Musicians of all stripes migrate to the big cities. Whether you’re an indie Hip Hop artist or a fledgling Oklahoma City garage band you’ve probably considered a move to the coast. The appeal of so many stages, so close together in diverse cultural melting pots is easy to get excited about. Midwest touring musicians quickly realize the endless plains highways, and a far lower population density make touring and word of mouth marketing incredibly difficult. So how do we overcome the space between us without giving up that part of ourselves we call home?
As an opening salvo here at OkSessions we put together a few thoughts to get you pointed in the right direction. Whether you are starting out as an independent or just need a refresher, here are 5 elements to give some focus too.
1. Get Busy.
The easiest thing to do is nothing. If you have dreams of being a musician outside of your shower, then you’ve got to start working. It’s also easy to get excited about marketing your music, sometimes at the cost of making the music in the first place. Let’s start with the basic tenant that if you want to be a professional, then you’ve got to commit a certain amount of time to both crafting your sounds AND sharing them with others.
Set aside time to create content. You’ve started on a journey to launch a music business, a way to live a life by playing music. Your product is the shows you play and the tracks on wax (or mp3 and youtube) It’s the hardest thing we do and the one that is most important. Before you surf to another music blog or do one more pass on your EPK, go record something. Seriously right now. I’ll wait.
Refine your practice and recording process. Do what it takes to continue to create every day. It’s the bread and butter of your growth as a musician. If you are not constantly working on new material for release, then it’s like you’re a restaurant that has run out of food. You’re keeping the lights on but have nothing to serve.
2. Give Something Back. The 20% Rule.
Everything takes time, working as an independent musician is no different. Only when you dedicate a minimum amount of time to growing this career, will you start to see exponential growth. As you start to feel the burn of putting in 20+ hours a week to the thing you love, you may find yourself being more protective of that labor. But music is a collaborative art. We engage each other with our primal aural sense and connection is implicit in the sounds we make.
It’s important that we work not only on our own art but to give to others as well. There’s so much we can do to help each other. Maybe one of your peers needs a website; maybe they need some help mixing a track, or maybe they just need someone to announce them to the stage at their Friday show. It’s community that drives a vibrant scene, and that starts with us supporting each other.
The 20% rule is that for the 80% of time we commit to our music careers, we’ll also give 20% of it away unconditionally with no expectation. Think of it as an artistic tithe. Find someone who’s working on their craft and give them a boost. Genuine generosity is sorely missing from the big city scenes. It’s why we often see new subgenres pop up in the middle of nowhere, well away from L.A. or New York. In smaller communities, people can realize they are stronger together, helping each other, and that’s when amazing things happen.
The best part about giving your time to others? You learn more. Studies have shown over and over, the most productive method to acquire a new skill is by sharing it. Want to get a little better at recording or video making? Do it for someone else. You’ll feel great, learn more, lift up your peers, and likely have more fun than anything else you could have worked on that day.
3. Market Your Music.
Created some content today? Check. Given some of your time to help someone else? Excellent!
Now you can dig into the labor you never expected to have to do when you signed up to be a musician. Market your music. None of us ever envisioned our aural icons walking off stage and hitting the emails for 4 hours, but this is the burden of our digital age. There are a lot more of us who want to make music professionally. The only way to stitch together the smaller, distant scenes of the Midwest is to curate a finely honed, communications machine.
I know it can be a tiring labor, but treat each day as anA/B marketing test. Iterate upon an idea, set up a way to monitor the results and make better choices. You won’t be able to hit all the different marketing platforms on your own. Invest a little time into a few that catch your eye and watch closely for traction. Maybe you’ll find adoption better on Soundcloud or Instagram. Maybe pitching for reviews in your adjacent towns press will bring more people to your mailing list. Try new things but do so in a way that lets you manage the results to improve your reach.
There’s a crazy amount of information to cover when it comes to marketing your music and brand. We’ll feature it more in-depth in the future, but if I could distill only 2 points, every midwest musician should know it’s these.
1. Email is the only marketing channel you entirely own. Never miss an opportunity to get more fans on your email list. And, if you are developing any new marketing channel, email signup should be your default call to action. It’s your bread and butter.
2. Spend some money. There is no business in the world you would expect to thrive without advertising, yet musicians are constantly trying to do it for free. I know it’s hard, and yes you’ll get a few bucks taken on a bad choice here and there, but you have to commit some monthly budget to doing this. Set aside at least $100 a month that you will commit to different marketing efforts. Try a bunch of things. As you find traction somewhere, you’ll know when to spend more.
4. Internal Professionalism: Manage Your Brand And Your Band
We’ve set out to adapt our talents to be more than just hobbies. That can be a hard transition. We do these things late at night. We enjoy our time making music, and it’s all too easy to shy away from the real work entailed in growing your project. Your music is now your business and the people you will work with expect you to interact like a business. They may be booking a festival or trying to write an article about you, and as much as they love your new track, they just want to put in their 9 to 5 and get their work done.
Develop a standard of practice for how you engage with those in the industry and your peers. When you play a gig, you expect to get promptly paid at the end of the night, ideally on a pre-negotiated amount, right? You can offer the same to the musicians who play with you and the bands who open for your set. When you send an email request, you expect a response in a day. Don’t be the guy who hits reply a week later. You need to communicate like a pro.
Put yourself in the shoes of those you engage with and ask yourself what they need from you to do their job, then exceed that expectation. When there’s more distance between us, we end up getting much less face to face time with our industry professionals. The only way to compensate for that is to be the professional who reliably does what he says. That’s the fastest path to a full inbox. Managing your music project is as simple as fast, clear, and honest communication.
5.External Professionalism: Be The Music You Want To See In The World
You’ve arrived at your gig. Hopefully, you’ve done everything right. You’ve practiced, produced your art, and helped your peers a little with their projects. You’ve got the word out and engaged everyone along the way with great communication to set expectations, and your well-oiled machine is now ready to hit the stage. Only one thing remains: play an amazing show.
Oddly enough, after all this hard work, we sometimes drop the ball. I’m not saying you’re epic solo didn’t hit or that the well-honed songs weren’t great, but there are basic elements to a performance we sometimes overlook. And to the audience, however, these core production values are what make or break an event.
We all know it when we see it. An engaging warm-up announcer sets the stage and introduces the band. The setlist is a well-curated build up, with no stops in between. The band moves together and appears made out of pure joy. It looks like they have practiced in front of a mirror and know precisely what they are doing on stage. There are no 45 minute set breaks; you trust this group to take you on crescendoing music ride that carries you right through the encore. The merch table is hopping, with everyone wanting to know when these guys are coming back. This is a crafted performance. This is a band we love. This is what we came for and what we’ll spend the whole next week telling our friends about.
This is your product. You are selling not just your songs but a performance of your songs. It’s easy to overlook, but you traveled all this way to put on a great show and by god, you’re going to do it. Tape off a stage on the floor in your practice space and rehearse your set. Refine every part of it. Come up with some creative blocking and things that happen throughout your event to continually up the ante. Minimize your outputs, and practice setting up your gear. 30 minutes sound check’s ruin shows. As you grow your organization, this is a new craft you must learn. Production values of your show are the gas in the tank for any performing musician. Without this, to continue the analogy, you may be serving the best steak in town… ice cold. Be the perfect steak my friends. Be the perfect steak.
That’s it! We’ll try and bring you some more in-depth features to help you grow your music brand. We’re always looking for Oklahoma City contributors. If you have some insights on the local scene or just want to get your music out there, drop us a line at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Don’t forget to help each other out. Go make something beautiful.