Rock the Dream puts to bed another great songwriting workshop with multi-platinum producer Loren Israel last weekend!
Aaron from An Awful Mess and from Australia, Seb Szabo, individually met with Loren to ask industry questions and music advice. As always, they got the honest truth about what it takes to make hits and make it in the music industry.
In the meeting session, Loren developed ideas on how he could help them advance their music and jumpstart their careers. The artists were definitely not expecting what he had in mind, but are excited to see what Loren can help them do.
In the days following the meeting, they’ll be working together to produce and record a top quality song, learning from his advice and taking the skills they acquired to all of their future projects.
If you are a songwriter and are interested in participating in future workshops, for free, apply at email@example.com. RTD will pay the $200 registration fee for those they feel are ready to learn.
Some people still believe that “making it” in a music career comes down to pure talent and getting noticed by the right people. If you’ve paid attention to how things have been working since the early 2000’s, you know that it also takes a business mindset. What it really comes down to, and always has, is the work.
I know you’ve heard that a lot, but what does it really mean? Think about the hours and effort you put into a job. Whether it’s selling fast food or working high up in a corporation, every job requires you to follow a schedule, meet requirements and deadlines, and do what’s expected of you whether you want to or not. You have to treat your music the same way, because the bottom-line is that it’s a business.
Taking on this mindset is the first step. Set aside time, a good amount, and seriously evaluate where you are, where you want to be, and what your plan is to get there. Actually write it out in a strategic plan. Set your goals and a realistic timeline for each. First, list what your overall goal is, and be truthful with yourself. Listing “love and kindness” won’t carry you through to success. Where do you want to be in 10 years? Be specific.
Then list the strategies you will implement to achieve this goal, each with a realistic due date to keep you on track. If it doesn’t help you directly reach your goal, throw it out. For example getting a certain number of new followers or Spotify streams in a certain number of weeks. Do some research on what a realistic goal would look like for where you’re at, and what things you can implement to actually get there.
If this is all new to you, then you’ll have to start by doing your research and learning the industry; and not about how huge record labels work, but what being a successful independent musician looks like. Some important things to really consider at first are; Do you have a brand? This means not just that you put out music under the same name, but you have a clear message and image that encompasses both your music and you as an artist. Do you do any promotion or just put songs out and hope for the best?
Once you get yourself organized on where you are and where you want to go, you need to create a workable, realistic budget. This will determine whether the steps you’ve listed to reach your goal are do-able. Moving forward costs a lot of money. How much money you have determines how quickly . . . or slowly, you can climb that ladder.
Consider how much money you can put just towards music, and how exactly it will be spent. You need a budget for your regular expenses, as well, to be able to do this. And, if you already make some money from music, is it profit or does it all go back into the music and then some? Consider this and maybe make a goal to start breaking even from your projects and eventually being profitable.
Next, you need to continuously follow your plan and implement the steps again and again, ensuring that you achieve the results you’ve outlined for each strategic step. Does your boss give you one huge project for the year and never give any tasks or deadlines in between? Probably not, a regular job usually has daily, weekly, and long term deadlines and assignments to keep everything on track. You should also have weekly schedules that put aside specific times to work on your social media and promotion, booking shows or collaborations, and working on songwriting or completing new projects.
Nothing in life is guaranteed, but you can be assured that doing nothing but make music and hoping someone will find you will take you nowhere. However, to accomplish success requires a lot of work and a lot of time doing things you probably will hate doing. A quick solution is to hire a manager, if your budget allows. Be wary of those who will do it for free. They normally will either scam you or accomplish very little, because they lack the knowledge and skills.
There are legitimate artist development and management companies who can come to your rescue, however, they cost a lot of money. A third option is Rock the Dream, a nonprofit artist development organization who can walk you through everything you need to know and do at a very affordable cost.
Working hard gains you the respect of those in the industry, as well as of your fans, and everyone will applaud your efforts in working towards your dream. The longer you wait to take control of your music career, the farther away success will be.
If you’ve looked into how to promote your music in recent years, you’ve probably come across countless strategies to outsmart the “algorithms” on streaming and social media platforms. Maybe you’ve tried them, or paid for services that promise this, or you thought it was too complicated to waste your time on.
Algorithms are real ways that social media, and yes, Spotify, put your content in front of people. And, they do impact how your songs and following grow, or don’t. Though you don’t need to “outsmart” them, or pay your way around them, you can absolutely use algorithms to your advantage if you take the time to understand them.
So what is the algorithm on Spotify? With the thousands of tracks uploaded each day, Spotify can’t have real people listening to all of them to find the best and put them on playlists. Instead, they use data and their algorithm to do this. It’s intended to help good music get noticed amongst all the white noise. The data that Spotify collects comes from what you input when you upload; genre, mood, etc., as well as the numbers of listens, skips, new followers, or getting added to playlists. The goal for Spotify is to identify which listeners will like your style of music, and to put it in front of more of those people.
What does this mean for you? Contrary to some beliefs, the algorithm is really meant to work in favor of the artist, regardless of the size of their following. To do this, you need to consider the data that Spotify uses and how your own tracks are doing. The first part is listing your song with the correct genre and mood labels. Take the time to really listen to the song, compare it to other songs in the genre and playlists that you think it should be next to, and even ask for some outside opinions. Being honest with this is only going to help you.
Next, think about your promotion strategy. We all know playlists are huge in promoting music today. It sounds logical that the more playlists you get on, the better your music will do since more people will hear it. While this may get you more listens at first, doing this wrong can reflect negatively to the algorithm. It notices your number of plays, but also the number of skips and saves in relation. If your song is on 10 playlists, but it really only fits into the genre and style of one of them, while it will get more plays, the 9 others will be racking up people who skip the song and don’t save it, because it’s not what they’re looking for. This essentially tells Spotify the song is “bad”, when it really was just shown to the wrong people.
In this case, less really is more. Finding those few playlists that your song actually fits, and pitching to those is a much better strategy. This is also why paying for playlist promotion can be tricky. There is always the issue of “bots” and fake streams, and the fact that paying for streams can get you kicked off of Spotify. But, it’s hard to know if even services that promise “organic” promotion, or real listeners, will be beneficial. While you will get exposure, you run the same risk of being put in front of “any” audience, and not the right one. It’s best to steer clear of this all together, and save money to put into more music and other types of promotion.
The goal of all of this “promotion” is to get your music in front of new people, so your fanbase will grow. The algorithm will work to do this even at the smallest scale. The best way it does this is by putting songs into people’s “release radar”, for people who have listened to you before, and “discover weekly”, for new people that will probably like your music. This process is going to be slow, but it will work for you in the long run.
Don’t skip promoting to your current audience, even if it’s just friends and family! Post on your social media, and simply ask for anyone that likes your music and wants to support you to follow you on Spotify, like your song, share it, and pre-save new releases. Having followers on Spotify is often overlooked, but it’s another piece of data that can help you, and it guarantees your releases to be put on “release radar” playlists.
The same goes for likes on Spotify. Even if your following is only in the hundreds, anyone who shares your music probably has a similar size following, which increases your exposure exponentially. Getting pre-saves is one of the best ways to show the algorithm that people want to hear your music! The moment your song is released, you’ve already gotten saved to playlists. Even if it’s just a few, something is always better than nothing, at least in the eyes of the algorithm.
This strategy will continue to work with every release, so you should try to do so as often as possible. This means singles are the way to go. Especially when just starting out, there is no benefit to releasing an EP or an album. This way, you have a chance to promote every song, and have continuous positive feedback for the algorithm to pick up. The industry in general is moving away from albums, so save that dream for when you’re more established.
A final tip is to pitch to editorial playlists before you release. This isn’t exactly using the algorithm, but it offers an opportunity you should not pass up. As long as you schedule your release date at least 3 to 4 weeks ahead of time, you can pitch it to Spotify editors directly. There will be a link on your Spotify for artists page to submit the song and have a chance to get onto a Spotify editorial playlist.
These are the official playlists that no promotion service can pay to get you on. There is obviously a lot of competition here, but they have put small artists, even with their very first release, on these playlists. This comes down to the quality of your music, but make sure to fill out the form as precisely as possible.
Like always, make the genre and mood selections that are most accurate. You also have a chance to explain a bit about the song, so tell them your promotion strategies and why your song fits certain playlists and will do well. It is a PITCH, not just a backstory. Also, update your profile and artist bio beforehand to look as professional as possible.
I know that as an artist you want to focus on the craft and let the music speak for itself, but it’s very rare to succeed that way today. The industry is falling more and more into the hands of artists and out of the control of record labels. This means you have a much greater chance of being able to accomplish your goals as a musician, but you have to focus on the business side and put as much work into it as in the music. Just like learning an instrument, it takes time and practice to succeed, but diligence pays off.
So, you’re at a point in your career where you know the value of music videos and how this will definitely grow your following. The issue now becomes . . . doesn’t making videos cost a lot of money?
Sure, they can cost tons for top of the line production, but you don’t need to create a cinematic masterpiece just to showcase your song. With some creativity, there’s no need to break the bank!
Start with making a budget. Decide how much you want to invest, if anything, so you can then decide whether it will go to equipment, a videographer, etc. Your own skills and equipment, and the concept for the video will help you decide where the money is best spent. For example, most phones record at a high enough quality for great footage, no need for expensive cameras.
If you want an intentional “lo-fi” vibe, which can be very successful, then you don’t need to spend your budget on equipment. If recording quality is important, then save by using free locations (like somewhere outdoors), or consider a live performance video that won’t need much editing.
Think about concept, this is the most important part. Many videos have been successful or even viral on a low budget because of the actual content. Think about what would go best with the song; a dance, a heart wrenching story line, or maybe something funny. Just like with making great music, creativity is key. The one thing most viral videos all have in common is that they’re original.
Something else worthy of investing in is lighting. This is probably more important than camera quality. You can find some cheap film lighting options by looking for used equipment or renting it (unless you can borrow it for free!). If you have no lighting, it’s best to film outside, especially if shooting on a phone.
Filming outside provides a free background, so take advantage of the best nature or city views near you. For filming inside, using a backdrop or an empty wall is much better than seeing your bedroom in the background. A bright colored backdrop can help you stand out, and they’re pretty inexpensive to buy. Or, a green screen, allows you to edit in any backdrop from a number of free sources.
A great idea to save money is to look for free or cheap help. Just like there are countless musicians always looking to collaborate on projects, tons of aspiring filmmakers and videographers are the same. Think of anyone you may know, or look around your area, especially for film students. Chances are they’ll do it for free or very cheap. It’s an opportunity for them, as well as you, to work on their craft and to add to their portfolio.
Finally, a huge difference is made with the editing. You can learn how to use editing software yourself by searching for free youtube tutorials. Or, you may consider putting some money into it by hiring someone to do this part. Even for a lo-fi type video, you need good editing to convey how you envisioned your concept and give it a professional look.
People will remember you more if they can connect your music with your face, or any kind of visual, for that matter. They also appreciate new kinds of content, especially when it adds to you and your song’s message. So, rather than waiting for the day when you’ll have a huge budget to work with, make a great video today!
Each year thousands of bands and artists join the music industry, performing and recording; however, less than 1% achieve success beyond the local scene. Why?
Some have terrible music and shouldn’t be in the industry at all, but most are missing the business element, which is crucial to their success. What is the first thing a major label does when signing an artist? Turn them into a company, hopefully a profitable one.
Without the business factor, how do you book shows effectively? Create profitable merch booths? Successfully market your brand? Take it from the big guys, to reach that national touring level and a chance for fame, an artist must master the business side.
To begin with, decide if you wish to be an LLC company or partnership. Lots of things to consider in making this choice, so do your research. You will need to get an Employer ID number from the IRS, and check into your state requirements. Also, remember you must file your taxes each year. This all sounds horrible. Who would want to do this? The good news is, it will take about an hour of your time to set this baseline for your business.
Next, create a budget which outlines your income, and then defines your expenses. Can’t spend what you don’t have. If you find yourself short, like everyone else, it’s time to increase your income. I suggest you establish 2 sources of income. One, from your shows and music, such as performance guarantees, merch sales, song downloads, etc. And the other should not be music-related.
An example would be fundraising efforts, such as car washing, yard cleaning, second-hand sales, etc. The main point is it shouldn’t come from your personal earnings. You will need that to live on. Climbing the music industry ladder takes a lot of money, about $1500 each month as you enter the regional touring round, so be prepared. The biggest source of discouragement is when you don’t have enough money to exist and still keep your artistry going; ergo, the fundraising element instead of digging in your own pocket.
Does it seem that Artists with managers reap the biggest achievements? It’s true because he/she is managing the entire business end. The professional industry takes these artists more seriously. They offer bigger shows, more money, better opportunities. Good managers communicate quickly, supply the info in the proper format, and the brand is promoted effectively.
What should you do next? Establish your target market, not more than 7 years for the age range. You don’t have enough money to to reach everyone, so you need to narrow it down. Then, create an image that fits your personality and music. Now take this information, and promote your image to reach this market.
You will need an artist website; management email address using your website domain (never use gmail, yahoo, etc.); a business checking account; four prime social media sites, including Facebook; and, a P.O. Box. Most industry professionals use Facebook as a research source.
Yes, this is A LOT of work, but these steps are necessary to separate you from the other 99.9% of the struggling artists in the world. And, once done, maintaining and updating is a breeze if you do it regularly. If you need help with all of this, email firstname.lastname@example.org.
So, we go back to the original question, Why do most bands and artists fail? Now that you have the answer, it’s up to you to create your own success.
If you’re a songwriter, you’ve probably had times where it felt like words and inspiration just flowed out of you and onto the page. And, other times I’m sure you’ve felt the exact opposite, when you desperately want to write, but . . . nothing.
Don’t let this hold you back from creating new music, though. Here are some ways to crush writer’s block and find your voice.
Practice sense writing; Pick an object, place, or person and describe it with all of your senses. Don’t hold back, just write everything that comes to mind for a few minutes. This “thing” doesn’t have to become the topic of a song, but after your free write, hopefully a line or two, or even just an idea, has been generated that you can translate into the start of a song.
Try a new perspective. If you always write about yourself or your own experiences, think of a friend or a fictional character that might be going through something you never have, and see if you can write from their perspective. An example is one of Taylor Swift’s new hits, “Betty”, which is from the perspective of a teenage boy with his first broken heart.
Start with titles, some writers always start this way. Start listing interesting titles of songs that you’d want to put out. When something sparks an idea, keep going with it. Even if the title ends up totally changing, it got the idea moving.
Go back to your song graveyard. You probably have at least a few, if not a few hundred, unfinished songs or forgotten ideas laying around. Start looking through them, even go years back if needed, and look for a line, melody, or an idea that still strikes you. Go over it again and see if you have a new perspective to finish it, or make an entirely new song from it. Don’t have an idea/lyric journal yet? Then, start one. You’ll always have a bank of ideas to draw from.
Try something ridiculous, like Tom Waits’ technique — turning on multiple radios at once and listening. He would tune in for interesting overlaps in the noise and anything that stood out, then use that idea for his own writing. This one might only work for Tom Waits, but it’s sure to produce something totally unique. Or, maybe, try scribbling in a beat on the piano roll of your music software, or any way to generate something random, and see if there’s any sounds you can pull out to turn into actual music.
As many industry professionals have stated, to be successful, a songwriter should write at least 5 new songs a week, good or bad. It’s the practice of doing!
Inspiration is a fleeting thing, but you don’t need to wait around for whenever it wants to strike. Part of the work of a musician is to put in time to rewrite and brainstorm to take those random creative moments and mold them into finished products. Don’t make excuses for your writer’s block anymore!
Ever hear of “fake it ’til you make it”? Well if you want to be famous, start dressing like you already are! Turn eyes as you walk down the street, confident and unique in your sense of fashion. Branding is key in the music industry and helps stir new talk about you. Here are several tips, so take notes!
Wear bold colors on stage. Rock the reds and yellows, you want to look put together and ready to put on a show. Select opaque, richer colors that will not wash out under the lighting, and opt for short sleeves since you’ll work up a sweat from performing. Also, clothes that fit are important, try on outfits and plan them carefully beforehand, and get alterations if you need them. If someone were watching from the farthest seat in the arena, think––would they still be able to admire your outfit?
Dress professionally during press interviews and on TV. Artist branding is key to be taken seriously and growing your fanbase. No sandals or shorts! Dress classy and clean, and you will be sure to attract more attention. Even for big-name celebrities, their clothing choice is important and constantly captured by the cameras! Be sure to look camera-ready when the situation calls for it.
Accessorize! Draw more attention to your look by adorning yourself with statement jewelry and accessories like bracelets, necklaces, hats, etc. Using flashy pieces can elevate even a simple outfit and add a unique flair, plus save money on buying tons of new clothes. (And for the guys – don’t be afraid to try accessories too!)
Most importantly, be true to YOU. Wear clothes that compliment your features and your personal style. You want to brand yourself as an artist with a defined image, and fashion plays a huge part. It’s another extension to express yourself, so take creative risks and embrace your unique style. And whatever you wear, do it confidently.
So, what are you waiting for? Start dressing like you’re famous and keep all eyes on you–– dress for success!
A professional sounding artist bio really is important – some people even pay to have one written for them. But, you can do it yourself if you take the time and effort. Why is it so important you ask?
As the industry evolves, more artists are able to find success and steadily grow independently. While this is a good thing, it also means more competition on all levels of the industry. Whether it’s to be noticed by labels, promoters, blogs, collaborators, or just more fans, you’re always marketing either yourself or your music. The bio you have published on your Spotify, DPK, or anywhere else, is how you can make the connection between who you are as an artist and your music, which is what really grabs people. WHO ARE YOU?
Here is what to consider when writing your bio:
Organize your bio into short paragraphs, so it’s easy reading and doesn’t turn people off. The most important things go in the first paragraph, where you need to catch attention. What are the most notable accomplishments you’ve achieved to date.
For each piece of information you decide to include, ask yourself; why is it important? What does it convey? Why will someone care? Does it make you stand out? For example, the fact that you’ve loved music ever since you were a kid – well so has every artist, it goes without saying. If you did something EXTREMELY remarkable with music younger than everyone else, then that’s intriguing. And aside from what you have done, we need to know what you’re working on. Why should people be excited enough to keep following you?
Convey your aesthetic by trying to conceptualize your sound and message. Don’t go on and on, but give a description of your musical identity in your own words. Don’t come across like you think you’re the best thing to come around, or use opinionated phrases like “influential” or “super talented”, people can decide that themselves. Don’t play yourself down either, though, you’re trying to capture an audience.
Name drop only if it’s really relevant. If you worked with an artist who the average person will know, and it was a turn in your career, it is a big deal. If we want to know every person you’ve ever collab’ed with, we’ll check out your music. In addition, don’t talk about the artists that you think you sound like or want to be like, you’re promoting YOU here.
Write with a neutral and professional tone. Your bio should be in third person, it’s not coming from you, it’s about you. Always write with an active voice; “Her music creates emotion” not “emotion is created by her music”.
Don’t forget that editing is key, you don’t usually release the first draft of a song, right? Spellcheck is your friend, and there are plenty of examples to find for reference. Plus, get feedback from other people to see how you’re really coming across.
The length and depth may change depending where and how it’s used, but always make it intriguing. People need to hear why they want to listen and follow you. You should write a short bio to target music industry professionals, because they want just the highlights of your career. Anything longer, they will not read. For your fans, a longer bio with more background information works.
Something brought them to your bio, whether it was advertised or they went looking. Pull them in, so they keep reading, and keep you on their mind.
Most musicians have a goal to play live shows and go on tour. If you’ve made it to this point, then you’re doing something right, but make sure you’re making the most of these opportunities. Music by itself generates very little income, even for big artists, so things like concert tickets and merchandise are crucial in being profitable as an artist. You should always be advertising your merch, but especially at shows.
These are things to check off for your merch booth from an experienced merch seller:
1. SET-UP: Set up your merch display where it’s highly visible and most convenient for fans to access, probably near the entrance/exit. Make sure the merch itself is visible, especially clothes, and have a set up that looks professional. There are affordable options on amazon for different sizes and kinds of displays. You can use fold up tables, but consider investing in tablecloths if they look cheap.
2. SIGNS & LIGHTING: Post signs that are big, clear, and to the point. List what forms of payment are accepted. In the darkness of a music venue, your merch booth should shine and glow. Have your signs light up, and/or use glow-sticks, string lights, etc. to stand out.
3. CASH & CARDS: Be ready with plenty of change for cash purchases, but make sure you can accept card payments as well. You will lose out on sales if you don’t. Accepting Apple Pay, Zelle, PayPal and even Venmo is a plus too.
4. WHAT TO SELL: Having a large inventory can be expensive and is unnecessary. For clothing, when there are more than 2 choices of artwork design, it often confuses the buyer, especially male buyers. For the average touring band/artist promote 2 designs in T-shirt and spaghetti strap women’s tops or boy beaters. Supply in black and one other color that is currently the hot fashion trend. Make sure you put thought into the design so people will want to buy for the look, even if not for you logo.
Add 1-2 other merch options, such as hats, CD’s, posters, wristbands, stickers, to offer different price ranges, so you maximize that last consumer dollar. Limit the choices, so you can better manage your inventory budget. Be creative here and think about what your fans would love.
5. CONNECT WITH FANS: Too many bands leave their booths abandoned during their sets. Have someone in charge of running it the entire night. You should also use it as a meet n’ greet spot to interact personally with your fans before and after each show. Not only will audience members be more likely to come to the booth and buy your merch, but they’ll also become more dedicated fans and attend more shows. Many diehard fans are met and made at the merch booth.
6. FAN LIST: Always encourage people to sign up for your Fan List. Make sure your signup sheet or link is visible, and let customers know when they make a purchase. You can even offer a discount or free download music card for signing up, which will definitely get more people. Ensure that your email list includes their name, city, state, email address and cell, so you can specifically contact them when advertising for events in their area.
7.ORGANIZATION: You or someone on your team must be a good record-keeper and track sales. You want to see which items sold and in what quantity, so you’ll know what to re-stock, the sizes that sell best in what areas, the pricing levels, and profitability.
A suggestion to help organize sales inventory while touring is to wrap your clothing merch with masking tape, marking the item and size. With each sale, tape this label into a small notebook with the pages dated. The best way to keep a count of the other, lower-priced items is by counting after each show, sorry not much help there.
8. NEW ITEMS: Sell something new on every tour. If you’ve been touring for a while and return to the same areas, make sure there are new options for fans that have your old merch. Plus, you’ll want to be advertising your newer releases.
9. BARGAINS/UPSELL: Everyone loves a discount, so consider doing sales such as “CDs are $12; any two CDs for $20,” or “Buy two t-shirts, get a free CD.” This will capitalize on the fans already interested in making a purchase.
And, consider making a sale even when a fan is short a few dollars. This strategy is debatable, but I think bands who are working to become full-time should have a “sliding-scale” mentality when it comes to merch. As long as you at least break even, If you make a new fan who helps spread your name, that “loss” of profit may have been well worth it.
“Thank you SO much for putting this on!” a concert attendee gleefully expressed. “Are you going to be back next weekend? If so, I’ll be here!”. And, although the Rock the Quad Charity Concert only happens once annually, we were ecstatic to be back as the first live concert since the coronavirus pandemic began.
Viewers erupted into cheers as the performers, Maybe By Fall, Sarah Shipley, Toxic Hearts, Rosahlee and An Awful Mess, played live music for the first time in over 7 months.
Our MC, Kris with a K, did a fantastic job of introducing the performers and raffling away prizes from our sponsors, Target, Kohl’s, Avon and Safeway.
Rock the Dream thanks the hundreds of people who attended the concert and did it safely by wearing a mask and socially distancing!