Even before the pandemic, it’s safe to say that funds were probably pretty tight for most developing artists. But now without the ability to earn money through touring, festivals, and even most local live in-person shows, money is a bigger concern than ever for many independent musicians. This doesn’t change the fact that if you want to release music and find an audience in 2020, there are some things you can’t avoid spending money on. Here are four things worth investing in as a developing artist making music in today’s complex music industry:
No matter what you want to accomplish or what your music sounds like, mastering is an essential part of putting the final touches on your work before sharing it. Mastering is crucial because it finalizes your music in a way that helps it sound consistent and complete over various listening platforms. If you want your music to sound the absolute best it can on the radio, videos, CDs, and streaming platforms, you’ll need to invest some money into mastering. There are countless talented audio engineers out there who would be happy to master your latest single or album, and there’s also a growing number of digital platforms that offer mastering services as well. Nothing beats the human touch when it comes to mastering, but many artists on a budget are happy to use digital services to master their music.
With most live shows on hold right now, it’s worth asking why investing in merchandise is still worth it for musicians. Between it being an easy revenue source for artists and a way to form enduring physical connections with listeners, merch is still worth paying for. As most music fans continue to be put at a distance from their favorite artists, many long for any physical links to music that they can find––shirts, stickers, posters, etc. If you have a strong and consistent online presence, directing fans to your digital merchandise store through social media posts and during live-stream performances is a way to provide them with something tangible that represents your music. Merch is also providing many artists a financial lifeline at a critical time.
Many of you are probably reading this and saying, CDs?! What is this, 2004? The truth is that even in an industry that now revolves around streaming platforms, CDs are still crucial. Why? If you want to submit your music for radio play or coverage through major publications, you’re still not taken seriously by many as an artist until you can offer CDs to represent your music. If you’re a young artist, this might be hard to believe, but it’s true. Chalk it up to a generational preference for disk-shaped manifestations of music, if you like. Another aspect to consider is that your music will sound far, far better on CD than it will through the squashed down MP3s you send over email. You don’t need to duplicate thousands of CDs if you only need them for promotion, but they’re a nice bonus for fans who want the cleanest and most vibrant versions of your music available.
Is it possible for independent artists to bypass digital distribution companies and get their music up on major streaming platforms by themselves? The short answer is sort of. With each streaming platform having their own unique vetting process for the music they feature, it depends on the company. Instead of doing countless hours of tedious research looking into each platform, artists are far better off working with a solid distribution company. These services do the work of getting your music submitted and featured on the growing number of streaming platforms so that you can focus on making music, performing, and promoting.
Why paying for PR isn’t a safe bet for many developing artists
PR isn’t on this list. Why? While working with someone experienced and passionate about your music has the potential to deliver huge opportunities for your music, there are no guarantees that paying for an expensive PR campaign will make anything happen. Things like mastering and digital distribution are unavoidable costs for serious artists, but many will find similar or even better promotional results launching savvy and ambitious PR campaigns on their own. If you’re considering investing in help promoting your music, consider the cost, the results the PR agent in question has been able to get with similar artists, and if it’s something that will meaningfully push your career forward.
Patrick McGuire is a writer, musician, and human man. He lives nowhere in particular, creates music under the name Straight White Teeth, and has a great affinity for dogs and putting his hands in his pockets.