By Ed Teja
When I first read Kavit’s blog on writing a business plan I felt that he had touched on a vitally important issue. Most people in the music business don’t spend the time working out a business plan, especially individual artists. His ideas were sound, but for me it had two flaws: the audience and the fact that it is called a plan.
My concern was that he realistically addressed only one group within the music community—artists who are selling recordings to the public. I call this consumer business, because they sell direct to the consumers. Songwriters, especially nonperforming songwriters, I felt, couldn’t take advantage of a business strategy that concentrated on building a fan base and promoting concerts.
My second issue was that is a plan. I prefer strategies. An old Hebrew adage says: “Man plans, God laughs.” I don’t like to be laughed at, so I develop strategies.
Kavit’s response was to suggest that I write a marketing strategy for songwriters. So I am going to look at the four elements that he addressed in his original piece, convert them into a songwriter business strategy, and provide ideas suited to business to business marketing, where a songwriter licenses material to people in the business who package it with videos, or games, or on an artist’s CD or downloads.
To make this strategy effective, write things down as you go. Paper and pencil make it all more tangible. For each section you will need to make a list. Then your strategy will evolve directly from a very simple set of principles.
1) Identify the things on the list that are working
2) Identify the things on the list that are not working
3) Do more of #1
4) Do less of #2
Here we go.
Your operations are all the things you do in your music business. Typically they are divided into two flavors: activities that make money and those that don’t make money directly or immediately. What work related activities does your typical day include? Make a list and see if you can sort them into the two categories.
Activities that are necessary, but that do not produce a profit are pretty clear. Accounting comes to mind. Tracking your songs is another. But what about songwriting? There is no immediate profit. Arranging? Same thing? Talking to a producer? That is networking, unless you are discussing an actual deal.
In general, which activities are moneymakers is less clear for a songwriter. Certainly if you are asked to write for an artist, or are commissioned to score a movie, those would be good examples of work that contributes directly to the bottom line. But other things are murkier. For instance, putting songs in a library is done in the hope they will produce income, but it won’t be immediate, and it isn’t certain.
Nonetheless, the list will help you take stock of how you spending your time. Obviously putting finished songs into a library is closer to the goal of dollars in hand than practicing your instrument or registering songs with your PRO.
If you are new to the game, there might be nothing in the money earning category right now. That’s okay. If you have had some success with getting certain kinds of music into libraries, then list that for the time being. You will have to determine how to evaluate whether you are spending your time in a businesslike manner, or shuffling papers.
Business to business work is often one slippery step removed from the cash register.
MARKETING—how you reach customers
Before you can attack this item you need to define who and what you are. Are you hoping to score movies, write songs for artists, place songs in movies, write instrumentals for background…? Maybe you aspire to all of these.
So let’s break this into two large chunks: writing for artists and writing for film/tv placement because the positioning defines what group of customers you are going to chase.
To get to artists, your customers are really producers, managers, and record labels (A&R people). For film/tv, they are music supervisors, music libraries and filmmakers.
If you are after artists, you will need to pick a genre, and learn everything there is to know about it. For film/tv, you need to learn what works for video, and how to make the job of music supervisor easier. You’ll need to learn to create cues and various mixes of your music.
So make your list of things you are doing to market your music, and evaluate each item in terms of whether it makes sense in helping reaching your customer base. Having songs on iTunes, or spending lots of time on a web site, for example, does little in terms of your business objectives as a songwriter. Your audience is not typically looking for a strong web presence. They require commercial songs and instrumentals—good demos and master recordings. Contacts with libraries (who often feed leads to their composers) can provide a direct channel to your customers. A working relationship with a producer can lead to work for artists.
When making your evaluations, be tough on yourself. If you aren’t, the industry will be.
FINANCIALS—how you spend and make money
It is difficult to estimate income from songwriting unless you have a large catalog of songs that are generating income. Initially, every dime you make is windfall profit. The only effective financial strategy is to look at the various sources of income as they develop and, to repeat our fundamental strategy, do more of what works. If a library places one of your dance tunes, write more for them.
Your outgo you can control. And you have to. The biggest problem you face is the endless variety of services (see my blog on that subject) that tap into you for $5 for a submission here, and $10 there. You can spend thousands of dollars very rapidly on submissions. And there are often annual charges as well. My advice, try one or two services, tip sheets or whatever that seem to fit your marketing strategy. Get samples of their leads and make sure that they are mostly the kind of customer you are looking for. If one doesn’t produce, move to another. When one doesn’t work, try to learn why. When possible, listen to the music that beat yours out.
Most libraries don’t charge you to submit. Listen to the music that most of them have on their sites, and look at the placements they have made and see if you fit in. This should be an instinctive part of your ongoing positioning.
In short, control the money you spend. You might find it more profitable to save your marketing dollars for studio demos or musicians to help you prepare your product. Look at the list of places you spend money, and (again) flag the things that have worked and those that haven’t.
Now it’s time to reduce all these lists to a single strategy. Take them an create one master list of things you will do and not do..
Bear in mind that songwriter is a numbers game. If you are extremely lucky, writing one or two songs might make you rich, but successful songwriters typically write hundreds of songs and keep writing hundreds to stay successful. If you write for libraries, then volume is especially important. You need inventory, and you need the education that comes from writing and producing and placing music.
In the beginning, you might have a goal of writing songs that get better critiques or get accepted by fussy libraries (not all are). You might try a new genre or a new technique. But ultimately, an important action item is to get more songs to more customers. Improve your odds.
Your list should consist of active sentences, such as: “In three months I will have produced three new original tunes, created 30 sec, 45 sec cues from them and placed them in libraries.” Or “In six months I will have pitched my country songs to at least 10 artists.” Make sure that the actions are things you can control. It is useless to write: “I will place 14 songs in movies.” There might not be 14 appropriate opportunities that come your way. But you can write fourteen songs that would be great movie party songs, or club tunes. Remember that this is your strategy, and that means it is about what you can and should accomplish to reach your goals. Beyond these you have to have a little trust in the universe.
Be sure to include the lists from the other sections. “I will spend less time doing x and more on y” for each section are clear action items.
Once you’ve gone through this process, you can heave a sigh of relief and get started implementing it, but keep your lists and comments. Put your master list where you can see it every day. Remind yourself that these are goals you have set for yourself, to achieve your own goals. How strict you are with yourself depends on how important those goals truly are
In a year, make new lists, and THEN drag out these lists and see how you have faired. Did you accomplish your action items? Did you cut back on the wasteful tasks and do more of the ones that generate income? And evaluate the results. Perhaps you judged things wrong. Things that seemed like solid, constructive approaches can fizzle out.
Bear in mind that this is a template for a specific (defined by you) kind of success. If you don’t meet all the goals, don’t carry out all the actions, then you haven’t succeeded in following your strategy. And that isn’t the same as failing.
This is my approach, and I will be going into more detail on most of these topics in the future. In the meantime, let me hear you thoughts. Have I left anything out that you are dealing with, either well or poorly?