Are you a musician struggling to find success in the industry? Have you worked on your craft, written great songs, put a great band together, told everyone you know about your music, recorded it diligently at home or in a local studio, and put it online, only to find yourself week after week, month after month, year after year struggling to create any kind of foothold in music?
There’s ONE thing that kills almost every project in the music industry, and I want to teach you what it is and how to solve it.
Is it that the industry is too difficult? Well, it is difficult…one of the most difficult in the world. But that’s not the #1 problem.
Is it that your town is lame and doesn’t support the arts? Might be, but did you know basically everyone feels that way about their local market?
Do you blame it on not being “marketable” enough due to looks or age or genre? Image concerns can be challenging and sometimes very real, but there are some very average looking and seeming people that have found success in the industry.
So while those and other concerns may be very real, they aren’t THE BIG problem that ends most music careers.
THE #1 killer of almost every music project is money, plain and simple. More bands and artist careers either end or quit pursuing commercial success due to lack of funding than ANY OTHER REASON.
Coping With Costs
So look, if you’re independently wealthy and can afford to invest whatever it takes in your project out of your own funds, then feel free to skip this post. But if you’re like the rest of us, you’re going to have to come to terms with the fact that what you’re attempting to do in building a music career is to start a business. And starting a business costs money.
How much? That’s a question we get a lot. And it’s absolutely impossible to answer in a “one size fits all” kinda way. Music production, photo/video production, merchandise, digital marketing, publicity, radio/streaming promotions, sync licensing, project management, shopping, distribution, touring expenses. All of these require a certain amount of resources, either cash or sweat equity (and many of these items are not things you can DIY very successfully unless you happen to BE a record producer or radio promoter or publicist, etc.).
Now, the idea is not to add up all of those potential expenses and then wait to start your campaign until you have that amount. That’s unrealistic for most artists and their fundraising channels. But the goal has to be to get a credible amount of money in the door (we tell artists to think about a starting benchmark of at the very least $10,000 – and the more you have to invest upfront, the better and quicker results will be possible) to begin a project and start attacking various angles until you can get enough revenue rolling to reinvest in the project and take care of other tactical needs.
So, how to raise those funds?
01. Independent Record Labels
You’d be surprised how many independent record labels are out there willing to fund a new artist’s entire career in exchange for a piece of the pie. HAHAHAHAHAHAHAHA! Lol, right. While this used to be a fairly common source of “seed money” for artists that showed promise but didn’t yet have the funds it would take to be successful, as recorded music revenues have shrunk for decades as a percentage of the industry’s overall revenue picture, it has become financially infeasible for companies to speculate on new artists, even if the talent level is extremely high. The payoff for those labels is simply not worth it often enough to make it a viable business model. 999 out of 1000 times, if a serious, established label is interested in you, it means you’ve already created a viable career for yourself. If that’s you, congratulations. Now go back to playing your lucrative gigs and selling a ton of t-shirts. You’re where most of those reading this guide want to be.
As many of them as possible. Even if you’re an original artist, unless you’re completely full up with original gigs…add in cover gigs somewhere. If you do a good job with it, it can pay well. If you don’t think your brand fits as an artist that would play both cover gigs and original gigs, that’s completely understandable. Form a second band, and have one of them playing covers. Put every dollar of those gigs that you can into a fund to advance your original music career. It’s crazy how many musicians do not utilize the thing they love to do the most (perform music) to fund the investments they need to create a better career for themselves.
03. Personal Budgeting
If you’re like most musicians trying to make a name for themselves, you do something else for your primary source of income. If it’s possible given your source of income and your financial obligations, start right now designating a percentage of that primary income to be put in a fund to invest in your music career. Even if it’s 5%. Hell, even if it’s 1%. But actually start an artist bank account if you haven’t already. And actually start transferring money into it with each paycheck. Even if it’s a small amount, over time it will add up. And alongside other sources of fundraising it can be effective.
04. Equity Investment
Do you have any friends, family, or fans that have wisely chosen not to go into the music industry and instead are financially well off? If they’re business minded, consider approaching them privately (as opposed to in crowdfunding, which we’ll get to in a minute) to offer them equity shares in your project in exchange for serious financial support. If these potential partners understand the music industry, tell them they’re acquiring shares in your overall revenues – not just record revenues (which tend to be a much lower percentage of actual revenues than things like live show fees and merchandise sales). Make them feel like they are becoming a valuable part of a team whose counsel will also be sought (if they’re the sort of investor who would like to have input). Or if they prefer a very structured investment, offer to form a record label with them whose first (and very possibly only) artist will be you. Write and sign an agreement that outlines who owns what in the record label, and then “sign” yourself to an agreement with that record label. Make it not necessarily about charity (although altruism and being a “patron of the arts” might be part of a well-off person’s motivation for helping), but about a business venture done properly. At EMG, we have assisted several different artists in acquiring equity investment from those that know the band (we’ve written them a prospectus, helped refine their pitch, and even written and administered agreements between artists and their potential equity investors). It’s part of what we can help you with if you engage with us to act as your project manager. But if you’re in DIY mode, it’s something you can probably figure out an effective way to do for yourself.
This is the big one in our view. Crowdfunding for music seed money has replaced the independent record label as the primary source of raising the capital needed to take forward steps in the music industry. If done correctly, it can actually put the artist in a stronger position, where they can still put together some starting money to properly launch their careers, but they retain creative and commercial control over their projects. One program note: Crowdfunding is not easy. If you want to maximize your raise, you need to acquire the knowledge of how to structure and implement your campaign properly, the skill to write, stage, shoot, and edit a good crowdfunding video, as well as how to politely and persistently follow up with email, messaging, phone calls, social media, and even traditional media efforts throughout your campaign. There are resources available online for DIY’ers, and EMG has also assisted with many, many successful crowdfunding campaigns over the years. We can help you at a price tag that starts at just $250.
Got questions? We’d love to share EMG’s Complete Guide To Getting Ahead in the Music Industry and also enter you in a drawing to win a free day of recording studio time! Just answer a few questions and we’ll send you your guide and enter you to win!