Editor's note: This article is one in a series detailing advice from Emily White and her book How To Build A Sustainable Music Career And Collect All Revenue Streams.
So you've got music you're really proud of and you think the world needs to hear. That's amazing — and it's already a lot further than many artists get.
But where do you go from here? If your first thought is, "To record it, distribute it, and pitch it to playlists!" — well, we (and manager Emily White) have a serious reality check for you. For starters, playlists are not a marketing plan, nor are they a sustainable way to build a career. But more importantly, you've still got lots of foundational work to do.
In the second chapter of her book How To Build A Sustainable Music Career And Collect All Revenue Streams, Emily White details some key steps you need to take before even thinking about setting a release date. Specifically, she covers:
- Email lists, text lists, and social media — in that order
- Setting yourself up to make money from day one
- The two main kinds of pre-orders
If we've said it once, we'll say it a million more times. And White agrees. Email lists are and will continue to be the most valuable asset you can have for most fans.
First up—do you have an email list? If not, create one immediately. Ask friends, family, and fans if it’s OK to add their email addresses to your list. Let them know that this is the most direct way to keep them informed on your music. I’ve often said that an artist’s email list is their retirement plan. We’re going to talk about social media in this chapter, as it’s a great way to market and communicate, but you do not own your social media accounts—technology companies do.
— Emily White
And if you're thinking, "Well MY FANS don't use email," or, "None of my favorite artists send me emails," we're going to stop you right there. For starters, yes, your fans use email — and if they're too young to really use one now, they'll have one in a few years. Every industry recognizes the importance of connecting and offering their customers and fans via email.
White shares the example of Amanda Palmer who, while signed to a major label, sold 10,000 copies of an album in her first week — one thousand of which were attributed to the label, and 9,000 of which were attribute to her and her email list. And you don't have to have tens of thousands of emails for your list to matter. But you have to have a list.
White also recommends looking into text messaging groups and, lastly, making sure you're present and consistent on social media.
Making Money From Day One
You need to think about your ability to make money from day one. Yes, *before* you even have your newest product. "I know you got into music to create great art," White says in her book. "I want you to keep creating great art, and the point of this book is to teach you how to collect on all of your revenue streams. Therefore, let’s start monetizing your music from day one of its existence. Also please do not limit yourself to the traditional formats I mentioned (single, EP, album). The sky is truly the limit in the modern era! You can release a song a day, a song a month culminating in a vinyl release after twelve months, or whatever you want. No matter your vision for your music, if you have one for this release, set up a pre-order."
It may sound counter-intuitive to think about offering a product before you even have that product, but that's because you're thinking about what your product *actually is* all wrong. In most cases, music isn't a commodity — certainly not music from a new artist. It's about creating connections and emotions over time. And while your music is often the entry point to what you offer, the actual "product" is, well, you. Which is why when you bring fans along for the ride, they're willing to support you.
To prove her point — White did that exact thing with the book. She began selling it before it was even written because she knew she had people who would be excited to follow its progress and read it whenever it was available.
The Two Main Kinds Of "Pre-Orders"
As White puts it, there are really two ways to start monetizing from day one. There's the single product pre-order model, and there's the recurring content fan club model. Both are valid and neither are exclusive — they just take slightly different approaches.
The more traditional "pre-order" can be done on your own website (and easily, too, if you use a site with a built-in eCommerce component like Squarespace or Bandzoogle). It can also be done via a crowdfuning platform like IndieGoGo or Kickstarter. They all have their pros and cons, and we'd encourage you to check out her book for more of her thoughts on each of them.
"If your music is ready to go for recording, but you don’t have a clear vision of what the release will be (e.g., a single, EP, album, etc.), that’s OK too!" White shares. "In this scenario, I encourage you to set up a Patreon page immediately. Patreon is based on the concept of being a “patron” of the arts and supporting creators. Set up and launch your Patreon page so your community (even if it’s friends and family at first, as we all need to start somewhere) can support you and stay connected with what you’re creating as the process evolves."
At the end of the day, it's important to remember that you want people to know it's ok to support you financially, at whatever stage you're at. And of course, to make it as easy as possible for them to do so!