There’s never been a better time for artists to go independent, whether in music, writing, fashion, or film and television. Being independent has always been a part of being a fashion designer or filmmaker, but more and more musicians, authors and content creators are finding mainstream success taking the independent route. Why? One word. The internet.
In the past if you were looking for mainstream success as a musician you needed to get signed to a record label so they could distribute your work to the masses. If you were an author you needed a publishing company to do the same. If you wanted to be a content creator, whether a filmmaker or television producer, you needed to shop your project to a big production company or TV station. The internet, including social media and apps, has changed the game. Creators can bypass the typical industry model and get to their fans directly through platforms like iTunes, YouTube, or Netflix. In the music industry, some have even questioned whether record labels will exist in the next 15 to 20 years.
Record labels and publishing companies, as well as management companies and agents, exist for one reason only- creators don’t usually make great business people. Managers and agents help creators make sound business decisions and find new opportunities. Entities like record labels help with the startup, marketing, and distribution costs associated with projects.
Over the past few years we at SHIFTER have met many talented creative types who have yet to get out of the gate, or have plateaued in their careers, because they’re intimidated by having to think about marketing, distribution, social media, and finances.
If you want to create on a professional level there’s no way to escape the business side of your craft. You have two choices. You either learn to wear both the creative hat and entrepreneurial hat or you partner with someone who has those skills.
The world is full of creators who align themselves with business minds that give them the freedom to focus on creating. Notorious B.I.G. and P. Diddy. Steve Wozniak and Steve Jobs. Jay-Z and Damon Dash. Rick Rubin and Russell Simmons. But today more and more creators are learning to become entrepreneurs. In fact, most of the creators we just mentioned all went on to learn how to become business people. The same way creative skills can be acquired and honed, business skills can also be acquired and honed; if you’re willing to invest the time and effort. Hip-hop producer Swizz Beats recently went back to school at Harvard so he could be better at navigating the business world.
Even if you decide that you still want to go with a record label or publishing company, for the majority of creators you’ll at least spend a few years as an independent. Unless they really believe in your potential or they already have a personal relationship with you, managers and agents won’t take you on unless you’ve generated some buzz on your own. Record labels won’t even look at you unless you have some buzz, including a sizeable social media following.
So here’s a bit of advice for creators wanting to go the independent route:
- Learn as much as you can about internet and email marketing, as well as social media. There are a lot of paid and free resources on marketing and social media, including blogs and podcasts. Take in as much as you can. Or you can go the Swizz Beats route and take a business course.
- Find a business mentor or coach. When Lebron James wanted to learn more about business, he sought out people like Warren Buffet to teach him. While the average person doesn’t have access to Warren Buffet, you can always find people online or in your city who can help you to understand business. Both Joe and I, as the co-founders of SHIFTER, have coaches and mentors to teach us certain areas of business where we’re weak. They hold us accountable and help us to grow.
- Lastly, like Jay-Z, Steve Wozniak or Notorous B.I.G., find an entrepreneur that you trust that can partner with you for your success. If you’re going to scale your career at some point you’ll need some support. Of course business relationships can get messy. Case in point, Jerry Heller and N.W.A., and Jay-Z and Damon Dash. In the case of Rick Rubin and Russell Simmons, business decisions sometimes conflict with creative decisions. But in a more recent example, Drake and Oliver El-Khatib have come together to completely dominate hip-hop by building OVO into an empire.
We’d love to hear from you on what is and isn’t working for you as independent artists and creators. We’re going to keep this discussion going on Facebook Live and Instagram Live on Monday, January 23 at 12pm as we talk about the rise of independants today and how they can move forward in 2017 and beyond. Send us your questions on Instagram or send them to firstname.lastname@example.org. Tune in and join the conversation!
Join us on Monday, January 23, 2017 at 12pm for The Business of Being Independent Artists & Creators, only on Facebook Live and Instagram Live.