Keeping Records And Files For Musicians

Keeping Records And Files For MusiciansI've mentioned a few times on this site about how you need to treat your music career like a business. I've mentioned some things that this involves, and I'm sure you also have your own ideas about what this entails.

One thing I definitely do mean by this saying, is that you need to keep on top of your paperwork!

I can hear some of you groaning already. You're in it for the music, so you shouldn't have to bother with any writing other then creating lyrics, right? Well, unfortunately, this isn't the case.

Why do you need to keep records and files? Simply put, to make things more manageable for yourself. It can be hard keeping track of what you have to do, all your contacts and how much money you're making. Writing it all down in a computer file can make your life a lot easier (OpenOffice for PC and LibreOffice for Mac are free software which allow you to make files), and helps you keep on top of things a lot more effectively. It can also help when it comes to filling out your taxes (yes I do recommend you do this; you are running your own business now, after all), so you'll definitely want to take care of at least this part of things.

While you certainly don't need to be taking down books worth of notes or spending a huge amount of your efforts in this area, there are some times where you will need to keep records and note things down. These times include:

  • A To Do List.
    Keeping track of what you should be doing on a daily basis is one of the most important things you should be doing. It's easy to forget tasks at times, even if they need doing. A diary will allow you to note down what needs to be done each day, and will mean that things won't slip your mind as easily.
    I personally prefer to note what I need to do in a physical note book rather then on a computer. This is because I can make a note of things even when my computer isn't on, and can easily see what I need to do at any point during the day. I also use my phone to make notes when I'm out, so I can transfer them to my note pad later on.
    How you decide to manage your to do list is up to you, but I strongly recommend you create one ASAP.
  • Any Expenses You Incur.
    Another vitally important thing you need to keep track of are any expenses you incur. There are three main reasons for this:
    One, you want to see how your music career is progressing. If over the first three months you have made a loss, the second three months you make a loss, but the third three months you've made a profit, you can see what you're doing that is bringing you in the right direction. Only when you take down your expenses as well as a record of any money you make, can you get a picture of how your music career is doing in terms of finance.
    Secondly, these figures are important for when you pay taxes. If you want to be a professional musician, you will have to sign yourself up as your own business. You will need these figures when sorting out how much tax you have to pay (if any – you won't have to if you're not making money), so make sure you keep track of them properly. I'll talk a bit more about paying taxes in the chapter “Paying Your Taxes and Making Things Official.”
    Lastly, it's also good for seeing where all your money is going. By looking at your expenses, you can see if you're spending too much in certain areas, or if you have more money to spend on other things.
    Don't be afraid to invest in your music career, but don't just throw money at it and hope that means you will make more money in return. It doesn't always work like that, so spend wisely.
  • Any Money You Make.
    As well as making a note of any expenses you rack up, you will also want to make a note of any money you make. This for the same reason as above; so you can see how well you're doing financially as time goes on (when you make your first genuine $1 from music, it's a very motivating feeling), and also for tax purposes.
    Along with the above expenses data, you can store these numbers in one of two ways. You can either keep them all in a spreadsheet file, or you can create individual word processing files for each expense and income. Either way, make sure you keep these files safe, as well as any physical receipts and documents you get along the way.
  • Contact Details of Your Links and Resources. Also, Any Other Relevant Information.
    Another thing you need to keep records of are the links and resources you gain along the way. There is a number of things that could fall under this category, such as record stations, media outlets, recording studios, graphic designers, event organizers, marketing people, possible collaborators, and anyone else that can benefit your music career in any way.
    These are the people and places you will be using to do everything you can't do by yourself. For example, if you can't design, you will need to know someone who can. Chances are you will need to contact them for more then one thing over the span of your music career, so it's important you keep that person's contact details safe. Similarly, unless you have a professional recording studio in your house, you will need the contact details of somewhere to record your songs too.
    You will need to contact these people at various points in your career, so even if you don't plan on talking to them every week, keep their contact details safe.
    As well as taking down their contact details, you may also want to make any additional notes on them such as how much their services costs, who in the company you specifically want to work with, when is the best time to meet this person or use this service, and anything else that is relevant.
  • Where You've Sent Material Off To.
    Having the contact details of possible links and resources will be useless if you never get in contact with them. While some of these communications you make won't need to be documented, some of them will be. Let say for example you contact a community radio station, and it turns out you need to send them a demo of your music to potentially get played. As well as sending this off to them, you should also make a note of a few things.
    First of all, you will want to keep a record of the cover letter you sent to them. This is because you want to remember what your deal with them was, so you don't confuse it with a different one with someone else later on.
    Secondly, you will want to make a note of when you sent your demo, and how you did so. If you make a note of the date, you will have a rough idea of when it should reach them by, and if needed you can contact them in future to see if they got it. You will want to note how you sent it to them, so you can let them know that in case they need to chase it down.
    These kinds of notes just make your music career that much easier to manage. Because you already have your cover letter written up from when you sent it to them, making a note of these additional things will take a matter of seconds to do.
  • Your Music Business Aims and Objectives.
    When it comes to goal setting in your music career (which we looked at more in the “Setting S.M.A.R.T. Goals for Your Music Career” section of this book), it's important that you keep a note of these goals. While it can be helpful simply just thinking of a target in the first place, it becomes a lot easier to visualize where you want to be if your goal is written down and in a place you can regularly see.
    By creating a sheet with your goals on it and sticking it on your wall, it becomes easier to remember what you're aiming for. If you don't portray your goals like this, they can change in your mind as time goes on, and it'll become easier to lose track of your final target. So make a note of what it is you want to achieve and do in your career, and refer back to it when you need a reminder of the direction you want to head in.
  • Fan Contact Details.
    Your fans' contact details are some of the most important bits of information you will be receiving. People these days don't give up their contact details easily, so if they do, they must really see potential in what you're offering.
    You will usually be getting people's contact details via them signing up to your mailing list in exchange for some of your songs (we look more at how to do this and why in the IMA Music Business Academy). You can also collect them in person at events and via any other means you want.
    If people sign up to your mailing list and you're using a email marketing service such as Aweber, you will automatically have their details saved within your account. You should back up your fans' contact details to your computer every two weeks to a month, just in case anything unexpected happens to Aweber or other email marketing service you're using.
    If you manually take down the contact details of your fans, you should store these details in either a text or spreadsheet file. You should record their name and contact details, as well as any other relevant info. Do they like a certain type of your music? Did you meet them at a specific type of event? Is there anything else you know about them that will help you put forward a better offer to them in future?
    Once you have these people's contact details, you can contact them in future as you see fit. Email marketing to fans is one of the better ways to keep in contact with them, so give it a try.

When you think about it, all of this won't take you much time at all. It may seem like a long list and a lot to do, but bear in mind you won't have to do all of these things every day, so it'll really only take up a very small amount of your time.

All of these things will make any future inquiries you or other people have a lot easier to keep track of, and ensure you're doing what you're supposed to be doing. While you can probably get away with not record keeping when you aren't dealing with many people and aren't making any money, this will become close to impossible as your music career starts to take off. It's because of this, that I suggest you get into the habit while there's still not much to be done. This will mean you'll easily be able to manage it once business starts to pick up.

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Creating Manageable Folders

Not only is it important to keep a record of things, but it's also important to make sure your records are well organized and easy to find. To achieve this, you need to create different folders on your computer for each of these things you need to take notes on. For example, in your “Documents” folder, you may want to create a new folder called “Music Career.” As the name suggests, you can put everything to do with your music career in here. This will make everything more easily findable, as you know if you want to find anything to do with your music career, it's going to be here.

Inside that folder, you should break down things further. You could create a folder called “Audio, ” which you could further break down into “Finished Tracks, ” “Unfinished Tracks, ” “Instrumentals” etc. Alternatively, you could create a new folder for each project you do, and inside have an “Audio, ” “Artwork, ” “Paper Work,” and any other necessary folders you need. This is the way I personally recommend you try, but you essentially need to do whatever is most comfortable for you.

Now, I want to talk a bit more about creating a “Paper Work” folder. This is a folder I suggest you create, and should be your home for any paper work you need to do that wouldn't be more suited to another folder. You can either create this folder within each individual project folder, or you can have one master Paper Work folder for all the paper work in your music career. If you have multiple projects or are planning to create multiple singles, mixtapes and albums in the future, your best bet is to go with the first option. This will make things a lot more manageable and easy to find in the long run.

In that folder, you can create the folders “Fans' Contact Details, ” “Useful Links” (which you can break down further into “Record Labels, ” “Graphic Designers, ” “Promoters” etc. if you wish), “Letters Sent, ” “Venues Need To Contact, ” “Musical Resume,” and the like. Basically, these are folders you personally need to keep your records separate and easily locatable.

You can either use these folder ideas that I have given, or you can work them into a system that works better for you. As long as you understand your system and where everything is, that's the main thing.

Some people prefer to put everything from one project into one folder. For example if you are working on your first release, you can put all the audio, paper work, and everything else related to that in smaller folders inside that one.

Creating folders on your computer is pretty much a one time task, and you can easily add more folders if needed at a later date. It will make your record keeping a lot easier, so make sure you sort this out.

Record Keeping Example 1

OK, so I couldn't talk about record keeping without giving an example.

Let's say you're browsing online, and you come across the website for a place that's looking for live acts to perform at their venue. If you don't already have a relevant file, you can create one called “Potential Shows. ” You can put that file in the folder “Venues Need To Contact” I mentioned above, or in any other folder you create that you think will be appropriate.

You should then draw up something like the following:

Venue Name:


Person To Contact:

Phone Numbers:

Additional Notes:
(E.G. What to quote when contacting them, when you need to contact them by, what kind of music they play, etc. Anything else you feel is relevant).

You can use above example if you like as a template for this file. You can then copy and paste it as many times as you need, and fill in the gaps each time you need to add another venue.

A good idea is to also highlight each one depending on what stage you're at. So for example, if you've contacted them but nothing's come out of it, highlight the venue in red and note down why you didn't have any luck. Is it a temporary problem which will mean you could still potentially perform there in future? If so, maybe highlight it in light red.

If you've contacted them and you're awaiting a response, highlight the venue in yellow. If you've heard from them and you've managed to get a show, highlight the venue in bright green. This is a contact you now have a relationship with, and you can hopefully use again in future. You should also go on to make a new file detailing how this relationship goes with this company, and note anything of interest which can help you get more shows with them again in the future.

Record Keeping Example 2

Another example is if you meet a potential collaborator when you are at a gig. You have managed to get their contact details, and you decide to talk about doing a song together. When you get home and have access to your files (or you can do it when out and about if you do your initial filing on your mobile phone), you simply open up your “Collaborations” file, create a new bullet point, and put this person's details down. It can be as quick as:

  • Date:
    Met At:
    Additional Notes: (E.G. He's a good singer, arrange to collaborate with him on that idea I have).

See how simple that was? You can even have the Date, Name, Met At and Additional Notes sections written down beforehand so you just have to fill in the blanks with each new entry.

Doing paper work doesn't have to be a long process. From when you create the initial templates (which doesn't take that long and can be done only when you need to use them) it's simply a case of filling in the gaps. That said, the information you record will be worth a lot more if it allows you to keep track of everything and manage your music career more easily.

P.S. Remember though, none of what you've learned will matter if you don't know how to get your music out there and earn from it. Want to learn how to do that? Then get our free ‘5 Steps To Profitable Youtube Music Career' ebook emailed directly to you!

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One Comment

  1. If any of you are thinking

    “I’m only a small-time solo musician. – Nobody will be interested in looking at my accounts. – I needn’t bother with all this.”

    think again: I’m only a not-yet-all-that-famous indie solo artist in her fourth year as a professional musician. Last month; March 2015, I got a letter from the UK Inland Revenue asking me to disclose all income & expenditure over the year. – Wow was I glad I’d kept records.

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