Practical Advice For Indie Artists

© 2012 Vinny Ribas

Here are a few pieces of advice that I wish I had known when I quit college and jumped into music full time. There is nothing new and revolutionary here; just practical, common sense thinking. But with music being such a creative and emotionally charged industry, I found that sometimes my common sense would take a back seat to ‘the dream’!

  • Enjoy the journey because the reward is not always as great as you expect or would like it to be. The music industry is full of up ands and downs, and not everyone makes it to the top.
  • Playing music full time can be a risky venture for some. The money isn’t always great. There can be a lot of time on the road away from family. Determine up front exactly what and how much you are willing to risk before you jump in full force. Set boundaries so you don’t lose your shirt. Be sure your family is on board with these decisions.
  • Keep your eyes and your mind on making the next gig better than the last one. The gig you just played where you missed the words on a few songs is history and can’t be changed.
  • There is ALWAYS someone you can learn from! Surround yourself with people who play and/or sing better than you do, then challenge yourself to rise to their level! Once you’re there, repeat. Take lessons (instrument, voice etc.) You can practice on your own for hours every day, but if you’re not challenging yourself and/or learning something new, you just get good at being mediocre. The best artists never stop learning!
  • Find a mentor – someone who believes in you and is willing to teach you the ‘tricks of the trade’.
  • The same thing goes for songwriting. Write with people who are better writers than you are. It will make you a better writer.
  • The person who hired you for the gig is your primary customer. That is who you need to please first. The audience comes second. I was once hired because the venue wanted to lose a lot of troublemakers who were hanging out, and he knew that they would never stick around while we were playing soft rock and standards. It worked.
  • There will be gigs that are cancelled at the last minute. Count on it and budget your money accordingly.
  • Be sure that everything you do that involves other people has your entertainment attorney’s blessing. This includes agreements with your fellow band members, your producer, the studio musicians you hire, co-writers, the publishing contract you sign, your booking contracts etc. Leave nothing to ‘it’s understood’. Your local Volunteer Lawyers For The Arts may provide you with free legal assistance in these areas.
  • Be transparent with the money you receive and pay out. Problems in this area destroy countless very talented acts.
    Pay your taxes. The IRS gives you lots of deductions. It’s not worth cheating on them and getting caught. It’s definitely not worth ignoring. Too much is at stake.
  • Your reputation is your most valuable asset. Guard it with every fiber of your being.
  • You can’t be at the top of your game while your judgment, coordination and/or thinking are impaired in any way. Stay clean and sober. The sharper you are, the more repect and the more money you’ll earn.
  • Record the very best songs you can find, whether you wrote them or not. It makes for a better CD. My guess is that you would be honored if another artist covered one of your tunes. If you don’t have 10 absolutely amazing songs to record, why not pay tribute to other writers and performers by covering some of theirs?
  • For original artists it is all about their musical expression. For others it may be all about making money. Both have their place and are very important to the industry. Never look down on anyone else because they don’t approach the music the same way that you do.
  • Treat every person you meet with the utmost respect. You never know who they are, who they know, or who they might become in a few years! Wouldn’t it be great if it turned out that the fan you befriended over the past 6 months decided he wanted to invest in you today?
  • No one person can do it all. Assemble a team to help you. Wherever possible and practical organize and mobilize your friends, family and fans to assist with marketing, merchandise sales, booking etc. Recruit music industry professionals (publisher, booking agent, manager etc) to help in a more formal capacity when it becomes too much for your volunteers to handle.
  • Learn the business side of your career. At least understand it enough to know how to make wise decisions, and to recognize if you are being taken advantage of by one or more of your team members.
  • Keep your priorities straight. For example, never sacrifice your family’s interests for the sake of your career unless you are prepared to lose them.
  • Always have a plan. Charging full steam ahead with knowing where you’re going and how you’re going to get there often leads to slamming into a brick wall. Think it through. Be methodical in your decisions. If need be, hire a consultant to help you plan your career. Yes, this is what a manager does. However, chances are you won’t attract a manager until you’re making enough money to pay them.
  • Know your strengths and your weaknesses. Work hard to improve the areas you are weak in. In the meantime, find people who are strong in those areas. For example, if you’re not a great singer, find a vocalist who is. Remember, a chain is only as strong as its weakest link.
  • Pay it forward. Help others whenever and wherever you can without expecting anything in return. It will always come back around to you many times over when you need it or least expect it.

Do you have some bits of advice to add? Please put it in the comment section. Let’s see if we can’t make the road a little bit easier for the next waves of indie artists hitting the scene.

Vinny Ribas is the founder and CEO of Indie Connect, a global business club for serious independent artists, songwriters, musicians and music professionals. Indie Connect helps its members increase their chances of success by providing practical career direction and education, combined with live and online industry networking opportunities. During his 40+ year career, Vinny has been a full time musician, an artist manager, a booking agent, songwriter and the Entertainment Director for the NV State Fair. He is a published author and popular speaker at music industry conferences.

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