10 Tips For Emerging Indie Musicians: Planning For Survival & Success

Buzz-planBuzz: Plan is the first digital release in the series Buzz – A survival guide for emerging indie musicians in the San Francisco Bay Area. This free ebook is a creation of Stefan Aronsen of SF Intercom. Though it does have some specific SF-related content, the majority is focused on the needs of indie musicians everywhere and includes 10 tips on planning, something that many indie musicians don't think of till it's far too late.

Buzz: Plan is available as a free download for a limited time but Aronsen informed me that the limits are most likely a matter of months rather than days or weeks. It's a graphically compelling document that includes, in addition to some pretty pictures, tips from a variety of Bay Area musicians on getting started, planning and journaling. There are also short sections on busking, legal issues and road trips.

Yes, it is a bit of a hodgepodge but an entertaining one that brings the SF Intercom perspective to an ebook. Tucked away near the end are 10 tips on planning that can also be found in SF Intercom's Buzz Guide and are abridged below.


1. CREATE A GAME PLAN: It is important that all members of your band know what the goals of the band are. Get input from your band and write down your goals.

2. KEEP YOUR PLAN IN A JOURNAL: Create a system for keeping your thoughts organized. What is important is the paper trail of ideas.

3. KNOW WHO YOU ARE BEFORE YOU TELL OTHERS WHO THEY ARE: Establish who you are. Know what your goals are, where you've been, and where you're going. Others will see this, and refer to you as a band that has direction.

4. TAKE A RISK, BUT DON'T BE RISKY: There comes a time in every career where you need to take a leap of faith but make it a calculated one. Don't take leaps when a tiny step was the only thing your band required.

5. DON'T BE CHEAP OR YOU'LL LOOK CHEAP: Many bands lean towards using cheap alternatives to the more costly commercial products. The down side is you look cheap! You didn't realize you were being judged but I received your lame flyer/cd/poster and instantly judged you.

6. DON'T SPEND MORE THAN IT'S WORTH: You are not the first band that needed a cd and you're not the first to create a website. Use other bands as a resource when making big decisions such as these.

7. DON'T CREATE MORE THAN YOU CAN SELL: Don't get duped into purchasing more than you can sell. You may save one dollar per cd, but money in hand is better than money in a plastic disc.

8. DON'T MAKE THE SAME MISTAKE OTHER BANDS HAVE MADE: Learn and grow from other bands mistakes. Before starting your next project, do your research! Find out how others have done it and make your choices based on that.

9. DO NOT LIMIT YOURSELF, EXPLORE ALTERNATIVE OPTIONS: Band "A" makes fliers, band "A" posts shows on Myspace pages, band "A" is not you! Your fans might not go where band "A's" fans go. How are you going to reach them?

10. EVALUATE AND RE-EVALUATE YOUR PLAN REGULARLY: Be prepared to change, change and re-change your plan. You must be flexible and ready to adapt. Keep track of changes and your new plan in your journal. It is always possible that you will return to your original plan.

Like any list of tips, these aren't to be taken as gospel but rather as a way to help you step back and consider what you're doing. But even if you reject the very notion of planning ahead, Buzz: Plan has content of interest for any indie musician and it's full of nice graphics for enjoyable browsing if you get sick of the words.

Hypebot Features Writer Clyde Smith maintains his freelance writing hub at Flux Research and music industry resources at Music Biz Blogs. To suggest topics for Hypebot, contact: clyde(at)fluxresearch(dot)com.

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  1. Most bands needs someone with a professional background to help them put together this “plan”.
    I have met many artists that keep diaries, but not one that would show that diary to anyone especially their own band members. Journals are so rare that it shouldn’t even be mentioned in my opinion.
    #3 is really important in my professional opinion because the band needs to all be answering questions the same in interviews, with fans, etc. This way the vision or goals of the band are uniform.
    I disagree on the “take risks” part of this list. The only bands that ever done ANYTHING substantial have taken risks even if they’re calculated.
    In regards to being cheap or looking cheap. This is purely subjective. With the sea of flyers, cds, posters being put up everyday who’s the authority on this? Don’t stress about this stuff, just be accurate with your information, put it out (whatever it is) and learn from your experiences.
    One band I worked with took 3 months to figure out an album cover and had to rush the last days to get the insert to our distributor. All that stress because they were trying to make everything perfect. I constantly reminded and pressured them to get the job done. In the end, we used something very basic that the fans loved.
    My company’s foundation is built upon helping bands make or save money. However, I believe you should print as many cd’s as you can afford. Reasons why: Use them to distribute promo, put a few away for your “archives”, give some away for free to key people (post promotional period), give some to your local cd stores (even regionally and nationally) as consignment, etc. etc. The list is endless. If you have a high quality reproduction, print as many copies as you can reasonably afford and put a plan together that will distribute them effectively. You can always move physical product one way or another.
    #8 is why all bands of all sizes need to have a professional that they trust in their corner.
    I agree with #9 to a certain extent. There is certain things that all bands should do and they don’t. Basic stuff. The advanced stuff is where you need to be more selective.
    #10 just doesn’t happen. A band should write its own music, distribute it, tour it and impress upon its fan-base. I’d like to see one example of one band that writes a journal and re-visits it in band meetings; that they probably never have.
    Clyde some of these are great, but some of them are more for personal use vs. band use.

  2. “I have met many artists that keep diaries, but not one that would show that diary to anyone especially their own band members.”
    There’s a big difference between a diary and a journal. I think the key here is the “paper trail of ideas.”
    Also, writing things down or typing them up changes your relationship to the ideas and/or plans. Verbalizing them limits your mental ability to take things beyond simply having the idea.
    “I disagree on the “take risks” part of this list. The only bands that ever done ANYTHING substantial have taken risks even if they’re calculated.”
    Well, he does say take calculated risks. This actually comes up a lot in looking at entrepreneurship. What outsiders describe as risks don’t really look that way to entrepreneurs because they have the context and don’t perceive all forms of failure as inherently a risk factor.
    What kind of risks are you referring to? The only thing I can truly think of involves spending a lot of money on a long shot, which is gambling not risk taking, or pursuing one’s aesthetic in a way that leaves the audience behind, which is certainly a risk but one that some artists have to take.
    Actually, I can think of very few things musicians do that I would truly describe risky other than signing contracts without their own lawyer!

  3. I should note that things I perceive as fairly normal creative acts do seem to be a risk for lots of people. My background in relatively avant-garde settings tends to give me a different perspective from the norm.
    Also, outside of the musicians I know who are also writers, journaling probably sounds a bit New Agey or too much like keeping a diary to be a real planning tool.
    In fact, in general, I think we as humans often don’t plan things out and connecting with one’s creativity and getting it together for shows definitely makes it harder to step back and look at the big picture sometimes.
    I don’t know how this would strike people but I could see Stefan making a more visually oriented workbook for musicians. Still might not reach everyone but might be another way to approach the issue.

  4. Personally, I didn’t take the term ‘journaling’ as keeping private writings, but more of an outline of ideas. I have never kept a journal/diary, but I do jot down ideas and add to them later all the time. I can’t recommend Evernote enough for this. It may be true that this isn’t realistic for artists, but they *need* to make it a regular to-do, otherwise they’re just winging it, and winging it only works once in a while & can never be relied upon.
    Taking risks is the foundation of anyone trying to bring something new to the table. Most great music and innovation comes from those that took the risk & put themselves out there. Unless an artist is attempting to take over the world of pop, it’s imperative they take risks, imo.
    If artists study and listen to what works & doesn’t work for other artists they can avoid a lot of mistakes. I don’t think being completely reliant on management is a smart idea, only because managers are human too & they also make mistakes. I once learned a business by doing what those I looked up to were doing. I didn’t copy them, per se, but used what they were doing as a blueprint.
    madktc says that bands just won’t do these things, but I think the point of this article is that they should be. Of course professional management will help with all this, but it’s not the solution for every artist.

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