How to Step Over the Landmines Set for Independent Artists

Even the most optimistic of Independent artists are having trouble keeping cynicism in check in 2019. Closure of independent music venues, oversaturation of the market, the decline of physical sales… the list is seemingly never-ending. But does that mean that unsigned artists should throw the towel in and resign to the apathy that the music industry is dead? Absolutely not!

We’re more connected than ever, so that should theoretically mean that artists have plenty more opportunities to get their music in fans ears and make those valuable connections with promoters and record companies. There are plenty of hurdles but they’re not impossible to amble over.

21st-century shifts may seem impossible to keep up with but adapting and evolving has always been the cornerstone of success. It is exactly that attitude which will allow key people in the industry to see that you’re worth investing in. It has never been about who has the most talent, never. Most of your favorite artists were chosen due to their ambition, which is a point reiterated by ex-London Records A&R exec John Niven who also has some poignant thoughts on the current state of the music industry in his new book Kill Em All;

“the music industry has once again managed to insert a ten-foot dildo made of broken glass into the anus of an entire generation of musicians”

This generation of artists is by no means the first to suffer by the hands of the industry, and it won’t be the last.

How to Make Spotify Work for You

Spotify is a platform which you’re going to have to make friends with. Spotify may only pay about $0.00402 per stream, but it can be much more valuable than that. The trick is to take advantage of the fact that A&R companies are now using or starting to use Artificial Intelligence-supported A&R methods. There is now the assumption that tech can determine artists with the potential to make the big hits – and you can take full advantage of this.

There are 35 million tracks on Spotify, A&R companies using conventional methods to scour through them and hope you strike gold was always going to change eventually. Now, A&R execs use the influential playlists on Spotify. A playlist is deemed influential when they have more than 10,000 followers or more. There are plenty of ways of getting your music onto the influential playlists. From buying your way onto them to just knowing how to promote your music with a view to being included on those playlists. Hip-Hop artist Lucidious was able to grow his Spotify to 500,000 monthly listeners without playlists. So the opportunity is there if you are willing and creative.

It is not just A&R who are using Spotify to find and assess talent. Music magazines, booking agents, blogs, promoters, are all using Spotify to connect with artists and to see what kind of reach an artist has on any given month.

Selling Records for Independent Artists

Any Independent artist who has gone through the process of producing a record and getting it out there in physical form is financially crippling. Many saw crowd-funding websites such as PledgeMusic as the perfect way of getting around the upfront costs of making vinyl and CD copies of records.

Many artists came to rely on PledgeMusic as one of the best sites they could use to allow their fans to pre-order their records. Sadly, PledgeMusic is heading for bankruptcy and their accounts ran dry while plenty of artists still had active campaigns. Money due to the artists was withheld and there was nothing they could do about it; instead, the fan’s money was used to pay off some of Pledge’s creditors. 

Many artists lost out on tens of thousands in revenue and were unable to fulfill the orders, leaving them utterly at a loss to how they will continue with their new release. I’ll use UK-based Alt-Rock band Hands Off Gretel as the perfect example. £25,000 was pledged for their 2019 album “I Want The World”, rather than accepting defeat, they started a new pre-order campaign on their own website. Knowing that the band wasn’t to blame, fans went ahead and re-ordered the album, and not all was lost. 

So, many Indie artists can now learn from Hands Off Gretel’s experience. They’ve proven that it’s feasible to run a successful album campaign via their own website. So, now you may not have to get angry at the fact that all of your fans want fancy colored limited-edition vinyl records – they’ll just have to help you with the upfront costs!

Not only bands and artists but some small businesses have been hurt by the PledgeMusic bankruptcy. Bandwear, a merch manufacturer and fulfillment company was left with thousands of dollars in unpaid merch & shipping costs. The team there has been working diligently with artists to try to rectify the unfortunate situation and is doing a great job in helping some of the PledgeMusic artists to rebuild their merch businesses.

independent artists - bandwear

Avoiding the Extortionists

Yes, there are still pay to play gigs. But that doesn’t mean that you have to put money in the hands of sharks. For every bad promoter, there’s a good one who isn’t in it for the profit. Rather than chancing it with questionable characters to get live gigs, know which circles you’re swimming in.

If you don’t know where to start in your local scene try and scout out similar artists to yourselves, see who they work with, turn up to their shows, get yourselves noticed and on the circuit. If you see other Independent artists as a threat and competition, you won’t get very far.

Always ensure you know the value of any partnership you enter into, especially with record labels.

Many Indie artists are now seeing the benefits of doing it the DIY way after questioning what a label can bring to the table. Just make sure to ask what the record label can realistically offer. You may find that it is more beneficial to work with PR companies who will work for an upfront cost rather than record companies who will take a slice of the profit for almost nothing in return. Getting signed should be a positive experience, and with the right record label it undoubtedly is, just ensure that excitement doesn’t cloud judgment.

For those going for the DIY method, we highly recommend DistroKid. They are straight-up with their fees, you can release as much music as you want for the same price and they do not take a percentage of your sales, you keep 100%. Use this link for a discount on your membership!

independent artists - distrokid discount

Adapting and Evolving with Social Media

The internet will probably never be the most accommodating place for independent artists. But rather than wistfully looking back on the Myspace days, it’s time to make sure that with every new change, you’re already 5 steps ahead.

Know your hashtags, know how to beat Facebook algorithms which try to quash your reach, know when the best time to post about your music is. Perhaps most importantly, you’ll need to know how to promote your music without getting on the wrong side of your existing fans.
By making sure that you make posts interactive, visible, and genuine the rewards will speak for themselves as you watch your fan engagement increase.

Knowing the Pitfalls

Sometimes, success for independent artists is not just about optimism, but pragmatism too. Awareness of landmines in the industry shouldn’t leave you feeling deflated, the pitfalls can be avoided through caution and the commitment to educate yourself on how the industry works.

Even if it feels like everyone in the industry is out to get you, there are plenty of new opportunities available to independent artists – you’ll just need to be willing to learn how to navigate the system.

Amelia Vandergast