The very first steps of building a professional music career
Learn the basics of
taking action by creating and sharing content
being easy to find for your followers
how and why to register at a PRO (=how to start earning money)
getting your music up on streaming platforms
Create and share content
It all starts with two essential things: that you create music, and that you don’t just keep it for yourself but share it with the world!
This sounds very basic, but most artists have the same struggle in the beginning: first of all there is the songwriting process and for many people the struggle of finalising a song. You are your own boss and there is no manual to follow, no rule which tells you when something is a finished product. The options of songwriting and music production are endless, but I recommend to force yourself to make a point, may it be with a deadline or a similar restriction.
You might be afraid of not bringing the best possible result or production, but like with all things in life, you’ll improve by trying things out again and again - it all comes with time and you will always develop your style and skills. The best way of developing them is to actually do it and take action, rather than sitting on your music. Don’t be too afraid of doing something wrong. At this point there is no right or wrong, there is just the difference of taking action or not taking action.
Once you have material you feel comfortable sharing with the world, you will have different options of what to do with it, and it depends really on what you like and feel good with.
You might need a bit longer to produce your music in an adequate quality, but how about starting out by creating a Youtube channel, playing some songs in your bedroom (or anywhere else, where you can also create a decent sound) and making videos of that? This can be a great first step to have content on your Youtube channel and other social media platforms, to get feedback and connect with other people, and simply to be seen and and to start seeing yourself as an artist!
Make it easy for people to find and follow you
Thanks to social media, it’s very easy nowadays to connect with the people who are interested in your music. I am sure you know the platforms you should use: definitely Facebook and Instagram, optionally Twitter and Snapchat (I personally am not too much into it, but it really depends on who you are, which media format you prefer to use, and who your followers might be), Youtube, Soundcloud, Bandcamp, and probably some more, even though I recommend not to overdo it, as I also don’t want you to stress out over this. I think it’s good to focus on a few platforms, but then put effort into those and into having regular content and posts there.
Try to be wise about picking profile pics and creating your “brand”. Try to make it looking professional, rather than looking like a private account or something random. Have photos of you making music, and ideally also ask a photographer to take some high resolution press photos, which you can use to create your social media appearance, and at some point for streaming services, promoters or journalists. The art about this is to make it professional without being fake – you should always find a way to present yourself in an authentic way! Be yourself and don’t let anybody tell you that you have to look like other musicians or that you have to take a role which you don’t feel comfortable in.
I also recommend creating your own website at some point. This always looks professional, at latest when you’ll reach out to industry professionals. There are cheap ways to do this, e.g. with Wix.com.
To make it easy to find you, I recommend having an artist name which will be easily found and understood. Don’t make up an artist name which is just a common word or phrase – either use a full name (if it’s not too usual like “John Smith”) or if it’s something fictional, double-check first if a name is already used by somebody else and think about how easy it would be to search for it, and how easy it would be to recognise and remember a name.
I also would recommend a name which is not too difficult to understand and spell when hearing it – there’s lots of audio based technology coming in the next years and you want to make sure that people and technology will be able to pronounce and understand your name in order to play or find it. This is comparable with what the radio did for us in the “old times” – if a moderator was friendly enough to mention the artist of a song, we all were happy to understand the name to be able to write it down, go to the next record store and find it.
Basics of music production
The music production can vary a little bit, depending on what kind of music you make. Here a few things which are good to know:
Usually, the process consists of recording, mixing and mastering. If you also need help with arrangements, it could be worth it to also work with a producer.
You should preferably have two different sound engineers for mixing and mastering
My rule Nr 1: you’ll need people to be working with you, and you should not expect them to do this for free. There are many nice people out there who are up for doing friend favours, but you should be aware that producing a product (in this case your music) costs money and that people shouldn’t be working for free.
Recording: You might want to use a studio or do it yourself at home, if you have the right tools to do it. It also depends on the music and arrangements, some things work really well home-recorded, others would need a studio or studio-like settings. It also depends on how you arrange the music – are you playing all instruments or are additional recordings necessary, e.g. of string players or background singers?
Ask professional sound engineers for help and advice, if possible those, who have worked with music of a similar type as yours.
Register your music with a PRO
PRO stands for Performance Rights Organisation and with those you have to register in order to earn royalties. When do you earn royalties? Every single time when your music gets streamed, when a physical record gets sold, when the music gets used in public or if you play live. You see, as soon as you release music in some way or when you start playing live, you earn royalties with the help of the PRO! This is separate from fixed fees of a live performance or a split on streaming/sales earnings.
Generally, you need two PRO’s, one for composition performance royalties and one for sound recording performance royalties.
I know, this sounds complicated, but the good news is that it’s easy to do this. In every country you have different PROs to register with, e.g. in the UK you just register your music with PRS, who will take care about both of the mentioned royalty types, while in the US you need two for each – that might most commonly be BMI or ASCAP for the composition performance royalties, and SoundExchange for the sound recording performance royalties.
Only when registering with the PROs, you’ll get paid your royalties. It’s an easy job for you to do, and is one of the most important steps when starting making music professionally!
If you are not sure what the right PRO for your country is, simply google it – these information are really easy to find and usually those organisations are easy to get in touch with to help you!
Release your music on Spotify, iTunes, Bandcamp, Soundcloud etc
Here I will make some differences between the services:
Soundcloud is a tool to share music for free. It’s easy to upload music and offer it for anybody to listen to. People can listen and share, no matter if they are registered with Soundcloud or not. There is an option of making music downloadable, which I DON’T recommend, at least not if the playlist is public. Many musicians also use Soundcloud as a tool to share music in private playlists, which only people with the link can see. This is a great way to share your music with close friends, your band, others you work with or with music professionals, e.g. if you have material which is not published yet, but you want to share it already with labels, promoters etc.
Bandcamp: This is a great platform to offer your music for limited free streaming, which means that people can listen for free, but after a certain amounts of times they would have to pay to have further access. Unlike Soundcloud, Bandcamp is great to offer your music as a paid download, either to download single songs or a whole album / EP. If you have physical items such as CDs, LPs or merchandise, you can also sell it on Bandcamp. It’s a really good tool to sell CDs if you don’t have any other physical distribution.
Spotify, iTunes, Deezer and all the others: Here people can stream your music, which will generate a tiny amount of money per stream, but because of the huge amount of people using these platforms, there are a few ways of generating a big amount of streams, which might then actually result in good earnings.
Also for all further professional steps like working with bookers/promoters, labels, publishers and so on, it’s pretty much required to have music on these platforms.
It’s easy to upload your music – if you are an independent artist, you can use services such as Tunecore or CD Baby, which make it really easy to get your music out there. They will automatically share your music to all the platforms, so you just submit your music once via Tunecore or CD Baby and then will be able to find it on Spotify, iTunes, Deezer, Amazon Music and many more.
Once you have done this, I recommend to request access for “Spotify for Artists” and “Apple Music for Artists”. It’s easy to do (just google both and you’ll find your way within short time), and it will let you create nice looking artist profiles, so that you can add profile photos, a bio, links to your social media channels and much more. On top of that and very, very important and useful to have, you’ll have insights in all statistics: numbers of plays, who’s your audience, in which countries or cities are people listening, how do they listen to your music (playlists, your catalogue, their saved music…) and much more. Spotify also started having really great informative and fun videos about how to promote your music, how to increase your plays or other topics which might be interesting for you.