7 Essential Tips For DIY Artists From Indie Musicians Trent Severn
Guest post by Dayna Manning on PledgeMusic News
Today we’re thrilled to feature a guest post by acclaimed Canadian singer-songwriter Dayna Manning, who is currently preparing to release a new album with Trent Severn. Dayna graciously volunteered to write a guest post with some DIY principles and advice for other artists.
For me personally, Trent Severn rivals no other project I have been a part of. From the amount of joy it brings, the friendship and the artistic satisfaction built on collaboration and respect, this band is a complete pleasure to be in. And it’s fair to say if you were to talk shop with any member of the group, they would tell you the same thing. But for any band to be enjoyable and successful there are certain things you need to consider and start talking about from day one. Although the finer details will vary between groups and projects, these are the core principles that have helped us find our success and hopefully they can help you find yours.
Before the first Trent Severn songs were penned, we made a manifesto. This manifesto has been our guiding beacon through this crazy business they call music. To be honest, I hardly feel like we’re in the music business anymore. We write our own songs, we plan our own tours and we make our own rules. You can view our manifesto on our website here.
Upon each album release, we revisit our guiding principles to make sure they still work for us. Whenever we are confronted with a tough decision, we read our manifesto and ensure that the task at hand is relevant to our rooted guides and morals.
Writing and production
Trent Severn is very lucky to be comprised of three strong musicians and writers. Over the years we have familiarized ourselves with each other’s strengths, and we’re at a point where we can call in the right person to get the right job done. Getting to know each other on this level has ensured higher quality songs and proven very efficient.
As part of our manifesto, you’ll notice that we wanted our records to sound just like our live show. It’s a simple equation. We each approach songwriting with our specific instrumentation in mind, and produce them on recordings that can be replicated live by only the three of us. This is important to us because we find these days our CDs are most often considered a souvenir from our live show, so we want our fans to drive home from the gig and reminisce about the experience and laughs they just enjoyed. Later on we want them to be able to listen to the record and revisit the show they were at whenever they feel like it.
Give everyone a job and let them do it! One of us manages merchandise, one manages finances, one manages our website and we all pitch in when needed. Each project we take on (i.e. grants, fundraising, symphony coordination) has a pre-decided, dedicated leader who is ultimately responsible to see it to completion.
Furthermore, make sure you hire out what you need to. We have a fantastic person who helps book shows, another who advances our shows, and a professional bookkeeper. Our booking manager takes a commission and the others work by the hour. When it’s new record time, we hire a friend by the hour to help with mail-outs.
Budget and money Management
Now wait. Before you gloss over this section remember that a band is a relationship, and just like any relationship, money issues often lead to a break up. Too often bands don’t address this issue until it is too late. This is our method. It is simple in its approach, but very effective when followed. The important point is that it works for us, and you need to find a system that works for you. Having a budget and plan to manage money will save you from a lot of issues down the road. Okay, carry on!
We’ve developed an email system for tracking income, expenses and payments. We have a dedicated email address where all invoices are sent by our contractors, requests for withdrawals by band members, all deposits are detailed, all contracts are stored, and all expense reports with receipts are sent to. Our bookkeeper is on the receiving end of this email and reconciles finances with bank statements. One of us monitors the accounts and we mainly pay bills with bank e-transfers. If anyone needs access to documents each member can get into this email and knows only these items will be found in it. We never have to worry about lost receipt or questionable transactions. No money comes out of our account without a corresponding email to trace it back to. We literally fill up our touring vehicle on the band visa, take a photo of the receipt and send it to this address and our work is done!
Budgeting. Over the years it has become apparent that 50% off all of our income goes out in expenses. So the basic math is this: if the gig pays $1000, $500 will be expenses and we split the remaining 50% three-ways. It’s a very simple and effective way to think and budget. When we take on bigger projects like albums and symphony scores, we have to raise funds independently from our tour income. This is where grants and the Pledge Music platform to connect with our supporters has been a god send! We have made our previous records from mostly personal funds, and have kept the budgets VERY tight. With our third album, Portage, we are hoping to have more time and budget to work with, and essentially make a more enjoyable, artistic album for our listeners. Get involved here.
Find micro-communities within communities. In each town you can find a group of people who are like-minded and into what you are into. Don’t attempt a show in a new market without tapping into the existing micro-community and get them involved. Whether it be asking them to promote the show and take a cut, open the show with their band, or guest on a song or two with your group, be sure to reach out for help.
Don’t take on too much. When touring Canada, we can sometimes have large drives between shows, especially when we’re crossing the prairies or headed to the east. We made a decision early on to concentrate our primary market efforts on our home province of Ontario, which has a population of over 13 million. The locales for shows are closer together here and we can usually avoid too much driving in one day. When we take on too much travelling each day, our shows suffer. Our secondary market is Alberta, which has a strong network of folk clubs and an excellent provincial radio station that supports our type of music. We try to make it there twice a year. We consider any other markets we get booking inquiries from a huge opportunity. We don’t pursue them, but we trust these markets will come with time and experience as we build our primary and secondary markets.
Don’t negotiate your own contracts or advance the details of shows yourselves. We have help in both these departments. This way, any sticky details don’t leave a bad impression with promoters on the artist themselves as issues and contracts get ironed out. Don’t cheap out on production! If you use a bad PA or soundman you will sound bad, and you will lose the next gig.
Show your gratitude
We know very well that we would be nowhere without our colleagues, supporters and fans. At every opportunity we send a handwritten note to everyone who has booked us at a show, lent a helping hand, or inspired us. Nothing goes further than thank you, and we certainly mean them!
Take care of each other
Know that each other’s liveliness, happiness and families come first. Support each other above all in difficult times. If inter-band relations are strained, make the time to listen to each other’s needs and figure out how to meet them. We have a couple of these meetings per year and we all come out the other end more connected and happier. I’ve ended up with two of my best friends in this band and above all things, I’m most thankful for that.