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Five Non-musical Skills That Every Independent Artist Should Possess

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Gitarrlegenden Jimi Hendrix

There was a time when all you really needed to worry about as a musician was playing your instrument and playing it really well. And once you were good enough to make money off, a record label would swoop in and surround you with a manager, a publicist, an image consultant and a stylist. Not to mention hookers and personal chefs. But that time is long gone.

As things stand, the world of music is so fast-paced and competitive that musicians often need to play the role of a few more characters than simply that of a musician. In the words of the mighty Rush, “All the world’s indeed a stage, and we are merely players.” Following are five non-musical skills that every indie musician should hone if they are to make it in this business.

Five Non-musical Skills That Every Independent Artist Should Possess

Marketing

There’s not a lot of difference between convincing people to buy your album or come to your gig and convincing them to buy a new product. You know that your music’s great. Your grandma probably knows it too. But it’s your job to give people the opportunities to see why your music is so great and why they should buy your music. There’s a reason why there are queues miles long every time Apple releases a new product and every time Iron Maiden plays a concert. And that reason is because both Apple and Iron Maiden, in their own ways, have perfected their marketing.

Branding

Well first of all, if you don’t know the difference between marketing and branding, you have some serious catching up to do, son. Branding in the simplest terms and a musical sense is what you or your band stands for. For example, think about your favourite bands or artistes. You probably won’t have too much trouble coming up with a few words that best describe them off the top of your head. Pantera – danger! Iron Maiden – kick-ass live shows! Red Hot Chili Peppers – rebellion! While it might take time for you to build a solid brand image around yourself or your band, it is imperative that you not be like a leaf in the wind, blowing whichever way the industry is headed. If you believe in something, stand for it, and people will follow you.

PR

In the music industry, the media is your best friend. And if you have any hopes of making it in this business, you will have to spend most of your early years on your knees fellating journalists and radio station programmers to help you make some noise. OK, I'm exaggerating a bit here, but you get the picture. You could be releasing your new EP or you could be embarking on your first cross-country tour, or your guitarist could just have broken his hand trying to break up a groupie fight. Whatever the incident, PR is your best bet of getting the news out there. Writing killer press releases, coordinating with media institutions etc. are all invaluable PR skills that you should be acquiring right about now.

Networking

There’s a saying in the music industry that success is sometimes more about who you know rather than what you know. Remember, in today’s world to be a successful musician, you need to be a good hustler. This doesn't mean you should cheat and lie your way from opportunity to opportunity. But it is definitely in your best interest to have your people skills and networking skills up to speed. On any given day you could run into a famous producer or a major label A&R guy. And when you do, it’s your job to build a bridge that might come in handy at some point of your career.

Finance

You don’t need to be Peter Lynch or Benjamin Graham here, but if you aren't good with your numbers you’re most likely going to end up dead meat in this industry. The music business has always been a game of numbers; how many units did your record sell, which position did it chart at, how many people saw you on your last tour. And now more so than ever, it is important to have a strong grasp of finance and money if you are to survive in the industry. With sources of funding becoming increasingly scarce, it’s imperative that you make every penny work for you. Have only a couple of thousand dollars to start off with? You need to be able to figure out how you can use it to buy the most cost-effective home recording equipment to record your single or EP, and how you can use the rest to print out a few t-shirts that you can make a few extra dollars selling at a gig. You get the picture.

It really is a new age in the world of music, and to survive and succeed it is no longer enough to simply be talented. So give yourself the edge you need by working on these skills when you’re not busy practising your ass off on the craft.

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4 COMMENTS

  1. All excellent points. I'm surprised to see how complacent some artists are when it comes to promoting themselves. Heck, sometimes it's even difficult to get the things we need to be able to promote them properly. Sometimes I find the most incredible recordings, of the most awesomest songs, and when I try to get more info on the artist there's nothing anywhere about them.

    It's ok for an act not to have any media coverage, but at the very least (especially if you're recording 'professional' demos) they should be making some of their own noise, publishing their own press releases, blogging about themselves, etc... so when they do send out those professional recorded demos (with the fancy band photos) then people who look them up can see they stand behind their own music. I like it when artists make their own noise, even if no one is paying attention ... yet.

    • Great article, and great reply Juan - many seem to forget that 'independent' means exactly that - no-one is going to do anything for you without being asked/coerced/paid. Not everyone has a flair for self-promotion (hi, Kawehi!), and recognising that is half the battle - seek out someone who does!

  2. I listened to a lecture by the writer Neil Gaiman where he recommended three qualities for a career in the arts:
    -be nice
    - deliver work on time
    - be good

    He said that as long as you have any two of these three qualities the missing third will be forgiven.
    I.E. if you are nice and talented people will forgive your late work!

    I thought this was great advise.
    Richard- Lost Winter.

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