A Roadmap For New Bands In 2010

Greg Kane is a musician (one half of pop-soul duo Hue and Cry), and an expert on digital content production. As a board member of the newly established Scottish Music Industry Association, here he offers guidelines to musicians on how to maximise their chances of success.

Feature by Greg Kane | 01 Jan 2010
  • Greg Kane

So you're a new band. You've got twelve great songs, a great live set-up and a burning desire to make it.

It used to be that you found a manager, who charged 20% commission to represent you. You'd sign to a record company who took 90% of your profits and owned the rights to your recordings. Then you'd sign a publishing deal, surrendering 50% of your songwriting royalties to be commissioned. You'd work with record producers who took 3% of the 10% the record company left you. But you were cool 'cause you were 'signed to a major label'. When outlined like that, what chance did bands have of carving out a career in music? Even if a band did 'make it', they would be the ones making the least amount of money. Not an attractive scenario; but that was the way it was for thousands of bands eager to sign up.

Thinking about this in 2010, what options face a new band now? There are only four major record companies left and they've been dragged, kicking and screaming into the 21st century. Filing lawsuits against music fans, defending archaic copyright laws, making bands sign 360 degree deals, taking revenue from their live income, forcing iTunes and Apple to use crazy DRM systems preventing the sharing of music. They still don't get it.

In only a few years from now you will be able to store all the recorded music in history on a multi terabyte flash drive the size of a guitar plectrum and take it with you wherever you go. Or just stream any song whenever you want to from the web. In a digital world there only needs to be one copy of a file and the world can share it. There is no need to manufacture millions of plastic discs. People like sharing music. Music needs to be shared. Bands need to encourage people to share their music. And the internet is the best place to share it.

Tech companies around the world are trying to figure out how to monetise this new model. They've not done it yet, but they will! And when they do, you should have positioned your band to take full advantage. This is why there's never been a better time to be in a band making new music. But bands have to learn how to get the most from this new landscape. Its a steep learning curve, so here are a few pointers I think will set you out in the right direction...

1) Recruit a '5th member' to the band who has a tech background and ability. They will coordinate all online activities. Build a website. Get your fundamentals in place first: register with Facebook, YouTube, Myspace and Twitter. At gigs they will be responsible for gathering email addresses from the crowd. Remember, your retirement plan is your email list! Use www.fanbridge.com to help you.

2) Play live as often as you can. 52 weeks a year! Drive fans to your websites by developing video and audio content from these gigs and making the best of it available on your websites. Network at gigs and find believers.

3) Focus on your place in the market. Find other artists that are similar to you and watch where and how they promote themselves. Remember, not every fan uses one contact point. Find out who uses which sites and why. It's important to understand what kind of fans you have, and there's no shame in thinking like a (passionate, creative) business.

4) Spend as little time recording as you can. Recording studios are expensive. Spend the time in rehearsals getting the songs arranged before you go to the studio. Better still, learn how to record yourselves; it's not so difficult now. Spend what money you have on getting your recordings mixed and mastered. It's so important to retain your rights to your recordings... license everything... don't be seduced by offers to buy your rights.

5) Use Google alerts on your band's name. Any time your band is mentioned in a blog, go in and get the blogger's email address. When your band has an announcement to make, email these bloggers about it. Saves you from emailing direct to fans all the time, running the risk of putting them off.

Building a music career in this new decade is a multi-pronged strategy. It's completely alien to many musicians but if you've spent the time learning how to play and write, you have the discipline to go the extra mile and learn the skills to succeed in this brave new world.

The Scottish Music Industry Association has a board consisting of experts from across the industry, from Mogwai's Stuart Braithwaite to Glasgow International Jazz Festival's Jill Rodger.

The Association exists to represent Scottish music professionals to government, and to source funding for the industry. They're recruiting members now. For more information and advice go to www.smia.org.uk.