Bob Baker's Indie Music Promotion Blog

News, notes and ideas on music marketing, self-promotion, artist empowerment and more

January 30, 2007

14 Things I've Learned About Indie Music Success

  1. Turn your mistakes into a reference library, not a room to live in.

  2. Do not take advice from people who are broke and struggling -- unless you want to end up like them you can admire them and appreciate their talent, just don't take career advice (especially financial) from them.

  3. Great marketing is falling in love with something, then selling your love for it -- not the product itself.

  4. Realize the lifetime value of a fan: It's far more than a $15 CD sale.

  5. Pick one aspect of your music or personality and make that the cornerstone of your public identity.

  6. Conduct yourself as if you deliver great value to everyone you encounter -- even if you don't believe you actually do at the moment.

  7. Be willing to take smart risks and overcome the fear of failure. Ask: "What's the worst thing that can happen?" Usually, not much.

  8. Beware of the quick fix. The sure and steady marathon beats the sprint every time.

  9. Ask: "How did you hear about us/me/the event?" It's one of the best, low-cost research tools you can use.

  10. Ask: "What will it take to get from 'Here's what I dream about' to 'Here's what I did'?"

  11. No one will manage you until you can manage yourself.

  12. Be proactive instead of reactive. In other words, create the circumstances you want, don't merely respond to what's handed to you.

  13. Stagnation occurs when your fear of the unknown is greater than your desire for a better life.

  14. What you do today sets the stage for the success you will enjoy tomorrow. Don't squander today.

posted by Bob Baker @ 10:18 AM   25 comments


At Jan 30, 2007 2:36:00 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Don't take advice from people who are broke? Huh? Most of the greatest artists were broke. Van Gough was not a successful wealthy man. Money should not be the basis for any decision.

At Jan 30, 2007 4:22:00 PM, Blogger fndrbndr said...

I think you're missing the point...

If you want to be financially successful as an indie artist, then you should only take advice from people who are also financially successful as indie artists...otherwise they don't know what they're talking about, no matter how talented they are.

Van Gough may have been an amazing artist, but he would have been a fool to go around teaching people how to be financially successful with their art. If you can't do something yourself, you have no business trying to teach other people how to do it.

Just my opinion...

At Jan 31, 2007 9:05:00 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

But if you are getting into "art" only to be financially successful and not because it's something you love to do, then you're doing it for the wrong reasons. It's like starting a band so you can meet girls.

At Jan 31, 2007 9:34:00 AM, Blogger Bob Baker said...

I just updated the wording of item #2 to clarify my intention. "Anonymous" is right: Money should not be an artist's primary focus. I think my item #3 expresses that.

But when a musician truly enjoys playing music and connects with an audience, he or she should NEVER feel guilty or have a moment's hestitation about transforming that gift of music into monetary compensation. To deny yourself that option is to deny your own value as an artist.

At Jan 31, 2007 6:11:00 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

The author obviously has zero knowledge about the 'indie' independent music or art scene.

The way this blog is written, he sounds like a 'talent scout' which translates to someone who knows nothing about entertainment what so ever.

I own/run a record label, don't know a single artist that has used a talent agency to successfully enhance their career in any way.

You can ask any independent record label how to get a deal. This is the answer universally:
A. Got to have talent and offer something that is unique with passion
B. You gotta tour your ass off.

That's it, you got those two things, you are unstoppable. Band management is easy to come by if you got the above two things going for you.

At Jan 31, 2007 8:51:00 PM, Blogger Bob Baker said...

Talent scout, huh?

After reading the latest comment from "Anonymous," I must concede: Obviously, this blog gets read by the occasional idiot.

I wonder if Anonymous promotes his/her record label as directly as he/she attaches a name to a blog comment?

Gotta get back to my talent agency business now ...


At Feb 1, 2007 8:39:00 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Hi, I'm another occasional idiot who wants to jump into the fray. I do think the most important thing you need is talent. If you have talent, it will be the greatest marketing tool you can find. If you don't have talent, you will have to market the hell out of yourself using the above guidelines and join the ranks of Milli Vanilli, Backstreet Boys, the Spice Girls and all the other Marketing Manufactored "artists". So ask yourself, would you rather have talent or have a lunch box with your band on it?

At Feb 1, 2007 9:04:00 AM, Anonymous uke jackson said...

When I was younger a very wise man said to me "Talent is nothing. The Bowery is full of talented people. Go down and talk to some of them sometime. You'll find former designers, musicians, advertising copywriters -- every sort of talent. They're there because they are quitters. Perseverance trumps talent every time." I've kept that in mind thru the years, getting up and practicing when I would rather do something else, booking my own gigs, rehearsing my band again and again (obviously, I'm not a rocker). Anyway, there are plenty of broke people to get advice from., if that's what you want. I'd rather listen to successful people -- not because I can necessarily learn from them, but because it can reinforce my will power to continue and to enjoy the successes as they come along. Losers are losers no matter how talented they are. I'm sad for them but I sure don't need their advice. And I'm not afraid to sign my name when I say so.

At Feb 1, 2007 1:05:00 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Quandry: You have two musicians you can obtain advice from: A)Britany Spears, (fiancially successful) or B) Robert Johnson (not financially successful)

At Feb 1, 2007 1:15:00 PM, Blogger Lee Mueller said...

I think the point should be if the person is Finacially Succesful because of their Talent - then yes ask them for advice. But don't let capitalism cloud your definition of success. Otherwise you may find yourself asking William Hung for advice in the music business.

At Feb 2, 2007 5:01:00 AM, Blogger David said...

Of course you don't want to take financial advice from people who are broke. That's like getting advice on women from a guy who hasn't had a date in years.

Anonymous, I don't know who you are or what you do, but I'll bet you're broke.

At Feb 3, 2007 2:46:00 AM, Anonymous your wiki guide said...

so much for everything else. Everyone's opinion is respected. For me, if you're a true artist at heart, you'll do your craft out of love. If people would love your talent and atttude then you'll get money from it. I must agree with the lifetime value of fan. It will surely keep you in the business.

At Feb 5, 2007 8:34:00 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

I think if you are looking to expand your talent, advice from anyone who is talented is worthy. If you are looking only to make money, then only ask talented people who are finacially successful. Advice, however, should not be decided by economics. You are limiting yourself and your growth by placing guidelines and exceptions on your evolution as an artist.

At Feb 6, 2007 4:07:00 PM, Blogger Gary Johnston said...

Sheesh, folks. This is not that difficult a concept. Take financial advice from the financially successful and artistic advice from the artistically astute.

Personally I'd like to have the musical depth of Mozart coupled with the financial know-how of Madonna Inc.

There ya go.

Gary Johnston

At Feb 6, 2007 4:19:00 PM, Anonymous Michael Meade said...

Wow! Everybody sure jumped on that one item! There are 13 other points there too you know? Anyway, there are two sides to being successful. The art side and the marketing side. In the indie world, we sadly end up being both. If you happen to have someone to handle the business side while you do the art, more power to you. But that's not most of us. And, yes, you can sit in your living room and enjoy your music all you want, but in the "INDIE MUSIC BUSINESS" you've got to get your name out there, and that means marketing. I know that I stink at it. Don't take any advice from me. But if you've got some good advice (and I think Bob does) then pass it my way. I'll do anything I can to make a go at this indie adventure!

At Feb 6, 2007 4:32:00 PM, Blogger asher said...

Well said Gary Johnston! Whether it's financial success, musical talent, cooking, surfing, whatever...find someone who is at the level you are striving for, and listen to what they have to say remembering that they can only help you climb as high as they are themselves!

At Feb 6, 2007 6:23:00 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

My take is a bit different..I can tell from the comments that Bob's battle is still uphill. Why is there so much guilt about being compensated for value received? Money is not the first thing that interested me about music, but as soon as you say music BUSINESS, money becomes very important. Bob's whole raison d'etre is about success in the music BUSINESS. I dont hear him talking about major seventh chords or secondary dominants. I hear him talking about how to make your lifetime passion your LIFETIME PASSION in the face of everyone's need to pay the rent. Remaining poor does not make you a better artist, it just guarantees that you will never develop into the artist you could be. While big money success is still in my future, I have been surviving only on artistic income for almost two years, and I am much happier now than when my life was divided. I have found a niche market where people are willing to pay me to entertain their audience. 99 times times out of 100 they say they are glad to have me. 95 times out of a hundred I get a return engagement. I have also made faster progress developing my artistic abilities because I am more focused. If your goal is to be a starving artist then dont say that you are in the music BUSINESS!!! Go drive some pizzas and complain about never having enough time for music. I did that for YEARS!
Also on the question of talent, talent is not the most important factor in business success. Making yourself available to the market is the most important thing. People have to know I'm available. While the talent I have is a relative constant, the number of gigs I have is directly proportional to the amount of time I spent asking my presenters for the opportunity to entertain. When Im busy on the phone, Im busy on stage, and vice versa. If there are no gigs, there is also no art because there is no performance without an audience. Without the audience its only practice.
Sorry to be so long winded I could probably go on for days.....

At Feb 7, 2007 12:41:00 AM, Anonymous Stephen Vardy said...

A successful musician needs bums on seats. You have to provide a platform for your audience to sit. Think of it as a 3 legged stool.

Each leg brings a different support and they need to be in balance. Leg 1) creativity/talent (soul). Leg 2) social networking/ negotiating / communication skills (heart). Leg 3) financial /technical / marketing skills (smarts).

If you have all 3 legs you are a stool capable of supporting an audience.

If you miss a leg (usually financial) you are a ladder and will lean against your existing bank account until it is all gone.

If you have only one leg you are a pogo stick and will pant and make a lot of noise wildly until you fall into a heap.

Ultimately the stool sits on the floor (your ability to carry risk). At first it is a small floor and a wobbly stool but with a heap of persistence you will learn what works and refine refine refine.

Stephen Vardy
Victoria BC

At Feb 7, 2007 12:41:00 AM, Blogger Jordan said...

Dang, there is enough heat in this thread to put global warming to shame!

If you’re getting hung up on Tip #2 try thinking of it this way… would you ask a person to teach you how to play guitar who has never played guitar before? They may have a lot of aspirations to play guitar, or spend a lot of time thinking about playing guitar… but the fact remains that they’ve never played guitar before; how can they teach you?

Bob isn't teaching anyone how to play their instrument. All of his advice is coming from a stand point that you are 1) already a talented musician and 2) an amateur music marketer. If you want to believe that you can survive on musical talent alone try paying your gas bill using your "talent". If you, like many other musicians living in one bedroom apartments, find that all but impossible either take his advice (or that of others who are successful in this area, hence his point) or get back to doing whatever it is you currently do between 9 – 5 to pay your gas bill.

Jordan of The Gorgeous Hussies

At Feb 7, 2007 11:07:00 AM, Blogger KIEN LIM said...

Yea, absolutely. I agree with Jordan of the Gorgeous Hussies. Try living on your musical talent alone and you will find that you have to market it.

I am a passionate singer/songwriter and I now intend to make a career from it. I now welcome the challenge of marketing with open arms.

Best wishes to all. Kien

At Feb 7, 2007 6:00:00 PM, Anonymous Any Given Tuesday said...

Always, ALWAYS ask how someone heard/found out about whatever you've got them to come see/do/etc. It's the cheapest research in the world, just as Bob says. And you can keep doing the things that work!
Always love the quick, easy lists, Bob. Thanks!

At Feb 8, 2007 9:48:00 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

I think the hang up was on the basic issue of asking advice from someone. The point of "Do not take advice from people who are broke and struggling" - the point (I think) was to say "advice for financial success as an artist". What may be rubbing folks the wrong way is the old issue between Art for Art's Sake vs. Selling Out. Hard core 'art for art sake' artists focus on doing what they love to do and that's all that matters. The thought of Financial Success seems to imply -not doing it for the love of the craft but instead for the Money. Doing it for Financial Gain can imply the art is only a commercial product and not an artistic process. But the point of this "thing" in the "14 things" is draped under Commercial appeal and nothing more. So, if you want financial success in your field ask the financially successful in that field. If you want artistic advice, it won't matter if you ask a broke struggling Vincent Van Gaugh or a wealthy successful Thomas Kinkade.

At Feb 10, 2007 12:36:00 PM, Anonymous emunki said...

Talent does not guarantee success...and visa versa. The internet is allowing bands to reach audiences by bypassing the recording moguls, who, incidently, often won't sign anyone under 23...they deserve what they get...if you somehow reach (let's say 1000 people through the internet) a certain percentage will hate you, a certain percentage will love you, the remaining percentage could care less...everything is relative...there are all levels of music, and all levels of audience...the big labels have placed themselves between the artist and the audience, and collect over the top fees for making that connection. But thanks to the indie labels and the internet, this practice is rapidly turning old school...however...
I'm sick of seeing no talent leeches feed off the backs of talent...sick of seeing bars make their money off original indie bands while paying little or nothing for their efforts...3 to 5 bands a night running up the profits for the bar and getting paid zip for their efforts sucks, and that practice should be boycotted. Musicians from all levels have to develop a level of self respect that is largely lacking in todays indie scene. All the time, effort, money and expense that go into creating a working band must be taken into account, and we as musicians must value ourselves as well as the guitar and amp we just spent hard earned money for. We must realize our worth, and expect a little more than just getting our egos stroked for our a general rule, creative people are not good business people, and the losers in the corners are not really losers, they're casualties of exploitation.
(Like Van Gough)
Just remember: if there were no creative people, this world would be sitting where it started, in the dark ages. Creativity is the most valuable trait of mankind, it is not a commonplace item, but rare, and should be valued. And beyond all else, respected, first and foremost, by it's holders.

At Feb 12, 2007 3:18:00 PM, Anonymous Matt Larson said...

crap... so talent is what I'm missing.. blast... what marketing too?? so if you have neither of those then I suppose I will in fact be homeless. I wish I'd read thisa couple years ago.. imagine talent being something of necessity.

At Feb 22, 2007 1:01:00 AM, Anonymous Jo said...

I've always bee set-back by this "talent" thing. Sometimes people try to imply to me that I'm not naturally talented so why bother playing music.

But as some of the comment above, I also know some exceptionally talented musicans who now tend to guitar stores or give up playing cos at the end of the day they need to feed their kids.


Post a Comment

<< Home