Five Tips To Increase Your Value as a Performer

By Mason Hoberg

 

Contrary to what you may believe, learning to play an instrument well is only the first step in becoming a musician who is commercially valuable. To really be an asset to labels, or even just other musicians in your scene, you need to constantly be improving your skills and marketability.

The five tips below are a great place to start, but don’t stop there. If you really want to make it, you need to be constantly increasing not just your musical abilities but your worth as well. After all, everyone wants to be a rockstar: but few are willing to put in the work to get there.

1. Learn Another Instrument

Learning another instrument opens a world of opportunities. Different scenes tend to have different populations of musicians, though most are pretty guitarist-heavy. Knowing how to play the bass in addition to the guitar (or, if you really want to gig a lot, the drums) for example gives you access to the opportunities available to both guitarists and bassists in your area.

Even better, if you’ve already learned one instrument you’ve got a huge head start when you go to learn another one.

2. Build a Resume of Performance

A resume of performance is a document which shows where you’ve performed. It also contains the contact information of the owner at the various venues you’ve played. This alone isn’t going to land you any gigs, it just makes you look more professional.

A harsh reality of any creative industry is that there are thousands of people who are amazing at what they do, all of whom are looking for work. And you’re probably not the best out of them. If anything, you’re lucky if you’re in the top 70%.

This is something I personally struggled with a lot while I was getting my writing career off the ground. There were all these people who were so much better than me (and still are), so I had a really hard time finding work.

A huge part of why I succeeded at being a writer is that I worked at it and got better, but the majority of the success I’ve had is because I pretend I’m a professional. Seriously. I’m just some guy who writes, and in all honesty I’m not awesome at it. But it pays my bills, because I’m willing to market myself as a professional. Thankfully, I don’t have to dress like a professional because I work at home (I’m writing this whole thing in just my boxers and fuzzy socks).

3. Launch a YouTube Channel (A Musician’s Portfolio)

In addition to being a musician, I’m also a freelance writer. Part of how I get new gigs as a writer is that I keep a portfolio. A portfolio is a collection of a person’s work, whether that’s music, art, or in my case writing.

In addition to showing off your work, your portfolio also shows how you approach your work. It shows your voice as a musician, your work ethic (shown by how much you post), and your creativity. A portfolio is a must-have tool for anyone in a creative industry.

In addition to showing off your work and how you approach it, a YouTube channel/portfolio also shows off how well you can build an audience. Having a loyal YouTube following shows that people like your music, which in turn shows venue owners and members of the industry that you have commercial potential.

4. Be Nice

Would you rather work with a musical savant who’s a jerk, or a mediocre musician who’s personable and reliable? When looking at it this way, just about anyone would say that they’d rather work with the person who’s not a drag to be around.

If you aren’t friendly to your fellow musicians, or are dismissive of the abilities of musicians in your scene, you’re going to get a reputation for being a jerk. So instead, just be nice. While it might be really cathartic to lay into someone you don’t like, or tell your friends how much you hate a local band, always remember that you’re a brand and you should represent yourself as such.

You want to be seen as the fun, friendly, and talented musician; not the jerk with an over-inflated ego.

5. Learn To Play Different Genres

Even if you’d never dream of stepping outside of your preferred genre, you’d be surprised at just how much overlap there is between the different genres that make up Western music. For example, sweep picking is used extensively in both Metal and Gypsy Jazz (Gypsy Jazz uses a picking style similar to sweep picking, even if it’s not strictly sweep picking).

These techniques are used differently in different genres, so seeing how other guitarists outside of your preferred genre implement them can help to boost your own creativity. You may also find that once you start getting into these genres you actually like them. It may even turn out that you get into the genre to the point where you join a band focused around it, which will give you even more opportunities to find gigs.

Wrapping It All Up

Music is a business, and if you want to make a living at it you’ve got to play the game. While it can be hard to transform yourself into a marketable musician, you’ll find that the effort you put in will pay off in spades.

The Sneaky Way to Promote Your Music Without Actually Talking About Your Music

[Editors Note: This blog was written by Dave Kusek and originally appeared on the Sonicbids Blog.]

I know it sounds completely counterintuitive to promote your music and raise awareness for yourself as an artist without actually talking about your music – or your music career, for that matter. But it’s being done more and more and has become a really powerful way to make a name for yourself by bypassing the crowded indie-musician market.

Let me explain. The key is to establish yourself as an expert in some related topic like gear, self-releasing music, or songwriting. It’s about sharing valuable information on a topic you have a lot of experience in to draw potential fans. They find you by searching for “how to write a song,” or “how to book your own gigs,” or “guitar pedal review,” and discover your music through that connection.

Push vs. pull marketing

Traditionally, there are two ways to go about promoting your music. You can either push your message out to fans and potential fans (push marketing), or you can pull them in and get them to come to you (pull marketing).

Push marketing is those typical advertisements you see on TV and hear on the radio. They’re just pushing information out about their product to a large audience hoping to reach someone who may be interested.

Pull marketing is about giving out valuable information that you know your target audience is searching for. This valuable information could be exclusive or behind-the-scenes access to you as an artist. This kind of content will pull in current fans and deepen your relationship.

But you could also share advice on something you have a lot of experience with. This will help you reach a new audience who may not even be familiar with your music.

So let’s go through the strategy step-by-step.

1. Find your expertise

The first step is finding something you have a lot of experience and knowledge in. As a musician, you have a few really obvious routes – music, songwriting, mixing, mastering, music theory, gear, instruments, etc. These are the skills that form the very foundation of your career, so you definitely have a lot of valuable information to bring to the table here.

Many musicians, including Scale the Summit’s bassist Mark Michell, have set up online schools to share their musical knowledge and techniques. The key here is to bring this training online instead of doing local lessons. Not only will you be able to reach a much larger audience, you’ll also start showing up in Google searches for things like “online bass lessons.”

Other musicians pull on other skill sets like music business knowledge, booking gigs, or creating YouTube videos. DIY musician Ari Herstand, for example, runs the blog Ari’s Take, where he shares his experiences and the skills he’s learned from booking his own shows and generally running his own career. Other musicians like Alex Cowles share their knowledge on self-releasing music.

2. Find the right platform

If you want people to organically find you, the best option is to go online. Depending on the kind of information you share, your platform may be a little different. So, if you’re creating music lessons, videos may be your best bet. Try making YouTube tutorials, playthroughs, and lessons, and release them regularly to build an audience.

On the other hand, if you’re sharing the things you’ve learned on getting your songs licensed or booking college gigs, a blog may suit your information better. Gear and guitar pedal reviews and demonstrations might use a combination of blog posts and videos.

You could also aim to partner with other media outlets to share out your information. This will help you get your name out to a larger audience. In addition to his own blog, Ari Herstand also writes for Digital Music News. Maybe you could get a regular column in a small online music magazine or music industry blog – start small and grow from there.

3. Show up in search

Now that you have your content up, you need to make sure people can actually find it. There are plenty of SEO guides out there, but basically, you just want to think about what people are actually typing into search. There are also a lot of cool tools like Google’s Keyword Planner that can give you some ideas.

You want the keywords and article titles you choose to be relevant and specific to what you’re posting. So if you’re posting a review of a certain guitar pedal, a title like “Boss Waza Craft VB-2W Vibrato Review” will perform better than “Guitar Pedal Review.” Likewise, if you’re sharing your tips on how to set up good lighting for a music video, something like “Setting Up Good Lighting for a Music Video” will probably do the trick.

Of course, good SEO won’t instantly drive thousands of people to your articles and videos. It’s going to take a lot of work and consistent posting to build up an audience.

4. Create the connection

Here’s the most important part of this strategy: you need to make the connection to your music and drive your viewers or readers to check it out. After all, music is your main gig.

There are a few options here. You could obviously host your blog on your band’s site, or share your tutorials or gear reviews on your band’s YouTube channel. That way, your music is just a click away. This works, but it will make it more difficult to get the SEO working like you want.

If you host your content off your music website, you need to make the connection obvious. Include an “About” page that shares your story. Highlight your musical journey and your creative career as an indicator of your expertise on the subject.

You should also mention your career and bring out stories in your articles and videos.Preface an amp review by saying you brought it on tour and recorded some awesome sounding live videos with it. Include the live video to prove your point (and introduce your readers to your music).

If you’re teaching people on YouTube about modes, you could mention that you used a certain mode when writing a new song you have out. Play a short section of that song to show your point and include a card in the top right corner to link to your music video.

The Business of Making a Record (Part II)

[Editors Note: This is the second in a three-part series of guest articles from Coury Palermo. Over the next few months, he’ll break down what it means to grind it out and write, record, release and promote a DIY album early in your musical career. Coury is a songwriter, producer and musician who is currently one-half of duo love+war.]


Read “The Business of Making a Record (Part I)” here.

It’s time. The most exciting part of the process is here. You’re recording the material you’ve written or a collection of songs you feel best articulates where you are as a musician. You’ve spent countless hours arranging, tweaking, and rehearsing the material, and now you’re ready – or are you?

I will never forget my first real experience in the studio. I spent years working in the industry and trying to stumble upon another opportunity that would find me behind the glass – sketching out the ideas that would become my first “Masterpiece.” With each recording experience that followed, those delusions of grandeur never disappeared.

As artists, if we aren’t aiming for greatness, what’s the point? Many musicians think “completed material” equals good material – not necessarily. I’ve long believed that a good song is truly a good song if it stands on it’s own; if, when the bells and whistles are stripped away, the melody and lyric lose none of their magic.

Always go for great. If the songs are “there,” you’ve jumped the first hurdle as you begin the sometimes arduous, but always rewarding, journey of making a record.

Don’t forgo the magic to fit into the box.

There was once an industry standard for making a record – or more accurately “a folklore” attached to the process. As an independent, you would find a producer, pick a studio, and usually work with the engineer said studio provided. Though this practice still exists in some instances, the last ten or so years have brought about a very different school of thought.

We are no longer tethered to the “way it has to be done.” One of my favorite albums of the past decade, In The Early Morning, is a testament to the less conventional rulebook of recording.

Singer-Songwriter James Vincent McMorrow recorded his debut in a small house off the Irish coast – completely alone. No engineer – no producer – no carefully sound-proofed vocal booth – just a microphone and a hand full of instruments.

This “no-frills” approach to recording has been used to varying degrees of success on albums by artist such as Bon Iver, Eurythmics, Bruce Springsteen, and Peter Gabriel just to name a few. Some of the most successful indie acts in recent years created most, if not all, of their widely blogged about tracks in the comfort of their bedroom.

I’ve recorded everywhere from famed Nashville favorite Oceanway Studios to the top floor of an abandoned law office in Lincoln, Nebraska. Don’t limit your excitement or creativity to the space. Though recording in a “major studio” was an experience I will never forget, it is not one of the favorite projects I’ve been a part of. Not because of the space, Oceanway is a beautiful recording facility, but because of the environment the space created.

I remember being extremely stressed about budgets and time restraints while recording the album. This is never the recipe for success and can lead to a piece of work that is never fully realized.

Personally, I respond best to intimate spaces when recording. You don’t have to record on a SSL console to produce a great album. You DO, however, need to align yourself with capable collaborators that understand your vision and believe in you as an artist.

Is this a safe place?

The recording studio can be one of the most intimidating spaces in the world. Make sure it’s a safe space to create. From the equipment to the engineers and producers at the helm of your creation, this environment will determine how and what you create. Choosing your team is one of the most important steps in the record making process.

In the event an elaborate, fully produced record seems overwhelming or is not in the current cards – be creative. Compile your three best songs and strip them down. If the “bones” are great, you may find the extra layers unnecessary. Use this recording as product or a tool to fund your fully realized creation. There is no end to the ways in which you can achieve your project goals – it simply takes a step out of the box.

Who’s in charge?

Producers are a key element for any project. They help in wide array of areas. From honing each song to picking the right engineer, producers are involved in almost every aspect of making a record. I learned very early on that finding a collaborative “partner” is much more important than securing a producer with a long list of production credits. Don’t let the insecurities of “this is my first time” stop you from going after your dream collaborator – they are an essential part of the equation.

A few years back, the band I was in began throwing around ideas for our first full-length album. We had recorded an EP the year before, and our manager gave us the simple task of putting together a list of producers we would like to work with on the new project.

Being the dreamer that I am, I listed Pierre Marchand of Sarah Mclachlan fame as my number one pick. There was a part of me that wrote his name with a “you asked for it” smirk; never believing she would approach one of my heroes. The next thing I knew, I was on a plane to Montreal to meet Mr. Marchand and have what is still one of the most unforgettable experiences of my life.

Don’t short change yourself with limitations. The greatest adventures I’ve had in this business have come from believing in possibility. Never be afraid to go after what you believe will make your creation it’s best. The road is long, my friends, but the end result is priceless.


In my final piece of this series, I’ll talk about what you can do after the songs have been recorded, the mix is complete and your masters are “in the can”. This is where the real work begins. Until next time!


love+war is the brain-child of writer-producer-guitarist team Coury Palermo & Ron Robinson. The two began working together in the fall of 2014 with no other intention but writing material for possible pitches in TV/Film. Once the sessions began, the two realized the collaboration was destined for much more than their original hopes for commercial sync opportunities.

Grounded in the traditions of R&B, pop, and minimalistic electronica, love+war turns the ear with their infectious blend of singer-songwriter soul. Check out their recent video for their Eurythmics cover of “Missionary Man”!

The Holiday Checklist: 5 Plans for Musicians for the 2014 Holiday Season

[Editors Note: This is blog is written by Chris Mooney, TuneCore’s Senior Director of Artist Promotion & Strategic Relationships.]

Artists are people too and around the holidays, they also have families to visit, gifts to buy, eggnog to drink, etc. – but artists can’t ignore their craft and career during this time. As the temperature drops, I wanted to provide some tips and ideas that can help to fire up your fans. It’s only a “slow season” if you choose to hibernate; there are plenty of opportunities to focus and grow!

We also reached out to members of the TuneCore community to weigh in with holiday tips of their own!

1. Host a Concert!

Why not be the Christmas party of the year with live music from you and your talented group of musician friends. And this could be in a home, but oftentimes a friendly local bar/venue will give it to you the space as long as you meet minimum spend at the bar. Really make this a Christmas party with White Elephant/Yankee Swap games, Toys for Tots drive, Horrible Sweater or other fun holiday themed events. Mix in your music with holiday classics.

Label Tips Holiday
2. Host an Online Concert!

Sites like StageIt or Concert Window enables artists to host online concerts for their fans, with a tip jar experience. Promote this now to try and build excitement around it on social—have a fan vote for the songs to perform, perform as Santa, do a 12 days of Christmas countdown to the event, etc…
Artist Tips Holiday

3. Learn Cover Songs!

It’s obvious maybe that artists should always be writing new material, but this “off-season” could be a perfect time to learn cover songs to attract a broader audience. Fans love to hear these songs at live shows—instant sing-alongs!—but these new tracks could be used for your YouTube channel, as well as new releases. Maybe your new material won’t be ready until summer or spring, but a cover song distribution could keep your profile high with fans.
Marketing Tips Holiday

4. Are You Ready for Fan-Funding?

Many artists are now embracing the idea of fan-funding and have engaged MusicRaiser, Kickstarter, and other platforms. During this holiday season, use your down time to make a plan including a plotted-out calendar,  an album release goal and ready the rewards for your backers. This will help you map out your overall marketing plan.
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5. Don’t Miss Holiday Store Deadlines!

iTunes has a holiday shutdown period that causes delays in music going live. So we recommend that you ready and distribute your music now. More details on the Holiday deadlines for iTunes.

Make Great Music & Happy Holidays!

5 Tips for Making Merch Work For You

By Stephen Babcock

1. If you’re gigging, you need to sell merch (merchandise)

If you plan on playing shows, you need merch. Anyone who has ever been to a concert or show knows that the best acts always have some kind of merch (T-shirts, posters, caps, etc.) to sell to fans. Whether it’s the local garage band playing their hometown, or Fleetwood Mac performing at Madison Square Garden, all great acts have merch.

Successful artists want their fans to remember their shows, well after the roadies have packed up and their concerts are over. They want their fans to have a great experience, a vibe they can enjoy and share with others. Selling them merch encourages fans to share their enthusiasm and it gives them something tangible to show off to friends and family. It also allows them to feel a deeper connection to their favorite artists and their music.

If you plan on taking music seriously, make merch a priority.

2. Know your brand and make a logo

You, your music or your band needs to have a brand.

Part of being a musician in today’s competitive music industry is being business savvy. Businesses from McDonalds to Coca Cola have a brand that is key to promoting their product to their market. By knowing your fan base and customers, you can sell your merch more efficiently. Add to that mix a logo or recurring image that is connected to your music, and you will make a major impact with merch. AC/DC, Kiss and The Ramones’ branding comes to mind. They have common, visually striking and memorable images on everything, from T-shirts to pinball machines. By using an image and/or logo that is common and uniform throughout your merch, fans can spread the look and feel of your music without saying a word.

A picture (image or logo) says a thousand words…your merch can too.

3. Start small and work up in size

This is why it’s important to start off small with merch items.

Just because some artists have big-ticket items, doesn’t mean you need to start off huge. If you are on a budget, I recommend starting off with posters or club cards. They’re a great way to get something in fans’ hands that they can take home. Posters and club cards can be placed anywhere too, which makes them great tools for free advertising. As a new band, nothing is more inspiring than seeing posters or flyers you made hung around the town your playing in, or plastered on the walls of your venue.

Like anything in life, you have to walk before you can run. So start small and build up to items like T-shirts, tote bags or specialty hats.

4. Know how to sell your merch

Once you create your merch, it’s important to make sure you package it to fans correctly.

Everything from the stand your merch is sold on, to the types of merch offered, should be bundled in a unique way, by you the artist. If your band’s name is “The Sailboats,” your merch packaging should somehow be involved with that theme. You could sell T-shirt’s bundled in a sailor’s knot or sell your merch at your stand storing your items in tiny boats. This allows fans to feel connected to the theme and has a great wow factor too.

Everyone has bought T-shirts before, but by making it new and fresh, you give your fans a chance to embrace your “brand” (as stated in bullet 2).

5. Stay involved

You’ve gotten your customized merchandise, you have a gig, and it’s time to sell your stuff. Now what? As a young artist, it’s important that before or after the show, you socialize with your fans.

If you meet and greet your fans, they are likely to buy something for you to sign (be prepared, always carry a Sharpie!). I’ve seen merch sales rise dramatically when artists say hello to their supporters after a show. So put on a great performance, but afterwards, shake their hands, take a picture and sign CDs or T-shirts. Also, taking photos with fans gives them a chance to be photographed with your gear, which is free advertising. Put a smile on their faces, and they‘ll post those photos on social media, even more free advertising.

Successful artists do this constantly because they know the value of a “fan-to-artist connection.”

Sharing and selling merch lets your fans stay connected to you and you to them. When they’re happy with the merch you created, you’ll know your merch is working for you.

[Editors Note: Are you looking for a new source for your fan merch? Open a TuneCore MerchLink account and have access to thousands of item. You can save 10% on one order placed by November 30, 2014.]

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Born and raised in New Hartford, New York and now residing in New York City Stephen Babcock began playing guitar at the age of 15 after hearing John Mayer’s “Room For Squares.” Since then, he has continued to craft his skills as a singer-songwriter, recording and performing a catalog of original music, including two EPs and one full-length LP.  After releasing Dreams, Schemes, and Childhood Memories in May 2011 and Lost in July 2013, Stephen went on a touring frenzy. He stormed up and down the east coast of the US as well as the United Kingdom, hitting coffee shops, small theaters, and numerous singer-songwriter festivals. With dates ranging from Athens, GA to London UK, his sound grew and explored new heights while on the road.

Stephen’s new EP, Wishful Thinking, was written and recorded upon returning home from touring and was released in May 2014. The EP weaves southern charm with full band grooves to create Stephen’s most layered and complete sound to date. Drawing comparisons to artists like Brett Dennen and Matt Nathanson, Stephen’s robust performance and life experience come together to achieve a live show unparalleled in today’s pop music landscape.

Check out his music here:

Bandcamp: www.stephenbabcock.bandcamp.com
Facebook: www.facebook.com/stephenbabcockmusic
Twitter: @StephenBMusic
Instagram: @StephenBMusic