Sure, you’re an indie artist now, but what about in five years? 10 years? Will you still be completely independent? At some point you’ll (hopefully) have too much on your plate do it all yourself.
Generally speaking, your team will be built slowly over the course of many months/years. Indie artists spend a great deal of time trying to get the attention of industry professionals who will give their career a boost, but who should you be targeting first? Who will make the biggest difference in your career, right now?
I’ve watched many artists go from independent to fully supported, and this is, anecdotally, a common and logical path to take.
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1. Publicists, Your First Music Team Member
Publicists are often the easiest team members to get on board, because their business model is fee-for-service. That being said, there are definitely good publicists and bad publicists, so you need to keep your head up and make sure you’re spending your money wisely.
It’s good to get a publicist on board early for a couple reasons:
- There’s no pressure if the relationship doesn’t work out. Typically, you’ll hire a publicist for a specific tour, single, album release, etc. So you’re only tied to a contract for a few months, and if it doesn’t work out, no harm no foul!
- The publicity will benefit your career. Good publicity never hurts! Even if you’re not totally happy with the results of your publicity campaign, whatever attention you get is worthwhile. Other people in the industry will see that you’re getting some press and their heads will start to turn your way.
2. Booking Agent: A Logical Next Step For Your Team
A booking agent definitely makes sense for an indie act that has been around the block a few times. If you’re touring a lot or shooting for some big gigs, it can take a lot of time. And the fact is, some venues/festivals won’t even look at you if you’re booking yourself.
Having an agent also provides access to other, bigger acts that you could potentially tour with or share shows with. These opportunities are very hard to come by otherwise, and are hugely beneficial to an indie band’s career.
If you get an agent on a reasonably big agency who really loves your music, that’s great. Hold on to them. Agents are instrumental in developing an artist's career and moving things along.
However, if you get on to an agency that you’re going to outgrow, you can absolutely move up the agency ladder. The “handshake deal” is still very much alive for agents, which means there’s no paperwork and nothing tying you down.
The best way to attract an agent is to build up a following on your own. Eventually someone will want a piece of that pie!
3. Distribution/Label: For All Your Song Release Needs
If you’re looking at releasing an album or EP, it’s probably time to start looking at distributors and labels. There are some key differences between a record label and distribution company, as well as differences between a record deal and a distribution deal.
A distributor will distribute your music all over the world, online (iTunes, Spotify, etc.) and help you organize sales, merch for festivals and tours. You may notice that many labels don’t do their own distribution – many labels are distributed by Universal, or a large independent distributor.
If you’ve released something independently, you’ve probably used a service like Songcast to distribute your release and to get it on iTunes. This totally works, and is absolutely the right thing to do for an independent artist.
However, having a distribution deal means you have real people who actually care about your music working for you. These distribution companies have connections with Spotify, iTunes, etc. and can help you become featured on these sites, which has literally made artists famous.
You can typically reach distributors through their website. The best way to contact them, as always, is through a referral from an industry professional that works with them and likes your act.
Record labels are also an important member of an artist’s team. Whether it’s a major label or a small, boutique label, the resources and support that a label provides can be a huge. Despite many people claiming that artists no longer need labels, the fact is, nearly every major artist in the U.S. is supported by a label.
What you need to do is make sure that the label in question is the right one for you. Often, the biggest reason artists sign their lives away is for the alluring marketing campaigns and tempting advances. Money should not be the only reason you sign. And besides, labels don’t dole out cash like they used to.
I firmly believe that the right label will step into your career when you are ready for them. Obviously you should be inviting A&R out to your shows and doing your best to impress them, but the team members you want are the ones that are dying to work with you.
Management: First Or Last?
Alright, here’s a contentious issue. I’ve talked to many artists who say that having a dedicated, professional manager right from the start has been instrumental in their success. And I see their point – people pay way more attention to you if you have a respected industry member working for you.
But you must keep in mind that great management will work with you and guide your career – they will not do all the work for you. You want someone you can trust and someone who believes in what you're doing. If you're in the midst of making a decision, trust your gut. If the manager or the deal doesn’t seem right, don’t do it.
Personally, I come down on the side that says manage yourself for as long as you can. Make mistakes, learn from them, and make connections organically. Keep your money in your pockets. If a a great manager comes to you, you are in a much stronger position to negotiate and ensure that you’re entering into a mutually beneficial relationship.
I discuss the music management debate more here.
Building A Team Is Hard – Don’t Give Up!
Sometimes building a team can be a bit of a chicken or the egg situation. Agents may not want to sign on until you have a label in place, and vice versa. It can be very frustrating.
As an indie artist, you are already determined, hardworking, and passionate, so keep doing what you’re doing and the right people will fall in love with your music.