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- Jot down on your phone or in a notepad random things that get your attention.
- Pick a moment in time when something in your life shifted and write about it.
- Experience other kinds of art: read poetry, look at visual art such as paintings and sculpture, check out a comedy club, go to a dance performance, see a film, etc.
- Go for a walk somewhere you’ve never been.
- Go on a road trip.
- Try a new activity: use a new app to exercise your brain, go to a paintball range, ride horses, try fencing or another sport.
- Learn a new language.
- Study another culture.
- Listen to Ted Talks on “the creative spark.”
- Watch videos on the creative spark.
- Review songs/lyrics you like and figure out why you like them.
- Listen to music that’s not in your genre.
- Get out and support other local bands by seeing live shows.
- Partner with similar bands.
- Build a relationship with local venues.
- Use booking sites.
- Team with other kinds of artists.
- Music Career Finder provides detailed information about various positions.
- Work In Entertainment is touted as a “one stop shop” for music jobs.
- Indie on the Move lists ways to supplement your music income with a part-time or full-time job on the side.
- S. Music Jobs gives descriptions of jobs including those in other entertainment industries.
The pros and cons of both
If you’re between projects, before you embark on a new one, you may have the opportunity to take a new approach and decide whether you want to go it alone as a solo artist or collaborate with others. Both approaches have their pros and cons. Here are some considerations:
The solo act: There’s less coordination needed, you’re free to work on the project when you’re inspired. The cost to tour or travel is minimal. You may have fewer influences on your songwriting, fewer voices with which to harmonize and a limited number of instruments. On the flip side, you’re free to hire and/or work with multiple vocalists, DJs, musicians, and producers, and if you’re the master of many instruments, you can record them and/or program them into your songs.
Multiple artists: More coordination is needed. The cost to tour or travel is higher. You may experience power plays in songwriting, which can water down the style; yet varied backgrounds can have multiple influences and result in a rich sound. Bands may fall into a democracy or kind of dictatorship when they work together, which may have its own set of challenges or advantages. Working with multiple artists also allows you to split up the business aspects of a project including marketing and social media.
You don’t often hear about solo artists who become more successful in a band, but there are several examples in the media of former front persons successfully going solo including 10 Artists Who Left Amazing Bands to Create Something Better and Ten Solo Artists Who Got Bigger Than Their Bands.
Either way, if you’re not locked into a contract with a label that specifies who you will work with exclusively and what you will create, perform, etc., you’re in the position to choose the kind of project you want to work on next.
Some artists play one genre of music in a band and another genre as a solo act. This may be the best of both worlds.
Tamara Halbritter is a San Francisco Bay Area freelance writer and editor who develops content for music, transportation and green industries.
Everyone gets into a slump sometime. You don’t feel like getting out of bed. You eat like crap and put on weight.
Trying to write a great song seems like trying to climb Mount Everest — although you’re not athletic enough to ever consider doing that anyway, and you hated the day you made a pathetic attempt to climb the rock wall at the gym …
When you’re in a rut, you’re out of focus, the Creativity Gods are staying clear and hoarding their magic power, nothing makes sense and taking all the drugs in the world would only make matters worse. You need something to motivate you, to get you going again.
A small spark of creativity can change your perspective and get you back in the swing of things — whether you’re trying to compose a new song, write some fresh lyrics or figure out your band’s next move.
Here are some things musicians can do to get inspired:
Basically, get out and explore the world around you, and creative ideas will come.
Tamara Halbritter is a San Francisco Bay Area freelance writer and editor who develops content for music, transportation and green industries.
Many bands don’t have the luxury of having a booking agency line up all their shows. Band members, friends and relatives often take on the role of booking agent. Yet not everyone has what it takes to successfully book gigs.
The best bookers hone their pitch. They are persistent but not too pushy, persuasive in a “we could hang out as buds” sort of way and good-at-following up. They also know the art of coordination and are creative in coming up with the best ways to benefit the promoter, tour manager, venue booking agent, band manager or other persons involved in saying yes to locking in a show.
Want to book better shows? Here are four approaches that work.
One of the most obvious ways to book more shows is to team up with other bands and make a concerted effort to book gigs. If you do a show with a band that seems to have a good crowd, let them know you’d like to tour with them in the future. Offer to open for the band or keep them in mind when booking shows.
Network with other bands, exchange contact info, then make a trade: Let the other bands know you can add them to a current show, if they’ll add you to one of the line-ups they’re booking.
Look up other bands’ touring schedules and volunteer to split the cost of a tour. Or work with other bands to set up your own tour. The article “Booking Your Own Tour” by Ari Herstand has some great advice about finding venues and honing your pitch via email and phone.
Being a dependable act for a local venue will go a long way in helping you grow your fan base. Look at the venue schedules and see when your band would be a good fit for a show (look for dates that don’t seem to have a full line up of artists). After you lock in a show date, promote the show like mad, so you have a good crowd.
Once you’ve made a venue some money, you may be in the position to recommend that your partner bands play there. You can offer to book other bands for the venue, for example, to complete a bill, host a “theme” night or do a charity event. Volunteer your street team to promote the show and advertise it online.
Another way to book, local, national and international shows is through online booking sites. Sonicbids allows you to connect with promoters, venue owners and show opportunities all over the world. IndieontheMove helps you book more gigs and tours with connections to “thousands of venue booking agents.” BandSurfing is another resource that connects bands and venues.
The most important online resource, though, is your own web presence. Make sure it’s obvious on your website and social media sites who to contact to book your band.
Since your band is only one of a never-ending stream of bands out there competing to win new fans, one way to introduce your work to a whole new audience is to appear at events with other types of artists such as dancers, acrobats, visual artists, videographers, comedians or even to perform at other types of events like sporting events. This introduces your sound to a different crowd and may help you get repeat gigs.
Contact other kinds of artists or event promoters about booking a show together or produce your own multimedia event. Rent a unique space like a warehouse and ask every artist involved to pitch in to cover costs and promote your underground show.
No matter which approach or combination of approaches your booking agent takes, with the right pitch and attitude, your band will have all the work you need.
Tamara Halbritter is a San Francisco Bay Area freelance writer and editor who develops content for music, transportation and green industries.
An excellent way to grow your fan base
Most bands rely on social media to get the word out about their music, shows, tours and merchandise. What many bands don’t know is that sending out an e-newsletter on a regular basis is a great way to increase the number of fans you have, introduce your music to new people and keep them coming back for more.
When you establish one of the band members as your newsletter editor, readers get the “inside story” about the band and feel like they get to personally know a member of the band. If the band member/editor is a thought leader for the industry — has opinions about the state of the music industry or where a certain genre is headed — even better. He or she can start a dialogue with readers and continue to pique their interest. The more readers you have, the more people who will share your newsletter and ultimately grow your fan base.
How do you get started?
Consider the types of topics you want to cover: How about a news section where you describe what the band has been up to? Consider a section on touring that can link to Twitter while you’re on the road. You could also have a section where you rave about the latest technological advances in the music industry or the underground music scene. Consider what you think your target audience would want to know. Also, consider your band’s brand (see the article Brand Basics) and try to use a consistent voice throughout that represents your band well.
Regarding design, there are many newsletter templates out there for the layout of your newsletter, and businesses such as Coastal Media Publishing will set up a newsletter and write content for you. Plan to use an easy-to-read Web format with consistent navigation, articles in well-marked sections and regular positioning of contact information and links back to your own website and/or social media sites.
Determining the frequency
Set a realistic schedule for your editor and production team. Send the e-newsletter out at regular and “memorable” intervals over a sustained period of time.
This e-newsletter behavior reinforces the message that you are reliable, but only if readers remember that you are sending the e-newsletter on regular basis. Reader memories generally start to fade if the interval between issues is longer than one month.
Growing your subscription list
Author Meryl K. Evans recommends using your blog to inform readers about the newsletter. She says a blog makes a great landing page for a newsletter. “There, you can have a subscription box. Social networks like Twitter, LinkedIn and Facebook act as focused search engines that lead readers back to the newsletter’s content, which lives on the blog.”
In her article on 7 Ways to Grow Your Mailing List, she provides business development ideas such as sponsorships, reciprocity agreements, links to other articles and partnering with other newsletters to offer choices in your subscription opt-in landing page. Keep in mind that the bigger your mailing list, the bigger your fan base.
Need inspiration? Read the Bandzoogle blog on Why Email Newsletters Are Still a Vital Marketing Tool for Musicians and Hugh MacIntyre’s 6 Tips to Ensure Your Band’s Email Newsletter Rocks. Check out the Top 7 Music Industry Email Newsletters and find out why Lena Dunham says 2015 was the year of the email newsletter.
3 things to stop believing
If your song is almost ready for prime time, before you get it mastered, consider the following three myths about mastering.
Myth 1: Even a bad recording can sound like a million bucks.
Sometime in the swinging 70s, before digital mastering was a thing, a famous artist once said, “Mastering helps those who help themselves.”
Let these be words to live by. If your song is crap to begin with, and your mix is crap, there’s no way your tune will sound any better after it’s mastered.
If you plan to mix the track yourself, figure out what you’re doing before you consider the song “done.” Your song needs to be about 95 percent complete before it’s mastered.
Are the drums too loud? Are the vocals drowning in the mix? Is the balance of instruments mostly on the right? These are all problems that need fixing during the mixing process, before you get to mastering.
Hint: You should know what equalization, compression, limiting, noise reduction, panning and for god’s sake reverb, delay and chorus mean. Go to the school of YouTube if you have to bone up.
Myth 2: Most mastering engineers excel in all genres.
Before working with someone to master your song, do your research. Find out which mastering engineers specialize in the kind of music you’re making. Some mastering pros excel in many genres, but most of them have a specialty.
Keep in mind that mastering is subjective. If you send your track to two different mastering engineers, the audio files you get back will not be the same. Therefore, it’s up to you to choose a pro that will do your song justice. Get referrals from people in the industry you trust, then look through their library of songs and listen to the ones most like yours. No examples online? That’s a red flag.
Also, before you start to work with an engineer, consider the song’s purpose. Are you planning to send the track to a producer to have a listen, will the song be played on the radio or are you planning to sell or share the track online through iTunes or SoundCloud, etc.?
Once you find a mastering engineer you like, request that the engineer master the song according to your song’s purpose(s). When you send over your song, also send over examples of other songs that are similar to yours that pop the way you want yours to pop.
Myth 3: Mastering won’t make your song louder.
Mastering adjusts the song’s lows, mids, highs (tone and frequency) and volume. Word of warning: If you send over your mix, and the volume levels peak into the red, this is an unbelievably blatant red flag. Mastering will make your song louder, so you need to leave enough head room in your overall bounced mix.
See Bjorgvin Benediktsson’s article on The 5 Music Mixing Tips You’ll Ever Need to learn more about volume control.
Remember that you may need to request slight adjustments and/or get finished files in different formats for your intended audience.
If the mastered track you receive doesn’t sound right to you after listening to it on a number of different devices, it probably needs more work. Is the song too dry and tinny? Are the lows too boomy or the highs too harsh?
Request that the mastering engineer make adjustments — or you may need to return to the mix if you hear other issues unrelated to mastering, like competing instruments that limit the depth (or other problems you may have barely noticed before you sent over the mixed track).
If you’ve requested more adjustments to the original audio file, or fixed any mixing problems and sent over a new file, and the song you receive from the mastering engineer still sounds like ass, your song may have been crap to begin with (as mentioned previously). All joking aside, at this point, you may need to bite the bullet and hire a different engineer to master your song.
The goal of mastering is to get the highest sound quality possible in the proper format for distribution. Don’t settle. Be proud. Get it right.
Simple is back
If you’re considering what to shoot for your next music video, consider this: The days of big-budget, Hollywood produced feature-film-style music videos are over. Simple is back.
Like girls roller skating down the highway one night in the “Gold” video by electronic musician Chet Faker.
Or Coldplay taking it to the streets in “A Sky Full of Stars.” Or “Forever Scum” by Detroit’s hardcore band The Armed that captures a domestic scene shot with one camera, which the Alternative Press touts as one of “The Best Music Videos of the year 2015 so far.”
While it may not be simple to handle the logistics of making these videos, the point is for them to appear as down-to-earth representations of real people doing their thing. The videos do not have multiple sets and story lines edited together. Instead, scenes are shot with hand-held cameras or phones (often with amateur production quality), or moments are captured by a lone camera at a single angle, or live performance footage is contrasted against still photos.
Whether or not the artists are present in their videos, the musicians are bringing fans on the road, into their neighborhoods and on quirky adventures. For example, Pharrell Williams appeared in his music video “Happy,”
which won a Grammy and shows a diverse array of people for a few brief moments at locations all over the world in the throes of happiness. While this video required massive amounts of material to be edited together, the concept was straightforward, clips of Williams interspersed with images of people enjoying themselves.
Sia’s “Chandalier” that features modern dancer Maddie Ziegler in a solo performance wearing a signature Sia wig was also one of 2015 Grammy nominations for best music video. Sure, it was well-produced, but again, the concept was not complicated and had one set in which the dancer performed.
Some videos capture a certain time period or make a statement about our current times. In early 2015, Prince released the psychedelic video “Marz” as part of his 3RDEYEGIRL collaboration that brings viewers into another era with blurred sequences and trippy effects.
Whether or not you’re planning to shoot live footage of your band performing, consider the options for including non-band images in your next music video. It may be a simple as your dog chasing a cat through the neighborhood, the cityscape showing the weird people who you hang out with or kids dancing at a birthday party.
Look at your everyday surroundings and put a twist in them somehow. Show a montage of close-ups at a local pub (get permission to use their images, of course) or intersperse a series of local monuments with images of the night sky. Capture some rare moments where your band mates are being themselves while on tour. View where you live and what your band stands for from a new perspective, and your fans will come back for more.
One important consideration
When preparing to build a home music studio, you need to determine the best equipment to purchase — a computer, a digital audio work station (DAW), which is your recording software, an audio interface or sound board, studio monitors and other equipment such as microphones, headphones and audio cables. There are plenty of articles, videos and diagrams out there on choosing the right home studio equipment, for your studio set up, and setting up your home recording studio.
Keep in mind that if you plan to work with other studios, engineers or producers, the professional standard DAW is ProTools, but if you use another DAW such as Ableton Live, Apple Logic Pro or PreSonus Studio One, you should be able to transfer your audio files into the studio’s DAW.
Deciding on the right mix of components can take some time to research what’s out there, compare prices and place orders. Setting up your system requires technical expertise to ensure all components that need to talk to each other do.
Using the system requires yet another type of technical expertise. For example, if you purchase ProTools and plan to be your own audio engineer, you may learn how to use the software by watching professional sound engineers work, taking classes or watching do-it-yourself videos.
All of these technical considerations mean using the left side of your brain for logical and rational thinking. The challenge in being a home studio user is that as an artist, you need to also use the right side of your brain to create hooks and catchy melodies. This can be a challenge.
How do you maintain the artistry you need to compose and arrange exceptional music while being a recording engineer?
One way is to try to separate the creative tasks from the technical ones. When you’re in the composition stage, as you write the music and lyrics, do not get caught up in the type of technical effects you’ll add or how you’ll layer or pan instruments. Focus on the rhythm of the song, the structure, the arrangement of the instruments. Compose certain aspects of music outside of your studio. For example, take your guitar, voice or instrument of choice and go to another location to write.
No matter how technically savvy you are, if you don’t understand composition and arrangement, your music will not have the juice that sets it apart from the music of all the so-called artists out there.
If you want to learn more about composition, listen to how the musicians in your particular genre write songs. Take a class on music theory. To learn more about arranging songs, listen to the harmony arrangements in the ones you like. Read articles on how to create great arrangements and what an arrangement is or is not. Jam with musicians who are better than you.
The point is: Musicians are artists. Geek out in your home studio, but before you consider recording a single song, you’d better understand the art of songwriting. Then go forth and create.
Opportunities beyond performing
It takes a community of people in numerous positions to make an artist or band famous. If you want to break into the music industry, how do you go about it when you don’t have a windfall to pay for an expensive education, and you don’t happen to be related to Jay Z or Katy Perry?
There are several categories of jobs in the music industry besides being a performer or songwriter that may be of interest to you. (Even if you are a musician, it can’t hurt your career to learn more about other aspects of the business.)
Music business jobs: These heavy hitters handle the business side of things for the artist or band. Positions include band manager, agent, booking agent, concert promoter, music publisher, business manager, professional manager (pitches music compositions to others for use) and entertainment lawyer.
Record industry jobs: Since the record industry has changed, a host of independent and small labels have sprung up that sign artists, and many artists create their own label rather than signing with a major label. Record industry jobs may include producer, artist and repertoire (A&R) representative, A&R administrator, promotion manager and staff, publicity director and publicists, artist relations staff, consumer researcher and regional sales manager.
Recording jobs: The technical crew responsible for recording an album includes studio technicians, sound engineers and assistant engineers that record, mix and master the sound; usually, a recording studio has a studio manager, bookings manager, receptionist, runner and may even have an in-house producer (and assistant producer).
Sales, marketing and distribution jobs: To prepare and release the album, a few of the people involved include a graphic designer, production house staff who duplicates, prints and packages the album, and those who distribute digital tracks and CDs. Sales and marketing staff get the word out about the album, including the new breed of social media companies that do all the social media marketing for an artist.
Touring jobs: For small, few-city tours, band members often perform a number of the required touring duties. For larger multi-country tours, bands may hire the following: tour manager, tour coordinator, tour publicist, sound technicians and advance person (the one who gets to the locations and makes sure they are ready before the band arrives).
Facility/venue jobs: The venues at which musicians perform vary greatly in size, from small, intimate night clubs (or coffee shops), to stadiums that hold thousands of screaming fans. Types of positions available at venues include stage manager, concert hall or club manager, marketing director and sound technician, among others.
Music education jobs: Some people excel at teaching musicians how to use their instruments. Music instructors may give private music lessons or teach lessons at schools, colleges or music conventions as well as give in-person or online seminars. The large number of band camps for both youth and adults that have cropped up all over the country can also be lucrative for music educators.
Other jobs: Photographers may be hired by a band or work freelance for specific media. Some venues hire in-house photographers. Music writers cover the music scene for the media, such as Rolling Stone magazine, Billboard or any of the other top 10 music magazines (according to Zine-a-polooza).
Ways to learn more about industry positions
Bill Zuckerman of Music School Central says a four-year music degree can cost more than $111,000. Once out of school, the so-called starving musician may not ever see a full return on that kind of investment.
The alternative? Learn about other aspects of the industry beyond being a performer or songwriter. Educate yourself — if you want a position in a recording studio, contact local studios to see if they have any internship positions available. If not, ask to have an informational interview to learn more from a staff member who holds the type of position in which you’re interested. Teach yourself how to use recording software such a ProTools by watching YouTube videos.
If you want to be a stage manager, contact one at a local venue and see if you can “shadow” him or her at a small event. Offer to help out for free and watch and learn from every move the stage manager makes.
If you’re interested in marketing and public relations, volunteer to help promote your favorite local band. This could include being a part of the street team or being a social media genius to increase the number of online fans.
The Guardian says, “Going to gigs, networking and following labels on Twitter should be on your to-do list if you want to break into the music industry.”
Be proactive and creative to find other hands-on ways to learn more about the roles and responsibilities required for positions of interest.
Check out the following industry resources to find work in the music business and learn more about some of the positions described above.
Good luck in your music industry career!
Most music is not purchased in a record store full of vinyl treasures. Instead, potential buyers scroll through hundreds of online images on their phone or other electronic device, only stopping to click if the visual captures their interest. That means you only have a few seconds to make an impact.
Today’s artwork for albums and singles generally falls into four main categories: photography, portraits, illustrations and visual art.
Photography can feature the band in a serious or comic way or feature other people, animals or items that represent the album content. For example, Phychostick photographed a sandwich for its “Sandwich” album. Ministry’s “Filth Pig” has a political bent. Metallica’s 1998 “Garage, Inc.” is a classic band photo, and C2C gives off a party feel in its “Tetra” album cover.
Portraits of musical artists can be literal photography, like Lana Del Rey’s stoic “Born To Die” album pic and the mystical photograph of Wiz Khalifa on his “Rolling Papers” album. Janelle Monáe’s debut album “ArchAndroid,” has a futuristic, illustrated look, and Woodkid’s “Iron EP” single from his “The Golden Age” album takes the blend of photography and artwork even further with what appears to be a wooden head (so does Sia’s “1000 Forms Of Fear” cover that shows her wig as a portrait).
The Roots have a series of album covers that rely on illustration, including the two below, “Phrenology” and “Rising Down.” Some illustrations can be comic, like Steve Aoki’s “Boneless” or his “Wonderland” album. Even if artists switch between using illustrations to photography for album covers, it should still have a somewhat similar style.
Hailing from Iceland, Bjork’s 2007 “Volta” album has African-influenced beats, horns and industrial elements, and the artwork seems to reflect this blend of cultures. Tame Impala started out using abstract art in their self-titled album, and the use continues in the psychedelic album cover for “Elephant.” Lorn’s “Ask the Dust” is an abstract collage. Tyler, The Creator’s “Wolf” album has a limited deluxe edition cover that could be a painting on your living room wall.
So what kind of art should you choose for your next album or single? Here are three things to consider:
- Image: What is your band’s image and sound? What type of artwork would best represent the band’s image? For more information on branding, see Brand Basics.
- Budget: How much money can you afford to spend on original artwork or photography? If your budget is limited, you may want to use art in the public domain or have someone photograph you from a camera phone.
- Resources: Do you know a professional photographer, painter, cartoonist or visual or graphic artist who can make an original art piece for your band? If not, you may want to place an ad through social media or on craigslist.org. Consider doing a trade for the artist’s services of if you have a decent budget, by all means, pay the artist well.
A few more pointers: Before you spend any money on art, be sure to consider how it will represent your band and fit into your band’s catalog of albums. For example, if you click through a number of albums by Radiohead, you’ll see a strong use of original art with a similar look and feel.
If you need inspiration, visit the artwork from yesteryear in the Artcyclopedia. Search genres such as abstract expressionism, art deco, impressionism, neoclassicism, realism and surrealism. Seek out art being done today on every continent. See what artwork similar musical artists feature, then do the opposite. Or create your own aesthetic. Just remember that beauty — or shock value — is in the eye of the beholder.