Sign Yourself

Sign Yourself to a DIY Musician Record Deal: How to Build a Business Around Your Music

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Want to know the quickest way to get a record deal in today’s music industry.? It’s simple. “Sign yourself” and commit to the DIY Musician model.

I was googling around the internet and ended up reading an article from several years ago where the writer briefly mentioned the idea of “signing yourself” to a record deal.  I’d never heard it phrased like that but when you think about DIY musicians today, that’s exactly what they are doing. When you commit to building a business around your music and managing that process yourself, you are crafting your own record deal.  I like that!

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That fact remains, it’s getting harder every day for musicians to get a traditional record deal.  Record labels are struggling to make a profit and the competition among artists to get the labels attention is fiercer than ever.

Why not consider the DIY model.

Your career path will continue to progress, probably faster than if you focused all your efforts on getting a labels attention, and ironically, the by-product of going DIY, is that you’ll probably become more appealing to record labels in the process.

The most successful DIY artists are the ones that understand that they need to create a legitimate business around their music.

Today, I want to talk about 5 Phases to consider when you are starting your own business and managing your own music career.  It’s best to have a basic plan for each of these phases before you get started, but you can always go back and make changes later.

The 5 Phases are:

  1. Artist Development
  2. Business Fundamentals
  3. Product Development
  4. Release and Promotion
  5. Staying Relevant (Sustaining your career momentum)

Artist Development

Artist Development in terms of an Artist Development Deal at a traditional record label covered a wide variety of topics.  We break that up a little bit and suggest you take artist development quite literally and make sure you’ve got the chops necessary to be successful and identify any areas that need work.

Maybe you need to become better at playing your instrument or better at engaging the crowd during live performances. You may need to work on making your image consistent or maybe you need to start over and develop an identity for your brand as a whole.

This step is where you do a lot of introspection and make sure you are ready to put yourself out there, be remarkable, and appeal to your audience.


Business Fundamentals

What do you know about running a business?

If your goal is to make money from your music then you are going to operate under the same basic business principles as somebody starting a coffee shop, launching a landscaping company, or building an online business.

You need to make more money than you spend, profit. You need to know who your customer is and how to find them, marketing and advertising.

Will you operate as a Sole Proprietorship, LLC, or a partnership.  Did you draft a band agreement? Did a lawyer review your agreement?

You’ll need to identify how your business will make money:  Will you rely on selling your music, touring, selling merchandise, licensing your music for TV and Commercials, maybe Ad revenue on your Youtube channel, or like most bands, a combination of methods?

You’ll also need to set up your business’s infrastructure, which for most artists means a website, a bank account separate from your personal account, and any social media accounts.

You’ll also want to consider fulfillment and distribution.  Where will you sell your music?  How much will you charge? Digital and physical, or digital only?

These are all business decisions that need to be addressed as a part of your overall business plan.


Product Development

If your music is the primary product that you are selling in your business, there should be a lot of thought that goes into the development of that product.

This can be done without compromising the artistic integrity of your music.

Some Product Development topics to consider:


How will you pay for recording and producing your music?

Will it be self-funded, crowdfunded, sponsored?


Will you record at a home studio or professional studio? You can invest in equipment or pay for access to someone else’s gear?


Is there a theme for this release? Rock Opera? Album of Love songs?

Which songs and how many songs should be on this release?

Will it be an album, Single, or EP?

Do you need to hire additional musicians for the recording?

How about for live performances?

Will you shoot a music video?  Is that included in the budget?

Did you secure your copyrights?

Release and Promotion

This step should really be considered alongside your product development plan.  You want to consider things like your marketing budget while considering your budget for recording.  There is nothing worse than creating a masterpiece recording that nobody hears because you don’t have any money left to promote it!

In addition to budgeting for your marketing, it’s important to have a complete marketing plan.  Marketing doesn’t start the day you release the album.  It should start months earlier.

You want to build buzz, involve your fans in the process, maybe ask them to help you choose things like album art.  Share behind the scenes photos of the hard work going on in the recording process, and even pre-sell the album if possible.

Where will your marketing take place? Will you pay for ads or rely on word of mouth tactics?  What about guerilla marketing strategies?  Be creative! Have fun! Marketing can be an extension of your art.

The real takeaway here is this: a half-assed marketing plan is better than no marketing plan.


Staying Relevant (Sustaining your music career)

What are you doing between releases to make sure your fans don’t forget about you?  We live in a world of constant distraction.  If you don’t keep your audience’s attention, someone else will.

Are you releasing singles between bigger releases?

Are you releasing cover songs?

Do you have a Youtube channel? Are you active on it?

How often are you emailing your email list? If it is less than once a month, you’re not emailing them often enough.

You can write a blog, collaborate with other artists, do house concerts,…

To maintain a thriving music career you have to stay active.  Don’t become irrelevant.

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