What I Wish (Indie) Musicians Understood

I’ve been working with recording “artists” and musicians most of my adult life. For the past 13 years exclusively I’ve been either managing or developing (or both) artists and bands in the USA and around the world. Since the music industry is going through a major paradigm shift (mainly thanks to digital downloads) it’s always interesting to see how musicians adapt and how their expectations change.

Artists and bands contact me via my website contact form and most of them write something like “we need a manager to get us bookings.” By that comment I know right away they don’t understand the industry. The traditional model in the music industry is that a booking agent does not manage artists, and managers don’t book artists. In fact, in California (and other states) it’s illegal for one agency to do both. In other states, it’s legal but a bad idea.

Traditional record company labels have been laying off employees and down-sizing. They are finding it increasingly difficult to compete with the “indies” out there who, with access to better equipment and quality in recording capability, are steering away from the labels and remaining indie so they can retain creative control of their product. The downside of this is that unsigned, unknown bands can’t find booking agencies willing to take them on. And many artists and bands are unwilling to adapt and become the networking animals they need to be to get their own bookings (but that’s a different post for another day). Note: having 10,874 followers on Facebook, Instagram, Twitter, etc. is NOT the same as networking!

In addition, record labels aren’t developing artists anymore. They will only consider picking up an artist who is already branded, has a legitimate social network following, and is getting good radio play nationwide. So, somewhere along the line the artist must invest in his/her development if they want to take their music to a national level. My agency provides that development service as well as ongoing management. But that comes with a cost – an investment.

Yet the indie artist still expects someone else to pick up the tab for their development. Some even throw the “you should be willing to invest in me until I make us both a profit” line at me, to which I reply “why should I invest in you when you’re not willing to invest in yourself?” I have over eight years of post-high school education (a bachelor’s degree & a double master’s degree) and over 30 years’ experience in what I do. I have invested heavily to get where I am today. And you want a free ride because you’re a musician?

The artist or band thinks because they’ve recorded in a studio (whether in someone’s basement or in a pro studio in Nashville) they should be recognized and rewarded for all their hard work with a free (on somebody else’ dime) ride to the Top 20 Billboard charts. Forget having a business plan, a marketing plan, promotions and publicity, social media (not just a Facebook Fan page, either), professional branding, a heavy-duty online presence, a killer merch table, a professional photo shoot, and a radio promotions plan (and not just a digital release to iTunes, which anyone can get).

You’ll notice in the above sentence I mentioned the word “plan” multiple times. That’s because many (okay, most) artists and bands don’t make a plan, much less a professional business plan. And that’s what sets them apart from the truly serious musicians out there who are in it for the long haul. I wish I could count how many times bands have told me “we’re putting all our money into studio time, so we can’t afford a plan.” Really? So after your CDs arrive at your house and your CD release concert has come and gone, all you’re left with is a closet full of disks with no plan to get them to market and an empty calendar. How’s that working?

So, in closing, I wish to stress to any serious musician reading this the following simple suggestion: if you want to play with the big boys, you gotta suck it up and put on the big boy pants!

Interpretation: if you’re content to play local shows and coffee houses and have no desire to tour nationally or compete in the broader landscape called the music industry, that’s fine. No worries. But if you want to be in the “big leagues” then you better be prepared to invest in your own development so you can play the game. After all, you’re competing with A-Level artists for two subsets of buyers: (1) the consumer who downloads your music and/or buys your merch, and (2) the talent buyers who are looking for serious, legitimate talent for their events.

That means partnering with someone in the industry who can identify where you are, let you know what the standard is, and then can help you get from where you are to where you want to be. When you do that your perceived value is greatly enhanced in the eyes of those two subsets of buyers.

So if what you’ve been doing to this point hasn’t yielded the results you want or need, isn’t it time to do something different?


Updated 2/2015

5 thoughts on “What I Wish (Indie) Musicians Understood


  2. I agree 100% with your article but I think you could even take it a step further because how many times have you taken on artists who say they want to allow you to do what you do only to find they aren’t willing to be molded? Doesn’t someone who hires a management group need them to, well, manage the group? As someone who is in management (restaurant) I have to teach and train and the people who work with me have to be willing to change when what they have been doing does not work. So I think this article is great and it has some awesome insights but artists should understand that it’snot as easy as signing the dotted line, there may have to be changes! Blessings and thank you for helping me understand things a little better where His music ministry is concerned.

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