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Money and Music: How to Make Both
By Jaci Rae - 11/13/2007 - 07:56 PM EST

If you are an indie / DIY artist and your goal is to eventually land a major recording contract, you will still need to gather more attention for your music by cutting, distributing and promoting your own music first. You will have a much better chance of obtaining a great record deal with a major label if you’re are successful on your own before the bargaining table begins. You may even find out initially that as an indie artist you can be more financially successful on your own.

MC Hammer started out on his own. He sold his music one car trunk and one club at a time. Hammer - Time knew the bottom line and the amount of money he was making on his own working his record in dance clubs. When a record company approached and wanted to sign him, initially he said no. The reality is that many in his place would have signed on the dotted line without hesitation if they were offered a deal like that or any deal. After all, isn’t that why millions of people stand in line at the American Idol and Nashville Star auditions? That appears to be the musician’s dream, right?

So why did MC say no at a time when an Indie Artist was more of an underground movement than a standard response to the music industry's money practices? Because he knew and understood his music business model. Hammer knew how much he made on his own, and he knew he could make a lot more money on his own than the labels were initially offering him. Eventually the record label had to meet him on his terms. They offered him a much better deal in the end and so he signed.

That was back then when the market wasn’t so saturated with music hopeful’s right? MC Hammer’s music was fresh, so how can you do what MC Hammer did? Three triplet words…Marketing, Marketing, Marketing – and it’s not all dependent on having your own label or producing your own music. A lot depends on networking as well. Marketing takes money and networking only works if you are let into the “it” crowd right? To a certain extent that can be true. But not everyone started at the top, with the “in’s” and money to back them.

If you are one of the lucky few and have a lot of contacts and a lot of extra money, your path will be much easier, but still not guaranteed. If you are like the rest of us, you have a limited budget, fewer contacts, and even less time to spare. So what can you do?

No matter which way the pie is sliced, there is no getting around the fact that you will need some money no matter how limited your funds are. You will need to spend some money and time to start your business up and make your CD. It's the same with contacts. You have to put yourself out there and network. You will need to spend a lot of extremely early mornings (if you work a regular job) and very late nights initially surfing the web for information on how to find and meet the people you need to help you on your path.

You also need to attend various functions and music gatherings where the music movers and shakers meet. This is a see and be seen world and if you aren’t seen, no one will know you exist. Join your local version of the BAMM or WAMI association. There are local clubs where people in the music arena meet on a regular basis. Many important local musicians will be members and might be there to network with. Many major cities will have some type of club like this.

After you have begun to hone your networking skills, it’s all about marketing and marketing savvy. The next step is to get reviewed and then collect all of the write-ups on yourself and your band and put them into a folder. Using those as a base, write a one-sheet and pass it out to the people you meet at the parties. (A one-sheet is one page marketing tool that emphasis the important aspects of your band/act.) If writing is not your gig find a professional writer who specializes in one-sheets or bios for musicians or people in the entertainment business and write them on a regular basis. 

Make sure you have a great picture of you or your band, full body preferably and a great pitch letter that details why your music is different and unique and what tracks you suggest they listen too. This letter should be no more than three to four paragraphs at the most, with three to four sentences in them. 

After gathering those marketing tools (formerly known as a press pack) start scheduling appointments to audition for local clubs. Take every gig that is offered to you initially, whether you are paid for it or not, and make sure to get the most press out of that gig.

If you do get paying gigs when you first start out, great! Make sure you have a contract in your hands that is signed by the person who will be paying you. In case there is a dispute, and they do arise, you have a contract spelling out whether or not you were going to be paid and how much.

Although it would be nice if everyone could work on faith and trust, make sure you get your contracts written, signed and in place. Before you sign any contracts, make sure you get a reputable entertainment attorney to look it over. NEVER sign a contract before you have followed that step. You could lose the shirt off your back and much more!

The next step is hard for some because face to face or phone to phone contact with people can be intimidating, but you’ve got to do it. What step is that? Working it! You’ve go to work it baby! Work it! This is not the time to be shy and bashful about your career. Grab onto every single opportunity and use it to your advantage. Unabashed marketing is what you need to do…so go for it! Just do it! No is just a word in the dictionary. It may hurt for a minute, but it’s the people that can take the “no” 50 thousand times that will get the prize in the end.

One of the smartest steps you can do for your music business career is to take a few courses at a local community college on Business Management, Marketing and Accounting. These courses will help you immensely when it comes to watching your money and the bottom line.

Whether you’re producing your own label and watching every penny or whether you’ve signed with a major label, you still need good accounting skills or a good accountant you can trust. With or without an accountant, it’s just good business to look at your books daily. Oprah is notorious for this and look where she is! No-one will care about your money or your success like you do.

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