8 Common Mistakes Made by Most Independent Artists

Written by Michael Eastwood Founder & CEO of Mastermind Promotion

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8 Common Mistakes Made by Most Independent Artists

When you’re working as hard as you possibly can and still don't seem to be making a great deal of progress, nothing hurts more than being told you’re doing everything wrong. Which stings even more if you are for the most part convinced that you’ve been doing everything right.

All of which is pretty common in the world of unsigned and independent artists, who are trying to make something of their music careers yet seem to be moving along far too slow.

Mastermind Artist Shingai performing at BBC World Service to 80 million listers worldwide!

Now, it’s important to get out of the way, the fact that what’s standing in the way of your success might not necessarily be any of the following. Quite to the contrary, there are literally thousands of reasons why you may not be getting where you want to be, as quickly as you want to be there. Nevertheless, the more independent artists we come across, the more we note a variety of common mistakes that could really do with being remedied sooner rather than later.

So while it may not be the magic key to fame and fortune, we’d still highly recommend paying close attention to the following and ensuring that where and when these problems apply, you deal with them accordingly.

1) Charging for CDs at live shows

There was a time when CDs were so expensive that giving them away would have been fundamentally impossible. These days though, it’s pretty much the opposite. The trouble is that when you are still working at a relatively low level, generating enough interest to sell CDs in meaningful quantities is difficult to say the least. Say you charge £3 for your CD – you’ll probably sell a few at each show, but chances are most won’t bother. Likewise, sell your CDs for 50p simply to cover some of the costs and you’ll probably be seen as a bit of a joke, having put such a low value on your music. By contrast, give your CDs away for free and you show that not only are you taking what you do seriously, that you are confident enough in your music to know that freebies now will be repaid later, one way or another. Very few people can resist a free CD and this is a great way of getting your music out and about into a wider audience.

Crystal Starr performing at her Single Launch Event

2) Not keeping up with industry news

As mentioned on numerous occasions, the music industry worldwide is at something of a crossroads right now and has never been more confusing or challenging. But what’s important to remember when looking to make it as an artist is that you will no longer get away with simply reading the standard music ‘tabloids’ like NME and Q. Sure, these are good enough and you will learn a lot from them – keeping up with current trends matters. But at the same time, so too does familiarising yourself with the industry side of things. Make concerted efforts to get into music press on the industry side, rather than just the consumer side. If you are looking for the kinds of insights that will help you progress, this is where you are more likely to find them.

Mastermind Artist Anuladè on Music Industry Magazine Music Week

3) Annoying People
Particularly in your current position and at the level you are at right now, good manners and politeness go a long way. The nicer you are and the more people you make a positive impression on, the better. It’s not as if you have to go sucking up and putting on a façade 24 hours a day, simply to avoid running anyone up the wrong way. Instead, it’s simply a case of being as nice as you can, as professional as you can and as positive as you can when it comes to anyone and everyone who may be in any way influential. While a bad attitude and controversy in general can help your career further down the line, at this stage it will simply piss people off and ensure they won’t go near you…or want to help you out.

4) Not making the most of free marketing
You’ll note in this particular entry that we referred to ‘making the most’ of free marketing, as opposed to simply using it. These days, there are so many readily available channels and platforms available for promotion, marketing and communication that cost precisely jack. But at the same time, it’s not enough to simply set up a Facebook page and suddenly expect yourself to become the next big thing overnight. Making the most of free marketing means investing a hell of a lot of time and effort in the endeavour and making a real song and dance about yourself. Cast your mind back to the way things all kicked off for the Arctic Monkeys and you have yourself all the evidence you’ll ever need that free marketing can make you a worldwide success. Getting it right with social media means creating a platform that sucks people in and gives them a reason to stick around. It needs to be a two-way channel of communication that is entertaining, unique and gets people talking. Grab the attention of someone in the know and you’ve no idea what might happen next.

5) You can’t accept criticism

Let’s just get one thing straight. If 999 people out of every 1,000 say your music is garbage, it’s probably garbage. Not that this is likely, but in any case one of the most important contributors to success in the music industry is being able to take criticism and accept where improvements are required. Even if you are 100% convinced that your music is absolutely flawless in every way, this really doesn’t make any difference whatsoever if your target audience thinks otherwise. Now, this is the kind of thing that can make it extremely difficult to know how to progress. If you alter what you do in order to appeal to your target audience you may feel as if you are selling out. However, if you are not willing to accept criticism and make changes where necessary, you won’t appeal to your target audience. It’s therefore a case of weighing up what matters most to you and proceeding accordingly. One thing’s for sure though – you will never get anywhere in this industry if you cannot take criticism on the chin and roll with the punches.

7) Misinterpreting ‘DIY’
One of the biggest problems with so many independent musicians is the way in which they misinterpret what it means to go DIY. Contrary to popular belief, carving out a career as a successful musician with absolutely no help whatsoever treads a very fine line between difficult and impossible. Just because you go DIY does not mean you cannot or should not bring others along for the ride. These days, music management companies and PR agencies are beginning to offer more real and workable alternatives to record labels than ever before. Rather than taking control of your music, your image, your brand, your creative rights and so on, there are plenty of experienced professionals out there who simply serve to promote you and enhance your exposure. From marketing to PR to representation and more, signing up with third-parties doesn’t mean selling your soul to an agency.

8) Failing to network
Last up, you are guaranteed to struggle if you do not take full advantage of every networking opportunity that comes your way. Make no mistake about it – this does not refer only to any meetings you may find yourself in with record label executives, music moguls and so on. Instead, it means keeping the details of everyone you encounter along the way – right down to the individual members of the bands and artists you play with during live performances. There’s a hell of a lot of give and take in this industry and you never know just who may prove to be a vital contact further down the line. Make the effort to build the largest network you possibly can and make the effort to involve others in your projects at every available opportunity.