About 10 years ago, a pretty awful music producer was sitting in his parents spare-room on his computer trying to make sense of Ableton Live, and the world of record labels, sales and music production.
That producer was me, and there are a few things I wish somebody had told me back then.
I’ve come a fair distance since those days, but many of the things I wish I’d been told are still as true today, so I’d like to cover a few for you.
A really good one to start with, this is something many producers seem to do wrong, right from the get-go.
I often get emails from excited young producers exclaiming that they’re 16, they’ve just made their first beat and they’re looking to get it signed to my label for a shot at the big-time.
Without fail, their music will be pretty crummy. Often under-produced, or heavy-handed, thin sounding or just under-developed idea-wise.
When they don’t get snapped up by a label, they’ll stick their own stuff out, or a smaller label might take a chance on them if there’s potential.
Here’s the thing: Those producers will almost certainly regret releasing that music in time. Wither it’s a few months, or a year or so – they’ll look back and cringe at the sounds. It’s rare that people are happy with everything they’ve produced and released.
Part of this is of course that artists are rarely happy with their own work, but part of this is also the fact that many producers are rushing to get their sounds out there, instead of holding off.
Wait a bit, and sit on the tracks – don’t let them go yet. Allow yourself some time to develop as a producer.
Give yourself time to find a sound that’s yours, and something unique – and force yourself to wait a few months before you decide to release something you’ve made.
When you go back to it, chances are you’ll hear that it wasn’t so good, and you’ll want to better your efforts, and make something more accomplished.
The more you do this, the more confident you’ll become with your music – and the better chances you might have of getting something picked up or better yet, selling something when you release it yourself.
Generally, signing an EP to a label is a fairly big step for a producer, but here’s the problem:
If you’re not signing to a major, or a big indie label with a strong fanbase already established, then you’re not going to see any growth in your fanbase.
There are lots of labels out there who may offer to release your music, but the reality is, unless they’re really putting in some serious promotion efforts, and have a strong, well established fanbase who are keen to follow the label, and not just the producers they have released, then you’ll probably not see much come from it.
If you want to sign to smaller labels, then it’s going to take a range of releases on a range of labels to build a bit of a wider fanbase throughout the musical world, and one or two releases on small labels won’t help you much.
I think people assume that because someone else is going to pay for mastering, and put a bit of promo work in, that it’s going to miraculously give them fans, but this is not guaranteed in the slightest.
Sure – a major label signing, or getting your music out on a bigger indie label will help you reach a wider audience, but even then you’ll need more than a compilation appearance. Even a strong EP on a bigger indie label might get the label more fans, eager to hear the next release, but even then only a percentage of those people will remember your name, check you out, follow you in the right places and be keen for more, regardless of outlet.
Another misconception about signing to a label is that you’re going to start raking in the cash as soon as your music is released.
First of all, it’ll be a while till your music is out there anyway – the release process can take months, especially to press physical copies. Even once your music is out there it’s going to be a while till the sales figures come in.
Once the sales figures come in to the label, they will need time to cover expenses (mastering costs, promo costs and such – likely detailed in your contract… You have a contract, don’t you?!).
After that then you may start to see some profit, but some labels will only release that profit if it’s over a certain threshold, and generally only once a quarter at the most frequent.
Personally, it took somewhere in the region of 6 years for my first album “Metafiction” to generate me any profit, and even then it wasn’t much.
At the point of release we were well into the negative – the cost of mastering, pressing, promo and a number of remixers had been tallied up – so without going platinum in week one, it was going to be a fair while until we got close to being in the positive on that account! 6 years later, I got my first payment of profit – even then, split 50/50 with the label. All that for a couple of hundred dollars at the most. Definitely not easy-money.
One for the self-releasers, or the label owners.
I think people often equate paying a few hundred quid to a PR company to hype your releases will give you more sales when the music is released.
This is not true.
If you want increased sales, you’re going to have to do lots more than just pay for a PR campaign.
PR companies can get your music to tastemakers – this is good and bad. Good if they play and support it, which they might do if it’s good enough. Bad because now they have it, none of the hundreds of people the PR company has sent your music to will buy your music. And remember, those DJs and producers are sometimes the ones who actually value paying for music, over just streaming or downloading.
Getting your music to tastemakers, having them listen and then giving you some feedback quotes that mean very little is one thing, but then there’s a disconnect between that and your sales.
In part some support from big names may help your distribution company sell the release to stores to stock it (in the case of physical releases anyway) but ultimately these days, you can get onto most non-elitist platforms via digital distribution/aggregation anyway, so you don’t necessarily *need* those quotes.
Radio airplay will help you get the sound out there, but without some insane amount of support, you’ll struggle to translate that to sales.
The most effective way I can see of generating sales directly is via blog posts, getting featured in places, or being featured on a big youtube or soundcloud channel.
The other major way to get sales is to build your fanbase personally through a strong email signup and engaged list of fans who actually want to hear from you – then you don’t need to pay a PR company to email big names, you can email your fans direct and have them pick up the release right away.
(FYI, I’m working on a new course to explain how to properly build your fanbase – coming soon!)
Putting your music onto Bandcamp is a bit like setting up a lemonade stand in an alleyway nobody uses, and expecting people to buy.
You need to be able to point people to your lemonade (music) with signs (links) or better yet, help people find your music with tags, and some of the usual promotion methods.
You also can’t rely completely on a few social media posts to build traffic to your Bandcamp – mostly because with Facebook hardly anybody will see your posts, with Twitter, they’ll disappear down someone’s feed super fast, and with many other social methods, the posts and information has such a transient nature, that you’re just a tiny spec that someone may scroll past at some point, or barely see at all.
When you add music to Bandcamp, it should be part of a well thought out release campaign, and you should be able to drive people to the page with a number of methods, from email to social, from using Badncamp’s own tags, categories and recommendations system to (hopefully) blog and channel features too.
Just sticking your music up there does not equal instant sales.
I learned this the hard way.
If you are a label and you want to press copies of a CD, vinyl or anything else – don’t go wild. Pressing 1000 CDs and expecting to sell them is lunacy. Especially for newer artists or labels.
Stick to 100 or so, make them limited edition, and consider a second run if you sell out.
With vinyl, it’s not economical cost-wise to do less than around 300, but don’t go overboard with this, since even a short run might not sell so well if you’re struggling to generate interest in the label or yourself as an artist.
Physical production is costly, so you should really wait until you’re sure you can sell a good stack of copies before pressing.
A good way to gage interest is try a crowdfunding campaign – if there are enough people keen to buy your products, you should see the virtual pre-orders rolling in, then you have not only the purchases and fans, but the cash to get the pressings done too.
Let’s face it, you’re highly unlikely to make enough to live on just from selling music.
Those making money from music are doing LOADS more than just releasing.
We’re talking releasing music, remixing, DJing or performing live, doing sample packs or patches, tutoring, licensing, producing for other people, running events, and more. And even then, some will be doing other things to supplement income that are not related to music.
Sure, there are people making enough to get by from music alone, but these people are a tiny percentage, and it’s worth bearing in mind you need to work crazy-hard to get there and probably have a good bit of luck too.
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