Electronic Press Kit is that it enables you to have a living document that can be regularly updated and shared with the media whenever there is significant news.
I cannot speak for other systems but if you use Google and Gmail, you can insert hyperlinks both in documents and emails making it easy to email appropriate media an EPK which has track links, images and web page links.
There is no set format for your EPK. I have seen EPKs that are over ten pages long and present a virtual booklet of information, pictures, links and information. But then I remember speaking to a well-established agency with whom I came very close to signing late last year who insisted an EPK should not be longer than a page.
On the basis of what I have learned in the time since, I lean towards the latter argument. The point is to make it as easy as possible for the person or people at the other end to open, read and click links from. So if you can tell them what the story line is in the opening paragraph and then add images, tracks and any relevant weblinks within a short snappy A4 document, they are much more likely to open and read it.
Another advantage of the EPK is that you can send the same one, with slight alterations if relevant, to as many people as you want but you can do so in individual emails or emails to small groups so that it comes across as more of a personal message and also is less likely to end up in Spam folders.
A good example of when you might want to do this is if you want to put a different slant on the story to suit different interest groups such as playing on a geographical link to one area for one group of media and a different one for another group. Likewise you might want to include your BBC Introducing page reference when contacting BBC media but take that reference out when sending it to independents.
This is probably pretty obvious but take care to use images that look professional and are higher resolution is possible. And keep the message snappy. Don’t waffle!
This is probably even more obvious but do not be shy about shouting the odds. Highlight every achievement. Embellish [though don’t lie about] key stories. And make sure you remind people why you are a happening act! You will not win any brownie points for hiding your light under a bushel!
12. SPOTIFY PLAYLISTS: WHY THEY ARE IMPORTANT & HOW TO GET ON THEM
Playlists on Spotify have become one of the most important means of reaching a wider audience. People search for music according to what they like so, for example, if you describe your music on your Spotify profile as UK Hip Hop, getting your music onto UK Hip Hop playlists created either by Spotify themselves or by one of the influential playlist creators can mean your music is streamed and, more importantly, heard by many thousands, possibly even millions of UK Hip Hop fans.
Of course it isn’t as simple as describing your music by genre and then sitting back and waiting for it to appear on a popular playlist. You need a strategy for getting noticed and being deemed important enough to be included in the first place. So how do you do this?
Firstly you can create your own playlists. They may only have a small audience but you can post the link on all your social media pages and encourage others to share the link. That will help you reach a certain number.
Then if you give your playlist a title that is relevant to the music on it and is likely to appeal to fans of that area of music (i.e. Cream of Current Soul Trax or Best Dance Anthems of 2017) your playlist is more likely to appear when other people are searching for playlists that reflect their interests.
One way of increasing your profile and having a much better chance of being spotted by influencers is by building a large following on Spotify itself. So go onto social media and ask everyone who knows you and has a Spotify account to follow you on Spotify. It costs them nothing but it helps you increase your likelihood of being seen.
If you make it onto a playlist that has a big circulation make sure you post the link to it all over social media. Then you have a better chance than ever of Spotify actually putting you on a playlist and if that happens you are guaranteed to reach a huge number of people.
13. MUSIC PRESS (INCLUDING NEWSPAPERS & ONLINE MEDIA)
I will add more information soon about this subject. In the meantime I would advise looking up who writes about (your area of) music in national, regional and local newspapers and obtaining their email addresses for your contacts database and, although the music press has long since stopped being the hugely popular and influential powerhouse it was in the last century, the NME continues to publish a free magazine which has names and contact details of editorial staff (especially Reviews Editor and Features Editor who tend to be the ones bringing new acts to their pages) and there are magazines like Uncut, Mojo, Q, Mixmag, DJ, Kerrang!, Record Collector etc. that are still publishing and, depending what area of music you operate in, may be useful to read and note down contact details for.
However you should expect that they may be less inclined to give coverage to artists or labels they know little about and who they may feel are not of sufficient interest to their readers. Some of them also only review albums so there is no point in sending them singles or individual tracks.
Rather than have me go through them one by one it is easier for you to do your homework and get to know the media that supports your area of music.
My advice though would be to focus mainly on internet media; blogs, online journals and other websites that review and publicise new music in the genre areas you operate in. Even if they only reach a small audience they are more likely firstly to review your music and secondly to give it the kind of rave review that reflects their knowledge of and passion for your genre of music. Once they put that review online it can stay there for years and over time will be read by more fans of your genre.
14. MANAGEMENT & THE ROLE OF MANAGEMENT COMPANIES & AGENCIES
Most musicians tend to end up managing themselves, more out of necessity than anything else. If you play in a band, someone has to get gigs, get recordings out to record labels and publishers, look for opportunities to get press or radio etc. unless you are content just to play to the same group of friends in perpetuity.
Whatever area of music you operate in and whether you are a solo artist, band, ensemble, composer etc, one of the most arduous and challenging aspects trying to build a career is management.
Unless you already have a robust list of useful contacts and a reputation to rely upon, getting meaningful bookings, landing opportunities for press articles, seeking commissions (for composers and songwriters), getting music into other media (sooundtracks, adverts, games etc.) is hard work and often with scant return for your efforts. Much better then if you are able to hand that responsibility to a manager so you can focus on the creative elements.
You do need to be careful though. The typical response of many, especially those in bands, to this problem is to take on a mate as manager; someone close to the band who is enthusiastic and wants to be involved. It can work so I am not suggesting you should rule this option out. But before you do, there are some important considerations you need to take into account.
Firstly, what is the basis of the manager’s involvement. Supposing he or she turns out to be really effective in getting you better gigs, sorting out press reviews and interviews, pushing for airplay and even negotiating a recording contract. You need to have a clear contractual arrangement in place from the outset; identifying what the manager can expect by way of a split of royalties and other earnings and what arrangements allow for band or manager to terminate the agreement. The standard split is that the manager takes 20% of all the artists’ earnings relating to music.
Secondly, you need to be confident that the manager is not just going to strut around in a new pair of dark glasses telling anyone who wants to listen that he or she is the manager while you continue to do all the work! You need to have at least some evidence that the person you appoint has the knowledge, drive and gravitas to go and get you the gigs and opportunities you either cannot or do not have time to get yourself.
Thirdly, you need to have a frank conversation with the proposed manager and ensure all parties understand that, if he or she does not prove effective in the role, it should not be seen as a personal affront if you decide to dispense with his or her services. Even more important is that there is a clear realism about what might happen if you are successful in reaching a higher level and find yourself under pressure from a record company to replace the friend with a recognised professional manager who has the reputation and track record to take your career to the international stage. In such circumstances you will want to be sure you can ‘look after’ the interests of that individual whose loyalty and endeavour has helped you reach this level and deserves proper reward for having to walk away.
For all the above reasons, you may decide that the best option of all is to deploy professional management as soon as you are able to. You might even be able to secure the services of a reputable management company because they are so impressed with your music that they are prepared to take a punt. However, in most cases, you are much more likely to attract the attention of a management company if you are already playing at known venues and can show you have achieved a lot from your own efforts.
There are numerous models for a management contract depending upon who you go to but two principal models dominate in the current era. One is, as I mentioned previously, that the manager or management company takes 20% of all earnings relating to your musical activities.
The other chief model is where the management company charges a minimum fee (usually monthly), generally refundable if the artists’ earnings for the month exceed that amount. The management company then pays 100% of the artist’s earnings to the artist and instead charges the venue, promoter etc. for providing the artist’s services. This model is great if you are already making some money from performing and can be confident that you will always have work to cover the minimum fee and make money thereafter. If you have no track record, it may be a high risk to enter into such an agreement before you have established yourself as being able to get regular paid work.
15. LIVE MUSIC
It always helps if you are playing live dates and appearances. But you should look to social media to publicise whatever you are doing to get noticed.
Live Music has become much more important from a business perspective as an income stream with the decline of record sales. So much so that things have turned full circle so that whereas twenty years ago a band or artist would be prepared to make a loss or break even on a UK tour in order to sell their new album whereas now they will make a loss on the album in order to sell tickets for the tour. Sadly that also explains why even bands and artists who are no longer as commercially successful and high profile as they once were are playing bigger venues and charging considerably more for tickets than they did when they were in their prime. Live music is now much more lucrative than record sales.
Even if you are a relatively little known band or artist it is possible to make some money from playing live if you are savvy about your marketing. Pick venues that offer a good deal (i.e. low hire fees including PA etc, flexible policies on splitting door and bar receipts etc.) and use online facilities both to advertise free of charge or at low cost and to sell advance tickets so you can see whether the event is destined to make sufficient money and be in a position to cancel dates with reasonable notice if necessary to avoid losing money.
Think also about the potential benefits of promoting your own regular live music events. If there is a suitable venue (and preferably one that pays for a music license so the artists can claim PRS royalties for playing their music there) which is easy for you to get to and would suit a regular event, talk to the management. They might welcome an external promoter taking over a night for them and being prepared to work to get an audience turning up there spending money on food and drink. They might also cut you a good deal to give you an incentive. After all, if you are going to pay for flyers, maybe some marketing and you are going to put hours into using social media etc, it is in their interests to make it a little easier for you.
When I decided to launch Vanishing Point, I really wanted it to take place at the Ivy House in Nunhead. There were several reasons. Firstly my little group of long-time friends who meet regularly in the area were already going there for our own pleasure. Secondly it is a beautiful venue with a proper stage, house PA and cool lighting rig. Thirdly it has a great history of putting on classic bands including Tom Robinson, Dr Feelgood and others. Fourthly it is a cool attractive and musically engaged corner of South London.
So I approached them and had a meeting with their wonderful Events Manager Tom and he was prepared to offer very helpful terms as an incentive for me to take o the risk and hard work involved. So far it is all going rather well for both parties.
If you believe you have a large enough following, especially where you are thinking about touring or at least performing at venues in locations around the UK or abroad, you may wish to try working with a registered Booking Agency. I cannot give authoritative advice in this area as it is not a path I have ever been down. However, when I was in the Ska band MSQ back in the late nineteen eighties and early nineties we were on the books of RPM Music (who later became part of the Global Music empire) and they managed to get us into some great venues that helped us move forward and win new fans (including what is now the O2 Forum in Kentish Town, The Fridge in Brixton and venues outside London).
Facebook offers a free service to set up events and invite hundreds of people. If you are curating your own gigs and need to be able to sell tickets via social media, Eventbrite are very efficient. They do take a commission of 3.5% + 49p (and 2% per ticket to enable purchase by Visa, Mastercard & American Express) on sales (with an upper limit of £19.95 per ticket) so you need to factor this into your sale price but it is worth it to be free of the extra burden of producing tickets and finding an alternative means of selling and distributing them (which may well cost more anyway).
Use the same contacts you are sending music to as a guide to who to invite to gigs. Remember it is unlikely they will come but you only need one important contact to turn up and like what he or she sees and that could be a massive boost for your career if he or she then decides to feature you on a show or put you forward for a bigger event.
So treat every live event as both an opportunity to win and retain fans of your music and an opportunity to showcase your music and your stage performance to the media and industry and put yourself in the shop window for future deals of varying kinds (live bookings, tours, management, recording, publishing, media revieariety ws etc.).
16. APPLYING FOR FUNDING
One way that you can try to get your hands on money that will help you develop your career is by successfully applying for funding. Depending upon your age and other factors there are a variety of funding opportunities out there which are worth exploring.
Among the most well-known and consistent in handing out awards are the Arts Council of England, the PRS Foundation, Sound and Music and the Arts Councils in Wales, Scotland and Northern Ireland.
The PRS Foundation administers a number of grants throughout the year. They include some very specific ones such as for promoting women in music and the international showcase either of which might apply to you depending who you are and what your plan is.
There is also the Composers’ Fund which pays up to £10K although it is unclear at the time of writing whether that fund has been scrapped. It is worrying that there have still been no decisions about submissions that had to be in by last October (2017) and there is no Composers’ Fund currently listed for 2018. It will be terrible news for contemporary classical composers if it has been scrapped since there is almost no other grant they can feasibly apply for.
The funds most likely to be of interest to bands and artists are the Open Fund for Music Creators and the Momentum Fund. The Momentum Fund is really for artists who have already created a considerable buzz. So unless you have already achieved a degree of success with airplay, live gigs and streams this may not be suitable. However it can pay out quite generous levels to those who are successful in applying.
The Open Fund pays up to £5K but is less proscriptive and allows greater freedom to set the parameters in terms of what you are aiming to do and to achieve with the money. The first stage application does not require a great deal of number crunching and is more about presenting a credible plan backed up by evidence that you have achieved some level of success from your own efforts. The second stage does however require you to produce credible income and expenditure figures that achieve a Zero balance and are realistic and based on as much evidence and science as possible. Without this you will be rejected. Even with credible figures it is hard to be selected for a PRS Foundation award but it is worth putting some serious work into your application if you believe you are capable of meeting the criteria.
You can find out how to apply here.
Sound and Music is the UK’s official new music charity and is an amalgamation of the old Society for the promotion of new music and the former Sound Art Society. Sound and Music administers a number of grants including the Composer-Curator scheme, New Voices and various others. They have limited funds and always get a large quantity of applications so it is hard to obtain a grant but they are a fantastic and supportive organisation and it is always worth making the case to them.
Visit their website here.
The Arts Council exists separately in England, Wales, Scotland and Northern Ireland. Grants are tough to obtain and, if you are applying for over £15K, the process can be lengthy but it is an avenue musicians have succeeded in using for many years so again it is worth trying provided you have a credible plan and balancing defensible income and expenditure figures.
There are a number of other organisations who pay out to specific groups and types of musicians. You need to do some patient google searching to find them but there are websites that list multiple funding bodies so look for those and work through the various funds to see which ones potentially apply to you.