Updated: Oct 1, 2021
Even though there’s never been a better time to achieve success independently, it’s still far from easy going it 100% DIY in the industry today. The internet continues to democratize the music world, resulting in far more ease of access to vital services previously unattainable for many unsigned artists. But this also means competition in the independent sector today is fierce, and if you’re not clued up and ahead of the game, the chances of you climbing the ladder and achieving success is slim. The good news? It’s definitely not impossible, and if you’re smart and take full advantage of the services and opportunities on offer, achieving success as an independent artist today is more than possible.
Read our to do list on the fundamental basic steps needed to turn your independent artistry into a full time career!
1. Start with the basics
This is particularly for young artists just starting out; there are a few basic things needed to be able to even call yourself an independent artist. The three most basic first steps are having your own music (unless you’re a cover act) that you own the masters and copyrights to, then having professional photos and an EPK (electronic press kit). I know you may not want photos to define you as an artist, and may think the media is some arbitrary part of your career, but at the end of the day the media will be fundamental to your growth and success as an artist, and people will not be able to think of you as a professional if you don’t have a professional visual & written presence online - not having an EPK will make it more difficult to get featured and reviewed in blogs and magazines too, which is essential for growing your audience.
Obviously having written material ready for release goes without saying, and is probably the first and most exciting part of any artist's career. As I’ve said, many of you may not need to read this part, but for artists just starting out this is for you! Also, whether you like it or not, social media presence is also a huge part of a successful artist's career. More on that below...
2. Grow & monetise your social media
Many people have a love/hate relationship with social media, and there are independent artists that do achieve success without having huge online clout, but try thinking of it as a tool to be utilized rather than another burdensome chore. Also realize that if you ever do decide to sign a record deal with a small social media following, you can bet your life savings the first thing the label is going to want to do is grow that presence as much as possible, but then again they’d probably allocate you a social media manager specifically for that.
If you're not the biggest fan of social media, try having some fun with it, be creative, get to know your audience, find new audiences with similar artists in your niche, just generally use it to your advantage. At the end of the day your fans will be what largely define your success, and there’s no better place to establish and grow a fan base than social media. Also, if you already have an established and large following, realize that it’s very likely your profiles could be monetized, which could add valuable ancillary income to your career. At SoundSight, we specialize in monetizing established artists' social media accounts, so if you’ve got 6000+ followers on any social media platform, click here to sign up and join the SoundSight artist community to get access to profitable opportunities you may not realize you could have had!
I’ll leave you to ponder this. Do you think Skepta, given his 2.7+ million social media audience, makes more money from his Spotify streams or his drinks and fashion brand sponsorships - hint: they pay him a tonne!
3. Expand your income streams & don’t think record deals & sales are the be all and end all
Back before the millennium, record deals and sales pretty much were the be all and end all for successful artists. But that was before the internet, and is by no means the case anymore. Never limit yourself to just music sales (this includes streaming revenue) as a form of income, and make the most out of any revenue streams you can. The secret behind building and sustaining a successful career, is juggling different revenue streams at once. This is what ALL successful independent artists do, or at least juggle 2-3 of them at a time. As we’ve said before, there are generally 5 revenue streams that can be harnessed as a popular artist: music sales, live performance, publishing, merchandise and sponsorships. The key to ditching the day job is getting your multitasking shoes on and capitalising on as many of those as you can.
We’ve mentioned that if you’re eligible, we can certainly help with sponsorships, but if you’re an artist based in the US stuck for merch ideas, go check out My Merch and Music, and they’ll take care of your merch store.
If you’re looking for merch with no out of pocket cost and to gain exposure, My Merch and Music can help you with that. You can reach them on FB @mymerchandmusic or contact them through their website www.mymerchandmusic.com
4. Don’t forget about building an offline audience too (gigging)
With all this talk of the internet and social media, it’s also good to get back to the fundamental connection with your fans, performing to them live. Forget how many followers you have, and how many playlists you’re featured on, if you perform an electrifying set that resonates with people, it makes a mark like nothing else (as I’m sure you don’t need reminding of if you’ve ever been to or performed at a concert). Make the most of any live performance opportunity you can, no matter how small, you never know when and where the next door will open from!
5. Stay authentic, don’t copy others, and always make the music you want to make
People value authenticity, especially in music (well, anyone who matters anyway). Don’t ever be afraid to be yourself, say what you want to say, sing what you want to sign, and take risks with new sounds. All the best artists (independent or not) in history have done this. You’re always going to make more of an impact if you’re doing something new, pushing the boundaries of genres, and could even be remembered as the next pioneer of a genre. I very much think one of the most exciting things about music is hearing innovation and experimentation. And remember, sometimes being smack bang in the birth of a new music scene could feel strange and uncomfortable (people often reject innovation AT FIRST), but even though you may not be aware of it at the time, you may be playing a part in something that will be remembered forever. All the modern day music we love today WOULD NOT EXIST if it wasn’t for pioneers trying out new things and making their mark.
One of the biggest findings I discovered in my MA dissertation was that pop music borrows its creativity and apparent ‘innovation’ often from the independent and underground sectors. Keep your integrity, and stay true to yourself, and the best thing is, it’s so much easier to do this as an independent artist!
6. Work hard, keep grafting, and never lose heart
I know this might be a cliche, but it is for a reason; never ever quit! A very harsh truth about the creative industries as a whole (not just music), is that you’ll have to undergo a hell of a lot of rejection, failure, criticism, and downright terrible moments before you achieve any success. It’s easier said than done, but don’t lose heart, keep going, and use mistakes and failures as learning opportunities rather than opportunities to beat yourself up. Like many meaningful achievements in life, they will come with their ups and downs, I’ve especially learnt this by starting a business of my own. But anyway, would the success or any kind of achievement really feel as good if you didn’t have to go through some kind of toil to get there? And always always remember, there’s not a successful artist in history or alive today that didn’t face rejection and failure at some point in their career; it’s a necessary means to an end.
We understand the effect these trials and tribulations can have on the mental health of independent artists in the industry. You’re only human for feeling down about these things, but try to remember you’re not alone. If the stresses of sustaining a music career are affecting your mental health, reach out to services (there’s more than you think - Mind is a good one to start with). Also, brands like It’s Okay Clothing are drawing attention to mental health issues and suicide prevention, so go and support them if you’re interested in this cause.