Playing The Long Game As A Self-Managed Musician

Being a self-managed musician requires not only a passion for music, but also a head for business smarts. Here we look at how to get the best of both these worlds, and set yourself up for long term self-governed success in the music industry.

Guest post by Sirma Munyar of the Tunecore Blog

[Editor’s Note: This article was written by Sırma Munyar.]

Today, being a self-managed artist can mean a variety of things. If you have a day job or are involved in other musical projects, chances are you only go as far as putting your music out and playing a few shows every now and then. Maybe you have a team of people around you who help you along the way and altogether, you’re making strides.

Still, regardless of budget, level of progress and status, there’s no denying that we can all do more to aid our careers as self-managed artists, especially in this age of social media and streaming. We hear of YouTube, Instagram and TikTok stars who single-handedly prove this theory right every day, but unlike what we may want to believe, it’s not one singular thing that defines their success story.

You’ve got to put in the work.

Making smart decisions matters just as much as the time you dedicate to your artist project. If moving with intention and urging yourself to think outside the box becomes second nature to you, you’ll eventually start to see the business side as an extension of your creativity.

It’s this point of view that has led me to perceive my own project like a startup company lately. Every startup runs the risk of remaining a money pit for the entirety of its existence, but on the flip side, each startup also has the potential to eventually become an established business. If you’ve ever worked at or with a startup company, you probably already know that there’s a lot of trial and error that goes into the growth. Some companies go through years without seeing profit and rely on their investors for a lot longer than expected.

Viewing my career as a solo artist in this light has helped me put everything in perspective. Like many others, I, too, go through frustrating, even devastating moments. In fact, there have been times when I felt downright self-indulgent for making my project a priority. It took me a while to realize that there are several business people who feel the same way as I do when they invest all their savings and time into a brand new company.

There is a difference between the musician’s and business person’s mindset, though. A lot of musicians make the mistake of continuously taking the same steps for each launch, blindly believing that the music will speak for itself every time. However, an individual with a business sense won’t have the same emotional tendencies: they will be more likely to come to the quick conclusion that if a strategy doesn’t go according to plan, it’s time to try a new one.

Here’s the good news: as a self-managed artist, you don’t have to pick and choose. You can be a passionate musician with a business oriented mind, and make the best out of both worlds.

Timeline is Everything

First things first, in every business, there must be a work schedule in place, right?

Imposing a timeline on yourself is the key to success no matter what level you’re at. Creating a dedicated calendar with upcoming releases, meetings, interviews, sessions and live shows- in short, anything and everything that feeds into your project, will bring you one step closer to making your short-term goals a reality.

Make an Effort to Understand Music Business

Even if you happen to find a manager who is the right person to take your project to the next level one day, understanding the basics of and trends in the music industry will benefit you not just while you’re managing yourself, but also in every contractual agreement you’ll be looking at in the future. A lot of our earnings come from residuals, ranging from master streams and sales to mechanical and performance royalties. With so many music and video streaming services taking over, knowing the guidelines of how each platform pays artists and songwriters is more essential than ever.

If even thinking about this stuff makes your head hurt, set aside half an hour once a week to do a little research and internalize new information gradually.

Get the Basics Down

There are some tried and true methods almost every artist follows. Sure, sometimes some artists divert expectations by dropping an album without even a single hint- but that doesn’t mean they don’t have a release plan in place for that album cycle.

Getting the basics down, whether it be social media strategies or when and where to play shows, should be your first step before you develop your own plan.

Consider Collaborations & Partnerships

The basics will only get you so far. Partnerships, endorsements and even immersive experiences are all around us these days.

Are there any artists you can collaborate with who are not in the music industry? Can you get other brands to support your own brand? Big or small, it doesn’t matter: there’s always a unique strategy for every artist, waiting to be found.

Be Observant

Observing how other artists promote their music is essential to carving out your own path. Taking a closer look at your music community and investigating the careers of the biggest stars in the world in order to learn how they’ve gotten to the point they are currently at will motivate you to step up.

Take a Look at the Bigger Picture

If you’re already making a living within the music industry or in the world of visual arts, your biggest advantage is to connect the dots between everything you do in your career.

It might be tempting to separate your artist project from the rest of your life and make it your sanctuary, but seeking out opportunities that will indirectly benefit your artist project can also empower you in more ways than one. I have recently launched a course at the online music school, Soundfly, titled Modern Pop Vocal Production, and one of the main reasons why I was so excited to make this course was the fact that I knew I could show examples from my own songs.

Now, every student who signs up hears my original music. It may not be a traditional promotional tactic, but it’s still beneficial in the long term.

Dedicate Yourself to Playing the Long Game

Remember: the artists you only hear about once and never again are the ones who put all their eggs in one basket and give up when the results don’t meet their expectations.

If you’re passionate about your art, you’ll inevitably have moments of resentment and disappointments. Being prepared for those moments, and reminding yourself that you’re in it not just for one album cycle, but for life, will help you see the big picture. Trends will always change, but there is a place in this industry for those who stay true to themselves and are dedicated to playing the long game.

SIRMA is an independent singer, songwriter and producer. She’s the creator of the Modern Pop Vocal Production course on Soundfly and has a degree from Berklee College of Music.

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