How Indie Artists and Songwriters Bridge The Money Gap

 By Vinny Ribas On May 8, 2014
© 2014 Vinny Ribas
Ok, let’s face it. Most indie artists are finding it harder and harder to make a living playing music.  You can point fingers at the live music industry because there are lesser gigs these days, or the ‘pirate’ websites for taking royalties out of your pocket, or the record labels for locking up traditional radio. The list can go on and on. Or, you can take a close look at exactly what you’re doing and not doing to be successful. After all, some artists ARE making it! Here are some ways that artists are bridging the financial gap for themselves. 
  • They gear their show is towards venues that pay well. For example, you can perform at a convention for 10X what you will make in a club. Theaters, country clubs, colleges and a host of other venues pay much more than the typical nightclub.
  • They don’t let their limited fan bases keep them from touring. Instead, they seek out gigs that already have great attendance and just need their acts to be great entertainers and hold the crowd. Good examples are venues in tourist areas, venues attached to hotels, theme parks etc.
  • They find alternative ways to fund their careers. These can include fan funding (e.g., getting investors, attracting corporate sponsors, recruiting individual patrons, developing a fan club, performing house concerts, performing online concerts (StreetJelly, ConcertWindow, Stageit etc.). Another great idea is partnering with nonprofit organizations that pay money for tour support in exchange for recruiting patrons.  In other words, they don’t just rely on gigs and selling CDs or downloads.
  • They tap into their fan base for ideas, leads to gigs, places to sell their music or post videos, to promote gigs, get reviews, get write-ups, to host house concerts and a lot more.  They turn their fan base into an army of proactive supporters, and they reward them for their help.
  • They have created multiple streams of income. Many artists make money from licensing their songs to film, TV, commercials and even products. They might use unique technologies such as Music Powered Games to boost their income.
  • They sell unconventional merchandise that their fans love. Yes, they have CDs and t-shirts for sale. But they also have unique, branded items that their fans can’t get anywhere else. They know what to sell because they know exactly what their fans like and are willing to buy. They also know how much their fans are willing to spend on merchandise, and offer items that are priced accordingly. For example, you might sell a tee-shirt to a fan for $10 when they would have been willing to buy a high-end polo shirt for $40 if you had them.
  • They use available technologies such as BombPlates (web design) andSongspace (song tracking and collaboration), Band Posters and Artist Growth to free up time and money. There stay on top of the newest apps and websites that can make their lives easier. They take credit cards for CDs and merchandise at their gigs by using a tool such as Square.
  • Many subscribe to the 1000 true fans concept. They work to identify 1000 fans who will spend at least $100 each year on their music, merchandise, shows etc. That is an income of $100,000/year just from those fans. They treat them royally, making them feel important and letting them know that they are an integral part of the artist’s success.
  • They budget wisely. Most importantly, they invest heavily in the marketing side of their careers. Whether they master the marketing themselves or pay someone else to do it, they ensure that it is done properly and effectively.  They collect email addresses everywhere and send out monthly newsletters. They submit their music to blogs worldwide. They promote their music where their core fans discover and buy new music. They are or have a marketing machine.
  • They differentiate themselves enough to create a demand. Smart artists know that if they are just like everyone else in their genre, they just get lost in the crows. By offering something unique in their sound, their show, their branding, their song choice etc., they create a demand that only they can fill.
  • They niche market themselves. Instead of trying to please everyone everywhere, they determine who their core fans are and what they have in common. Then they put a majority of their energy, marketing and promotion into reaching and attracting that demographic.
  • They pursue internet, secondary and tertiary radio airplay. Some hire a radio promoter while others use a do-it-yourself service such as Airplay Direct.
  • They make sure that they are getting all of their songwriting royalties due them because they belong to their respective performing rights organizations. In the US, they are BMI, ASCAP and SESAC. Most countries have similar organizations.
  • They make sure they are getting artist royalties (and royalties for owning the master recordings of their music) from Internet airplay. In the US that means joining Sound Exchange.  Outside the US, inquire about how to collect these royalties.
  • They learn how to build a solid regional fanbase and then become their own concert promoter. In other words, they put on a show, sell the tickets, pay the venue (or work a deal with them for the food/drinks, pay for the sound and lighting) and make the profits. But they only do this when they know their fanbase is large enough to sell more than enough tickets to cover the costs.
  • They leverage online opportunities such as advertising income from YouTube. Some let YouTube sell the advertising for them, and some get their own video sponsors. Of course, they know how to produce videos that will attract a lot of views.
  • They don’t do it alone. They assemble a competent team to help them grow. They understand that having a team helps them position themselves for bigger and better things. They invest in themselves by sharing some of the pie with people who have the knowledge and knowhow to take them farther than they can go alone.
This list can go on and on. The truth is that there are no opportunities popping up every day. As the traditional income sources morph and dwindle, artists need to take advantage of as many of these kinds of financial sources and more in order to stay financially stable and profitable. The smartest ones seek out or create their own opportunities!

Vinny Ribas is the founder of 
Indie Connect, an entertainment management, consulting and training company. He has been a full-time musician, booking agent, manager, studio owner and the Entertainment Director for the Nevada State Fair.  He is also the co-founder of Leaderbridge, a business consulting and training firm, the author of ‘CEO Secrets – What They Know About Business That Every Entrepreneur Should’ and has coached over 1000 entertainers and entrepreneurs.

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