When it comes to creating and performing, musicians often take a perfectionist approach to their work. From the second we pick up our instruments, we’re taught that there’s the right way of doing things and endless possibilities for getting things wrong. This all or nothing philosophy can bleed into the ways we measure value, success, and contentment in our careers. This can cause damage to our creativity and ourselves. It’s natural to hate errors like placing a capo on the wrong fret during a live set or forgetting the lyrics during recording. But I’d argue there are much bigger mistakes musicians should be worrying about.
We often associate the idea of being stretched too thin with boring day jobs and parenting. Yet, it’s absolutely something that can do damage to our music careers. An immense amount of work needs to happen to lead a thriving music career. If that work gets in the way of your happiness, it’s not sustainable. Most of us need close relationships and emotional stability to feel healthy and productive. An unhealthy music career can threaten our well being if we’re not careful. To stave off burnout, you must realize that a sustainable, thriving music career has to be balanced with other important parts of your life. In the same way that short breaks help long-distance runners achieve their goals, taking time to focus on the non-musical parts of your life will be a big help when it comes to maintaining your creative focus and energy.
Why are so many musicians saddled with debt? We can give some credit to the fact that fans pay far less to enjoy music than they used to. However, there are other factors at work that we should pay attention to. There’s no getting around the truth that music pays many serious musicians very little. This means it takes a huge financial investment to tour and buy instruments. When our musical pursuits aren’t financially sustainable, we hurt both personal lives and our ability to create and perform. You might want to sacrifice everything for a new record or international tour. But what happens if you don’t make money? Yes, we need big dreams and tenacity to thrive in music. Yet, we also need to work in ways that allow us to make music over the long-term.
This is an issue that plagues countless musicians. Whether it’s imitating another artist’s work or feeling afraid to try anything new or risky, giving in to safety and predictability is one of the worst things you can do in music. If you have a lot riding on your career or are in constant fear of failure, your creative process could suffer from a lack of imagination and curiosity. Getting back to the fun and freedom making music initially gave you is the best way to combat creative stagnation. Let go of the expectations of success and productivity for a while. Focus on having fun and expressing yourself in a genuine way.
With constant reminders of how well our music is performing digitally, it can be hard not to focus more on being superficially successful than creatively fulfilled. However, giving more energy and attention to the numbers behind your music than your songwriting routine and career goals is a bad situation to be in. It’s natural to want your music to be heard. Indicators like streaming counts can show us we’re on the right track. But, like everything else in your career, you’ll need to find a balance between checking in on the performance of your music from time to time and focusing on what’s most important in your career.
Mistakes are inevitable in music, whether they are on stage or elsewhere in our careers. How we recognize them and move forward is what matters most. If you want music to be your career and livelihood or even just a regular fixture in your life, being able to cope with shortcomings and self-induced problems is essential. To do this, we need patience, resilience, and a plan for our music.
Patrick McGuire is a writer, musician, and human man. He lives nowhere in particular, creates music under the name Straight White Teeth, and has a great affinity for dogs and putting his hands in his pockets.
By Cheryl B. Engelhardt April 27, 2020
There is nothing like working from home. I’ve done it for over a decade. It requires discipline, a routine, and getting out of my pajamas (most of the time).
Working from home provides me so much freedom and peace as I create my days however I want. Of course, there is the stress of having to generate every single penny, connection, and gig on your own. But for me, the benefits far outweigh the stressors.
But working from home when the rest of the world is too? It’s a different beast.
It’s tempting to fall into the Netflix binging zone, knowing that most people are also just… waiting.
Here’s what I think: I think the majority of the world is going to get bored really soon, and that they are going to turn to art. Not just movies, but books, music, podcasts, and visual arts.
Creative people have a huge opportunity to serve. To come out on top. To shift the habits of how we work at our careers.
To successfully move forward, I suggest a structure like the one laid out in this article. I also suggest a community. I host an online mastermind for musicians, open to anyone. Normally it’s monthly, but for now, we will meet every weekday.
We succeed only if we can create structures that support us in moving forward and not lie in wait like the rest of the world.
Here is the guide I use during holidays and down times to keep myself moving and to bring some things that get pushed to the back burner to front-of-mind. I like to keep weekends free for complete relaxation, reading, and movies. If I know that a weekend of nothing is in my future, it’s much easier to move through these five days and truly Crank with a capital C.
Clearing can mean a lot of things. It can mean ditching a toxic relationship to make room for a healthy one. It can mean clearing off your desk of old papers. It can mean emptying your inbox, doing laundry, or making space on your phone for new photos.
Essentially, clearing is the process of removing something to make room for something else. (Note that day 2 is “Create” – we cannot create something new if there is no room for it.)
Think about your physical space and your digital space as places to start clearing. Here are a few ideas to get going. *Pro Tip: Schedule two blocks of 2 hours in your day to tackle the two biggest tasks that have been looming. Don’t try to do them all! You’ll always have next Monday!*
Get dolled up. Make some videos. Finish that song that you’ve been dying to finish. The first week you do this, just create the stuff that’s been on your mind. Finish that pet portrait you started. Write the poem that creeped into your head.
The second week you do this, start to be mindful of the milestones you’d like to reach in your career and create content that will support those goals. For example, if you want to increase your Spotify followers, consider creating a Spotify audio ad.
Here are just a few other ideas for content you could create:
This one is simple: collect contacts and collect knowledge. Essentially, use today as research.
Research the emails of people you may want to pitch the future. Use this spread sheet, hosted in Airtable (it’s like excel on pretty steroids) to start getting organized with contacts for venues, licensing agents, blogs, press, playlists and more.
How many online courses or books have you purchased to improve a skill, whether email marketing, playing the guitar, or running Instagram ads? If you have, go dig up your username and login info and finish that program.
If you haven’t recently taken on learning something new for yourself, now is the perfect time to invest in yourself and gain a skill that can increase your bottom line! (I strongly suggest becoming a master at your email list – growing it, connecting with subscribers, and monetizing it. If your’e doing email correctly, you’ll know: you’l be making $1-2 per subscriber per month. Not you? Then check out this free training on how to master your email list. If you’re already great at email marketing, learn how to powerfully pitch anything to anyone and get a yes! Try this quick course: inthekey.co/perfectpitch)
Today is simple- we ask for the things!
Send your pitches to the people you researched yesterday. Implementing the pitching course (inthekey.co/pitch) will have you ready to rock and roll those pitches.
You can also send an email to your fan list- let them know how they can support you. Be clear and make sure they have all the information they need to support you. (Asking them to stream your music on spotify? Give them a direct link and share a screen shot of what they need to click to follow you!)
Additionally during the Campaign day, you can create some ads through Facebook or found.ee (my favorite non-facebook ad platform) as well as show.co to promote your music, social sites, or any products you have. If you used the Create day to make some videos for your ads, you’ll be all set.
(I loved my friend Ari Herstand’s program on ads for Spotify and Instagram growth: www.inthekey.co/iggrowth. He walks you through how to make videos that convert on instagram stories.)
It’s definitely important to connect with people throughout the week, but let’s be really intentional about this today.
Reach out, personally, to your superfans, past clients, people who continue to hire you, and of course, friends and family.
I like to do this on Friday so that I can have the weekend to rejuvenate and reboot without worrying about who I need to call or shift my energy for.
You can also be thinking about scheduling your social media posts that you created or collected for next week. I like to schedule out my posts on buffer.com. All week long, I save links to great articles and cool content, and come Friday, I schedule one post a day to my social sites for the next 7 days.
This is the time for self care. For dropping the ball. For catching up so you can start Monday again.
I hope this helps create some structure for your weeks in social distancing times. And maybe in times when you just want to Crank, with a capital C.
Musicians and the entire music industry are scrambling to understand the wild wild west of live streaming. As each finds their own path forward, it’s important that they include all of the key players that drive live music.
From day one of this pandemic, I, like many artist managers out there, have been working almost nonstop to navigate around the changes and uncertainty that lie ahead for our artists. The roller coaster ride that has been the last few months was stressful, to say the least. And while all this uncertainty leads to stress, anxiety, and maybe even depression, our job is to push through to find solutions not only for our artists but also for ourselves.
On the one hand, it can feel almost like doomsday. On the other, I think we can agree that we’re lucky in that our access to technology, and most importantly, to the fans, is unprecedented within our industry. I’m a firm believer that the music industry is resilient. It’ll change and morph and evolve. We’re seeing it happen as we speak. Numerous artists are resorting to live streaming and connecting with fans on platforms they’ve never used before (e.g. Twitch, TikTok, StageIt, NoonChorus, etc.). Some artists, like my client, Fox Stevenson, have seen growth in streaming due to an increase in engagement online.
Even though we’re finding ways for artists to keep moving forward and maintain their careers, the live industry is left behind. We’re seeing reputable venues shutting down (Great Scott in Boston for example). The main revenue stream for our agency partners has all but diminished.
The other day one of my client’s agents emailed me asking my thoughts on how agents can play a role in the live streaming world. It was a great question and something that we all need to really talk about.
An agent’s main role is to work with promoters, venues, and festivals to book gigs. For their work, they receive a commission based on the artist’s pay. So if the only shows that are happening are live streams, what does that mean for them? If an artist can put on their own live stream concert, where can an agent or even a promoter fit into this equation?
Absolutely. Fox Stevenson streams regularly on Twitch and receives direct contributions from fans. (The highest single donation he received was $3,000 USD from a fan!). Another client, TORRES, streamed live on Instagram and promoted her PayPal, Venmo, and Patreon accounts.
Fans are spending money on their favorite artists. They’re buying merch, subscribing to Patreon, and tuning into these streams.
We’re also seeing artists doing ticketed live streams. NoonChorus, for example, makes contributing to artists seamless. Not only can you buy a ticket, but links to the artist’s PayPal, Venmo, and any additional links are right on the streaming page.
Live streaming is an opportunity to not only create a revenue stream, but to offer: VIP ticket packages to a limited number of fans where they can request songs or ask questions, limited edition merch, listening parties, and more.
The fact of the matter is that live streaming, whether it’s a house show or Q&A with fans, is one of the best ways artists can stay engaged with their fanbase.
I never considered myself a fan of Twenty One Pilots. Then I saw them at SXSW in 2012 and my mind was blown. I decided to see them again that week, and saw them 3 more times in NYC. Live concerts have always been a great way to gain new fans. Perform at a festival to an audience of thousands of people who have never seen you play. Open for a band that has listeners you want to reach. Join a friend at a local venue to see an artist you’ve never heard of before. Now you’re a fan.
Concerts have this innate way of creating a special fan experience and is easily one of the best ways to convert someone into a fan.
I’m curious to know what other artist teams are seeing, but it seems that for most streamed shows, artists are reaching audiences that are already following them.
The Internet is oversaturated with almost every single artist doing a live stream. There’s a lot of competition. Some artists are limited as far as sound quality is concerned when it comes to a live stream. Moreover, unless you live together, bands are separated due to social distancing and are unable to perform together.
Fortunately, there are ways artists can make new fans right now. You can “open” for another artist and then stick around the chatroom to engage with the fans as you watch the “headliner” performer. You can do a live Q&A with each other or with a different member of your band where fans can also take part in the conversation. An artist can also make a surprise appearance on someone else’s stream, which is always a great way to get fans excited and curious.
Beyond these ideas, in order for artists to reach new listeners, we need to come together and collaborate not just within the industry, but also beyond.
That being said, I’ve put together some ideas that agents can start exploring in order to find revenue streams not only for their artists, but for themselves. While it’s easy to cut out the middle person by artists organizing live streams themselves, it should not deter an agent from seeking out other opportunities that will otherwise be missed by artist teams. That is essentially what they bring to the table when helping book live shows.
Trivecta recently performed for an event called Dreamworld, that reached 5mil+ viewers over 3 days. The fundraising event raised $45k for charity. Trivecta alone reached 7k+ people with his performance.
Although this was an unpaid event, the potential for him to reach an audience beyond his current following is invaluable. Since the pandemic, he’s participated in 3 virtual festivals. These performances plus his efforts to engage with fans have resulted in a steady growth of new fans across his social media platforms.
We’ll continue to see more and more virtual festivals curated by large and small entities as the summer progresses.
This is something I haven’t seen as often as I’d expect, especially considering how festivals are turning to online streaming and seeing success with it.
I could see a brand taking more of a promoter approach in a lot of ways. Whether a brand or a promoter, I’d like to see what else they can bring to the table in terms of ensuring it’s a high quality stream. We’re mostly seeing people in their homes, but I think what we’re lacking is a makeshift stage with good lighting or some other efforts in terms of production. Or even adding visual effects in the background and multiple camera angles.
TORRES recently did a live stream on NoonChorus and with the help of her girlfriend and videographer friend, was able to create some DIY stage designs (mood lighting with candles and black lights) as well as costume changes. The result was a unique streaming experience that the fans enjoyed.
On a different level, we’re seeing charities and organizations hold events by curating a list of artists to perform. We’re also seeing entities such as Amazon Music partnering with artists to curate events and broadcast them on the company’s Twitch.
I’d love to see smaller companies, those with niche markets and a strong online presence, to consider partnering with musicians whether to put on their own version of an online event or to help promote their products by offering affiliate links or discounts that financially incentivizes artists. Not only does the company tap into these artists’ fan bases, but the artists are also exposed to an audience beyond their current fans.
First, why should an artist give up any of their ticket sales when they can cut the middle person out of the equation and self-promote?
It comes down to what new fans promoters or outside opportunities can bring to the table (whether that’s partnering with a venue or a brand that can expand exposure).
How do we connect this with the agency world in a way that all parties benefit? And how do we connect with promoters to maximize reach & sales in specific markets? (This was one of the questions I received in speaking to a client’s agent.)
When working on a local level, it makes sense to work with a promoter/venue if there’s an upcoming date with the artist on the books or if you know there will be one eventually (suffice it to say, who knows when live shows are making a comeback). That way you can use the live stream to also promote the concert.
If you’re working with multiple promoters to push one ticketed live stream, use affiliate links or promo codes to track sales. That way, an artist can justify giving a split of the profits with the promoter. And the artist can take advantage of the resources the promoter brings to the table.
With all these ideas in mind (and I’m sure there are plenty more this article doesn’t cover), an agent will have to evolve their role more to continue adding value to an artist’s career.
Agents can use these various ideas, mold them how they see will fit into an artist’s overall strategy, and find opportunities beyond what the artist or their team can bring to the table. They can actively seek out brand partnerships. They can help leverage their relationship with promoters to maximize exposure and sales for ticketed events.
Regardless, agencies and the live industry are vital facets to the music world. Let’s find ways to make sure they aren’t left behind.
If you record music at home, you’re used to dealing with a less than perfect recording space. But that doesn’t mean you can’t create incredible music.
In this article, I’m going to show you three mic hacks that’ll improve your recordings and make your home studio sound better than ever!
If you’ve recorded vocals before, you know how important it is to use a pop filter. They keep large gusts of air from smacking the mic capsule and creating loud bassy booms or shrill S sounds.
But what happens if your pop filter isn’t cutting it? Or maybe you don’t have one? (Don’t worry, I won’t judge).
Here’s another technique you can use to help avoid plosives and sibilance. Simply tilt your mic back a bit. It doesn’t have to be much either. Experiment with different angles until you land on the perfect spot.
When you tilt your mic back from a vocalist, the air travels across the mic capsule instead of directly into it. This will cut down on those harsh sounds and result in a much more professional vocal recording.
Unlike professional recording studios, home studios have to battle with a ton of sounds from windows facing outside, computer noises, household noises, air conditioning, the list goes on!
It can seem like an impossible task to avoid all of these sounds, but your microphone can help!
If you’re using a cardioid microphone, your mic has a bit of a blind spot, or in this case, a deaf spot.
The backside of a cardioid microphone picks up almost no sound. You can use this to your advantage! Point the back of your mic at the offending sound.
Your mic will naturally ignore most of what’s behind it, resulting in a much cleaner recording with fewer chances of noise ruining the take.
Pay attention to the sounds you want to avoid and experiment with your mics to find the best set up to avoid unwanted noises.
The difference can be huge!
This last tip can be used for any sound source but works best on instruments and percussion.
Rooms with square corners (90 degrees) create a lot of issues. Bass frequencies build up in them, oftentimes skewing the sound.
This can wreck the sound of your instrument or throw off the balance of your mix. With that said, you can use it to your advantage.
Sometimes you’ll mic up an instrument and no matter what mic position you choose or how many adjustments you make, it just sounds thin and lifeless.
If this happens to you, try moving the instrument to the corner of your room!
The bass that builds up in the corner of your room can add depth and warmth.
I can remember a time when I needed to record a violin. No matter what I did, it sounded so shrill and weak.
When I moved the player into the corner, the violin suddenly sounded full and warm.
This tip won’t work for everything but is a great tool to keep in the back of your head when you need it.
Next time you run into problems with your recording, try fixing it with your mic placement.
Home recording comes with its fair share of challenges, but leveraging what you have and making the most of it is one of the most rewarding and fun parts of creating music at home.