If you're gunning for a big break in the music industry, you'll generally have your sights set on achieving one major goal: getting signed to a record label. But is this an outdated goal to have? Before social media and the internet, music was usually discovered through whatever hot track radio stations were playing at the time, with record labels actively pitching new songs to actively market their latest artists. However, in 2019, artists have the freedom to gain more popularity than ever by freely uploading their music to platforms like Spotify, YouTube and Soundcloud, while everyday platforms such as Instagram, Twitter and Facebook can be utilised to promote music to much greater effect than many PR agencies ever could. So, if you're an unsigned artist with a whole lot of drive, hustle and passion, read on - this one's for you.
1. Yes, you will have to spend money to make money
When a band signs to a record label, they will likely receive an advance payment to record an album or go on tour, which is expected to be paid back later in sales. Artists who haven't signed to a label can expect to fork out a fair bit of cash upfront for recording songs, filming music videos and producing merch. Paying upfront might seem like a blow, but what you spend as an independent artist will (hopefully) circulate back as profit. Consider it as a personal investment, if you will.
2. Upload Your Music To Multiple Platforms
There's no argument that streaming services have changed the way people consume music. If an artist is signed to a label, or even links up with a distribution agency, they will take care of getting your music onto streaming services. However, most of these platforms have purposely made it easy for independent artists to upload their own content - for example, Spotify made headlines last year by allowing independent artists to bypass distributors and upload tracks directly to the platform. So instead of spending a fortune to produce physical copies of CDs and records, artists can now easily distribute their music to millions of people through the power of the internet. Chicago hip-hop trailblazer Chance The Rapper has proven that you can get by, or in his case win a Grammy or two, without producing any physical copies of your music - or selling it, for that matter.
The back-end of these programs even allow artists to see how many people are listening, and where in the world they're from. These stats can help artists with promotional campaigns, pick new singles and even route their next tour.
YouTube is now technically the most popular music streaming platform, with the Music Consumer Insight Report stating that 85% of YouTube users logged on just for music. This means that 1.3 billion people are using the platform to listen to and discover music. Keep in mind that Spotify, which is considered to be the front runner in the music streaming world, has 100 million users.
3. Networking Has A New Meaning
Having legit industry connections is a major advantage when it comes to being signed to a label. At no point in time will artists ever have to stop going to shows to network with the right people, but with platforms like Instagram and Facebook, artists can have an online connection and presence within the community, interact with fans, other musicians and industry professionals including live music venues. These platforms are also a great way to build a support network with other artists who are in the same boat as you, and you never know who will stumble across your music - Kevin Parker spent 2007 uploading early Tame Impala tracks to his Myspace profile, and by 2008 he had a record deal - the rest, as they say, is history,
For some hot tips on how to improve your social media presence, have a read of this article.
4. Merch Distribution Is Super Accessible
Aside from some obvious promotion, merch can be a major source of income for bands. A lot of the time the record label will have affiliation with merch companies, but with some digging through social media, you will find a gold mine of other amazing artists to collaborate with to design their merch. Before we were blessed with the internet, having a custom-printed piece of clothing was rare and expensive, but now with the saturated online market, bands can pay as little $3 for a t-shirt and $10 for a hoodie. If you're feeling exceptionally thrifty, you can even make your own merch - how very punk of you.
However, it's always important to remember that everybody's got to eat - especially artists. If you don't want to all your own artistic endeavours to be paid in "exposure" (whatever currency that is), make sure whoever is responsible for designing your merch is efficiently reimbursed and credited for their work.
Even though it’s pretty unlikely that we’ll be seeing unsigned artists selling out arena shows anytime soon, social media and the internet has given new and independent musicians the opportunity to reach a wider audience than ever before. It’ll take some work and maybe a bit of learning, but the internet is a powerful tool and musicians should embrace the technology to give themselves the best head start in the music industry that they can.
Need some advice on how to make your first track? Read on...