We’ve all heard the old adage, “planning is half of the work.” As much as I appreciate the idea of moving quickly, a lot of time, energy, and money is wasted when executing without research and proper planning. Executing on an idea off-the-cuff can be semi-successful if you already know what you’re doing. In this case, you’d better know the music business like the palm of your hand and have some cash to burn through, as ideas without a plan to back them up go askew and you’ll end up with a pile of sunk costs. Let’s talk about how you can avoid throwing your money away (and time!)
Everything is at your fingertips.
Everything you need to be a successful musician today is accessible to you. Three decades, or so, ago, the resources needed to accelerate a musical career were only accessible by labels, as they had the capital to sustain musicians, as well as access to all of the resources. Furthermore, the labels would handle all of the business for the musician –the musicians could focus on what they do best, which is creating the product. However, due to the proliferation of technology and the Internet, musicians have the same capabilities as labels, apart from the great amounts of capital. Yet, you don’t need the capital to make huge strides in the right direction.
As a matter of fact, this shift in availability of resources means that you need a plan to get the work done on your own. Remember, the labels used to do everything for you. Today, record labels expect you to do the work upfront, then, if you’re worth additional investment, a label will fund your endeavor or “acquire you.” Side note: every musician should write down their goals and keep them close, as joining a record label is not the best path for every musician, and by no means am I advocating for record labels.
In last week’s post, I discussed the need for musicians to treat their bands as startups and act like entrepreneurs. A tactful entrepreneur begins with research around market opportunity, which is simply a dollar figure, then setting metrics around how much market share the business will acquire and in what period of time. These metrics can be simple, as they are primarily targets in which you set and measure your progress against –I go into ideas for targets further.
The more you can plan and prove that you’ve hit your metrics, the more marketable you are.
Let’s start with research. I’ve been asked the question before, “What’s there to research? I just need to start playing gigs.” Wrong. Again, it’s imperative that you invest your time, money, and energy in the right things. We can all be busy musicians, every day, but are we investing our resources in the right ways? Here are some things to consider in regards to research.
- Which venues in your city or region (to take it further, the places you plan on touring) pay musicians? These are the venues you need to target for gigs. Also, how do they pay? Do musicians get a door split? A bar split? A Guarantee? Is there a hybrid payment model? Is pay negotiable prior to the show?
- Merchandise can tie up cash in inventory. Ask yourself, how much merchandise do I really need? Who is going to make it? How quickly do I want to turn the merchandise and will I be able to replenish in time, in order to not lose potential sales? What will be the cost of the merchandise? How much should I mark up, while still being able to generate demand? Where am I going to sell the merchandise and to whom? Who’s going to sell it?
- Recording and tracking can be complicated and you can be taken advantage of in the process. Which recording studios have the best reputation? Which producers have worked successfully with artists in your genre?
- Does touring make sense today? How big is your band’s local following? When will it make sense to expand?
- Distribution is easy with technology today. Take a look at royalties depending on the platform. If you’re making CDs and records, who in town will buy inventory off of your hands and sell them in their stores? Are there any record stores which will negotiate consignment deals?
- Will you be publishing your album or tracks locally? Or will a national publisher make more sense? Who in town can publish and distribute locally (work out a deal?)
- Lastly, but most importantly, does your music make sense for your local market? Does your brand fit the market and will it attract attention with fans?
Now to continue with metrics. This is where you set SMART goals (specific, measurable, achievable, realistic, and time-bound.) Depending on where you are in your career these goals will vary. I recommend setting an over-all, time-bound goal, then working backwards. For example, your goal can be to sell out the Moda Center in Portland in 5 years, or be making $100,000 per year 5 years from now, which means $100k in net profit to you.
I’m going to use the monetary example, as it is the simplest to explain via a blog. Okay, your initial metric is $100k in net profit in 5 years. This number is definitely achievable and realistic. Let’s pause for a moment: we’re talking $100k to you –just you; if you’re in a five piece band, then you’d better consider this number to be $500k per year. But again, let’s keep it simple by setting this example to a solo musician who pays band members per gig and tracks much of their songs for recordings.
At this point, we’re ready to set metrics based on $100k net profit. These are the questions you should start with, considering the research you’ve already done.
- How many shows will you play? How much money will that bring in? What are the costs? How much will you be worth in the first year, compared to year five?
- How many t-shirts, CDs, records, digital downloads, etc. will you sell? What are the gross margins on these products? In the first two years, you’ll need to push the hell out of your merchandise, as 1) that’s cash tied up in inventory and 2) you’ll make more money on merchandise early on, since your take from the door or guarantee will be minimal as a new artist.
- How many albums will you record? Singles? How will you push them in order to sell them?
- How will distribution affect profits? How can you automate music sales over time? Even merchandise sales?
- How often will you be on the road? What’s the contrast in travel between year one and year five (consider that you will have more cash by year five than year one, if you execute well.
- Which national metro area will you frequent regularly? How big will your fan base be in five years compared to now?
Other metrics you can consider are YouTube views, website hits, social following and reach, etc.
Alas, the plan. Once you’ve done the research and you’ve set metrics, this should be easy. To start your plan, you need to fill your gaps. Take a look at what you have. You don’t have any recorded music? Set a timeline to record some tracks. You don’t have a website? Create one, or hire someone to make you a website. So you have merchandise in your closet. Then hell, make some time to book shows to perform and sell merchandise. You don’t have a distribution partner? By the time you have tracks recorded, you better have distribution figured out. I think you get the idea here. I digress.
If there is anything you take away from this article: write your plan down and stick to it.
Whether it’s a whiteboard, Google Calendar, your phone, or an old-fashioned planner, create your plan and timeline in written form. Look at your plan consistently and hold yourself accountable. Make adjustments where you see fit, based on new information or market research.
I know this can be overwhelming. You’re a musician and you’d rather spend your time creating music and performing. I definitely understand. Think of yourself as a music factory,
YCMsquared can take much of this work off of your plate. Give us some time, as we are building out our resources, and we’ll be opening up applications for our first wave of clients.
Any thoughts? Questions? Get at me –@YuriyM or email@example.com.
Final note: I came up with this blog with great input from Charley McGowan –@CharleyDrums or firstname.lastname@example.org.