YouTube for bands and musicians

In the 21st century, bands and artists compose, develop and promote music predominantly in the online space. Instagram, SoundCloud, YouTube, TikTok and Twitch provide platforms for them to showcase every aspect of their music and identity. This blog post explores how musicians can use YouTube to connect with fans or share new music and whether you should invest time in setting up your own channel. Could it be a money maker?!

Gaining recognition as a band: stage vs. screen

When my band and I were trying to grow our fan base just after the turn of the millennium, we heard one message and one message alone: if we wanted to become successful musicians, we’d have to be prepared to play our asses off. This was the golden rule of the era. In practice, bands had to play a huge number of live shows in local venues to discover what worked and what didn’t. It typically took years for a band to find their signature style. Today, the music business is far more fast-paced, and the process of cultivating an identity has largely shifted online.

There are now a large number of musicians who seldom or never play live, but connect with fans exclusively via YouTube and social media channels. By posting music videos and other video content several times a week, some of them achieve audiences that would never have been possible in the pre-internet era. Well-known examples include the US singer and songwriter Charlie Puth, who gained fame through YouTube, and Ed Sheeran, who reached No. 1 in the iTunes charts before even signing his first record deal.

Cover versions as a way to get noticed

While YouTube was still in its infancy, it was relatively easy to gain a fan base by uploading very simple content. When the platform went online in 2006, it was not at all uncommon for YouTubers to sit down in front of the webcam with an acoustic guitar and sing into the built-in microphone on the laptop. American indie folk singer-songwriter Terra Naomi was one of the first artists to gain success by doing so.

Meanwhile, some previously unknown musicians used cover versions of big hits to achieve viral success. Shawn Mendes and Justin Bieber, for example, uploaded their first cover songs to YouTube in their teens before becoming globally celebrated stars in the following years. Though it wasn’t enough to propel them to international stardom, Canadian band Walk off the Earth won more than impressive 190 million views on their cover of Gotye’s Somebody That I Used To Know. The Canadian band put their own spin on the song by having five musicians play the same acoustic guitar. Do you have your own idea for a YouTube cover with unusual instrumentation?

YouTube demands non-stop production

In recent years, technical progress has meant that high-quality audio and video recordings are becoming ever cheaper to make. As a result, viewers expect better and better output – and it’s much tougher to stay competitive on the YouTube scene. The most successful YouTubers have risen to the challenge by setting up their own recording studios, DSLR video cameras and lighting systems as well as becoming experts in video editing software. They control every step of the production process and upload a large number of high-quality videos with impressive regularity. It is impressive just how much creative output some YouTubers have delivered with over the course of their careers – regardless of the genre.

The importance of a regular schedule

While it used to be customary for bands to release ten songs every three years, YouTube music stars regularly release ten songs every three months. How or whether this enormous creative pressure affects the quality of creative output is too big a question to be answered here. It’s worth remembering, however, that failing to release content regularly can quickly lead to subscribers switching allegiance to another channel.

In addition, the Google algorithm appears to favour videos that are at least ten minutes long and are uploaded by accounts with more than 10,000 subscribers. As such, if channel operators want to monetise their content, they must produce content on a continuous basis and keep in touch with their fan base across all their social media channels. Only very few manage to do this – or at least to keep it up for a sustained period.

The new YouTube generation

With more than 2 billion monthly active users, YouTube as a platform is as popular as ever. What has changed is what it takes to beat the competition. Accordingly, some musicians have begun to how their channels are run – and many have been successful in doing so. I count Ola Englund, Rob Scallon and Cobus Potgieter as just some of the ‘new’ generation of music YouTubers who have mastered the art of evolving on Youtube. All of these artists have been active on the platform for several years and have uploaded hundreds of videos sharing their passion for music with their fans.

If you look at the channels I mentioned, it becomes clear that successful music YouTubers must offer a much broader range of content than they did ten years ago. Their content ranges from topics like ‘Life hacks for your instrument’ or ‘How do I play song X?’ to ‘How was this particular sound created?’.

For his part, Rob Scallon has gained over 2 million subscribers with elaborately produced videos covering metal hits with his sitar, banjo or jazz band. In other videos, he shows how to build DIY guitars.  South African drummer Cobus Potgieter is fellow veteran of the platform, uploading drum cover versions that often get many millions of views.

High-quality videos, authentic content

Since YouTube is the most popular music streaming service in the world and is still most people’s first port of call for consuming music, getting heard (read: noticed) demands good, aesthetically appealing content. Uploading regular, high-quality content that conveys your sound and image authentically is key to long-term success on YouTube. Your most important goal should be to build a close connection with your fans through genuinely enjoyable videos.

These don’t always have to be elaborately staged. Clips from the rehearsal room, from your latest tour or from an evening playing pool will be appreciated by fans as authentic insights into your band’s day-to-day life.

Is YouTube worth it for you?

While the number of albums or singles sold used to be the definitive indicator of a band’s popularity, it is now the number of streams on Spotify or plays on YouTube that decides. For this reason, you should consider incorporating the platform as a building block in your music career.

If one thing is clear, it’s that the production of interesting, high-quality content requires a great deal of time and practice. What’s also clear is that this effort can pay dividends. If your band has a large number of subscribers, this translates automatically to fans who can support you on Patreon, promote and advertise your crowdfunding campaigns, buy your merchandise and attend your shows when you go on tour.

The final point to make is that if you want to succeed on YouTube, you should be prepared to invest a lot of time before you start to see financial returns. An alternative source of income is a must for while you’re building your channel. You need at least 1,000 subscribers and a playback time of 4,000 hours within the last 12 months to be able to participate in the YouTube Partner Programme and earn income through advertising revenue.

Partnering with influencers

After all that, you’re probably wondering: what’s the best way is to get started? How do you actually become a YouTuber? The answer, unfortunately, is that there’s no one-size-fits-all approach. Content producers who get millions of views don’t usually blow up overnight with a viral video, but spend years consistently publishing high-quality videos and building their profile little by little. Eventually, they became so present that they simply can’t be ‘missed’ any more. As with most other things in life, consistency is the key to success.

Of course, this is not to say that there are no useful ‘shortcuts’. Collaborating with established YouTubers, in particular, is a great way of gaining new fans. Appearing in another YouTuber’s video gives you the chance to connect with a new audience and is almost certainly the quickest way to raise your profile. If you don’t have a successful YouTuber in your circle, you can arrange contracts and advertising campaigns with influencers through agencies such as Mediakraft.

Creator Academy

Ultimately, only you can decide whether to invest the time and effort to build a fan base on YouTube. If you want to go ahead, it’s worth taking a look YouTube’s Creator Academy (creatoracademy.youtube.com), which offers helpful tutorials on how to get started on the platform. Although a YouTube presence is certainly not a prerequisite for success as a band or musician, I recommend it as an effective way to raise your profile and expand your fan base.

I’d love to know what you think. What role does YouTube play for your band, if any? Do you run your own YouTube channel? Do you see the development of new artists shifting more and more into the digital space – and what are the downsides and opportunities? Let’s chat in the comments!

Band image: why you should build a brand for your music

It’s never been easier to release your own music without a record deal and to single-handedly carry out the marketing. At the same time, the never-ending stream of new songs and albums makes it difficult to attract attention from anyone other than your devoted fans. This is why it’s more important than ever for you – as an artist, musician or band – to develop a credible image. Key to this is what marketing experts refer to as a ‘unique selling point’ (USP). What makes you and your music different? In this post, we’ll explore why you should think about your band as a ‘brand’ and how you can go about developing a band image.

Music promotion: old strategies are no longer enough

The ‘80s was the heyday of the big record companies. The recording industry was making bigger sales than ever before or since. Every album release was preceded by a lead single, almost always with a lavishly produced music video. After the album’s release, a new single was marketed to the public every few months. The aim was to keep the artist in the public spotlight for as long as possible. As an important opinion leader and major advertising platform, radio played a significant role.

Despite the fact that the music industry has changed profoundly over the last two decades, big labels’ strategies for the release of new music are much the same as they were 40 years ago. In fact, it is difficult to identify even a single radical innovation.

New opportunities for independent musicians

Given this changing landscape, there are now more opportunities than ever for independent artists to disrupt the market and do things differently than the major labels. There is little to lose and much to gain. First, however, independent artists must figure out exactly what they want to achieve as a band and how they want to be perceived by the public.

Ultimately, bands fall into two categories. Some have passive audiences and are permanently relegated to the role of support act; others run rings around the main act with euphoric crowds and extraordinary stage performances. I’ve experienced both as a drummer, and not surprisingly, the second version is much preferable to the first. But what separates the bands in each scenario?

Falco: an example to follow

Before I attempt to answer that, I want to turn briefly to Austria, where musician Johann Hölzel created his alter-ego ‘Falco’ in 1978. Drawing inspiration from the East German ski jumper Falko Weißpflog, his style evolution began with a casual leather jacket and trainers. From his second album onwards, he perfected his visual image and became a sought-after public figure.

During Falco’s heyday, his appearance and image were at least as important as his music. He had countless designer suits custom-made and appeared proudly in tails at the Vienna Opera Ball before his hit Rock Me Amadeus climbed to the top of the US charts in March 1986. By that time, the ‘Falco’ brand was fully formed. He presented himself as his fans loved him to be: arrogant, provocative and unapproachable. A few years before his untimely death, he gave an interesting insight into his image. “I make sure that I wear a particular ‘Falco’ face on the outside,” he said in an interview, “because that’s what I’m like 99 percent of the time anyway.”

Finding your own style

Falco’s example holds important lessons for other musicians. To succeed, musicians must commit whole-heartedly to embodying the role of the artist with all its idiosyncrasies.

If your instinctive response is to think, “I just want to make music that people like – it can’t be that difficult!”, you probably don’t need to read any further. If your aim is to be a songwriter, you can pen hundreds of songs over the next few years, negotiate a great deal with a music publisher and live a quiet life behind the music industry spotlight.

If, on the other hand, you want to appear on stage as a successful artist, you can’t just play a role: you have to live it. If one thing is clear, it’s that there are many great musicians out there and at least as many good songwriters. Yet while many musicians’ technical skills have become increasingly refined over recent years, very few bands manage to find their own style and communicate it effectively to the outside world.

The good news is that there are many ways to develop a unique story for your band – whether a special sound, a distinctive voice, original songwriting, extraordinary live performances or a unique aesthetic.

3 tips for developing a band image

One of the difficulties I’ve encountered in the past is in devising a complete and coherent artistic world: one where everything meshes and fits together. I’ve spent a long time thinking about how best to tackle this challenge and, in all honesty, I still don’t have the (complete) answer. That said, the following three steps should serve as a good jumping-off point for finding your style as a band:

1. Think carefully about what you stand for. Which ideas and stances do you endorse? Which do you oppose? What do you believe in? What are your values? Discuss this together and compile the keywords you want to define the public perception of your band in the future: provocative, combative, thoughtful, hip, cheeky, whimsical, hyperbolic, etc. Once you’ve collected around twenty keywords, create another list for the words you definitely don’t want to embody.

2. The next step is what I call ‘creative writing’. Tell the story of your band, feeling free to use creative licence in parts. Always remember that this step can be updated and changed at any time. Try to make the prose feel like your music – ideally with sounds to accompany the words. Remember, however, that this work is not intended for public eyes and ears. The sole purpose is to give you a clear vision of how you want to be perceived by the world.

3. How you define your aesthetic as artists is crucial – after all, this is what will pique your audience’s interest in your music and musical vision. To get started with this, I recommend creating a Pinterest account and a general ‘inspiration board’ as a jumping-off point. Pin images that complement the ethos of your musical project. As you do so, don’t be limited by what they depict: photographs, landscapes, colours, fashion, logos, record covers, t-shirt designs and more can all serve as fantastic inspiration.

At this point, it’s about transforming a feeling into something tangible. It’s important to allow enough time for this process – at least four to six weeks – and to bear in mind that it is never truly fully complete. Once you are satisfied, I recommend you create additional boards for the themes ‘Photography’, ‘Live’, ‘Clothing’ and ‘Video’. Here, add inspiring images of people to help you crystallise your aesthetic. Later, share these boards with people who work for you, such as photographers, lighting designers, video directors, etc.

My recommendation: a Pinterest board for visual elements

Nothing is worse than placing the development of your image concept entirely in other people’s hands. If you decide to do this, it’s highly likely that you’ll end up with photographs that don’t match your music video, a music video doesn’t match your album cover, etc. You can avoid this easily by giving clear instructions to the people you work with. A Pinterest board can be a great place to start.

From your band image, develop the story of your band

Once you’ve decided how you want to appear to the public, everything else should fall into place. Your image concept will dictate what you’re going to wear on stage or in photo shoot, what you should and shouldn’t post on Instagram, and more. You’ll be able to quickly brainstorm album cover or music video ideas and discard them if they don’t work for you.

Always remember, however, that aesthetic elements are only a tool for communicating your vision. It is equally important to have a compelling story that makes sense alongside your music and image. All the pieces have to fit together and, at the same time, not appear too complicated or esoteric.

When I think about this topic, the story of the Finnish rock band Sunrise Avenue always comes to mind. After being rejected by a string of producers, they agreed at the end of 2004 to record an album with producer Jukka Backlund without having a record deal. The funding was provided by a friend of the band, Mikko Virtala, by selling his house – or so the story goes. It remains unclear whether it is true, but true or not, it is certainly ingenious.

Does your band really need to function as a brand?

As you read this post, you might be feeling like this is all too planned and contrived. Presumably, if you wanted to be in a manufactured girl or boy band, you’d have joined one.

Yet as the conventional wisdom goes: planning with doing is usually fruitless; doing without planning, however, is disastrous. All these steps are merely tools to help you develop and consolidate a creative vision. This, in turn, will allow you to bring this vision to life for the world and be stars in front of your fans.

Have you ever considered the image you want your band to project? Do you think band image is relevant at all, or should bands and musicians avoid straying into branding and marketing? I’d love to hear your thoughts below.

Marketing in the Age of Digital Music

The growing importance of independent music has been highlighted repeatedly by the IFPI (International Federation of the Phonographic Industry) in recent years. The independent music market encompasses labels, small businesses and independent musicians who produce and market music independently of the major record labels. Its growing importance is attested to by music biz expert Mark Mulligan, whose research showed that worldwide sales by ‘independents’ increased by almost a third in 2019 and that their total market share increased to 32 per cent. There is no doubt that the array of new, digital opportunities for music marketing is behind this.

DIY or record label?

Generally speaking, I find the rise of independent music a very positive development. Thanks to the many digital tools afforded to them by websites, social media and playlists, musicians and bands are better equipped than ever to take charge of their own careers. Despite this, I struggle to think of a single indie band that wouldn’t welcome a contract with a major label. Why? Quite simply, the majority of independent musicians need support with marketing, booking, administration and management in order succeed in the long term.

This is because many musicians lack the relevant know-how or the time to acquire it. Of course, bands also tend to like making music much more than marketing it. As a result, the careers of do-it-yourself (DIY) artists usually reach their limits quite quickly due to time management and/or financial constraints. 

Music marketing providers

It makes sense, then, that many of the musicians not affiliated with a major label use the services of independent music industry providers. In addition to record labels, music publishers, management companies, booking agencies and recording studios, these providers include a range of digital players: streaming providers, music aggregators, online PR companies, website content management companies, email marketing systems and freelance platforms. When it comes to music production, digital distribution, tour planning or promotion, these companies help musicians who can’t or don’t want to do this work themselves to forge a path into the music business.

Decreasing investment in new artists

Unfortunately, as of the present day, none of these market players are willing to invest resources in new talent. The uncertain marketing environment means that such investment is usually deemed too risky. The ‘analogue music industry’ – in which new artists were nurtured and built up from the beginning – has become the ‘digital music industry’. Today, it is virtually expected that musicians demonstrate a certain level of ‘market maturity’ before even signing a contract, proving their readiness for a further commercial career.

As a result of all this, musicians and bands are facing challenges that did not exist 15 or 20 years ago. Below are a few examples.

Music marketing: challenges and opportunities of the 21st century
  • Bands are required to produce music that meets international standards. When I think back to the 1990s, the opportunity to create music in a professional recording studio was reserved for those who had contracts with major labels. For independent musicians, such recording sessions were almost prohibitively expensive. Today, technological progress makes it possible for musicians to produce songs at home or in the rehearsal room and release them globally with a few clicks of the mouse.
  • Unfortunately, this creates a whole new problem for artists. It is no longer enough to write high quality songs; rather, artists must also keep their finger on the pulse and ensure they are responding to the demands of the market. For many independent musicians, this balancing act seems impossible – and understandably so, since the latter role would normally be fulfilled by an A&R manager at a record label. The solution? I recommend building a team around your band that can give corresponding input into the songwriting and production process.
  • Similarly, it is vital that your band builds a genre-specific brand that conveys your image and helps to set you apart from the crowd. In this regard, branding via social media plays an all-important role. Your level of so-called social proof is measured in numbers, interactions and streaming popularity, and is an important indicator of your prospects of market success. Finally, do not underestimate the value of coverage in traditional media: this increases the chance that you will be noticed by important opinion makers in the music industry, such as music critics, booking agents and music festivals.
  • Notwithstanding the above, an excellent live performance – ideally, one that can later be shared digitally – remains one of the most powerful promotional tools for you and your band. Particularly in times of social distancing, the opportunity for virtual interaction between artists and audience cannot be rated highly enough.
  • A digital presence (consisting of a professional artist website, several active social media channels and profiles on all relevant music distribution platforms) affords record labels and fans the opportunity to engage with you directly. In addition, your online presence is an important point of content for music editors looking for content to publish, and can serve as a distribution channel for your music and merchandise.

You’ll likely have realised that each of these points requires a considerable investment of time, money and know-how. Nonetheless, if you are an independent musician aiming to work with a major label, you have to prove you are up to the challenge.

Market research for indie bands and DIY artists

Just as in other areas of business, market research is important in helping your band become ‘market-ready’ as measured by the social proof described above. But what does market research actually entail?

At a simple level, it could be described as follows. Your band needs to know the needs and desires of your fans and potential listeners. You require as much information as possible to enable you to identify appropriate marketing opportunities and, later, to define a marketing strategy. If you work hard at these steps, you’ll reap the rewards in terms of sales.

Trent Reznor is a pioneer of the field. As the creative brains of the band Nine Inch Nails, he offered listeners the album Ghosts (I-IV) for free download in 2008. In return, they had to fill out a questionnaire, which was later used to create an extensive fan database. Trent recognised the universal truth that in order to be commercially successful, you need to know the market you want to serve. This is particularly true in an industry as fast-moving as the music business.

For this reason, developing a solid market research concept and channelling your insights into music production, branding, promotion and music distribution will be the foundation for your success in the digital music industry.

What about a budget for music marketing?

In a previous blog post, I explained how to properly allocate the budget for your next album. This is a lesson worth learning. Though we’re not even halfway through 2021, I’ve heard of at least one band that has blown its budget on music production and had none left for promotion afterards. Contrast this with an evaluation by the IFPI, which states that record companies reinvest – on average – just over a quarter of revenue (26 per cent) in marketing. If you don’t have a major label working for you in the background, I’d go so far as to say that marketing should account for more than half your budget.

Start the marketing work before the creative

In earlier times, albums were done and dusted before any talk of marketing entered the picture. This meant that the marketing strategy was completely determined by the finished product. I now believe this approach is outdated. The digital music industry requires new approaches to marketing, and marketing must begin before the actual creative work.

One promising solution could be to let fans get involved with the creation of new songs. In the future, this might take the form of artists writing song lyrics for an upcoming album based on keywords collected from fans in the cloud (for example).

Build a fan base and keep them happy

More broadly, in the future, I see great potential in an approach whereby musicians generate demand for their music during the production process. Be aware, though, that this can be tricky to implement in practice. I speak from experience: I tried it once in 2014 and failed spectacularly, for the simple reason that no-one was interested in my work. In hindsight, this shouldn’t have come as a surprise, since I had never released music as a solo artist before. What can you learn from my mistake? 

  • The most logical path is to release music first, build a fan base, then focus on the engagement element only when you come to the second or third album. Otherwise, you run the risk of wasting time on a fantastic concept that nobody ends up paying attention to.
Digital music marketing: A strategy example

Several years ago, I worked with a musician who regularly posted short clips of her songwriting sessions online. As a result, fans were eager to hear her new music before it was even recorded, let alone released. This set up the right conditions: fans were hardly able to contain their excitement for an album.

The next logical step was to look for a recording studio that was able not only to deliver the appropriate production quality, but to serve as a location for video shoots. At this point, you begin to see how the different elements interlock: a well-planned production phase also creates material for music videos, photos for advertising, behind-the-scenes interviews and the development of a story for the song or album – an important part of any content marketing strategy.

Plan time and effort for music marketing

To conclude, I want to warn you about a major potential pitfall: never consider the creative process in isolation from marketing. Otherwise, you run the risk of overlooking important market-dependent success factors – and since you are seeking to earn money with your passion for music, this would be counterintuitive to say the least. What do I mean by this? Well, while marketing considerations should certainly not drive your songwriting process, they should be something you maintain an awareness of.

In the past, I’ve often observed that musicians find it extraordinarily difficult to devote the necessary time and resources to branding and promotional activities. This is because they typically lack motivation, skills and passion in this area.

As a result, I believe one of the most important determinants of success for independent artists is that they do not focus solely on the artistic process, but devote equal attention to music marketing, branding and promotion – especially on social media channels.

Comment below to let me know what role marketing plays for your band and how you’ve marketed your music in the past. I’m looking forward to hearing from you!

Online concerts: a stop-gap for emergencies or a new way to enjoy music?

People around the world are still getting used to a new normal – one that scarcely any of us could have imagined a year ago. Social distancing, masks, quarantine and lockdown are part and parcel of everyday life. At the same time, these measures are a painful reminder of a world where we could spontaneously attend a concert with friends. Are livestreaming and online concerts a genuine alternative to the real thing?

Live online concerts: attended by millions

Since the Covid pandemic hit, I’ve noticed an increased yearning for musical experiences. To realise the importance of music in times of crisis, you only need look at the popularity of livestreamed concerts and the readiness of fans to engage with new and innovative formats. Streaming festival Wacken World Wide had an estimated eleven million views when it was broadcast between 29 July and 1 August 2020, while an estimated 12.3 million players watched rapper Travis Scott perform in the Battle Royale online game Fortnite. Free live performances by the Doobie Brothers, Billie Eilish and Jon Bon Jovi captivated millions of fans.

Tim Burgess, lead singer of British indie rock band The Charlatans, had a different idea for staying in touch with fans –  by hosting regular listening sessions on Twitter. The concept behind it is very simple: for each session, he nominates an indie album that all participants should listen to in full at a fixed time. Under the hashtag #timstwitterlisteningparty, listeners can comment in real time and share their thoughts about the album.

New opportunities for musicians

Since the decline of CD sales and music downloads, concerts have been the primary source of income for many bands and musicians. Accordingly, the live music sector was previously one of the few financially robust segments of the entertainment industry. In March 2020, all that changed. Musicians have been among the hardest-hit by the impact of the government’s Covid regulations, under which all live concerts were and still are banned.

But as hard as times may currently be, I believe firmly that this crisis, too, will pass and that the music scene and events industry can look to the future with optimism. Exceptional situations such as the Covid crisis remind listeners of the importance of live music in their lives. Attending a concert virtually has an important role to play.

Livestreaming a concert is not only a Covid-safe option for hosting gigs and connecting with fans worldwide. For bands and musicians, live online concerts are also a practical way to maintain a presence, play new songs and earn money.

Online concerts: making money from donations and tickets

Initial trials suggest great potential in this new business area. Because of this, I believe the shared concert experience in the digital space may be one of the important positive changes the Covid crisis has catalysed. Countless artists have sought new ways to connect with their audience via the internet. That said, it is not yet clear whether livestreams can be a reliable alternative to live shows for making up lost income. Despite this, many artists have worked hard in recent months to develop a high-quality livestreaming product before asking their fans to pay for it.

One example of this is Digital Mirage, a virtual festival for electronic music. When the event was held for the first time at the beginning of April 2020, all artists played free of charge to raise funds for live venues that had been forced to close due to Covid. The festival was repeated with a different line-up in mid-June. Just as in April, it was a free livestream with the aim of raising as many donations as possible.

I would not be surprised if the organisers were now planning to offer this tried-and-tested concept for a fee. Whether existing fans would embrace this change remains to be seen. If history has taught us anything, it’s that it’s hard to persuade consumers to pay for something they previously got for free.

Live concerts online – for free?

With this in mind, one of the biggest future challenges will be to strike the right balance between what fans are willing to pay and what artists need to charge in order to be profitable. Certainly, the solution cannot be for musicians to always provide their work for free.

While there is a growing trend for the provision of free musical content, this doesn’t necessarily mean it is the ‘right’ thing to do. Ultimately, bands that stream live for free or raise money for charity can usually easily afford to do so – and the wide-held view is that asking fans to line their pockets would be wrong. At the same time, however, these livestreams are competing for listeners’ limited attention and time. Because of this, a high-profile artist offering free content may be shutting out musicians who depend on making money from their art.

Monetisation of online concerts

There are two currently two main ways for musicians to earn money from live online concerts: either the audience buys a ticket beforehand, or the event is free and fans have the opportunity to donate money during or after it.

Facebook has been facilitating ticketed events on its platform since April 2020. In this model, viewers pay directly in the Facebook app and are then permitted to ‘attend’ the concert. On Instagram, fans watching livestreams can buy a so-called ‘badge’ for $0.99, the proceeds of which are passed on to the creator (like a tip). The streaming platform Twitch (Amazon Music) offers a similar feature.

Other providers, like Reservix, Stagetasy and StageIt, specialise in providing livestreaming services for bands. They handle the technical aspects of the live event and ticket sales.

Livestreaming: a new way of consuming music

Though live concerts will hopefully resume in the near future, online music events may well remain a permanent feature of the cultural scene – for example, as an alternative way to experience a physical event. Adding in a streaming option would allow a much greater number of (paying) spectators to enjoy a performance.

Clues about the direction of the trend can be seen in the takeover of livestream platform Veeps by entertainment group Live Nation in January 2021. The Veeps platform, founded by Joel and Benji Madden of the band Good Charlotte, has made a name for itself in recent years as an organiser of ticketed livestreams. In 2020, it ran more than 1,000 shows and generated more than $10 million in income.

Interaction between musicians and fans

Following on from a year of almost zero live music, it is important for musicians and start-ups to consider how the desire for

  • a virtual community of music fans,
  • discussion about various aspects of livestreaming and online concerts, and
  • the networking of the music scene

can best be accommodated. There are a number of ways in which this could be achieved. In the remainder of this post, we’ll take a look at how concerts ‘went virtual’ in the year of lockdowns, then consider how things might look in the future.

Generally speaking, there are two approaches to providing a live concert in the virtual realm. These are:

  • A recording of the concert (a ‘concert DVD’) is offered for download or streaming. But while it is no doubt convenient for fans to be able to access content ‘on-demand’, is it truly live if the playback can be stopped and started at the touch of a button?
  • Forms of digitalisation are used to devise new concepts for listener-artist interaction. Within this context, the idea of livestreams (as on Twitch) has gained particular traction in recent months. Just like at a real concert, all listeners need to be present at the time of broadcast to participate in the experience.
Ideas for online live concerts

How might live concerts be provided in the virtual space in the future? These are some of my ideas:

  • Artists play in front of a convex video wall on which viewers can tune in via webcam.
  • Artists tour virtually, with each show only available to stream to fans from a specific city or region.
  • Viewers can trigger applause and cheers via buttons.
  • Viewers have the opportunity to vote on the setlist prior to the show.
  • Friends can buy tickets together for a livestream and are provided with their own private chat room during the show.

Despite the promise of these options, I believe there are still a number of problems to be solved to ensure that online concerts do not remain the exception. The biggest of these, in my view, is the question of how artists can interact with an online audience without latency or phase issues. As far as I know, there is not yet a technology that is capable of synchronising thousands or even millions of audio or video streams between all senders and receivers worldwide.

I am certain that investors will take up these concepts in the future in order to establish live online concerts as an experience in their own right – not as a second-best substitute for traditional physical concerts, but a legitimate facet of the music scene.

I’d love to know what you think. What’s your experience with online concerts? Do you think live online concerts will be a reliable source of income for musicians in the years to come? Let me know in the comments!

6 ways of securing (paid and unpaid) concerts

How do you handle concert requests from promoters? Can performing as a support band boost your career? What fees can a band reasonably request? Is it worth playing gigs under the pay-to-play model? This post tells you what you need to know when performing as a support act for established bands and what type of money you can expect for live gigs.

Successful concerts: your path to fame

If you play enough concerts, there will hopefully come a point where the reaction of the audience begins to change. Polite, respectful applause gives way to the excited, enthusiastic cheers of genuine fans. Friends congratulate you on the well-earned success of your band, and strangers approach you at the merchandise stand after the show. In short: you’re well on the way to becoming a sought-after live act.

Once you’ve reached this stage, your band will naturally begin to receive an increasing number of concert requests. In the past, my fellow musicians and I agonised at length over whether we should we ask for fees in return – and if so, how much. I have no problem admitting that I used to find such conversations difficult. I feared that if we demanded a reasonable fee for our performance, the organiser would deem us awkward and unattractive. Looking back, of course, this was totally misguided: we were only sought after by promoters because we had played excellent live shows in the past.

The 3 x 10 rule for accepting gigs

Which gig requests should a band accept and when is it better to decline? The 3 x 10 rule simplifies a seemingly tough dilemma. As a general rule, your band should evaluate each opportunity by awarding a score out of 10 for three key criteria: career opportunities, pay and fun. Only play the concert if the opportunity achieves at least 15 points in total. Does the gig represent a fantastic career opportunity (10) and is also fun (6), although there is no fee? Great. Play it!Concerts you should think twice about are those that offer a minimal fee (2) but no fun (4) and and no realistic opportunity of increasing your band’s profile (1).

Stick to your allotted time as a support

Your goal should always be to win new fans – preferably at every gig. As a newcomer, however, it can be tricky to win over the audience. For this reason, it’s a good idea to make use of opportunities to play as a support act for established artists. Here, too, there are particular rules to follow to ensure that the ‘tour support’ adventure doesn’t end before it has really begun.

The most important rule is to keep your set two minutes shorter than the allotted playing time. In practice, this means that if your slot allows for 35 minutes of playing time, play 33 minutes, then quickly pack up your equipment and leave the stage. It doesn’t matter whether the audience is shouting for an encore or whether you think “one more” won’t do any harm: never play longer than the time you agreed upon beforehand.

It’s particularly important to observe this rule when you are not the only support act – otherwise, you can quickly begin to come across arrogant and presumptuous. Remember, too, that you – as the local support – have a particular role to fulfil: namely, to draw your fans to the headliner’s concert and bump up the number of attendees. Even established indie artists cannot always sell enough tickets to ensure that costs are covered in full, hence why tour promoters regularly search around for promising local support.

In general, it’s important to be aware that the fee and payment arrangements granted to unknown artists for live performances vary considerably from city to city and sometimes even from venue to venue. Below I have compiled the worst and the best arrangements I have encountered as a musician/booker:

1. Underground: ‘pay to play’

This type of arrangement is mostly taken up by very young or inexperienced bands. They are promised the chance to perform in a well-known venue or at a big-name festival and, in return, must purchase a certain number of tickets from the organiser (usually “only” around 50) at a price of (e.g.) 10 euros each. A quick calculation shows that in this example, the ‘buy-in’ for a single concert is 500 (!) euros.

Such an event – which I won’t dignify by referring to as a ‘concert’ – usually features between 10 and 15 bands competing for attention, with each act being permitted to play for 20 to 30 minutes. In the end, the only one who wins here (and earns big) is the concert organiser. Bands are promised that their money can be recouped by selling items of merchandising, but it’s questionable whether this ever works out as planned.

A similar model from the metal scene is the ‘production cost share’ that artists are required to pay to promoters. Tour slots are sold in this way and usually go to the highest bidder.

Is the pay-to-play principle fair? The answer is no, definitely not – at least not when young, inexperienced bands with high hopes pay a lot of money to be bitterly disappointed.

Yet there are more positive stories. I knew a band that regularly ‘bought in’ as tour support for bigger acts – not because they want to achieve success or build a career as musicians, but simply because they wanted to have fun. All the musicians involved had well-paid jobs in the private sector and knew what they were getting themselves into. Ultimately, they wanted the experience of being with their own favourite band backstage and supporting them (financially). If the rules of the game were always so clearly defined, the pay-to-play system would –  in principle – be acceptable. Unfortunately, in 99% of cases, the reality is different.

2. Tricky: renting a venue

My band I were once in the practice of organising ‘exchange concerts’ – where we were invited to other cities to perform as a support act, and the artists we supported then came to Karlsruhe to support us. This arrangement meant that if we hadn’t got a home gig planned in the foreseeable future, we had to quickly organise something of our own.

The search for a suitable location, in particular, was often tricky. On more than once occasion, we were offered the option to rent out an entire club. On these instances, my first instinct was always that the owner didn’t trust our event or concept. I advise you to refrain from being swayed by such offers. Look for a club that will treat you reasonably and fairly (see no. 5).

3. Approach with caution: a minimum number of attendees

One common practice is for club owners to share the takings from entry fees on the condition that at least number X of people attend the concert. On the surface, such an offer might appear reasonable. On closer inspection, however, it’s a different story – because the band bears 100% of the business risk. Even if the concert is relatively successful and the minimum threshold is missed by only one or two concert-goers, the band leaves completely empty-handed.

Let’s imagine a ticket costs ten euros and at least 150 paying guests are required in order for the band to receive a 70% share of the takings. If 140 paying guests attend, the organiser will receive 1,400 euros plus profits from the sale of drinks, while the band will receive nothing. How can this be fair?

4. Standard: a share of the profits after costs

In many cases, the club owner will deduct a fixed amount from the takings to cover their costs and then split the remaining amount with the organiser (or band). The amount required to cover expenses is usually somewhere between 100 and 250 euros, depending on the size of venue. How is the rest of the money shared? Bearing in mind that club owners also generate additional (non-shared) income from the sale of drinks, I find that organisers (or bands) tend to receive between 60% and 85% of the earnings from tickets once all expenses are covered.

Is this a fair arrangement? Certainly. After all, all concerts involve costs that simply do not arise at your average DJ night (FOH staff, catering, etc.). As such, it’s only fair that a club owner claims back these expenses before the remaining profits are divided up. However, don’t forget that the club owner also generates income from the sale of drinks, and that this income is kept solely for themselves. Thus, if you are offered 50% or less of the ticket sales as compensation for your performance, you might want to renegotiate.

5. Good: a fair cut

Many clubs will be pleased to have your band as a guest and will offer an arrangement in which earnings from tickets are shared from the first euro. It doesn’t get much better for artists better than this. If 20 guests attend the show, each paying 10 euros’ entrance fee, and the split is agreed as 70/30, you receive 140 euros for your performance. These are good terms for an artist at any level. Unfortunately, such arrangements are less and less common.

Another variant of a ‘fair deal’ is sometimes offered by smaller venues like rock pubs. Though customers in these venues don’t pay an entry fee, the owners agree with the band a guaranteed fee of (e.g.) 150 euros. The venue then aims to earn this back through additional takings on beverages. On top of this, the audience can ‘throw money into the hat’ after the band’s performance. On a good night, this can raise the same amount again.

6. Great: a guaranteed fee or a share of the takings – whichever is higher

While I’ve never been lucky enough to play a concert under these terms, I have heard of other bands who’ve managed to do so. It works like this: you agree to receive either a guaranteed minimum fee (say, a thousand euros) or 80% of the takings from the concert, whichever turns out to be higher. Thus, if 500 paying guests attend your concert for a ticket price of 10 euros each, the band receives 4,000 euros. If only 50 guests attend (resulting in 500 euros of ticket sales), you still get the guaranteed 1,000 euros.

As ever, don’t allow greed to cloud your vision: if low ticket sales have left the organiser badly out of pocket at the end, it’s good practice to relinquish a portion of your guaranteed fee. Dealing fairly will pay off in the long run!

A mistake to avoid at all costs

One of the biggest mistakes I made in the past was to assume that the club owner would make all necessary efforts to promote the concert. Most of the time, however, the club owner will assume the same in reverse. The bottom line is that nobody advertises the show and it ends up with virtually no audience at all.

This, of course, is highly frustrating for everyone involved. To avoid such disheartening scenarios, remember that just the right advertising AND the right venue are crucial. Only play in clubs you know you can (almost) sell out. Alternatively, seek to build up your fanbase by playing larger venues as a support act for better-known bands. If your band regularly sells out small clubs, it will only be a matter of time until bigger promoters start to approach you with booking requests.

Now, it’s over to you! How have you found being booked as a band? How have you kept in touch with organisers during the pandemic? Let me know in the comments – I’m looking forward to hearing from you!

Live music and ticket providers: concerts are a merciless business

There is little doubt that 2020 will go down in history as an annus horribilis for live music – with far-reaching consequences for bands, musicians, bookers, promoters and the many technology companies that enable concerts, festivals and tours to be delivered on-site. Initially, ticket providers were less affected: even where tickets were cancelled, they got to keep both the advance booking fees and the standard cancellation fees charged to local promoters. At the end of March, the head of CTS Eventim, Klaus-Peter Schulenberg, announced that his company could survive two years of crisis.

How market share is distributed in the live entertainment market

The shift in the international live music industry happened much earlier than many people think – almost 25 years ago. As I see it, the Telecommunications Act, a U.S. federal law enacted in 1996, was the crucial turning point. Originally, the law sought to end existing restrictions on competition and facilitate greater competition in the market. In the end, however, the opposite happened. The mergers of already-established providers only strengthened their market power.

Nowhere is this clearer than in the case of U.S. concert promoter Live Nation, which signed a ten-year cooperation agreement with Ticketmaster in 1998 before entering the ticketing sector itself in summer 2007. Shortly afterwards, Live Nation also entered into extensive cooperation with German ticketing company CTS Eventim, which granted it a licence for the CTS ticketing software in North America. In return, CTS Eventim was exclusively commissioned to carry out ticketing operations for Live Nation in many areas of Europe.

The concert business: increasingly ruled by monopoly

Ticketmaster reacted promptly to this unwanted development by acquiring a majority share in US management agency Front Line. Meanwhile, over the next two years – despite exclusive artist contracts with Madonna, Nickelback, Shakira, Jay-Z and more – Live Nation fell short of profit expectations and came under increasing pressure. The share price fell dramatically; managing director Michael Cohl was forced out of the group. A serious system crash at CTS Eventim in January 2009 was likely the final straw. In February 2009, Live Nation announced a split from CTS Eventim and a merger with Ticketmaster. Since then, the two companies have collaborated under the name Live Nation Entertainment and have dominated the global concert and ticketing business.

Live music in Germany

In Germany, the listed company CTS Eventim continues to dominate the market. Its founder and main shareholder, Klaus-Peter Schulenberg, was interested in music from an early age and played in a school band as a teenager. He later studied business administration and law. In 1973, while still studying in Bremen, he founded an artist management and concert agency; in 1977, he collaborated with the legendary Fritz Rau to organise his first major event: a concert by the Rolling Stones in Bremen. During this time, he also founded or took over companies in other sectors, such as radio stations and regional advertisers.

In 1996, he purchased the company CTS GmbH from concert promoters Marek Lieberberg, Matthias Hoffmann and Marcel Avram. The company was in the red and Schulenberg undertook a financial restructuring – which led, among other things, to it systematically acquiring shares in various tour and concert promoters over the following years. These investments were eventually brought together under the umbrella of the Medusa Music Group GmbH – now CTS Eventim AG – which holds shares in Marek Lieberberg Konzertagentur, Peter Rieger Konzertagentur, Semmel Concerts, FKP Scorpio and more. As a result of these acquisitions, the majority of Germany’s festival landscape and concert business was combined under the CTS Eventim label. It is worth noting that in many areas, the strategic direction of CTS Eventim and Live Nation Entertainment is rather similar:

  • Both groups hold shares in ticketing companies in several European countries.
  • Both groups are shareholders or owners of internationally significant event venues.
Ticket companies as concert promoters

Eventim UK, the British subsidiary of CTS Eventim, came together with the Anschutz Entertainment Group (AEG) to acquire London’s legendary Hammersmith Apollo Theater in 2012. For CTS Eventim, this was an important step in further establishing itself in the English-speaking market, especially after its split from Live Nation. In the same year, CTS Eventim secured the Lanxess Arena in Cologne for its exclusive use – a move that was not only extremely lucrative, but offers a competitive advantage that cannot be underestimated. As soon as a group has its own event venues, concerts can be held there with much lower fixed costs. Additional income is then generated by leasing the venue to external concert promoters, who act as subcontractors.

If you are wondering how it can be that a ticketing company is more profitable than a concert promoter, the answer is very simple: ticket sellers are exposed to virtually no financial risk. Unlike concert promoters, who are liable for all costs associated with an event, ticketing companies occupy an insulated position: even if an event sells fewer tickets than expected – indeed, even if it makes huge losses overall – the only effect is that profits are reduced. Eventim now sells an estimated 90 percent of all concert tickets in Germany in the pop and rock sector. Many of these are sold on the internet and advertised via email marketing.

Who gets what from the price of the ticket?

How are ticket prices split between promoters and artists? As far as I know, there is no one-size-fits-all answer to this question. No concert is like any other, and the answers to the following questions are very different in each case:

  • What is the cost of the concert halls and clubs?
  • How expensive is the production?
  • How many are musicians are on stage?
  • Is there extensive use of lights or video?
  • How many members of staff are involved?
  • How many tickets are sold for each concert? At what price?
Organising live concerts profitably: a tall order

To understand this a little better, let’s look at a little example from the day-to-day life of a concert promoter or manager. Imagine an indie rock band is performing in front of 1,200 people in a sold-out Munich club. The sales price is 28 euros per ticket, which, after deduction of GEMA (performance rights) fees and VAT, gives approximately 25 euros net. It is usually the case that the local partners and tour promoters share the income from ticket sales to cover their costs. If we assume that the on-site production costs account for 10 euros of each ticket sold and the costs of the tour (nightliner, backline, advertising, roadies, artists’ fees, etc.) account for 8, it quickly becomes clear that there is little actual profit to made. After this deduction of costs and taxes, the band collectively earns between 3 and 5.50 euros net per ticket, while tour promoters and local partners may earn between 1.50 and 3 euros each (on which taxes are again to be paid).

Every ticket not sold cuts into the tour and concert promoters’ earnings, since the artists usually receive a fixed fee plus a share of the profits. This is why many smaller concerts are now budgeted for in such a way that bands and promoters are satisfied with a ‘plus-minus zero’ result. It is understood that there is no big money to be earned. Rather, it is about establishing promising artists and thus investing in (or betting on) the future of those involved.

What the coronavirus means for live music

Incidentally, CTS Eventim is no longer so optimistic about the future. When the figures for the first quarter of 2020 were presented in May, it was clear that the group would also face consequences from the worldwide standstill in live entertainment. Its turnover had decreased by a third; its profit had plummeted. Schulenberg stated that the large reserves built up by the company over recent years would help it through the crisis. For musicians, bookers, technicians and the countless dedicated, smaller local promoters, such financial security is something they can only dream of.

What are your experiences of promoters? How have you survived the Covid-19 lockdown without live music? Let me know in the comments – I’m looking forward to hearing from you!

How can I earn money as a musician with streaming?

This post was inspired by a recent article in the Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung about how streaming has fundamentally changed the music business. In the past, bands and artists were usually discovered when they played at clubs or were featured as up-and-coming artists on the radio. Then came music blogs – and with them, aggregators and databases like Hype Machine. Today, it is Spotify playlists that are often the springboard to a shiny musical career. Although new artists are still being discovered via all of the above-mentioned channels, the importance of Spotify has grown considerably in recent years. As the music industry has come to appreciate the enormous influence of playlists on music consumers, curators have found themselves in the role of music editor 2.0.

At one stage, the practice of advertising paid playlist placement to major labels was rife. While Spotify has now officially clamped down on this business model, several companies still purport to offer inclusion on highly-followed playlists for a fee. Maik Pallasch, Spotify’s Head of Shows & Editorial for Germany, says: “We find it highly concerning that people are trying to profit from the aspirations of inexperienced musicians. It is not possible for anyone to buy their way onto a Spotify playlist. We recommend that artists and labels never pay money to providers who claim to influence Spotify-curated playlists.”

Spotify, Apple Music, Amazon: How to get your music onto a streaming platform

So, how do you actually get your music onto an influential Spotify playlist? Before I cover this, I want to first explain how to get your songs onto a platform – because as an artist without a record contract, you cannot simply contact the big providers (Spotify, Apple Music, Deezer, Amazon) and ask them to publish your music.

To do this, you need to contact a digital music distributor such as Tunecore, Recordjet or Uniqueopia. These providers will ensure that your music is successfully transmitted to your desired streaming and download platform(s) with the correct metadata. In the meantime, I recommend you spend time researching the various Spotify playlists and familiarising yourself with their genres, moods and follower reach: this will leave you well placed to begin making money with them. Below is a brief overview of the types of playlists and how they differ:

Different types of Spotify playlists

1. Spotify-curated playlists

Most music fans will be familiar with these playlists, which are compiled by the Spotify Editorial Team. It is up to these professional curators – whose role and influence is comparable to that of former music editors on the big radio stations – to decide which artists win the coveted spots on Spotify’s most-followed playlists. Until a few years ago, it was impossible for artists to reach listeners worldwide without managers, labels and marketing teams. Nowadays, anyone with a Spotify for Artists account has the opportunity to make their songs known and earn money with the streaming.

2. User-curated playlists

This category includes playlists compiled by users, blogs, labels, websites or organisations. According to Spotify, there are now more than three billion playlists on the platform, the overwhelming majority of which are curated by regular users. In addition, there is a long-standing trend for musicians to share their own Spotify playlists with fans, giving them a chance to connect musically with their audience by sharing their favourite tracks and musical influences. Of course, artists should feature their own songs, too, so their fans know whose music is the focus!

3. Playlists generated by algorithms

These playlists are created exactly as their name suggests and include, for example, Discover Weekly, Release Radar and Daily Mix. In contrast to user-curated playlists, they are created based on individual users’ listening habits.

How do I get featured on the most-followed Spotify Playlists and make money from streaming?

There are several ways to get onto popular playlists on Spotify. Here are a few of them:

1. Pay for Play

“Money makes the world go round” – and Spotify playlists are no different. Years ago, if an artist was featured on a major radio station, it almost always led to better record sales (ask your parents!). Today, things are much the same: a spot on one of the popular Spotify playlists will usually lead to more streams and thus to higher artist earnings. With this in mind, some operators of successful user-curated playlists – including companies who specialise in purchasing and running these playlists – will take money to feature your song. In the most influential cases, playlists might have a million followers or more.

I recently saw an offer whereby artists were required to pay an “expense allowance” of 250 euros per 100,000 streams. This makes a certain amount of sense: if streams are paid at 0.006 euros per song, 100,000 streams will earn you 600 euros, or 350 euros after deducting the curator’s cut. Not bad. Unfortunately, I increasingly see users being asked to pay for a guaranteed number of streams – 25,000 streams for 99 euros, for example. In these cases – and without wanting to generalise – I would be suspicious that the majority of the streams are generated by bots. If most of your songs are only listened to for 30-40 seconds, it is very likely that no-one but a few computer programs has heard them.

2. Blogs

A reliable way to become part of an influential Spotify playlist is to get featured in online magazines like Hype Machine, Stereogum or Indie Shuffle. The music editors and curators of Spotify playlists often visit these websites to discover new and promising artists.

3. Playlist promotion

There are certain companies that specialise in submitting the music of paying artists to curators of popular playlists. While this does not fundamentally violate Spotify’s terms and conditions, caution is still required: it may well be that you spend heavily on an advertising campaign only to find that your music isn’t featured after all. These companies only promise to propose your song, not to score a definite spot – and even if your song is featured, there’s no guarantee you’ll reach a certain number of listeners per month. Don’t be blinded by playlist follower numbers: it’s not about how many potential listeners a playlist has, but about how many “real”, active listeners you can reach with your music. Check your audience numbers regularly in your Spotify for Artists account.

4. Contact the owners of user-curated playlists

Since many Spotify accounts are now connected to users’ Facebook profiles, it is not difficult to find out which playlist is curated by whom. However, avoid messaging the curators directly on Facebook and asking them to add you. That’s not how it works. A better way is to contact playlist owners with a serious compliment or an open question – because once you’ve created a good, personal connection, the chances are that they’ll add your music for free. As you do this, proceed systematically and organise your contacts as I advised in the article Networking: How to build long-term business relationships as a musician. As we all know, good planning is half the job. 🙂

5. Be an active Spotify user

“You scratch my back, I’ll scratch yours.” Again, this is as true on Spotify as in any other area of life. The streaming platform “likes” it when you have a complete artist profile and compile successful playlists that are shared with your followers. If you’re lucky, this activity will be noticed and appreciated by the Spotify curators, who’ll then add you to one of their (big) playlists and allow you to reach millions of listeners. But even if these opportunities sound tempting, they say little about your real fans. Just because one of your songs is on a hot playlist doesn’t mean that a million streams equates to a million new fans. If you’re lucky, you can expect around 100 new fans per 100,000 streams.

Earning money with music streaming

In light of all this, the key thing is to never lose sight of your real goal: to build a loyal fan base that will accompany you throughout your musical career. For bands and musicians without a record contract, the earning opportunities presented by major streaming providers are very limited. Napster pays 0.0167 euros, Tidal 0.0110 euros, Apple Music 0.0064 euros, Google Play 0.0059 euros, Deezer 0.0056 euros, Spotify 0.0038 euros, Pandora 0.0011 euros and YouTube 0.0006 euros per stream. There are questions about whether Spotify will remain profitable for musicians in the future – not least because of the fact the Swedish streaming provider has always defined itself as a tech company, not a traditional music distributor.

What do you think? What experience have you had with Spotify and playlists? Do you think streaming providers will be an important source of income for musicians in the future? Let me know your thoughts in the comments!

7 reasons why musicians and bands might need a manager – and some why they might not

Do you manage a band, as well as being a musician and drummer? Have you ever wondered whether a manager could help you progress more quickly in the music industry? One of the most important and simultaneously most difficult things for musicians to realise is that they cannot make a living by playing music alone. Even superstars get a helping hand! The sooner you accept this, the sooner you can begin boosting your career as a professional drummer and/or producer.

I’m always surprised by the number of people who believe that writing good songs, playing great shows and being active on social media represent an automatic route to success. Of course, these things are important: they’re the foundation for everything else you want to achieve. Nevertheless, I often find musicians labouring under the delusion that uploading a quality song to Spotify or YouTube is all they need to do to be “discovered”.

Musicians as managers

Over recent years, I’ve noticed that drummers, in particular, are playing an increasingly prominent role when it comes to band organisation tasks like bookings, advertising and sales. This can be pivotal for a band’s success. Consider:

  • How can you, as a band, get on the concert circuit if you’ve no idea how bookings work?
  • How can you promote a new album if you have no idea how to get your songs to the major streaming providers?
  • How can you generate passive income if you don’t understand the role of collecting societies  and the process of claiming royalties?
  • How can you set about increasing your band’s profile if you don’t know where the music business is going in the near term?
Set aside time for music and business

To help you tackle the above questions effectively, I recommend you divide your time into two equal parts:

  • one part for artistic/creative work, and
  • the other for business activities.

Of course, this doesn’t apply if you’re school at university – but as soon as you’ve decided to pursue music full time, this separation will be vital to keeping on top of things. “But wait,” you might be thinking. “If I’m producing an album, shouldn’t that be getting my full attention? I can’t take the half day off to do business stuff.” This may be true. In this case, I’d recommend you invest 80% of your time working on the album and the remaining 20% keeping everything else ticking over. Because remember: as soon as the album is finished, your time plan will be turned on its head, with at least 80% of your day devoted to marketing what you’ve created.

As soon as you’re back to a regular schedule – i.e., with no special project to work on – I encourage you to resume the 50/50 split. Personally, I like to take care of business in the morning and work on creative stuff in the afternoons and evenings. You can arrange your time however works for you.

My second tip is to divide your money – and your band’s money – in exactly the same way as your time: half for your equipment, studio time, session musicians and producers, and the other half for your marketing budget. Use this money for sales and advertising. Ultimately, it’s pointless making a fantastic album if you don’t have money for the ad campaign. Without advertising, it will be almost impossible for your music to reach people (believe me, take it from someone who knows!). The good news is that it’s never been easier or cheaper to market your own music and build a loyal fanbase.

Wanted: A professional music manager

Let’s imagine that you, as a band member, have chosen to step up to the role of manager. At some point, you may begin to find there aren’t enough hours in the day to juggle admin and music simultaneously. This is where you should consider bringing a professional manager on board. In an ideal scenario, this person will function as a friend, partner, advocate, critic and more. They will back your goals, share your vision and be as invested in your success as you are.

Above all, a manager will oversee the entire business process: from the production of an album to its release and from tour promotion to bookings and social media marketing. To achieve this, they should have corresponding contacts and networks in all of these areas. 

Before you sign a contract, check how long (and to what extent) you’ll be tied in

At this juncture, I advise caution. No matter how tempting it may be to relinquish important career decisions to the hands of a manager, it can also be risky. In some cases, it may strip you of control over your own interests and compel you to follow goals you don’t agree with. Go into the search with your eyes open, and always consider the pros and cons of any agreement you are offered. Before you sign, have an independent media lawyer check it over –  and not the one your prospective manager recommends. I’m sure you’re heard some of the countless horror stories of clients shamelessly being betrayed.

With all this in mind, I encourage you to research any potential manager thoroughly in advance. Use search engines, ask your friends and colleagues, draw on the experience of your network and try to obtain as comprehensive a picture as possible. Your manager should be your most important ally – and because of this, trust plays a key role. Every member of the band must have confidence that the manager is committed to giving their most and representing the common interest at all times. In the end, it makes sense for the manager to be invested your success – since only then can they be successful, too.

A manager for your music career: What are the pros and cons?

Below is a list of potential pros and cons to consider when deciding whether to sign an agreement. Some may apply to your situation; some may not. I created this list when deciding whether to sign a management contract of my own.

Pros:

  • The prospective manager has contacts you don’t
  • The manager identifies with the music you make (and will ideally already have attended your concerts).
  • The manager does their job full-time and has a great deal of experience in the music industry.
  • The other artists your management works with are currently successful and in demand.
  • The manager undertakes regular professional development and is familiar with the latest developments in the music business.
  • You trust the manager.
  • You share the same goals and are satisfied with the manager’s decisions.

Cons:

  • The manager doesn’t have more contacts than you
  • The manager is not familiar with your music and your profile as an artist
  • You would be just one of several artists your manager currently works with.
  • The manager believes they would be doing you a favour by working with your band.
  • The management team has no experience with bookings.
  • The manager’s greatest successes were ten years ago, which suggests that they may have lost touch with current standards.
  • Your manager is poorly informed about the collection of royalties.
  • There is no feeling of mutual trust.
  • You have a bad gut feeling. 
Agencies and lone wolves

Sooner or later on your search for management, you’ll come to recognise two distinct categories:

  • Management agencies
  • Emerging managers

Management agencies usually represent a number of artists with similar styles. In addition to the agency directors, such firms usually employ a medium-sized team of managers to take care of artists’ day-to-day business. Typically, these people are so well connected that they can often do more with one phone call than you could with 300 emails. Unfortunately, it is often the case that agencies look after a large number of artists – sometimes too many – and thus, realistically, cannot share every artist’s vision, passion and goals.

With young, emerging managers, the situation is different. Such people usually begin their careers without contacts in the music business and are often close friends with the band they work for. Unlike many management agencies, they identify strongly with the band and its values and work tirelessly to make “their” artist famous. Some go on to help the band achieve international success. In doing so, they transition from a young, aspiring manager to a sought-after management professional.

Remuneration models for music managers

Not infrequently, successful managers later choose to work for a larger management agency, where they are compensated for their work with a 15-20% share of their clients’ earnings. But what if you, as a band, are working with an up-and-coming manager who’s also one of your closest friends? The answer is very simple: if you’re part of a band of four, divide all earnings by five. Consider your manager an invisible fifth member of the band. If you’re working as a solo artist, I advise you to keep 70% and pay your manager 30% up to an agreed earnings threshold. After this threshold, the percentage is reduced. Such an arrangement could look as follows:

  • Up to 10,000 euros’ profit: 30 %
  • From 10,000 to 25,000 euros’ profit: 25 %
  • From 25,000 to 100,000 euros’ profit: 20 %
  • Above 100,000 euros’ profit: 15 %

At first glance, it might seem illogical to reduce your manager’s percentage share the more successful you become. But consider how this translates to cash amounts:

  • 30 % of 10,000 euros: 3,000 euros
  • 25 % of 25,000 euros: 6,250 euros
  • 20 % of 100.000 euros: 20,000 euros
  • 15 % of 250,000 euros: 37,500 euros

Under this model, your manager receives increasing amounts despite the decreasing percentage share. But what if you’re currently not earning enough for this to be worth the manager’s while? In this case, you might agree to pay them a monthly salary until you’re earning – for example – 5,000 euros per month. After this threshold, the remuneration model comes into force. However, always remember that the commission is deducted from your gross income – before you’ve paid the expenses for your producer, recording studio, tour support, etc. And in case you’re wondering: this model works equally well for solo artists as for bands.

Cooperating with music managers: Transparency and control

If I can stress one thing: always remember how important it is that you, as a band, retain control of your career. You should be kept in the loop about which contracts have been signed and which haven’t. When it comes to inspecting the contents of contracts, don’t accept any excuses: if a manager tries to conceal things, this should set off alarm bells. Mutual transparency is the order of the day. An upstanding manager will be happy to let you inspect any and all contracts with the potential to affect your career (after all, why shouldn’t they?). Never be forced into a corner. Ultimately, it’s about the success of your band and, most importantly, your music!

What about you? Do you work with a manager? If so, where and how did you get to know them? Let me know in the comments!

GEMA, GVL and royalties: How you can earn money as a musician through collecting societies

Playing concerts as a sideman, working in studios, teaching… If you want to earn money as a drummer, there are plenty of ways to do so. However, one way you might not have considered is the opportunity to earn a regular income via collecting societies like GEMA or GVL. These organisations set tariffs for the use of musical works created by their members, collect the corresponding licence fees and distribute the money to the owners of the rights.

Despite the obvious benefits, many musicians pay minimal attention to how these societies work. What does GEMA do? What about GVL? When is it worthwhile to become a member of a collecting society? Who actually gets royalties, and what for? This post explains the most important facts – and will perhaps give you access to a source of income you’d previously overlooked.

What does GEMA do?

GEMA (or the Gesellschaft für musikalische Aufführungs- und mechanische Vervielfältigungsrechte, to give it its full title) is a German collecting society and performance rights organisation that helps music authors (composers and lyricists) and music publishers to organise their interests. It oversees worldwide rights of use and the corresponding remuneration claims of its members. This means that whenever someone, somewhere, uses a piece of copyright-protected piece of music, GEMA will collect the corresponding licence fee.

These fees are payable whenever music;

  • is performed live
  • is reproduced on recording media (e.g. CDs, Vinyl or DVDs),
  • is broadcast on the radio, on TV or online, or
  • is played in public, e.g. in restaurants, supermarkets or clubs.

A huge variety of tariffs exist: for radio programmes, performance in theatres, use in TV productions, use as teaching material, leasing, background music and music on demand. With every new form of music use, the number of licensing options grows. Music users must report the performance, broadcasting and/or reproduction of musical works to GEMA, disclosing how frequently each individual work is used.

“Private copying levies” are another important source of income. This is where manufacturers of storage devices and blank media (such as USB sticks, DVD writers and smartphones) pay a fixed amount of remuneration per product sold.

How are royalties distributed?

In 2018, GEMA collected more than 1 billion euros of licensing fees. According to its statute, the organisation is not permitted to draw profit – which means that after the deduction of administration costs of approximately 15%, there was a considerable sum left over to be distributed among 73,000+ members and almost two million additional copyright holders worldwide. The distribution plan is as wide-ranging and complicated as you would expect. Today, more than 100 tariffs regulate the distribution of GEMA income among the various categories. And  with the emergence of new forms of music use – such as video games, internet radio or on streaming platforms – the plan is constantly being updated.

The amount of remuneration received by individual authors or publishers depends on the type of public music use. Whether a song is broadcast all over the country on the television, played on a small, private radio station, used by a company for an advertising campaign or is simply played as telephone hold music – all this is factored into the calculation and used to determine the final amount. As a general rule, however, authors or publishers whose music is played or sold more frequently will receive more money. The distribution plan also determines the distribution of income between composer, lyricist and publisher.

Is joining GEMA worth it?

As the author of a piece of music, you are entitled to reasonable compensation for the use of your music when it is played in public, reproduced or otherwise exploited. However, determining who uses your music – and when and how often they do it – can be an almost impossible task. This is what collecting societies like GEMA do.

Perhaps you’ve been asked by an organiser to fill out a “setlist” before a performance: a list of songs that is passed to GEMA to enable the calculation of fees due. This, of course, gives rise to a question: if the organiser is required to pay the licence fees anyway, does it not make sense for the author to benefit from corresponding payouts? This is why, if you write or edit melodies, arrangements or lyrics for music, joining a collecting society is something you should consider.

And the costs? Well, when you conclude a GEMA deed of assignment, you, as the author of the work, pay a one-time joining fee of € 90.00 (plus 19% VAT, making an actual total of € 107.10). On top of this is a yearly membership fee for authors of €50.00. Memberships in GEMA can only be assigned to individuals, not entire bands.

On the earnings side, you can expect roughly the following: if your song is played on a big ARD radio station (that is, a radio station belonging to the Arbeitsgemeinschaft der öffentlich-rechtlichen Rundfunkanstalten der Bundesrepublik Deutschland, the working group of public broadcasters in Germany), this can easily earn you as much as €10; for smaller broadcasters, the reward can be as little as €0.50. If, as an author, your music is played live, payouts of approximately €3 are standard. In addition, it generally holds true that if you regularly play your own songs live, you’ll quickly recoup the cost of a GEMA membership. As few as two dozen concerts a year could suffice. You might even be able to win GEMA funding for musical projects or young artists.

Read more here about whether a GEMA membership could make sense for you.

What does GVL do?

The Gesellschaft zur Verwertung von Leistungsschutzrechten (GVL), or the German Performing Rights Society, represents a range of performers, including musicians, singer, dancers and actors. It also represents the promoters and producers of sound recordings. The goal of the organisation is to achieve fair remuneration for the use of productions in which their members have participated: to protect their so-called “second window rights”.

Didn’t help to write last year’s biggest summer hit, but played the drums or the bass track? Good news! When the song is used by others, you can share in the financial reward. Claims for remuneration can be asserted in all of the following cases:

  • When radio and TV broadcasters make us of published recordings in which you participated as a musician (not as author of the work),
  • The public playback of such sound recordings or of radio and TV shows in hotels, clubs, restaurants, supermarkets, etc.
  • The cable retransmission of artistic works in television and radio programs,
  • The lending or renting out of sound recordings, e.g. in libraries.

GVL also collects income from the private copying levies mentioned earlier in the article.

How is the licence income distributed?

In 2018, GVL took almost 230 million euros. More than a third of this income came from broadcasting royalties (from radio, TV and videoclips) or from reproduction, while 20% came from public playback. Here, again, it is the case that the more frequently recordings are used by radio and TV broadcasters, the higher the remuneration.

The distribution plan of GVL is not as expansive as that of GEMA, but is equally complex. It governs all details regarding the distribution of remuneration among producers and performers. The length of an artistic work is also factored into the point system, as is the reach of a radio broadcaster and the extent to which a musician participated in a studio recording. As with GEMA, members profit most if a song is played by large TV broadcasters. Note that if a song you helped to record is performed on the radio or TV, the artists (including you) and producers who worked on the recording will receive half of the licensing income each time.

Should I become a member of the GVL?

Today, around 160,000 artists, producers and organisers are members of GVL. Could it also be worth it for you? If:

  • your own recording or a published studio production in which you participated is played in public,
  • you appear as a band member or soloist; or
  • you run a label whose musical productions are publicly broadcast,

the corresponding GVL licence income could represent a new source of earnings.

Perhaps most important to note is that concluding a GVL deed of assignment is free of charge – you simply need to state the productions you’ve played on. The next time the work is played, some of the income will go to you.

Earning money with collecting societies

If you want to earn money from working as a drummer, GEMA and GVL could certainly help you do so. Ideally, you should be a successful musician and a songwriter: this will enable you not only to collect to income as a performer, but as an author, too. But before you sign a GEMA contract, check whether your membership is really worth it. Do you play a sufficient number of concerts per year with your own songs? Is your music set to be played by regional or national broadcasters in the coming period? Asking these questions will help you suss out whether your income is (at least) enough to cover your fees. And of course, you can cancel your membership at any time if this is no longer the case.

What do you think? Do payments from GEMA or GVL account for a small regular part of your income? Have you had good or bad experiences with collecting societies the past? I’d love to hear about it in the comments!

How can I find live gigging opportunities as a professional drummer?

Whenever I asked this question of colleagues with more experience, I always got the same answer: “Word-of-mouth recommendations.” Right from the off, I realised the difficulty of this approach: there’s nothing you can do but wait. I had no control over when or if a good review would help me on my way to a piece of work. What would happen if I needed a gig straight away in order to be able to pay my bills?

I have a friend who invests an incredible amount of time in networking and manages to find repeated opportunities via the tactic of “hanging out with other musicians”. The motto here is that it’s not only what you can do, but who and how many people you know. I also tried this route, but found it to be a waste of time: it never really helped me in my search for paid gigs.

Playing live and attending concerts

Because of this, I tried another way, which was simply to play as much as possible. I attended jam sessions, went to auditions and played in rehearsals as a substitute musician. I wasn’t picky about the style of the music or the people I was playing with. Thanks to this, I got to know a huge number of musicians, some of whom I still play with today. It’s an approach I can thoroughly recommend – even if, at first glance, it’s not clear exactly how it will lead to more work.

You might, for example, attend a concert by a classically trained pianist. By doing so, you’ll expand your musical horizons and become a better musician almost by virtue of just being there. I’ve also noticed that other musicians are very appreciative when you’re at least a little au fait with “their world”. By showing an interest, I’ve won a huge number of jobs that other drummers would love to have had. The key was simply to engage with other musicians.

Marketing for drummers

Yes – at first pass, it sounds a bit arduous. You might be thinking, “Marketing for drummers? What’s that all about? I just want to play.” But this is exactly the point. To win gigging or concert appearances on a sustainable and regular basis – to actually be able to “just play” – all musicians, including drummers, need to give some thought as to how they market themselves.

Remember to think about how you present yourself. A friendly and courteous manner towards colleagues or event organisers will be remembered by potential musical colleagues or clients, as will a bad temper or arrogance. Show people that you’re fun to work with.

It’s equally as important to have an interesting and sufficiently detailed summary of your experience to hand. Bands, musical colleagues and event organisers should be able to get a good impression of what you can do and what you’ve already done. When you think about what to include, make sure you don’t simply write a paragraph about yourself. Talk about your musical styles, your influences and experiences. Include interesting sound and video clips, talk about your equipment and list past live dates or cool references. You can also summarise the most important information on one side of A4 as a PDF. Add a photo, and you’ve got a “set list” for your work as a professional drummer. Potential clients or colleagues can download it from your website and recognise immediately what sets you apart.

Club, tour or cruise ship?

Never overlook the fact that there are many and varied opportunities for playing live. Concerts in a club, appearances on tours, gigs in musical theatres or bookings for bands on a cruise ship: you’re “allowed” to do whatever you enjoy – or whatever keeps your bank account sufficiently full. Think about how your schedule looks for the upcoming months, when you have free time and at what rates you’re prepared to play one type of gig or another.

If you’re well-connected in the music scene, you’ll regularly hear of opportunities for live work. However, a good reputation has to be earned. Until you become established, it will likely be tricky to rely solely on recommendations and” word-of-mouth propaganda”. Because of this, it’s worth checking out where you can find call-ups or job postings for professional drummers in your area.

For musicals or cruise ships:

At https://de.stagepool.com, you’ll find regular postings from event organisers seeking drummers.

The drummer as an artist and service provider

Is drumming your passion? Mine too. Despite this, I don’t view myself solely as an artist, but also as a service provider. This applies not only for the days when I’m teaching drums or giving workshops, but also for live appearances. Perhaps, yes, you have a certain “red line” – gigs you would really rather not play. These aside, however, there are a huge number of projects, bands and events at which, as a drummer, can contribute your part to a successful result. If you do a good job – not only as an artist with an excellent command of your tool, but also as a professional, friendly service provider – you’ll quickly build up a positive image and can begin to expect further recommendations. And throughout all of this, don’t forget to make sure you’re getting fair pay. 😉

Now, I want to hear about your experiences. What tactics have you tried for finding live opportunities? What will you try in the future to win more gigs? I’m looking forward to reading your comments!