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5 Ways to Launch Your Own Music Career

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musician singing and playing guitar on stage

There is so much going on in the music business at the moment that it is hard to keep track of all developments. In 2014 alone we saw music start-ups popping up everywhere, most of them with promising business models for artists. We would like to take this opportunity at the start of the new year to recap the best offers that allow you, as an independent musician, to take your destiny into your own hands. Here are five suggestions:

Crowdfund your project: Musicstarter

Say what you want about crowdfunding, but every now and again someone utilizes the concept of fan-funded projects to the fullest. A couple of examples from the music industry: Ben Folds Five received more than three times the amount they had asked for in a crowdfunding campaign for their 2012 comeback album on Pledgemusic. Canadian rock icon Neil Young raised more than six Million Dollars on Kickstarter for his Pono player for lossless audio. C3S, a collecting society that claims to grant artists more flexibility when it comes to licensing their music to third parties than, for example, GEMA, also mobilized supporters to raise seed capital.

Last year has seen the crowd funding concept also become increasingly popular in the live sector. Companies like Stagelink, Gigflip (which was also featured in our startup special) or Gigstarter (see Sell tickets first, then plan your tour riskfree) take the risk out of touring: Fans pledge to buy tickets before the first venue has even been contacted. Once enough ticket have been sold, the tour gets planned.

Musicstarter is a new player on the scene. The company guarantees participating bands and artists a label deal when they raise a certain sum via crowdfunding. The principle is the same as, for example, with Sellaband, Kickstarter or Pledgemusic. Artists mobilize their fans, make them donate a certain amount of money, and offer them all sorts of neat gimmicks in return. Once a certain amount – currently 30.000 Euros – has been reached, the band or artist in question gets signed by Musicstarter. They will be put the band in contact with the right people to professionally record their next album in a studio. With Universal Music and BurdaIntermedia there are two real heavyweights in terms of distribution and communications on board, which can be a good or bad thing, depending on how independent you wish to stay.

If you know your fans, which the age of social media enables you to do like never before, you should look into the various forms of crowdfunding to find the one that best fits your purpose. Alternatively, you could combine the different forms to involve your fans in all the different parts of your career, be it recording a new album or going on tour. Remember: If you're good, you'll always touch people. Find those people and mobilize them. They will support you.

Find new ways to play live: Sofaconcerts/dooop

People don't pay for music anymore. Yeah, we've heard that too, and we'll address this point later. But first let's focus on what everybody agrees still works: live gigs. The times where you could only play in established venues or at festivals are over. Sofaconcerts focuses on gigs in your fans' living rooms. Artists create a profile, and fans or soon-to-be-fans can browse through the offering and choose Bands and individual artists for the most exclusive gig possible. It can be an intimate acoustic set or a proper show with amps and everything, depending on the size of your host's premises. After the gig you pass around your (figurative) hat and your fans pay you whatever they feel like paying. Marie-Lene Armingeon and Miriam Schütt, the founders of Sofaconcerts, have already announced a pro plan where artists will be able to set a fixed fee.

Then there is dooop, a company that wants to enable any artist to live stream large and intimate gigs, backstage or behind the scenes experiences while on tour. As a band you can even invite your fans to an exclusive listening session for a new album. All that is required is a stable internet connection and the ability to transmit sound and visuals. The artists can set a ticket fee, the minimum amount of which is 50 cents. Fans pay in dooops which is the virtual currency the company uses. Artists keep 60 per cent of all ticket sales, dooop keeps 40, with which it pays the fees for the payment provider, website maintenance, programming of new features, support for fans and artists, server costs, licences, marketing, and administration.

Of course you can combine both concepts – Sofaconcerts and dooop – to live stream your living room gig.

Sell via BitTorrent

BitTorrent (once the music industry’s scapegoat, because people were using it for illegal filesharing) announced a distribution model where the artists and publishers keep 90 per cent of sales. Electronic music guru Diplo re-released his debut album “Florida” via BitTorrent Bundles in November. BitTorrent Bundles allow artists to be really flexible about the way they offer new material to fans. They can either give it away for free or charge people. They can also give parts away for free and only charge money for bonus material and exclusive content. Thom Yorke – who, by the way, pulled his entire catalogue from Spotify – made use of this flexibility when releasing his current album “Tomorrow’s Modern Boxes”. BitTorrent keeps a distribution fee of ten per cent, the artist is responsible for promoting sales. The rest, around 90 per cent, is forwarded straight to the artist. Seems like once again the best model had to come from a company that started outside the music industry.

Maximise your online presence: digital aggregators

So how about those music sales that aren't happening anymore? Well, they're declining, but there really isn't any reason not to tap those last few remaining income streams, is there? Streaming will, for good or bad, be the number one way of consuming music in the future. The way things are looking at the moment, it won't ever generate sustainable income for independent artists unless radical changes to the payment models are implemented (see Streaming: time to think of a new payment structure?). But there is still no reason to shun streaming services entirely, because for one, they at least generate some money, as opposed to no money at all. Also, streaming services are, after all, an additional way to expose your music to the world. It is true that 20 per cent of all music available on Spotify has not been streamed even once, but who says that you're going to be one of those 20 per cent? Who says you won't make it into an elite circle of a few superstars for whom even streaming generates remarkable revenue? And let's not forget that streaming generates continuous revenue streams for years, not just one-off payments after an album is released.

The point is this: If there is a platform, you might as well use it. A digital aggregator like iMusician Digital can put you on virtually every platform that there is. Making your music available on Spotify and the likes might just be one of many links in a long chain of multipliers, but it is one nonetheless. And since it has become so easy these days to be on those platforms there is no reason not to be.

Think outside the box

Lastly, and this is the most important thing to remember: Don't wait for somebody to show you how it is done. As Steffen Holly from the German Fraunhofer Institute for digital media technology puts it: “When musicians on the brink start using the existing technologies to move away from the industry instead of moving into it, only then will something new come into existence, something relevant.”

What is meant by that is that the digital age offers so many ways of organizing yourself, your band, or your business. Creative people all over the world just want to create without having to bother about issues like licensing and rights clearing. So it doesn't make sense for them to operate within traditional structures. They just want to collaborate with likeminded people and make awesome stuff for everybody. Many artists think like that and many struggle in a capitalist environment where there has to be a business model behind everything. Luckily, the internet enables you to find people who have fun in developing such business models and who will offer you studio time or anything else you require as an artist. All they ask for in return is your creative output. A genius idea has better chances of being monetized if it comes with music.  Entrepreneurs who need music meet musicians who need entrepreneurs. Creative hubs like Zoo Labs (which was also mentioned in our startup special) connect likeminded people from all over the globe and bring them together in an environment that allows them to work on stuff that can generate income for everybody involved.

Conclusion: don't wait for the next musical messiah

Artists are the heart of an entire industry. Yet they are struggling to make a living. You can argue that just not every artists has what it takes to survive solely off making music. Or, as Steffen Holly puts it: “There are so many people out there that put all of their heart into it and make quality music. It just isn't enough. You have to have a kind of uniqueness. If you are kissed by the muse at the right time, it doesn't matter if you learned to play the guitar only yesterday or if you have been playing it perfectly for the past 20 years. Whether you'll one day make it or not is impossible to tell. But that does not free you of the duty to give it all you've got. The more professionally you handle your tools, the higher the probability to become successful at some point. But in the end, we could always end up at the wrong place at the wrong time, while others are at the right place at the right time. You will never change that.”

But still, there’s a chasm between the amount of music that is needed and used in everyday life by countless entities around the world – the general value music has in our lives – and the overall amount artists are earning. And this discrepancy is diverging more and more. In part, this happens because there are still entities involved in the so-called value added chain that take a share that does not represent their involvement in the creative process (yes, I am talking about big, old, established companies that are acting all digitally savvy but are trying to preserve the status quo wherever it would otherwise hurt their pockets). But there are more and more companies out there that actually treat artists like they are supposed to be treated: creators without whom our lives would be boring. And together with the artists realizing that they need not wait for the next musical messiah to tell them exactly how it is done, this new generation of entrepreneurs will set the record straight once and for all: This entire industry is worth nothing – say that again: nothing – without the artists.

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