THE INDUSTRY PROFESSIONALS
Who are they and how/when should I approach them?
There are many different players in the music industry and many people we might have or want to work with at some point. Learn more about what exactly they are doing and why they might be interesting for you to work with (or why you have to be careful sometimes!).
Build structures around you and find people who are supportive and really believe in you!
It can often be confusing or intimidating to be confronted with many people who might contact you to work together, or whom people tell you to contact and work with. Not only that there are so many different roles, but also can these roles sometimes blend together. As the whole music industry is often a difficult world to earn enough money for a living (this goes for artists as well as for professionals), it became more and more normal that people offer a wider range of services, which can be great, but also in some cases something you should be careful about.
In general it is important for you to know that it's very normal to reach out to hundreds of people and most of the times not to hear back or to get a no. This doesn't mean at all that you are not good enough! Usually it's the mix of people already having way too much on the table and too many artists reaching out to them to be able to say yes very often, and sometimes that person simply might have another taste in music, which is very legit of course. It can be hard work to find the right people to work with, but it's always better to look for longer and then find those who truly dig your music and connect with you also on a personal level in the ideal case.
Before talking about the different players and their roles, here a few general tips how to approach people:
For pretty much everybody I contact whom I am not working with yet or who doesn't already know me personally, I have a few rules I apply:
Try to keep it short - people are most times lazy about reading too long email. It's a fine line between not overloading an email and still sending some information that person might be hooked on and to raise interest for more. Just make sure that you'll write in the beginning why you are contacting that person!
Shortly introduce yourself!
Be friendly! I always start the email with one short nice sentence like "I hope this email finds you well.", and to include something in the end like "Thanks for your time". I have seen many emails which don't include any friendliness, and I'm sure it's not meant badly, but it doesn't make a great first impression.
Be personal! First of all don't send out one email to many people in cc. Personalise email at least with a person's name if you have, or otherwise the company name. It's also helpful often to refer to something they are doing, e.g. "I saw that you are working with artists XY, and as we make a similar type of music, I thought you might be interested in working with me as well."
Add a link to more information - for that it's great to have an EPK (electronic press kit). If sending a link to an EPK, I shortly mention what they can find on it, e.g. "Here the link to the press kit, where you can find more information about the artist, including music and videos". Sometimes I also add some information below the email and refer to that, e.g. a photo + links or dates of live gigs or whatever might be of interest for the person. Maybe I even include a whole press release below the email.
Highlights: As mentioned before, keep it short and don't write the whole bio, but shortly point out a few highlights of your career and mark them bold, to that these will take the attention even if the person only scrolls down quickly and doesn't read everything.
Sound professional: sometimes people think that they have to sound very cool or write to a person as if they are buddies for very long, even though they don't know that person. This usually gives a weird and unprofessional impression. Don't do it if not knowing somebody yet.
In person (at festivals, conferences or any kind of networking events and meetings)
I personally find that the relationships I built in music are way more valuable if I have met somebody in person - even if I'm maybe not yet having the right project working with somebody. If you remember a face and maybe also have chatted a bit about more personal things, you remember each other and people are way more likely to reply to emails at a later point. And I personally love meeting people and see the faces behind the names and functions, and find it much easier to develop a feeling for how well you get along or not. I really like most people I meet, but it can also be the other way around, sometimes you get a very bad feeling about somebody and then it's also good to keep that in mind and be more careful to work with that person. This feeling always has a reason, and you should listen to your guts!
Some more tips:
Prepare yourself: be sure you remember the name, and be sure you know what you want from that person. Have a goal. Also think about what about you might be the most important and interesting thing for the other person to know.
Ask about the other person: how has your day been? What's your background in the music industry?
Take it easy and be personal: in the way of try to be relaxed, don't rush and try to be also a bit personal before talking business. Actually the best connections I ever made through personal meetings were those where we almost only chatted personal because we got so well along and then the time ran out to chat intensely about work. But then we could discuss work things later via email or skype. To all these people I have a contact for a long time, maybe it be with or without working on projects together.
Be yourself! Sometimes - especially in the music industry - we get the impression that he have to play a role or be cool and like others. This is absolutely not right. Especially in this business it's so much about personalities, music itself is such a personal and passionate thing. And all people I know in the industry are so used to all different kind of characters, which makes this most fun! So just be yourself and try to feel comfortable. It takes way too much energy to pretend being somebody else, and people will always sense that.
So who are all the professionals and what are their roles?
A manager's function is to help you pretty much with everything: being mental support, helping you to find out who you are and how to present yourself to others, make strategies for social media, upcoming releases or gigs, basically planning ahead and making a plan how to get closer to your goals. One of the most important functions for a manager is to build a network around the artist (it may be with all the people I'll talk about below), to hold this together and being the communicator between everybody.
Some artists still do many things by themselves, some prefer to give all business responsibility to the manager.
I would like to point out two important things about working with a manager:
Be sure that you REALLY trust that person and that you have a very open culture of communication. There will be so many situations where it's really necessary to be able to talk completely open and honest. Without this, I promise you there will be problems coming and having a manager will cause you headaches and you'll end up doing things you don't like and feeling uncomfortable.
Make sure that you both are transparent about your works, and make sure that you know what your manager is doing and that YOU MAKE DECISIONS. In the end you'll be responsible for everything, not your manager. I have seen many times situations where managers did something in the name of the artists without really discussing it before, and artists really had to suffer for that, often financially.
Have a contract and make 100% clear what the responsibilities are, when a manager needs your permission and how you pay your manager.
Depending on how developed you are as an artist, it might still be difficult to find a manager, as management is usually a full-time job and if you have no income yet, that would mean that the manager works pretty much for no payment. If you are lucky, you'll find somebody you can afford this, who still has time left in his work schedule and believes in you enough to be willing to spend an endless amount of energy and time into this. Otherwise you might have to wait longer, but I also think it's actually very good for artists to work alone for a while, simply to be forced to understand the main structures and rules of the music industry better. Believe me, this might prevent you one day from being ripped off!
Having a booking agent (or a few of them for different territories) can be a huge help for you to be able to build an audience in an organic way and to actually make a living of your music.
A booker's job is to find you fitting opportunities to play gigs. Before having a booker, you have to contact venues and promoters yourself to find gigs, which can be difficult sometimes, as they usually get many requests and might be afraid of having artists which are not very developed yet. Having a booker can help very much in the sense that they have much better and and stronger connections and have better chances to even "sell" new'ish artists to the promoters. Usually a booker will take a 10% commission and also takes care about some paperwork and with sending the venues your tech and hospitality riders etc.
If not working with bigger agencies, it's typical to have different bookers for different countries. If a booker will work with you or not depends on many factors: how much he/she likes your music, how many followers/fans you already have in that territory and how much your music fits to the local scene there, if he/she still has capacity... same as with everybody else, don't take it as a letdown if you get many rejections of bookers. It often takes a long time to find the fitting partners.
Promoter: This is a person who organises events, such as festival or venue managers.
The record label
The record label takes care about releasing your album digitally and physically. This is generally something you can do yourself very easily nowadays, so what is the advantage of having a label?
The biggest advantage is usually that a good label has contacts and possibilities you might not have as an artist. It starts with the distribution - while you as a DIY artist most likely just can go with those standard distributors to bring your music on all platforms as Spotify and iTunes, the label might have a bigger distributor - one of those who usually don't work with individual artists as The Orchard, and those are more likely the ones who don't just deliver your music to all platforms, but who also have a close relationship to Spotify and Apple Music and who can push the music much better for playlists. And for your physical releases it will generally be very difficult to get a distributor working for you, so also here it's better to have a label, even though I also see more and more indie labels who exclusively sell CDs or vinyls via Bandcamp.
Further than all this, a label should also have much better contacts to journalists, PR agencies, promoters and bookers, sync agents and other industry professionals, so they often can push you much more also to be able to get press and to play live.
Usually artists also like to work with a label, as they are the ones investing money to pay for the production and promotion. So if you are very broke and would have difficulties to get your music out there yourself (even though it doesn't necessarily need a big budget), this might be a good reason for you to have a label. But be aware that this money will get recouped - that means they will deduct it from your future income, so after the release you might not see any income for a while. And then there is of course the income split you have with the label, that's how they earn money.
I think a label is still in many cases very good to have, but it depends very much on what you can do yourself and which connections you have yourself, compared to the ones of the label. If it's a tiny label and you don't see any of their artists being very successful or having good streaming numbers online, I might be careful. Because then you can really do it yourself and keep 100% of the earnings, instead of making others earning for not really doing a lot for you.
If it comes to the contracts for labels, they can look very, very different and there are plenty of possibilities how to set it up. You should definitely consult somebody who's firm with this, preferably a music lawyer. There are many lawyers who are specialised on reading these label contract and who can do this for a small fee. It will definitely be worth it, as the contract often have really bad terms for the artists (they are often a bit hidden) and once you sign it, it will effect you for a very long time - often record deals run for 10 or even 20 years.
The publisher's role in the first place is to collect all your royalties from all over the world, this means all royalties which you earn when there is a record sold, music streamed or played on a radio or elsewhere in public, when you play your music live, when people play or release covers of your music or when your music is used with moving pictures on TV, film, commercials or games. They are usually working with sub-publishers all around the world to make sure this money gets collected.
Especially as a smaller artist this alone is maybe not the most important part for you - many royalties you can collect yourself via services as CD Baby and through your PRO (performance rights association - see my page "Getting started"). What is nowadays a much bigger part of a good publisher's work - and also how both you and them often earn most money - is the whole work of getting you sync jobs - this is all the mentioned above about your music combined with moving pictures. Getting your music on a TV show, movie, commercial, game or anything similar can get you anything from small to incredibly huge fees, for giving the producers the license for your music. It's a bit a complex world, where things can happen very fast once somebody wants your music - or sometimes it takes forever until this point comes. Once somebody wants to use your music, it's important to know how this business works, this can really make a difference of thousands of Euros. A publisher should be experienced in negotiating this and taking care about the paper work.
Additionally to all this publishers can also have great helpful connections, might even bring you in touch with bigger labels or bookers, but also other artists from their roster for collaborations or co-writing sessions.
All this sounds great and is definitely a great chances for artists, but similar to labels I also would be very careful about signing a publishing contract. In the last years it became a trend for all kind of people to call themselves a publisher - often labels, bookers or even PR agencies also offer you to do publishing, and that's nothing I would easily consider. Publishing is a very complex field and a loooot of work, and thinking that somebody does it on the side next to other kind of work doesn't sound very professional to me. In my eyes people just see this as another way to get money out of an artist they work with, but very often these people don't even know well enough what they should be doing and might miss out on collecting all kind of money for you. If a label also wants to be your publisher, I simply don't believe that they will do more for you than if they'd just be your label.
The sync agent & music supervisors
There are many bigger sync agencies who work with a roster of artists - mostly exclusively - and whose job it is to place their music in TV, film, ads, games etc. This is a delicate field of work - producers and supervisors are sending out sync ops usually with extremely specific requirements, e.g. regarding genre, vocals, lyrics, beats per minute, feeling... and usually they need this very specific music within just a few hours or a day, so it's all about having sync agents who REALLY know their catalogue (usually they tag music with plenty of metadata to already filter fitting music faster) and they have to be quick in communication and really only send what a producer or supervisor asked for - otherwise it's gonna hurt the reputation and the sync agent might not be included in future searches. This being said it's important for artists to know that usually the sync agents are not taking your music and looking for the right placement, but the other way around. They have to deliver the right tracks for a specific job. That's why they often like to have a big roster of artists, to have a big variety to offer.
I think as an artist you should make sure that a sync agent really knows your music, and it's smart to be in touch regularly to make sure that the agent won't forget about you.
If not having a big sync agency or publisher representing you for this, you can also try to get in touch with independent music supervisors or sync agents. I personally got many, many contacts just by digging deep into google and randomly contacting people. E.g. sometimes I check out which sync people are talking at conferences, and then I google them a bit, check out what they are doing and contact them via email to check if they are interested in receiving music of my artists and if they'd like to add them to their catalogue. Many of them actually replied and I made some really good contacts that way.
My main tips apart of that are that you should preferably have your music also as instrumental tracks (ask the producer to send you also those files!), and then to add some metadata to the tracks, like the track and copyright info and contact info. Also be sure that you know the rights for the song. Here it's important to know who owns the publishing rights (that would be your publisher, if you have one, otherwise it's you) and the master rights (that's either you or your label - check the label contract). These information you have to give to a sync agent or supervisor when sending them music. It has to be 100% clear how the rights for a track look like.
Pro tip: I'm working with a tool called DISCO, which is amazing and making my life much easier. You can easily add all metadata and send people one link where they can stream or download and even have the choice between wav and mp3. Check it out - sync people love when receiving music this way!
The PR agent
There are plenty PR agencies out there to help you getting press and promoting your releases or upcoming tours. If you really should hire an agency depends very much on where you are, what your or your label's budget is, what you and your label could reach yourself, and what your goals are.
The difficulties about this are these:
First of all do you usually have to spend a quite big amount of money for PR - PR is expensive! Depending on the campaign this might cost you a few thousand Euros (less if it's just a smaller awareness / single / tour campaign. The prices can have a big range also depending on the territory and agency. What is a big risk here is that you will never have the guarantee that it will work out and really push you to another level. A successful PR campaign can change everything in the best possible way and ultimately even get you bigger on all levels - to get gigs, to sell records and to increase streams. But even a really good agency sometimes fails, and in the end it's really about the journalists and about them liking an artist enough to feature them.
Another problem I see is that there are endless small agencies - basically everybody can call him- or herself a PR agent nowadays - and they aren't really bring better results than what you could do yourself. I think in the PR world it's all about relationships - a good PR agent has very close and personal connections to journalists, who will trust him and give the agent's recommendations an ear. Many people who decide to go into PR (usually after seeing that you can charge artists huge fees without even giving a guarantee) have maybe even good intentions, but no clue and maybe not the connections, which you also have to build in a long time. They might be able to make a nice press release and send it out to mailing lists, but this won't have much weight if not knowing journalists really well and personally.
I would be careful considering a PR agency and check with whom they worked before and how that went. You can also check similar artists who got a lot of press recently and try to find out who their PR agents are. The problem is often that the very good and bigger agencies are not easy to get, because they only pick their favourite projects and are often booked long time in advance. So it can take some time to find the fitting partner for this.