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industry > industry faq

How do I promote myself as an artist?
Any way you can. Success in the music business at any level requires dedication, persistence, energy, and passion. It simply isn't good business to wait for an audience to find you. You must reach out to your audience and find them. Do your homework. Read books and articles. Talk to successful artists in your area, and borrow their techniques. Most importantly, you must take charge of your own career development. Don't sit around waiting for a Brain Epstein to come along and make everything ok while doing all the work. You will likely be waiting a long time. Do it yourself!

How do I get my music on the radio?
Radio has always been one of the most difficult nuts to crack in the music industry, and with many radio stations now being owned by a small number of corporations that make centralized programming decisions - it's not getting any easier. It's not impossible, though. Try making contact with college or public radio stations in your area (in the U.S. these are stations on the FM dial that have frequencies in the 80's) that play your kind of music. Many commercial stations have local and new music 'specialty' shows (usually on Sunday nights). Find out who at the station is responsible for programming these shows, and try to get your music in their hands. The DJ's on these shows usually pick which music they play - unlike every other DJ you hear at other times, by the way. The days of DJ;s choosing their own music are long gone. Those decisions are now made by Music Directors and Program Directors. Try to make friends and allies at your local stations. Go to the station and bring them food. Offer to play at any live charity functions they may be sponsoring. Be creative - if you can win them over as fans, they may be able to help you along the way.

How can I build a fan base?
Get out there and work at it. Offer to play clubs for free that are reluctant to book you. If you win over the crowd (or bring a healthy crowd of your own) they'll have you back. Do this in an ever-widening regional circle, returning on a regular basis, and you will eventually build a regional fan base. Build and maintain a database of ground and e-mail addresses of your fans. Always look for opportunities to add names to your mailing list. Keep them up to date on your gigs and any other important news. Offer free tickets, t-shirts or other incentives. Put together a "street team" of fans in areas where you play who can help promote your shows, and spread the word. Many young, die-hard fans will work like crazy just to be recognized, included on the guest list, and be considered something of an insider. When producing CDs for sale, be sure to include a Universal Product Code (aka a "bar code") and register your product with Soundscan (the service used to track record sales). This allows A&R research people at record companies to notice and track your sales from their offices. Be creative. Go where your audience is. Does your music appeal to high school students? Play lunchtime shows at high schools. Or shopping malls. Trade gigs with like-minded bands in your general region. Offer to have them open for you at clubs where you draw well. In return you open for them in their strong areas. There isn't any one road map or required way to build a following. There are techniques that work well, but you are free to come up with your own ideas, too.

Do I need to hire an outside marketing company?
Probably not. It doesn't require an expert to do the kinds of self-promotion that many artists have used to achieve local and regional success. If you do decide to hire a marketing or promotional consultant, make sure that your goals are absolutely clear, specific, and agreed upon by both parties. Most importantly, make sure that results are verifiable. There are quite a few unscrupulous radio promotion people out there, for example, who will generate false airplay reports. Make sure airplay ( aka 'spins') can be verified by the airplay monitoring service, BDS. You should also personally call and verify that all radio stations that are supposed to playing your music, are actually doing so.

How do I book my own gigs?
Call club owners and bookers and send them a CD. Offer to play for free if they are reluctant to take a chance on you at first. Offer to trade gigs with popular bands from nearby towns. When you get a gig, market the heck out of it and get as many people in that club as possible Build and maintain a comprehensive mailing list of your fans.

How do I get a booking agent to book gigs for me?
Booking agents can be hard to come by. Ask club owners and bookers at suitable venues for your kind of music which booking agents they work with. Make contact and send them a CD. All the better if you can show that you are already drawing well on your own. Ask touring bands (signed and unsigned) that come to your town who their booking agent is. See if they will contact them for you, or simply give you their number. Then go to work.

What does A&R stand for?
Artist & Repertoire. The term was coined to describe the function of people at record labels who are in charge of finding and developing new talent. Development typically includes finding the right material for the artist to perform if they don't write their own songs, hooking them up with the right producer, engineer, studio, etc., deciding which of their songs are the most viable, and shepherding the making of the record. After the record is done, it's not unusual for the A&R person to be responsible for getting the other departments such as retail sales and radio promotion excited about the record so that they do their jobs well. If all the parts of the record company "machine" work well together, the act just might have a hit. Today, A&R people seem to concentrate less on developing artists, and often look for artists that have "developed" themselves. It's not unusual for the boards of directors to look more at the bottom line and less at talent development. Hence, A&R people are under pressure to find hits, rather than finding potential hits and nurturing them until they bear fruit.

How do I get my music to an A&R guy?
The best way to get your music to an A&R person is to cause them to come to you. You can do that by building a fan base through constant touring and relentless self-promotion. Couple that with making, marketing, and selling several thousand of your own CDs, and it's likely that you'll show up on their radar. When you do, they'll call you. Can you get through to them with an unexpected phone call? Very doubtful. If they took calls from every person who wanted to pitch their music to them they wouldn't have time to do any of their other work. Can you send an unsolicited demo? Yes, but it will most likely come back to you or end up in the round file. A&R people are extremely busy, and generally listen only to the material that comes to them from a trusted resource such as a high-level manager, a publisher, a music attorney, and if you'll forgive the little plug — TAXI.

What makes an A&R person want to sign you?
Hit songs and "star" quality. Those are requisites. Beyond that, you can increase your odds by doing your own artist development and proving that the public loves you and is willing to plunk money to buy your CD.

How do I improve my songwriting?
The best way is to constantly and persistently study what hit songwriters do. Learn from the best. Listen to the radio and take notes on what hit songs have in common. What is their structure like? Do they end verses on major or minor chords? Do they have a bridge? How many bars are in the intro? The best novelists are people who constantly read, and the same just might be true of songwriters. Reading helps develop a writer's sense of worldliness. The more things you know about and understand, the more you can write about. Reading books about songwriting will also put you at a tremendous advantage. Become obsessed. Study and write every day. You couldn't be a starting quarterback in the NFL without spending years in training. The same is true of great songwriters. They are rarely, if ever born into this world as great songwriters. They become great by learning from the great writers who came before them. Hint: Stay current. Don't write songs that could have been hits when you were twenty-one (unless you are twenty-one). Write songs that will appeal to today's audience. Remember that you aren't competing with your friends and peers. To really be in the music business and get your songs cut, you need to be competitive with the top writers of the day.

What if I just write lyrics?
Frankly, it's exceptionally rare that someone in the music business asks, "Can you find me a lyricist - quick?!" Not to say that somebody who is strong with melodies might not look for a collaborator whose strength is lyrics. But it is very rare that a record label would hunt down somebody who just writes lyrics.

Could working with another songwriter improve my chances of success?
Yes, in at least two ways. Number one: Two heads are often better than one. You just might write a better song with a collaborator. Number two: If you're really lucky, the person you co-write with may be more advanced and/or better connected than you are, giving you a leg up on getting your songs cut.

How well-recorded do my demos need to be?
Great question. We get it all the time. The answer is actually very simple. For song pitches, the recording can be much less "produced" than it should be for artist pitches. Some people believe that a song pitch demo should leave some room for imagination - let the artist or A&R person develop some emotional ownership of the song by imagining a tambourine part or a vocal harmony. For band or artist pitches, you may want to flesh out more tracks that show the artist's whole vision. Remember though, A&R people are far more interested in the song's potential, and the artist's appeal than they are about the quality of the recording. Nearly every act signed to a major label will be recording their entire album over again with a pro engineer and producer. The demo is only a demo! Home recorded 8-track demos are often sufficient for Film & TV placements. For examples read our article Is Your Sound Quality Good Enough For Film & TV Placements.

Should I record in a professional or home studio?
For song pitches, you can almost always get what you need from a home studio. Frankly, the same is true for artist and band demos, but you will need more expertise behind the console if you are doing a fairly developed demo. You would really be surprised to hear how many great 4-track and 8-track demos come in to TAXI that were recorded in "home" studios. The equipment is so good today, that if you've got the engineering skills, you can literally record a top quality album at home. The converse is also true. If you place somebody who is pretty clueless behind a million-dollar Neve console with a killer array of microphones and outboard gear, the result they get will sound like it was done in a low-end home studio. Like so many other things in life, it's not the equipment; it's the skill level of the person using it.

Should I use a producer?
If it's possible to find somebody with a great reputation who really knows how to produce, the answer is yes. A highly skilled, objective ear almost always makes for a much better product. On the other hand, there are a lot of unscrupulous people who claim to be producers, but don't really know what they are doing. Research your choice carefully. Try one song together before you commit to doing more work.

Should I sing my own demo?
If it is an artist pitch, absolutely. If it's a song pitch, try a professional demo singer if you can afford one. An exception to this rule of thumb is when the writer (meaning you) has a great voice, or just the right kind of voice for the song. I've heard demos sung by people who had gravel in their throats, and couldn't nail a note to save their lives, but somehow their voice worked. Maybe it was because they conveyed the meaning of the song better than a stranger could. But please don't take this idea as an excuse to put a lackluster, crummy, or inappropriate vocal track on your demo. One last tip: For a song pitch, many industry pros try to match the gender, ethnicity (when appropriate), and key of the person they are pitching to. It makes sense. Why would you want a white, Country sounding, male vocalist singing in the key of F, id you were pitching a song to a female R&B singer who sings most of her songs in A or B? It's not a racial or sexist thing - it's just a way to make it more apparent to the artist that the song would be a "natural" for them to cut.

Do I need a manager?
Managers become necessary once you've got a record deal and you need an advocate to represent your interests at the different departments of a record company. They help to coordinate efforts and get maximum results at radio, retail, and publicity. Many labels will want an artist to have a high-powered manager before a record is released and will often recommend top managers. Managers can also help in shopping you for a record deal, but only if they have the connections to get your music to the right people. It's not impossible, but friends, family members, or acquaintances with no music industry experience usually aren't going to be able to get through locked industry doors, and will probably be in over their heads even if they can get through. Good managers help the artist assemble a competent team of professionals to handle various aspects of the artist's career, including an attorney, a business manager (for financial affairs), a booking agent (for live performances), a merchandising company (for t-shirt sales, etc.) and more. Experience counts for a lot when it comes to choosing a manager.

At what point should I get a manager?
Most of the manager's duties and responsibilities come into play once an artist is generating income - especially through a record company association, but also for active local and regional artists who are touring and selling product on their own. Therefore, many people think it isn't really necessary to have a manager until there is an income-producing career to 'manage'. One exception is the manager who can help you obtain a record deal. The right manager for this task can be hard to find, and must be carefully chosen. You don't want to get tied up in complicated legal contracts with inexperienced managers who will need to be replaced once a record deal comes along.

What are some key points in a management contract?
Most managers will take between 10% and 20% of an artist's gross income - including record royalties, publishing income, and touring and merchandising income. There will sometimes be a "sunset clause" i.e. a declining scale of payments due to the manager over a few years should you decide to fire or part ways with him (or her).
These are negotiable points, and many nuances and technicalities are involved. You should always have an experienced music business attorney (not your uncle Bob, the divorce attorney) review any management contract.

How do I get paid when other people record my songs?
Contrary to popular belief, songs are not "sold" to the artists that record them. In fact, artists who record "outside" songs, pay nothing for the privilege – until records are sold. Songwriters earn money in two ways: a) When records are sold and b) when their songs are played on radio, TV and other public areas (restaurants, concerts, etc).

How do I get paid from record sales?
Payments from record sales are called mechanical royalties and are paid by the record company to the publisher of the song through the Harry Fox Agency. The royalty rate is set by congress (the "statutory rate") and is at this writing set at 8 cents per song. Therefore if you had one song that was written and published solely by you on a million selling album, you would earn $80,000 in mechanical royalties.

How do I get paid from radio airplay?
Performance royalties are collected from radio and TV broadcasters, etc. by the Performing rights organizations ASCAP, BMI, or SESAC in the United States (each country has its own P.R.O.). The P.R.O.s distribute these payments to their member songwriters and publishers based on formulas that calculate how many people have been exposed to the song. A number one pop single might earn as much as a million dollars in performance royalties in its biggest year.

How do I get paid from film and TV usages?
That varies widely depending on the kind of show or film using your music. Money is earned in two ways: the licensing fee, paid up front to the writer/artist, and the performance royalty, which is distributed to the writer by a performing rights organization ( ASCAP, BMI, or SESAC in the U.S.). The license fee is determined by the overall music budget a music supervisor has to work with, and the negotiating power of the artist. Unknown artists get far less license money than superstars, for example. TV shows and small films pay less than major studio feature films. A prime-time network TV show might pay a license of $500 - $5000 for an unknown artist - same for the smaller films. Major studio pictures pay well-known artists in the tens of thousands of dollars. Performance income is determined by the number of people estimated to have seen the show and therefore heard the music. The more popular the show - the more money you make on performance royalties. A network TV usage might pay in the $1000 - $2000 range for one broadcast. You make new royalties every time the show is re-run, which is particularly good news if you've got music on a show that goes into syndication and airs frequently in markets around the world. Cable broadcasts generally pay less than broadcast networks (less viewers). No performance royalties are generated on theatrical showings of films in the U.S.A. (though they are paid in other countries), but when the film is aired on TV, you would make your performance money. You may also make money when videos or DVDs are sold, depending on the nature of your original license agreement.