Pretend you’re a musician just starting out (maybe you are!), ready to take on the world. You’ve got your instrument, you know some songs, and maybe you even have some bandmates lined up. The first thing you should know is: playing music is at most 50% of what it takes to be successful and probably more like 25%.
“Wait, you mean to tell me that I need to do more than just play music to have a career as a musician?!”
That is what I mean to tell you. A band is a business, a brand, and it takes a lot to make it all work. If a restaurant owner only made food, never advertised, never created a menu, never did taxes, never worried about an online presence, how long do you think that restaurant would last these days?
Probably not long. And it’s the same story with your band. Solo artists know this well: as a musician, you have to wear many hats and for better or worse “musician” is only one of them. But don’t worry, here’s how you can get ahead of the game.
Be proactive about learning. There are many resources (like Squatchful!) to help you in your indie music career. Read blogs, listen to audiobooks, talk to industry professionals, talk to other musicians. If you know of a band that is making progress towards success and you want to follow in their footsteps, see if you can pick their brains for a few minutes. Buy them coffee, ask questions, and take notes. It’s okay if you don’t know everything at first but you should always be expanding your knowledge.
Cultivate your skills. Once you know the many things that need to be accomplished in order for your project to realize success, start figuring out what you are good at and what you may need to outsource. I highly recommend learning some fundamental business basic at a bare minimum. Hey, we’re not all cut out to be entrepreneurs but you need to at least speak some of the language of business if you ever want to make a living as a self-employed musician. I also highly recommend you become at least somewhat familiar with spreadsheets. Google Sheets is a free spreadsheet platform so no need to buy Excel or a similar program, at least not yet. Spreadsheets are perfect for organizing contacts, schedules, and budgets.
Find other people who can contribute. Choosing bandmates can be a daunting task, or maybe it is the easiest step you’ve taken. I recommend not defaulting to jumping in with friends just because you like each other. This is how many bands form but also is the end of many friendships down the road. You need to find people who are proactive and have skills that compliment your own. Are you terrible at networking? Make sure at least one person in your band can do it. Do you hate dealing with money or scheduling? Bank accounts aren’t going to manage themselves and practice times will not magically align. Ask yourself before you get involved with someone: “Would I trust this person with my personal information? Can I see myself spending hours, days, or weeks with them? Is this person responsible and capable?” These can be hard questions but they can save you a lot of grief later.
Whether you are just starting or if you’ve been at it for years, you’re moving in the right direction just by reading this and by seeking out new information. They say that if you aren’t actively getting better, you’re passively getting worse; I really believe that. Besides, if you aren’t hungry for success, there are thousands of other musicians and artists out there who are and when it comes time to sign a new band, who do you think is going to get the call?