For many artists, playing in a band and then moving into a solo project is a natural progression.
There are pros and cons to both. Managing all of the personalities and egos in a band is a challenge. Trying to organize an entire creative project by yourself is also a challenge.
Sometimes, a solo project is just the thing to do. In this guide, I want to take you through the process of starting a solo project – especially after you’ve been involved with a band for a while.
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Should You Have A Solo Music Project?
Not everyone’s creativity is best suited for solo pursuits.
Just because you have found yourself without a band doesn’t necessarily mean you should jump right into a solo project. How do you know if a solo project is right for you?
Do You Have Songs & Ideas That You Want/Need Full Creative Control Over?
The beautiful and challenging part about being a solo artist is the ability to claim complete creative control over every part of your artistry.
You should already have songs and ideas that you have fleshed out and feel excited about.
Bringing these songs and ideas to fruition is your job as a solo artist, and you get to decide how much creative control you want, and how much creative control you want to give up.
Some solo artists love to collaborate, others prefer to kick it completely solo. Some artists produce all their own songs, play all their own instruments, record things mostly themselves, even make their own album art.
You need to start thinking about what areas you want control over and what areas you want to collaborate on.
Can You Handle The Creative & Administrative Workload?
In most bands, the workload is split between a few different members. Some members are more administratively inclined, others spend more time working on the creative aspects of their project. Sometimes, these two things overlap.
Know that when you’re embarking on a solo career, it’s all on you.
Nobody cares more about your career, project, and music than you, and nobody ever will. You need to be able to handle balancing the necessary administrative evils with the joy of creating your solo work.
Lay The Groundwork
If you have the songs, the drive, and the ability to make a project happen, then you’re ready to start a solo project.
Laying the groundwork for a solo project is similar to laying groundwork for any project. There’s no right or wrong way to do things, but here is a rough outline I would follow.
Prepare Content In The Background
Before even announcing anything, start preparing content. Have finished songs ready to go, get some pictures done, create some videos (live or otherwise), etc.
This way, once you announce your debut, you can come out of the gate swinging.
Announce Your Project
At some point, you’ll need to let it be known that you are launching a solo project.
Don’t overthink this. People probably won’t be overly surprised.
Let people know what you’re doing, maybe give them an idea of what to expect, and then start planning.
Consider pairing the announcement with a musical release. Release a song, or a video.
Maybe put on a local show, or try to get on a few good local bills as an opener.
Figure Out Which Musicians You're Going To Hire (If Any)
How are you going to present your live show?
One of the hardest parts about being solo is hiring musicians.
It costs a lot, and you’re placing a lot of trust in other people to present your songs the way you want them presented.
Your project probably won’t be their first priority either – so you’ll end up having to hire substitutes and sometimes playing gigs without key members. Annoying!
You need to consider how you want to present your show. Are you comfortable performing solo? Do you need other members?
Consider talking to your hired members about their level of commitment.
Don't Sit On Your Music For Too Long
Getting a new project off the ground takes a lot of time, effort, and patience.
Don’t let your music sit and get stale. At some point, you just need to put it out and start working.
Decide what you want to put out into the world, make a plan, and get after it.
Start Performing… A Lot
You’ll notice right away that playing in a solo project is a different ball game. People are playing parts that you wrote, you’re singing songs that are all yours – and the onus is primarily on you to deliver an excellent stage show.
One of the biggest realizations for me was that 80% of the band’s energy on stage came from how I was delivering the songs.
If I am 100% invested and present in what I’m playing, active on stage, delivering my best, I can get the rest of the band to follow my energy.
If I’m nervous, self-conscious, or irritable, that destroys the mood on stage.
The best way to get over this is to play, a lot.
You need to get good at leading the project – whether you’re solo or with a band behind you.
Play out. Play locally, play around state/area, head out on tour – do whatever you have to do to improve your performances.
Be Patient & Release Great Content
You need to have patience with your project and with yourself.
Managing a solo project is a ton of work. You need to have patience with yourself when you get burnt out. When you can’t write anything. When you screw up onstage.
It happens. Let it happen.
The most important thing you can do is continue creating, finishing your creations, and putting them out into the world.
Advice To Make Your Solo Music Career Easier
I’ve been a hired side musician for a well-known solo artist, I’ve been in a band touring full-time, and I’m now splitting my time between playing with my solo project and touring as a side musician.
All of these experiences have led to positive learning moments that I’ve taken and applied to my life.
Here are a few pieces of advice I would like to share.
Treat Your Session Musicians With Respect
Sometimes, you’ll have musicians floating in and out of your project. This is normal though it can be frustrating.
Always, always treat these people with respect.
They are lending their years of work and practice to your project, and that is a special thing. Recognize their hard work and talent, and respect that.
That means being upfront about money, always.
Paying on time, or explaining why you can’t pay on time.
It means being considerate of other people’s busy schedules. Planning efficient rehearsals and staying organized.
Thanking your musicians publicly and privately.
Doing this will make it more likely that these musicians will play for you again, care about the gig, and put care into hiring subs.
Word gets around quickly among side musicians when an artist treats their hired guns poorly.
You Don't Need To Do Anything You Don't Want To Do
In bands, you must compromise. In a solo project, you do not.
If you don’t want to do a gig, don’t do it. If you don’t want to post on social media, don’t. If you want to take a break, do it.
It’s your project, it’s your art, it’s your life. Do whatever feeds your soul and keeps you inspired.
Take Care Of The Music & The Music Will Take Care Of You
Always put your music first.
Before your image, before your business, before your shows, before the money, comes the music.
Nobody will ever care about your artistry if there is no music to care about.
Have Fun As A Solo Artist!
Having a solo project can be totally overwhelming and intimidating, but my god – the freedom can be exhilarating too.
Do whatever you want, all the time! Make the songs! Design the shirts! Live it up!
Music is fun, art is important, just do a good job and enjoy it.