Archive for the The DIY Musician Category

Nickleback is Richer Than You (Why do you play music?)

Posted in Art Business, The DIY Musician on July 18, 2013 by artlovemagic

Derek is an MBA in entrepreneurship, painter, and bassist for Onward We March, a local progressive metal band. He teaches business skills to artists and writes weekly music business advice for his blog Derek Thinks Music. Got a business question about your art? Shoot him an email at

Bloomberg Businessweek delves into the Nickelback money-printing machine::

As of May 2011, the rock-star-cum-business-mogul was earning $9.7 million a year from his various ventures, according to court records filed with the Supreme Court of British Columbia. He has a vacation home with friends in Cabo San Lucas, Mexico, a 20-acre farm with stables in British Columbia, and his own home recording studio. Chad Kroeger is not just a drunken rock god: He’s a kingmaker.

In an age of declining music industry profits, Chad is one of the few musicians who still lives “The Rockstar Lifestyle” as portrayed in the media. At the same time, they’re one of the most maligned musicians today, especially by fellow musicians.

In 2010 skeptics set up a Facebook (FB) group that purposely misspelled the band’s name: “Can This Pickle Get More Fans Than Nickleback?” The pickle rallied about 1.5 million people in the single month it was live. Last Thanksgiving, an online petition to prevent the band from playing during halftime at a Detroit Lions game drew 50,000 signatures. In the fall, when Chicago’s teachers went on strike, a pro-union protester attacked the mayor with what was meant to be a devastating sign: “Rahm Emanuel likes Nickelback.” The mayor quickly denied the charge.

How is this possible?

It’s about differing strategies and motivations towards the music industry.

Why do you play music?

Your answer to this question has profound ramifications on your band’s ideal strategy.

Lets think through some answers to get an idea for how this will effect your goals.

Be Nickelback-rich?

This is the major label game.

You’ll need to play music with a very wide appeal. Your live show needs to be excellent. Your image will be groomed. You’re going to be a performer, not a musician.

Read my previous guide on How to Sell Out Properly for a more in-depth treatment.

Be highly regarded among the music community?

This is a different, smaller clientele than the music listening public. Be aware of the nuances and limitations of this different market.

And you should probably be practicing while reading this post, too.

Be famous?

Making amazing music is the obvious method here, but there’s a million different paths to this achieving this goal. It’s about attention.

If you have video or choreography skills you could build a massive following through videos like OkGo did with that sweet treadmill video. Make music so out-there that you develop a cult following like Sunn O))).. You could even join The 27 Club (not advised).

Play music and have financial security?

This would be an argument for keeping a day job. Freedom for your art and you don’t have to survive on ramen alone.

Play music for a living (no day job)?

Play a lot. Probably in a few different bands to diversify your income streams and ensure that you don’t over-play a market. Network. Build up savings and get your costs down (rent, car, food, etc.)

Be attractive?

Let’s be real here. Some of us only play to look good. If this is all you care about, invest in good photographers and videographers as a top priority.

Go on a world tour?

Start befriending larger bands in every location you’d want to hit. Look into finding fans in each city that would be willing to host you and help promote. Get everyone in the band’s schedules and business straightened out. Figure out the math to make it profitable, or at least break even.

Disgust and assault your fans?

GG Allin, you naaaaasty.

This is only a cursory glance at all the reasons we play music. The list is effectively endless, but it’s important to figure out what motivates you to keep pushing forward.

By the way, do you know why your bandmates play music?

You should.

Is the Album Really Dead?

Posted in Art Business, The DIY Musician on June 20, 2013 by artlovemagic

Derek is an MBA in entrepreneurship, painter, and bassist for Onward We March, a local progressive metal band. He teaches business skills to artists and writes weekly music business advice for his blog Derek Thinks Music. Got a business question about your art? Shoot him an email at

I’m conflicted.

love albums. That’s how we’ve all grown up listening to and understanding music. It’s a milestone upon which a band builds its mythology and expresses a grand vision. Albums allow for extended storytelling that couldn’t fit in a single song. (Could you imagine The Wall being released as a series of singles?)

However, after I’ve given most albums a listen, I move the tracks I like to a genre/emotion-based playlist and move on to the next band. Very few albums get a complete repeat listen from me.

This is not uncommon.

The landscape of the music industry has irrevocably changed, and there are compelling arguments in favor of releasing singles instead of albums.

1. The number one listening platform for music among teens is YouTube.

More than radio, iTunes and CDs, YouTube is where the next generation of music obsessives (teens) get their music. It’s free, streaming, and instant access to any song you could ever care to listen. With the prevalence of smart phones and 4G wireless, this a better service than CDs or MP3s for these listeners.

As Lefsetz puts it:

You want to know how they listen?

They pull up your track on YouTube. Whether in an authorized version on Vevo or a bootlegged take posted straight to YouTube. And they instantly decide whether they like it or not. And if they don’t, they forget about you. Just that fast. It’s like they’re carrying your album straight to the dumper. As if you walked into McDonald’s, sniffed and left and they threw all the food out and closed the doors. As for listening to all twelve of your tracks, are you nuts! Don’t tell me people have a short attention span, hell, they’re marathoning “Breaking Bad” as I write this. They just don’t have time for what is not exceptionally great, and if you can tell me ten albums from the last two years that are good from beginning to end, I’m all ears.

Listening has changed. It used to be entertainment options were limited. You bought little and played that which you owned. And it’s not only music, newspapers are competing with blogs, TV is competing with YouTube, everything’s changing, are you?

You’ve got to step up your game. You’ve got to focus on excellence.

The album isn’t center stage on YouTube.There’s no need to buy an album full of mediocre filler tracks anymore. Two clicks and you’re listening to the song you want, for free.

2. We’re moving towards an access-based music model where owning albums is irrelevant.

Ownership isn’t always best, and the music consumer is beginning to realize this.

Think about all the CDs & MP3s you have that sit around collecting dust. Other than earning “cool points” for having stacks of music lying around (guilty), is there any additional value to having piles of stuff? If it’s about having access to your music, streaming beats owning. Streaming gives you an infinite collection that you can access instantly, without having to search through poorly labeled MP3s or polish scratched CDs. Streaming gives you all the access of ownership without any of the hassle.

We systematically over-value ownership for countless other knicknacks, too. The US spends $22.45 BILLION on storage space to keep all of our stuff that won’t fit in our house. Everyone I know has a “crap room” that happily houses mountains of junk that “had” to be owned. How often do you dig around in your storage space / attic / crap room? Wouldn’t it make more sense to skip the price tag of ownership and only pay when you actually need a Gene Simmons costume?

This is the direction businesses are heading.

Entertainment services like Spotify, Steam, and Netflix aren’t alone in moving toward access-based services The software industry long since figured out the real value in Software-As-A-Service (SaaS) as a business model. Even items that traditionally were owned are moving to access-based services. Startups like car-sharing service Zipcar allow people all the benefits of having a car to get around without any of the annoying maintenance or registration.

Derek Thomson and Eric Weissmann at The Atlantic elaborate on the Millenial generation turning down ownership:

The typical new car costs $30,000 and sits in a garage or parking spot for 23 hours a day. Zipcar gives drivers access to cars they don’t have to own. Car ownership, meanwhile, has slipped down the hierarchy of status goods for many young adults. “Zipcar conducted a survey of Millennials,” Mark Norman, the company’s president and chief operating officer, told us. “And this generation said, ‘We don’t care about owning a car.’ Cars used to be what people aspired to own. Now it’s the smartphone.”

Expect access-based services to continue growing. Just don’t expect people to understand how they work.

3. In an access-based marketplace, profit comes from utilization (listens) instead of album sales.

A Hypebot interview with D.A. Wallach explains how Spotify sets up it’s payments:

We feel the metric of success should be based on how many people are listening to your music over a period of years, as opposed to looking at how many units are shipping in one week. People are used to seeing big numbers from a unit-based model, but that’s really front loading what is happening. Comparing iTunes sales with Spotify payments over a two month period of time is not a great way to look at things.

What we are trying to create is a system in which you earn royalties forever for good music, and the time horizon is simply different than what folks are familiar with now. One can actually think about a download sale as a down payment on all future listening that a fan will do. If you took the effective per play rate that I’ve paid for every time I’ve listened to my Dark Side of The Moon CD, it would be trivial compared to what I’d have generated if I’d done all that listening on Spotify.

This is fascinating.

This new pay structure rewards musicians who create music with longevity over those who create one-off sales. Even if the band hasn’t released new music in years, dedicated fans keep royalties flowing to the artists simply by continuing to listen. This is great news for bands making classic albums, not so much for bands relying on hype to make a splash with first week album sales.


While I don’t forsee the complete demise of the album format, I suspect that they may become a niche release strategy (like prog rock concept albums) as opposed to the dominant music paradigm.

Time will tell if this is good or bad.

(For more about new music strategies, see my previous post Electronic and Hip Hop Better Suited to the New Music Industry)

When Should You Quit Your Job? (2 of 2)

Posted in Art Business, The DIY Musician on May 16, 2013 by artlovemagic

Derek is an MBA in entrepreneurship, painter, and bassist for Onward We March, a local progressive metal band. He teaches business skills to artists and writes weekly music business advice for his blog Derek Thinks Music. Got a business question about your art? Shoot him an email at

(Part 1)

When (if) you decide to make the leap into being self employed, you’ll want to be as prepared as possible. It’ll be stressful adjusting to your new job now that your electric bill depends on success. A band is a start up company, and 60-70% of startups fail within six years.

Lets think through some considerations that will help you figure out when the time is right.

1) Figure out your burn rate.

Also known as your monthly expenses. This number will determine whether you’re sinking or swimming in your new career. If you’ve got dependents, they need to be factored here in too.

Its a simple concept, but bears repeating. If you earn slower than you burn, you’ll burn (out).

2) Build up an emergency fund.

Since you’ll be self employed now, there’s no such thing as paid sick days. If you get struck with a bad case of the AxlRoseitis, you won’t be pulling in any cash. What if your van breaks down the day before a tour? Or what if you have to post bail to get out of jail in Prague?

Random bad luck is inevitable.

An emergency fund is the difference between an inconvenience and a catastrophe.

At bare minimum you want at least two months worth of living expenses saved up before taking the plunge.

3) Figure out your expected income.

How much will you realistically make in the span of a month? Estimate this by seeing how much merch and music you sell, your income from shows, and any side income like teaching or session playing.

Now try estimating how much you’d make during a tour. Since you won’t always be on tour, estimate your monthly expected income somewhere between the two numbers.

4) Figure out how to increase your expected income.

This is where the hustle comes in.

Yes, you can cut your monthly expenses to make it easier to start making money, but that’s a temporary solution. There’s a limit to how much you can cut but there’s no limit on how much you can make. (shout out to Ramit Sethi’s excellent money blog I Will Teach You To Be Rich)

Should you do vinyl releases? Private house shows? Festivals? Song licensing? Keep your eyes and mind open.

There’s a million other considerations to make before going full time, but the hard numbers of “can I support myself and my family?” underly everything.

This post isn’t intended to dissuade you from going full time, its about information. If you’re going to make the leap, it helps to know where you want to land.

When Should You Quit Your Job? (1 of 2)

Posted in Art Business, The DIY Musician on April 18, 2013 by artlovemagic

Derek is an MBA in entrepreneurship, painter, and bassist for Onward We March, a local progressive metal band. He teaches business skills to artists and writes weekly music business advice for his blog Derek Thinks Music. Got a business question about your art? Shoot him an email at

Musicians I talk to seem to view being a full-time musician as the be-all, end-all metric of success.

I get that. Playing music all day is a big slab of groovy in my book.

But we’re defining success in the wrong way.

Defining success as having music as your only job is dangerous. Going full-time as an artist before you’re financially ready will wreck both your art and your sanity. What you’ve effectively done is given up a low-paying stressful job with a low-paying stressful job without benefits or stability. Music is not an easy living. Unless your creativity is fired solely through desperation, making yourself miserable because you didn’t plan ahead is silly. Ask anyone who has let The Hunger consume them.

Real success is about being happy with your only job being music.

Before you decide to make the leap, consider a few things.

1) Stability allows you to be more experimental with your music.

Experimenting with new sounds and styles in inherently risky. Failure is a very real prospect. Once the band establishes a “sound” and becomes full time musicians, everyone’s ability to pay the bills relies on that sound. Would it be easier or more difficult to completely revamp your sound if your rent depending on success? (This is strictly conjecture, but I suspect this may be one reason why some bands peak on their first album.)

2) Growth eats cash

This is a cardinal rule of business. Even if going on tour will score you a tasty lump of cash, you have to pay expenses like van rentals, merch, promoters, and venues before you’re able to earn that cash. You’ve got to eat and pay for places to sleep while on tour. Will you burn all your cash before you can earn it? Yes, you can use credit cards to delay paying for a month, but mistake with credit cards are expensive and eat into your profits.

3) Burnout

Working at a restaurant can kill the joy of its food with boredom. The same could be said of playing your top 3 hits for years on end. For some, music is an escape from boring reality. Changing music from an escape to an obligation can have a profound effect on how you view your music. The life of a full time musician is about hustle. If you’re not naturally inclined to that lifestyle in addition to the process of creating and performing music, it’ll be easy to get burned out.

Before making a big decision like this, you need to do serious soul searching into what you actually want out of your music.

-Do you like writing and recording but hate performing?

-Do you value stability over creativity?

-How much am I wiling to cater to my fans?

-Will I only be happy with a sold out stadium, or would I be happy having a few dedicated fans buying music through bandcamp?

-Would I actually enjoy the musician lifestyle?

There are big questions.

Next week we’ll talk about how to prepare.

The One Fatal Pricing Error

Posted in Art Business, The DIY Musician on March 21, 2013 by artlovemagic

Derek is an MBA in entrepreneurship, painter, and bassist for Onward We March, a local progressive metal band. He teaches business skills to artists and writes weekly music business advice for his blog Derek Thinks Music. Got a business question about your art? Shoot him an email at

It’s no secret that every artist wants to be able to make a living of their art.

Yet it’s also no secret that many developing artists are reluctant to raise prices, especially since the idea of fan backlash like this can be terrifying for an artist to even imagine.

Let’s talk about Price-o-phobia.

Price-o-phobia a highly prevalent, ambition-killing fear of raising prices that prevents people from getting paid what they are actually worth. Artists are highly succeptable since, unlike a hot dog stand at a state fair, there’s no easy guideline for what the generally acceptable price would be for their work.

The first step is figuring out the underlying causes of our Price-o-phobia.

There’s a tangle of roots often feeding this fear:

-“I only spent X on materials, there’s no way I would charge someone more than 2X!”

-“If I raise prices, I might not sell every piece. It’s safer to keep prices low so I’ll move pieces.”

-“It’s not that great. I can’t charge that much.”

-“It’s vulgar to raise prices for my work. I couldn’t do that to my fans!”

-‘What if my fans rebel and I lose everything I’ve worked for?”

These are quite common fears among artists and musicians alike. Some fears are productive, like being afraid to jump off a thirty story building into a pit of rusty spikes. Other fears, like being afraid to eat food, are clearly counter productive. Price-o-phobia falls into the latter category.

Let’s unpack some of these fears.

“I only spent X on materials, there’s no way I would charge someone more than 2X!”

   Materials aren’t the only consideration. Your time and musical talent have value that is just as real as the materials involved. Lawyers and doctors charge for their time and effort because what they do requires special skills that not many possess. As an artist, you should be no different.

“If I raise prices, I might not sell every piece. It’s safer to keep prices low so I’ll move pieces.”

Everybody loves a deal. Sure, I’d love Kobe ribeye steak for $5 too, but prices like that would cause the restaurant to go out of business in months if not weeks. Now nobody gets steaks anymore. Not. Cool.

“It’s not that great. I can’t charge that much.”

   a) Sometimes modesty is a virture. Sometimes modesty is a vice. If you’re regularly selling pieces, chances are you might be too modest to support yourself.

b) If it’s actually not that great, stop reading right now and go practice.

“It’s vulgar to raise prices for my work. My fans are my friends!”

Your fans want more art than they want a deal. If that’s not true, they’re not fans. (Remember, I’m assuming you’ve got an extraordinary product. If you don’t have that, then you should be practicing instead of reading this.)

‘What if my fans rebel and I lose everything I’ve worked for?”

Let’s dig deep into this one.

In December 2010, Jack White caught flak from fans for selling his limited edition vinyl on eBay. As the prices rose to eventually reach $510, fans became outraged at this price saying it was “exploitation”.

At what price is it exploitive for a fan to pay for a work of art?

Or better yet, how do we know the true value of art?

Jack White explains:

“We sell a Wanda Jackson split record for 10 bucks, the eBay flipper turns around and sells it for 300,” he explained. “If 300 is what it’s worth, then why doesn’t Third Man Records sell it for 300? If we sell them for more, the artist gets more, the flipper gets nothing. We’re not in the business of making flippers a living. We’re in the business of giving fans what they want.”

Is this exploitation?

Let’s put it another way: If someone loves your art so much they’re willing to give you $500 for it, should you let them?

If you actually care about becoming a self-sufficent artist, the answer is clear.

The songs we associate with our first drive in our first car (Groove Armada – Superstylin’) or an amazing road trip with friends (Snoop Dogg – Ain’t Nuthin but A G Thang), they’re the memories that define our lives. Music is a link to our history and our identity.

Creating music is creating love for our fans.

It’s your duty to allow your fans to return the favor.

Fans want to support you! If your lucky, some of your fans may have connections that help you book better clubs or tour with bigger bands. Fanastic! Most fans, however, are normal people who just dig your art. Buying art is the one way anyone can help support their favorite artist. When we buy from our favorite artist, we actively say “I love your vision so much that the world is a better place because of your creations. Let me help you on your quest!”

Some fans will complain when you raise prices and that’s perfectly ok. You shouldn’t always listen to your fans. In fact, fans that care only about price aren’t really fans at all.(Provided you’re not raising the price waaaaay outside of traditional market value, such as raising prices on a t shirt from $10 to $80. That’s a little silly.)

As of May 2012, Jack White’s new solo album Blunderbuss hit number on on the Billboard 200. The man makes great art, is it any surprise fans still love his work?

The one fatal pricing error is pricing yourself too low to continue making art.

In order to be a full-time artist, your prices must be high enough to support yourself comfortably. Anything less is unsustainable in the long term. Even if you’re moving a million paintings, if you’re not capable of keeping the electricity bills paid there’s a good chance you’ll eventually burn out on art altogether. Ramen every night should be a choice, not the choice.

The only way to get paid what people truly feel your art is worth is to start out high and negotiate price down. If you do price too high, you can always adjust downwards as needed. But fans will never say “Hey, I really liked your show last night. Here’s an extra forty bucks because it was worth that.” No, they walk away thinking “Wow, what a deal!”

Think about all your sales for last year. What if you had charged as little as 5% more? For an artist, this is an easy task since you set the prices, but you’d have to be really lucky at a traditional job to get a raise of 5% in today’s market.

In either case, you won’t get a raise if you don’t ask.

Your mission, should you choose to accept it, is to make brilliant art. Getting paid what you’re worth is vital to this mission.

Will “The Hunger” Consume You?

Posted in Art Business, The DIY Musician on February 21, 2013 by artlovemagic

Derek is an MBA in entrepreneurship, painter, and bassist for Onward We March, a local progressive metal band. He teaches business skills to artists and writes weekly music business advice for his blog Derek Thinks Music. Got a business question about your art? Shoot him an email at

I’ve yet to meet an artist who was immune to The Hunger. It strikes artists young and old, established and amateur.

This is about The Hunger for success and recognition we feel when we’re at the end of our ropes.

It will consume you if you don’t manage it.

The Hunger manifests itself in different ways among different artists. Some turn the urge inward, others lash outward. I’ve seen it through:


Watching a talented artist give into despairation and repress their innate artistic nature is a sad march. Some give up art altogether, others


Some artists will go out of their way to denigrate others and put down new musicians. Everyone began out crappy and it’s only through sustained effort that we become good. But bitter artists can serve up steaming bowls of negativity chili nonstop until new artists are full of negativity themselves.


We all know someone who deals with chemicals instead of their stress. What a waste.

-Starting a Predatory Business

This one I find especially irritating. Washed out musicians starting “pay to play” promotional companies or bogus “managers” who skim small bands without doing any work are all too common. They tend to like the phrase “exposure”. Yes, it is clearly a sustainable business model to take advantage of inexperienced artists since that is one market that will never disappear. But that doesn’t make taking advantage of others right.

The Hunger is a scary beast to confront.

Thankfully, there are ways to help:

Side Projects

Creativity comes from assembling disparate sources of inspiration. Take a break from anything that remotely resembles your current project to work on an entirely new skill set. If you’re a singer songwriter, start working on a standup comedy routine. If you’re a painter, start learning how to breakdance. Everything is connected to the creative mind. Sometimes all you need is the right spark to jump start your main project.

-Structured Hiatus

   You’re pushing too hard to allow your mind to wander and make the connections needed to make great music. Choose an exact period of time, say a month, where you don’t even so much as look at your instrument. Having to wait for your deadline to get back to your instrument will make you value it more.

If you’re as addicted to music as I suspect, you’ll soon begin longing to play again and with that renewed passion comes ideas.

-Change Teams

Some people are toxic to the creative process.

Is someone saying “no” to every new idea? Too much negativity and stonewalling could be choking creativity.

Saying “yes” to everything is just as fatal. Hearing “no” shows us what people value and without this feedback, we can’t refine our art. Sometime we need negativity.

You can’t run without balance.

Sometimes it sucks kicking someone off the team, but being stuck unproductive and unhappy is even worse.

-Change Strategies

  If you’re not getting the results you want, it’s counter productive to keep doing the same thing.

-Stop Working For Free / Cheap

If you’ve got lots of work but are still struggling, maybe you’er not charging enough. Of course you’ll have less customers, but you’ll also have more money and time to focus on doing more fulfilling work. The one fatal pricing error is pricing yourself too low to keep making art.

-Day Job

   As romantic as becoming a full time artist right away is, being able to pay rent will severly impact your art whether you like it or not. Having at least one steady source of income gives you much more freedom to explore your art without having to worry about profitability before creativity.

I’ll be posting more on this topic soon.

Find a Positive Mentor / Peer Group

   We become those around us.

If you’re surrounded by naysayers, sloths, or haters you’re probably one as well.

Scour craigslist, forums, blogs, and friends for meetup groups for artists like you. If there isn’t one, start one. Plan on once-a-month coffee / bar meetups, promote a little to attract initial attendees, and trim out negative individuals from the group. Having positive support from peers will keep the negative energy from metastasizing into The Hunger.

This is only a start for such a huge topic.

What are some ways you’ve seen The Hunger manifest itself, either in yourself or others?

Dare You Bite the Forbidden Fruit of Promotion?

Posted in Art Business, The DIY Musician on January 17, 2013 by artlovemagic

Derek is an MBA in entrepreneurship, painter, and bassist for Onward We March, a local progressive metal band. He teaches business skills to artists and writes weekly music business advice for his blog Derek Thinks Music. Got a business question about your art? Shoot him an email at

Despite your relentless hustle, your last release was a flop. With no energy and limited funds left, you begin to accept that there may be nothing else you can do.

A siren song begins to pierce through the static hum of the internet.

Glaring, the offer dares you.

“For $75, This Guy Will Sell you 1,000 Facebook Likes”

Considering how hard we’ve worked for the Likes you have, this is a pretty fantastic deal. Previous ad campaigns have been measured in Likes and email list sign ups so this seems like a more direct method of getting the results you want.

“But wait, there’s more!”

How about buying profiles in bulk?

BEN ZHAO: Right now on the black market, you can actually buy and sell bundles of Facebook account credentials, tens of dollars or hundreds of dollars for hundreds of thousands of Facebook accounts.

So you could buy a legitimate Facebook ad for $240 and get 240 Likes, as Pizza Delicious did. Or you could drop the same amount of cash and get 10,000 “Likes” from fake profiles. Seems simples, but there’s much more to this than meets the eye.

CHACE: For example, one company that sells likes showed me this Nashville country singer who was a client. She had a lot of likes. But then I check what city the fans are from, and they were primarily from Cairo.

What would you do if you found your your favorite band was buying Likes? How would this change you opinion of the band? Would you still listen to them?

How would this change your opinion of a local band you’ve never heard of?

With Facebook’s initial stock offering showing awful returns, the $100 billion dollar value of Facebook rests on the value of Likes and the profiles.

But the value of Likes is shaky at best. Pizza Delilcious got a $10 return on 240 likes, so in this case each Like is worth $.04. Not worth it. But if we were to pay the same $240 for the 10,000 fake facebook credentials would we earn $400?


This is a smokescreen. Fake profiles don’t buy tickets to your show, nor do they force their friends to listen to your new EP. Only true fans do.

You can’t buy loyalty in bulk.

When the cash runs out, the only people left are your true fans. Even with a couple million dollars, the mercenaries will only be as loyal to you as you pay them.

But fans will always be loyal to Motorhead as long as Motorhead is loyal to them.

“Likes” and followers are are only as valuable as the fans behind the numbers.

Integrity, attention and quality are the currency of artists.

Are you investing or spending?

Maybe You Shouldn’t Tour

Posted in Art Business, The DIY Musician on December 20, 2012 by artlovemagic

Derek is an MBA in entrepreneurship, painter, and bassist for Onward We March, a local progressive metal band. He teaches business skills to artists and writes weekly music business advice for his blog Derek Thinks Music. Got a business question about your art? Shoot him an email at

“I’m going on tour!”

Those words burst with coolness. The romantic ideal of hitting the road with your best buddies to see the world and play your music strikes a lovely chord in our hearts. And the hearts of our other friends, tied to a their less-creative lives. It’ll be a trial, for sure, a marathon. But you’ll have the stories of comradery forever.

But beyond the adventure aspect, do you actually have a compelling reason to tour?

Tours cost money. Lots of it.

Every day you spend on the road your band is bleeding cash. Hotels, food, gas, merch and money foregone from missing days at work, everything adds . As nice as it feels to have a day off, a tour day without a show at night means a large hit to your overall cost as you drain your bank account without any show to offset this drain.

You need to think about:

How big of an audience will we be playing in front of? The logic of touring looks much different when you’re opening for a national headline act that pulls 500+ fans than when you’d be touring with another local band from your town.

Will we be able to play this location again within 6 months to 1 year? The more recognizable you are the more highly you are rewarded and the more “famous” people perceive your band. Since we build our love for music largely through repetition of the hits we love, there’s a strong multiplicative effect on the number of times you can expose a fan to your music. Ideally a fan will see you the first time and love your show so much they drag two more friends to the next show. If you won’t be able to hit the region in the foreseeable future, you miss out on this huge boost to your fan base.

How well do the other bands fit your sound? Not all exposure is created equal. You may well be touring with a substantially larger band, but if their fan base probably wouldn’t like you than you’re wasting your time.

How much do you expect to make at each tour stop? Are there guarantees for the show or is it based on head count? How many shirts, tickets and CDs do you expect to sling?

What kind of promotional effort can I put into this tour? Do you have time / energy / talent to put together a marketing push for these shows? Are the towns you’d be visiting friendly to your genre?

How well is your current lineup of merch selling? Do we need fresh gear? What would you estimate the percentage of people at a show who buy your merch would be?

Do you have enough merch to last through the week or month that you’ll be gone? If we sold everything, what’s the most money we could make from merch?

How much gas will we need? Use google maps and your vans’ MPG to estimate. Then figure out the cost.

-How many nights at a hotel / hostel will we need? Do you have any friends / fans who would let you crash at their place? You’d be surprised how helpful fans can be. This’ll make a big difference on the overall cost of your tour.

How much mental energy / sanity do I have to spend? Cash isn’t your only limited resource. Being away from home takes a mental toll on everyone. If your bassist is already having a terrible run of luck lately, he’ll be more likely to have issues throughout the tour. For your working members, taking time off from work means more stress when they return. Make sure everyone has enough willpower to spend that they won’t come after you with a chainsaw before the end of the tour.

What’s your budget? Can your band afford to lose a few grand without breaking a sweat or would that money be better spent on recording a few extra songs on your album?

After all this we’re left with the question of “Will we actually make money going on tour?” There’s a limit to the number times a business can undertake a large project without any positive return. Simple as that.

In no way am I saying that you shouldn’t tour. Far from it. Live shows and merch are becoming the primary means for independent musicians to make cold cash money. And I’m all for traveling, too. It makes you more creative and gives you great perspective on the world. But if the only compelling argument you can make for touring is the adventure, take a roadtrip with your friends instead. It’ll be cheaper and much less stressful when you’re not carring trailers full of gears and watching a dwindling bank account.

If you’re going to tour, make sure it’ll feed your band’s energy more than it drains it.


Negotiation Without Being a Jerk Pt. II

Posted in Art Business, The DIY Musician with tags on November 15, 2012 by artlovemagic

Derek is an MBA in entrepreneurship, painter, and bassist for Onward We March, a local progressive metal band. He teaches business skills to artists and writes weekly music business advice for his blog Derek Thinks Music. Got a business question about your art? Shoot him an email at

You’re halfway through negotiating a sponsorship deal with a major guitar string company, conversation is fluid and light. Envisioning the bliss that would be free guitar strings sends a flood of warmth through your mind.

Everything feels groovy.

A buzz.

The representative reads the text and her expression darkens.

The room begins to feel colder.

“It looks like the terms we initially proposed to you are off the table. We can only offer you half price or nothing.”

What do you say?

Negotiation is a delicate dance of power and persuasion. While each dancer may have an endless repertoire of moves, it is the beat they bring to the dance that colors their movements. And that beat is called the BATNA (Best Alternative to a Negotiated Agreement).

A BATNA provides an anchor for you to determine how valuable the offer currently on the table. How attractive is the offer from the example above when:

  • You have a meeting with another guitar string company in two hours?
  • You’ve already got an offer for a 60% discount?
  • You don’t have any other offer?
  • Your band doesn’t play any guitars?

Notice the nuances of how each BATNA lead you to different strategies.

The dynamics of any interaction change depending on your other options. Getting turned down for an audition hurts much less’ve got three more lined up next week. Greasy diner food sounds a lot better when you haven’t eaten for the last twelve hours.

So how do we use our knowledge of BATNA to improve our negotiations?


1. Getting multiple offers will give you some leverage to negotiate with. Don’t hinge your entire career and happiness on one label, make sure to court a few different labels. The way the field is built is how the game is played. Look back at the example above. Even if your backup offer is something really unimpressive like 5%, this gives you guidelines to determine how good a deal is.

2. Learning to talk persuasively increases others’ perception of your BATNA.Desperation is a stinky perfume. If your language conveys that you don’t value yourself or that your band isn’t that great, the other side of the table will pick up on these cues. It’s not just the actual value of your BATNA that influences your outcome, but the perception of your BATNA. Learn to frame your conversations and issues to present your product (band) in the best light. Appearing confident makes others believe you are confident as most negotiators are not psychic, and this imbued confidence will strengthen your negotiation position. This doesn’t mean be arrogant, as that usually is a bad idea, but being able to clearly and firmly articulate your position will increase the value of your BATNA, even if you don’t have one.

Perception creates reality.

3. Create a list of alternatives to the main deal that you can propose should the main offer become undesirable. Unless you’re working with a vending machine, there are many more ways to win than just in terms of cash. In the next installment of this series we’ll get deeper into this topic.

Previous entries: (Vol 1)

Negotiation Without Being A Jerk

Posted in Art Business, The DIY Musician on October 17, 2012 by artlovemagic

Derek is an MBA in entrepreneurship, painter, and bassist for Onward We March, a local progressive metal band. He teaches business skills to artists and writes weekly music business advice for his blog Derek Thinks Music. Got a business question about your art? Shoot him an email at

Whether it be predicting how much merch to purchasechoosing whether to book a larger or smaller venue for your release show, or what time you tell everyone to load-in, how you manage the expectations of everyone involved can be the difference between resounding sucess and abject failure.

I’m continually reminded of how all-encompassing this concept truely is.

Managing expectations is when you EXPLICITY outline the criteria to be used to evaluate an experience and the how everyone involved wants issues handled. This is why getting written contracts are so importantA contract serves as a visual aid outlining the expectations of all parties involved so everyone is crystal clear on what exactly to do.

Learn to manage expectations and you too will live a life of opulence like Big Bear

Until you’ve worked with someone a couple times, you need to be painfully clear with how you want the deal to go. Not to the point of being patronizing (“and you’ll play the guitar with your hands, correct?”), but the more work you put in up-front about your requirements, the easier your life will be when money starts to change hands.

Van Halen added a now famous clause hidden deep in their contracts that the band must be served M&Ms with all the brown ones removed. They added this clause not to be capricous rockstars, but to verify that the venue thorougly read through the contract. David Lee Roth explained that a venue not matching the expectations of the contract could lead to their road crew having to deal with life-threatening safety oversights.

Last year I was going over show details for my heavy-metal band Onward We March with a venue we booked a show at, only to find out that they “didn’t want any of that screaming stuff” for the show.

No. Can. Do.

Not matching expectations can ruin your credibility, stall your marketing, or even cause your band to collapse.

When people aren’t sure exactly what you want/offer, they fill in the gaps with their best guesses.

Your goal with managing expectations is to minimize hearing phrases like, “Oh you guys wanted a sound check? Sorry, we don’t have time for it. Didn’t think you’d want one because our last band didn’t care.”