The music game is a game that we all love dearly, otherwise we wouldn't be in it. The landscape in which we work in South Africa is getting more and more challenging by the day. Not only when it comes to the financial side of things, but also by the fact that competition is stiffer due to the quality of music constantly getting better and better.
It is very evident that many bands are cutting back on costs, not because they want to, but because they have to. When there is financial pressure and strain, strategic and lateral thinking often shoot straight out of the window and this unfortunately leads to bad decisions where the repercussions of false economy are rife.
Do you consider yourself an average artist or band? Probably not, so strive for excellence in everything you do and work with a team that can share your vision. If there is one bit of advice you take away with you after reading this article, it is to take your time and do things properly and understand that the old saying of "you get what you pay for" rings 100% true. There is great value in getting each element of your career right and there are no second chances.
To follow, are just a few examples where investment is needed.
Hire a reputable producer who has a track record of radio success. Spend for example R12,000 on one phenomenal song rather than spending R12,000 on six mediocre songs. Although you will be remembered for that hit, you will also be remembered for a crap product, so get it right first time. No shortcuts!
Good radio pluggers understand the radio landscape
Your goal is to get your music playlisted on as many radio stations as possible. Plugging your own music has its limits and you will find that your reach may not be as comprehensive as you think it is. It is also often awkward for music managers to deal with the artist themselves and representation by a radio plugger immediately places a level of professionalism on the plugging campaign. Keep in mind too that good radio pluggers understand the radio landscape inside out and are in an authoritative position to offer strategic recommendations when campaigning a track. If you are signed to a record label, you won't have to worry as servicing radio stations with your new music is within their scope of work.
Creative elements within your brand can look cheap and nasty if shortcuts are taken. Your style, corporate identity, photography, music videos, website and other elements need to be consistent and speak to one another and each need to form a vital cog in your overall brand. Yes, these elements are expensive, but have to be invested in. If you get them right now, you won't have to get another logo done, ever. Your website will be subject to a few minor updates here and there. Your photos will be usable for the duration of an album - about 18 months. If you go on the cheap, it will show, guaranteed and you will find yourself in a frustrated mind frame where you will be getting things constantly redone, therefore spending the same amount of money in the long run as you would have if you had got it right in the first place. Of course you want to be taken seriously and people absolutely judge a book by its cover, so work on those first impressions.
When the time is right, invest in a good publicist. Granted, this often falls within the scope of work offered by a record label and although in most cases, they do a great job, their focus is more on sales than building a brand. Hiring a PR company will not replace the label's role, but will enhance what the promotions person or label manager is doing and will keep your name out there and your reputation at a peak even if there is minimal career activity from your side. A good publicist is in the job of building and maintaining positive reputation capital and is in the job of making sure that your message is conveyed through various media and multimedia channels at all times. They have the relationships with press to make things happen. Use them. There is nothing wrong with self-promotion, but outsourcing it can only take your brand up a notch and will grow favourable public perception and keep the conversation going.
Get a good manager
Get a good manager and you will have to be willing to part with a larger percentage of earnings or put them on a small salary. It is very easy to be self-managed or to get a family member to take on that role. There is in fact nothing wrong with a girlfriend, husband, father or mother doing the job, provided that they are completely objective in their approach. The big question is, however, do they have a fair understanding of the music business, enough so to make informed decisions? Do they have the connections within the industry that they can leverage off? Affiliate yourself with someone who can get the job done, who can use their contacts and resources to the max and who is objective. Would you hire a workshop manager to run a law firm? Absolutely not. Someone who already knows the industry is vital, otherwise your career could be heading in the wrong direction. You may need to pay for this, but it is way better than working alongside someone who is willing to do you a favour, yet puts your business and integrity at risk by making bad decisions.
Work with a professional booking agent and yes, you will have to pay them commission and reasonable expenses. They do what they do because they are good at what they do, have the connections with corporate clients, festival owners and venues and understand that there is in fact money to be made in live music, despite the economic climate as it stands. A member of your family with a Yellow Pages directory and a telephone may not be that effective. Again, and this ties in with what has been said previously, if you have invested in your music, have a great song with great radio and television air play, your brand is sound, your PR guy or girl is getting you media exposure and have a clear business and marketing strategy, it will make you more marketable for your booking person and you will get more gigs.
To conclude, short cuts are a fast track to failure. There is no time limit on getting things right and if finances are tough, invest in getting one thing right rather than trying to take on too much within a limited budget and getting half a dozen things wrong. Great songs, great production, a solid brand backed by a professional team of publicists, labels, managers and booking agents are what it takes to be successful. Invest wisely, follow the correct path and get it right!
Tim Hill is a Publicist, Brand Manager and Co-owner at Tuned In Publicity (www.tunedinpublicity.co.za), a full service public relations consultancy specialising in building and maintaining positive reputation capital for South African artists and bands. Contact Tim on
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