I had a very thought-provoking conversation on this week’s episode (Episode 18) of the DIY Recording Guys podcast.
Our guest was James Cross of the Better Band Bureau and we were talking about treating your band or your craft like a business.
It’s something I’ve thought about many times as an audio professional working with bands. I see bands and artists that do it well, others that struggle and others still that don’t seem to care about the business side of their craft – which, by the way, is totally fine.
You don’t HAVE to treat your band like a business.
Most of us don’t pick up an instrument for the first time and think “I’m gonna get rich doing this”.
There’s something else that draws us to music.
In fact, I recently read this quote from one of my favorite authors - Kurt Vonnegut - and wanted to share it with you before we sully our craft by discussing Benjamins:
The arts are not a way to make a living. They are a very human way of making life more bearable. Practicing and art, no matter how well or badly, is a way to make your soul grow, for heave’s sake. Sing in the shower. Dance to the radio. Tell stories. Write a poem to a friend, even a lousy poem. Do it as well as you possibly can. You will get an enormous reward. You will have created something.
I'd just like to add "record an album!" towards the end of that list above. We all know that this satisfying in and of itself and without promise of financial reward. That said, being smarter and more organized has a few advantages
You can reach more people with your craft by having good strategies and a marketing mindset
You can generate revenue and improve the sustainability of your musical projects
You can control expenses and…well…see the previous point
I had a lot of questions for James on the topic. Questions like:
What are the revenue streams for a band in 2020 and which are the ones to focus on?
How should bands divide business responsibilities among members and what are the different roles?
Is advertising something my band should consider? If so, where do we start?
How should a band budget be broken down?
What are your top apps or tech solutions for bands looking step up their business game?
What does a good album release strategy look like? (this one really blew my mind)
What is the 1,000 fan theory and how can bands try to harness it?
What should bands be focusing on during the pandemic in order to be prepared for success when things start to return to normal.
Some of the things that struck me the most were:
The 1,000 True Fan Theory
If you have 1,000 true fans, you can have a sustainable career as a musician indefinitely.
This seems crazy but there are case studies (James mentions 2-3 from his personal experience) that show this to be true.
Of course, the key is in the definition of "true". A true fan will be willing to buy an album pre-sale.
A true fan will buy both of your t-shirts at a show.
A true fan will care about interacting with you in between tour cycles.
From that perspective the number may even seem high but my main takeaway from this is that there really is a quality aspect to your fandom that can be as potent as quantity.
You probably know the expression that "quantity has a quality of its own". Well, this shows that this is a commutative property. That is,
Quality has a quantity of its own
You don't need to be on the radio.
You don't need to go into the studio thinking about how you can craft songs that will appeal to as many people is possible.
Isn't that a breath of fresh air?
You can be a genuine musician, true to your vision and your craft. If you're good at it, and you find a small audience that cares and then nurture that small audience, you can make a living doing this. I found that very encouraging.
The Right Way to Plan for An Album Release
James' main point was that you should be acquiring content during the writing, producing and recording phases of your album but not posting it.
You should be posting the content you acquired in a steady, scheduled stream leading up to the release date of your album.
Here's what you don't want:
You start writing and post about how you're writing
Two months later you go into the studio and post about how you're recording
Two months later you post about how your album is being mixed
Two months later you post that the album is released.
You did not build any momentum. Everyone forgot about you. Sorry friend.
People who like your music will be excited when you post about being in the studio. Two days later they will forget. Oh, don't be mad. You'd forget too if you were in their shoes.
The social media cycle is so stupid short.
By the time your album comes out, those posts about writing and recording are buried in people's feeds and, more importantly, in their memories.
Here's the right way to do it:
You're writing. Collect videos and photos. Save them in a folder.
You're recording. Collect videos and photos. Save them in the same folder.
Once the album is ready to go, pick a single.
Record a video or some content specific to the single.
Now, armed with a boatload of awesome content, sit down and plan your social media release schedule with a steady stream of social media posts.
Post 3-5 times a week to build excitement for the single. Post the single and continue this momentum. This will keep you fresh and interesting in people's minds all the way up to the release - at which point people will be excited to go and stream your album.
Services like Hootsuite and Publer make this super easy. You can just sit down one day and schedule all of your posts across multiple social channels and have all the posts be automated.
There was really so much wisdom in this episode. I encourage you to listen to it.
James is one of the most organized and practical people I’ve met. He’s created the Better Band Bureau to help bands organize themselves for sustainable success. You know what "sustainability" means in this context? It means you can play music for longer - and possibly even to your financial advantage. Cheers and happy recording.