As an independent musician, money can often be an issue. To make music, you will need to invest in tools that allow you to do just that. Your money could go on instruments and equipment, studio time, musical education, travel costs, artwork for your first release and more.
A lot of the time, these kinds of expenses are unavoidable. If you're working a day job alongside trying to make your music career work, this can fund the expenses your music rounds up. If you're a student or haven't got much money coming in from anywhere (which is the case for many new musicians as it's a job that's often started in the teenage years), the lack of money can be a serious stumbling block.
That said, it is sometimes possible to take short cuts when it comes to spending money on your music. In this section of the Independent Musician's Survival Guide, I want to look at just that. How can you as an independent musician save money in your career? The following advice should be used in conjunction with actually aiming to earn more from music.
Before I give you some tips though, I want to make one thing very clear. You should NEVER cut any corners in your career if it means you're going to put out an inferior quality product. You don't want to cheapen your brand. Your music is what will make or break you, so saving money by recording cheesy sounding tunes for your fans is a big no-no.
All the methods mentioned here should still give you good results. If they don't, don't use them.
With that said, let's look at some of the best, and worst times to be cheap in your music career.
When It Comes to Getting Artwork for Your Projects.
Artwork is one of the places you can save a fortune if you know the right places to look. For most of your projects you will of course want an attractive and informative cover. Usually most people recommend paying an established designer to make a cover or promotional material, but there are a few other options as well.
One of those options is to look for designers on any music forms you're part of. In the same way there are up and coming musicians that will use these forums, there are most likely a few up and coming designers as well. These designers are interested in your type of music, and they will often do a free cover or two if you approach them right.
If you manage to get a cover from one of these designers, you will both benefit. You will get a free cover made for you, and they will get some work for their portfolio and hopefully some paid work off the back of what they have done for you. They will also get to say they have helped work on a project in their field of interest, which is also a big thing for many people. This is especially true if you go on to get that CD into shops or into the big digital download stores.
So how do you go about getting this free artwork from forum members? Well, the first stage is to sign up to a busy forum in your chosen genre. You can find these forums by Google searching “[your genre] forum. ”
Replace [your genre] with the type of music you make, for example, jazz. Next, you will want to begin getting involved in the forum, posting say 20 posts or replies over a few days. This is to look like you're part of the community, rather then just there to advertise to them. Forum members usually don't take well to this, and you will get a negative response.
Once you have some posts up and have been a part of the community for a little while, post a new topic saying you're running a competition for an up and coming artist to be featured on your new project. Within this topic, you should list to them the benefits of submitting a cover design for consideration: Things like it being released into shops, that they will get a couple of free physical copies, that they'll get a digital download copy, that you'll push their name along with the project so they could potentially get paid work from this, etc. All these things will go over well. Just make sure you can back up any claims you make in the interest of fairness.
By doing this you will hopefully get a good cover design or two. If you don't get any good cover designs out of the bunch, don't be afraid to tell them that no one won. You don't want to settle for a poorly designed cover, so if you don't get one that's usable, continue the search.
One idea is to sign up to multiple forums, and run a competition across them all at once. This will increase your chances of finding someone suitable, and getting that cover that you want. Be sure to let people know that this competition isn't just limited to the members of the forum they use, so you're completely transparent with the competition rules.
If you don't manage to find a free cover you want, you could always go to Odesk and hire someone to make you a good quality one for cheap. On Odesk you can post a job offer for as little as $20 and get some good cover designers giving you designs. You can raise the amount you offer to increase the amount of quality graphic designers who apply for your jobs, but this isn't essential. You will still get some good ones willing to work for that price. This is because they want to get good feedback on their profile, so they will get more higher paid work in future. These good designers won't work at that price for usually past a month or two, so use them at the lower rate while you can.
When It Comes to Recording Your Music.
Ok, this is a tough area to save money in. The key thing to remember is you should NEVER use a studio if it makes your vocals sound anything less then good quality. I don't care if someone pays you to use their studio, if the final mix and song quality isn't at a good level, you should steer clear of using that recording studio.
Your songs are a big part of how any potential fans will see you. If they hear poor quality songs with hissing in the background, they aren't going to think you're a very good artist. You could put out 100 songs like this, but it'll probably do more harm then good.
While it's not always the case, home studios usually produce these kind of poor results. Unless it's a professional setup with all the necessary equipment a full on recording studio has, you should steer clear of these studio types.
Even though it's hard to find free studios to record your music, it is possible. One of the best places you can go is to youth clubs. Some of them are now popping up with good quality studios, and can be used to make songs for free if you're a member of this club. What's more, many youth clubs are now open to people going into their 20s, so it's not just the teenagers that will get to use these resources.
Like I said, it's not always easy to find a good quality free or low cost studio. That said, it is possible, so have a look around and see what you can find. If you can't find one, however, suck it up and be willing to pay for a decent mid-level studio. Your fans will thank you for it, and it will be worth it in the long run.
When It Comes to Getting Videos Recorded.
OK, so can you be cheap when it comes to recording videos? Well, yes and no.
It will all depend on what type of video you're shooting. If you want a music video for TV channels and as an official song for one of your singles, it's important you make sure the video is top quality. The majority of music videos out there are of a good quality, so doing anything less will simply be showing people you're not at the level your competitors are.
If, however, you're creating a video interview, a small feature video or a video showing you doing a cover version of another song, it's possible to get videos made for free or cheap.
The thing about these types of video, is the “homemade” feel often works just as well as the professional shiny ones. People know they're made on a small budget, but they don't mind as the piece has a “human” feel to it. They know anyone can make these videos, and it helps them relate to you that bit more. They'll also appreciate it more when you do get bigger and start producing noticeably better quality videos.
So if you've got your own decent quality video camera, it's possible to record something that you can upload on YouTube and allow you to keep fans happy. You don't need to spend a big budget on getting the perfect video made; just make sure it's not blurry or grainy, and what you say and do is worth watching.
Note: This does NOT mean you can put out poor quality, boring or stupid videos. It still has to reflect well on you, so make sure everything you release does just that.
If you want more money saving tips, check out the IMA Music Business Academy. We look more at how you can implement some of the above suggestions, as well as other great ways to start saving in your career.