CMU:DIY Lectures

Lecture Notes | Getting Your Artist Business Started – In Ten Steps

Last updated on: Wednesday 16 August 2017

These notes accompany the CMU:DIY lecture ‘Getting Your Artist Business Started’ and provide ten tips for aspiring artists looking to get the business side of their music careers up and running.

In addition to these notes, you can also download the slides for the ‘Getting Your Artist Business Started’ lecture HERE.

Any artist who wants to make a full-time living out of their music must become a business – an artist business. As a business, you need a business plan. But the good news is: all artists have the same basic business plan which can be split into three stages…

Stage One: Build a fanbase
Stage Two: Understand your fanbase
Stage Three: Sell them stuff

It doesn’t matter want you sell your fans. Traditionally the music industry mainly sold records, tickets and t-shirts. But you should sell your fans whatever they are willing to buy – which means working out what they want.

These notes are about getting your artist business started.

We are assuming that you have written some great songs, have got used to performing them live, have recorded some tracks, and – through gigging – you are starting to build an initial fanbase beyond your family and friends. Now let’s sort out the business.

The first question to ask is this: who, exactly, is involved in your business? You, obviously. But do you have bandmates? Or regular collaborators? Is there anyone else you are working with on a regular basis? Are these people part of your business? Or are they suppliers to your business? You need to make sure everyone involved agrees on their role and their status.

So, you need to discuss and agree a number of things with your bandmates, regular collaborators, and anyone who is helping you out.

Key questions include…
• Who actually has a stake in the artist business?
• What happens to any money that comes in?
• Is anyone putting money into the business – and if so, do they get it back?
• Is anyone charging for their time?
• Who owns the copyright?
• How are you sharing co-owned works?

As a business you are also a company. But what kind of company? There are a number of different types of companies under UK law, though for artists there are usually two options to choose from.

Option One: Sole trader
Do you operate as a sole trader (if you are a solo artist) or partnership (if you are a band)? This means that, in the eyes of the law, you and your company are the same thing.

This is the simplest kind of company. You just need to tell the Inland Revenue that you are a sole trader, because you will have to pay tax on any profit you make through the business.

You might also want to set up a separate sole trader bank account so to keep your business and personal finances separate.

Option Two: Limited company
Do you set up a limited company for your artist business? This means that, in the eyes of the law, you and your company are separate entities.

Setting up a limited company reduces your personal liabilities in relation to your business activities, which is generally a good thing.

It is simple setting up a limited company (you can do it all online), though the limited company then has certain obligations under law, including filing an annual return with Companies House and a company tax return with the Inland Revenue.

Arguably you should hire an accountant to help with this, which means there will be an expense. You will also need to open a limited company bank account.

Once you have those formalities dealt with, let’s have a think about how your artist business is going to make money. There are three main ways artists generate revenue, as follows…

1. You create and exploit intellectual property.

2. You stage and monetise live performances.

3. You build a fanbase and monetise the fan relationship.

For more on making money from music check these CMU:DIY lecture notes.

In terms of intellectual property, as an artist you will likely create a number of different kinds of IP. So…

• Copyright in your songs.
• Copyright in your recordings.
• Copyright in your photos and artwork.
• Copyright in your videos.
• You could trademark your name.

Copyright is automatic – as soon as you create your songs, recordings, photos or videos, copyright exists in that content. Trademarks, however, have to be registered with the trademark registry, which costs money.

So, DIY artists tend to focus on their copyright, and worry about trademarks a little further down the line.

Although copyright is automatic – so you don’t need to register your work with any copyright registry – there are nevertheless some formalities to think about, mainly to do with copyright ownership.

The default owner of a song, photo and artwork copyright is the writer, photographer, artist or designer. The default owner of the recording copyright is whoever organised and paid for the recording to take place. Though default owners of any one copyright can transfer ownership to other parties by contract.

Based on these rules, ask yourself, who owns the copyright in your songs, your recordings, your photos, your artwork? Be clear on who owns what rights. If a friend owns the copyright in your photos, you either need them to assign the rights to you, or you need permission from your friend – as the copyright owner – to use their photos in whatever way you need to use them.

Also, copyrights can be co-owned. If you collaborate on writing a song, all the collaborators will share in the resulting copyright.

But you need to agree how you are splitting the copyright between you and make sure you write down whatever you agree. Once you have agreed how your copyrights are going to be shared, you should log that information with your collecting societies. Which brings us to…

The UK music industry has three main collecting societies.

• PPL represents artists and record labels.
• PRS represents songwriters and music publishers when songs are performed or communicated.
• MCPS represents songwriters and music publishers when songs are reproduced or distributed.

The collecting societies represent the music industry in a number of specific scenarios – so they collect royalties when music is performed in public or played on the radio or TV. MCPS also collects for its members when CDs and vinyl is pressed, while both PRS and MCPS also collect digital royalties.

Therefore joining these societies allows you to collect any royalties you are due if and when your songs or recordings are used in this way. PPL membership is free. Both PRS and MCPS cost £100 to join. PRS/MCPS work together, so you can join them both via the same website.

In addition to collecting your royalties, the collecting societies also have databases of their members’ work. So once you have agreed copyright ownership with your collaborators, you can log it on the PPL and PRS/MCPS databases (for recordings and songs respectively), meaning what you agreed is officially logged with the music industry.

Once you have got the formalities out of the way, you need to get your music online. With YouTube and SoundCloud you can set up profiles directly on those platforms, but with all the other digital services you need a distributor.

There are numerous distributors for DIY artists to choose from, including AWAL, CD Baby, Distrokid, Ditto, EmuBands, Spinnup and TuneCore.

Once you have picked a distributor, it will get all your music onto all the key download and streaming platforms. The digital platform will pay your distributor any royalties you are due, and the distributor will then pay you.

Though your distributor only collects the royalties due on your recordings. If you also wrote the songs you are due additional royalties for your separate song rights, which will be collected by PRS and MCPS.

Note: recording royalties on digital income will usually be 4-6 times more than the accompanying song royalties.

Getting your music online is relatively easy, getting people to listen is the tricky bit. Once you are streaming, regularly promote that your music is on all the platforms – especially Spotify and Apple Music, as they are by far the biggest in the UK.

You might want to set up and regularly update your own artist playlist on Spotify, including both your own music and tracks from artists you like, or are inspired by, or are gigging with. Regularly talk about your playlist at gigs and on the social networks.

Also find ways to subtly suggest to fans that they add your tracks to their personal libraries on their streaming service of choice. That’s the best way to secure repeat listening, and therefore repeat royalties.

For more on the streaming business check these CMU:DIY lecture notes.

It’s important to have your music streaming on all the key platforms, though realistically the monies those services will generate will be nominal at the start, and will remain so until your tracks are being streamed A LOT.

But try and think of other ways that you can make money from your intellectual property, whether selling digital content direct-to-fan, or selling physical products – CDs, vinyl and merch – both via your website and at gigs. What works will depend on your fanbase.

You can sell downloads of your music direct via websites like Bandcamp, ReverbNation or Music Glue.

Limited edition runs of CD and vinyl are not essential and require an upfront investment, but if you have a fanbase interested in physical product you might be able to generate extra income this way.

Merch can also be a useful way to generate extra cash. The classic merch item is the t-shirt of course, but you can put your logo and artwork on many more things that that, so use your imagination!

And think about merch that doesn’t involve much upfront expense.

That might mean print-on-demand merch, where you don’t print anything until people place an order. Investigate platforms like Music Glue, where it is easy to set up print-on-demand t-shirts which you can promote through your social channels.

It might also mean running pre-order campaigns, where you ask fans to commit upfront before you pay to press CDs and vinyl or pay to print up some merch. Investigate platforms like PledgeMusic which can help with the pre-order process.

At the outset, gigging is the key marketing channel, and a great way to build a fanbase. So look for all and and opportunities to play live, especially beyond your home town.

Make sure information for any potential bookers is clearly posted on your website and Facebook page – including an email address and links to your music. And how about some (good) photos and videos from past gigs on a ‘live page’ on your website showing an engaged audience and proving to potential bookers that you might be worth booking.

Though don’t expect any bookers to find you, certainly not initially! Find out who books the bands at local venues, gig and club nights, and festivals. And keep track of upcoming tours that are coming to your town – especially tours headline by artists making similar music to you – and think about whether there might be an opportunity for a local band to play a support slot at that show.

Send emails to the bookers who seem to book new acts, and who book for genre-relevant nights, explaining who you are and why you would be right for certain nights/stages/support slots. They need to be able to hear your music – a SoundCloud link is probably best. Be persistent but be polite. Keep emails concise, though do try and demonstrate that you have done your research before emailing and that you have an interesting story to tell.

Whenever you get gigs, make sure you market them to your fanbase in every way you can. And tag the venue, night and/or promoter in your social posts. This will make a booker or promoter more likely to re-book you.

And most importantly of all, remember, gigs are a marketing opportunity. Even if you do actually get an alright fee, it’s still a great opportunity to grow your fanbase. During the show look for subtle opportunities to plug your stuff – eg on stage visuals, between song chat, postcards, merch stall etc.

This is also step one because you should have your digital channels set up as soon as you can – certainly before you start gigging on a regular basis – so that any potential fans can immediately connect with you online.

You need to decide which social networks you will use and what you will use them for. You should probably set up profiles on Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, YouTube and SoundCloud. And, depending on the age of your fanbase, possibly Snapchat too. And, of course, make sure your music is on all the streaming platforms.

Once you have your social networks set up, drip feed new content (music, photos, video) on a regular basis. Remember, different channels need different kinds and frequencies of content. If you have time, interact on the social networks, plug other people, and make sure you post when other people champion your stuff.

In addition to all that, you should also start getting email addresses at gigs and online. You can use a service like MailChimp to manage and communicate with your mailing list. It’s unlikely you’ll send out emails any more frequently than once a month, but email is a really effective marketing and sales tool (where your fans are using email – younger fans may think of email as ‘work’ rather than ‘pleasure’).

All artists will ultimately need suppliers and business partners to help them grow their artist businesses – even if they choose to work with those business partners in a unique way.

Once you are happy with your music and are getting some traction with fans, it is worth making initial contacts with key music media and music industry, but in a targeted way.

Do your research first. Identify journalists, DJs, A&Rs, agents, bookers and managers who are working with artists like you.

Send them polite short emails making them aware of what you are up to. In those emails, make sure you communicate that you have done your research – that you know about the artists they already work with and/or champion – and that that’s why you are getting in touch.

Again, be persistent without being a pest. It is OK to email the same people more than once, but not too often, and each time you email try to have something new to say – like a new track, an upcoming gig, etc.

Don’t be too demanding at the outset – don’t open with “review my record now” or “will you sign me?” With media contacts, it’s good to say you would love their support. With industry contacts, it’s good to say you would appreciate their advice or feedback.

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Words: Chris Cooke – Last updated Aug 2018