Getting a career off the ground can be hard work, especially when you work independently, as many music producers and DJs do. There's so much to take into account and trying to juggle every aspect, from press to getting booked to play, can be more overwhelming than first thought.
It can be a maze out there so we spoke to leading industry figures to gather tips on how to get your career as an artist off the ground. It could take a while for you to get the wheels in motion, but take in the below and things will be a lot less stressful than you first thought.
There's no doubt many artists do take care of their own press, but that's not to say it's easy or stress free. It's just another task to add to the list, one which may include making tunes, getting a DJ mix sorted, hitting the road for shows and, as is often the case, even working a full or part-time job if music isn't providing a enough income. That said, hooking up with a PR agency to get your output heard by various publications would be a wise move. Don't be spooked by the notion that it'll leave you out of pocket, though.
Melissa Maouris, whose agency promotes campaigns for !K7, Damian Lazarus and Kim Ann Foxman among others, says: "Getting a booking agent and PR used to be something for an elite group of artists with big bank balances, but there's now a slew of independent companies that service niche areas of the market. These channels are increasingly important, but choosing the right PR and agent is one of the most important decisions an artist now faces."
However, it's still up to the artist to decide where they want their music to be heard. Maouris adds: "The best PR campaigns are made around an artist's own true vision. Many artists expect an agent or a PR to open up new worlds for them, but don't see that part of the process lies in their own hands. Every artist is different, and the more proactive and individual ones go the furthest."
Melissa Taylor of Tailored Communication, which includes Nina Kraviz, KiNK and Avalon Emerson on its roster, echoes the view that an artist needs to be in control of their direction.
"Be realistic about who you are as an artist, but only do what you’re comfortable with and what feels right for you, Don’t allow a manger to push you in a direction where you find yourself questioning if this strategy still feels like you. Keep control of your art and keep control of your image."
2. DON'T SPAM INBOXES IF YOU'RE DOING YOUR OWN PRESS
"Hey, here's my new EP" is a subject title journalists see with more regularity than a rainy day in Manchester. It's a sentence industry professionals "despise", according to Melissa Taylor. She's not just talking on behalf of PRs, but journalists, too (yup, we get endless amounts of these blanket emails and, to be honest, there's just not enough hours to go through them all). Chances are, if you're doing interesting things with your music (read below), we'll see your name in our inbox and open it with the anticipation of a kid unwrapping a present at Christmas. Just don't pack out the email with loads of information. "We’re all busy people. Don’t send anyone 10 different EPs, three albums and a three-page text about yourself as an introduction, you’ll put people off," Taylor says. "Trust your instincts. Think about what’s most important and what’s the best music you have to represent you."
Importantly, don't give up. Remember, agencies have years' worth of contacts stored, but if you're looking to do your own press, things may take a little longer to heat up. With that in mind, keep your ears open, Melissa Maouris says. "Listen to the advice of those with more experience and be open-minded. If it doesn't feel right, don't do it. There's only one chance to get it right the first time."
3. THINK ABOUT GETTING A BOOKING AGENT
Don't expect an avalanche of bookings to roll in straightaway, but having a booking agent will certainly fill more gaps in your calendar. Not only that, it'll give you access to new territories and most likely see you playing parties that you wouldn't necessarily think of yourself. If Khan, owner of management and PR company Transmit Signal, says: "If you're a new artist, the agent can get you on to line-ups by virtue of the other artists represented on the same agency. In turn, this could break you into new markets and shows you haven't played before." Wave goodbye to pubs in Brixton and say hello to cool-ass clubs in Berlin.
Again, though, do not just rely on someone else to push your career on. An agent can certainly lessen your workload by contacting promoters, but it's down to you to excite people and gain a fanbase willing to wax their cash to see you play in a club. After all, there's no point in being with a booking agency to get you gigs if no one's going to go to said show.
"The idea that getting a booking agent will immediately guarantee shows isn't the case," Tomas Fraser, Coyote Records founder and PR, says. "Agents work in the same way pluggers, PRs and other industry facilitators operate; they're only as good as the DJ or artist they're pitching out to promoters.
"If an artist is active, signed to a label or releasing music themselves, getting the right press and support on the radio and generally part of a wider scene, then chances are agents will be really useful in helping push DJs/artists into new territory and potentially onto bigger and better line-ups."
4. BE UNIQUE AND CREATE A DEMAND FOR YOURSELF
It's not always easy, but doing something out of the ordinary is bound to generate buzz. Once you've cracked that, people will be desperate to get their hands on your work or see you in action. Aphex Twin is a prime example. The screwed up mechanics of his debut album 'Selected Ambient Works 85-92' are still admired today, the release being one of the most celebrated records ever. We're not saying try to imitate Aphex, but his God-like status today is testament being unique pays off. Just think outside of a the box a little. Take footwork pioneer DJ Rashad's use of sampling, for example. His track 'I Don't Give A Fuck' revolves around a sample of Tupac Shakur-starring film Juice, but the track's one of footwork's most famous tracks. Moral of the story: don't search too hard. Sometimes the most effective production tools could be sitting in your DVD collection.
Be creative with your promotion and marketing, too. If Khan of Transmit Signal comments that "the music industry in 2017 is very saturated, so you do need to set yourself apart". Skepta is far from being a new artist, but the teasing of his headline show at Alexandra Palace sent social media into meltdown trying to work out what it meant. First, the postage stamp from his 'Konnichiwa' album cover and ticket info was pasted on billboards around London, followed by him later spraying 'Ally Pally' and a date to appease fans. The same can be said of the Aphex Twin-branded blimp flying over London to promo his 'Syro' album in 2014. He hadn't released any music for nine years, so everyone was eager to find out exactly what he was up to.
Obviously new artists don't have to go to those extremes, but you get the message – create some intrigue.
5. SEND YOUR MUSIC TO THE RIGHT PEOPLE
As covered above, sending blanket emails is a no-no. They can come across impersonal, be full of too much information and are generally pushed aside if it looks generic. Think about it: DJs' email inboxes and SoundCloud, Facebook and Twitter DMs are peppered with new tunes every day, most messages probably carbon copies of each other. Be selective with who you're reaching out to. Make a list of the DJs and labels most suited to the tunes you're producing and have in mind the the type of crowd they attract. If you make techno, for example, go big and make Ben Klock a starting point. Send your music to him, then branch out to the artists releasing on his label Klockworks and those who regularly appear on line-ups with him.
You could even turn your focus to locations. Hit up the DJs regularly playing on line-ups around a city if you reckon your tunes suit that scene. No doubt Glaswegian producer Denis Sulta could tell you the merits of someone like Jackmaster being on-side and praising him on social media.
Make sure the first tune you send is gold standard, too. If it's below par, the next one you send might be ignored and that's the last thing you want. All it takes is one nailed-on banger for your name to be sent shooting through the grapevine. Once that happens, it'll be DJs sliding into your DMs asking for your latest weapons.
6. DON'T BE AFRAID TO APPLY FOR FUNDING...
The thought of taking outsider cash and (maybe) losing full control over your work makes you feel slightly queasy, right? Put the brakes on a little and think about it. There are plenty of bodies in the UK able to financially provide for musicians, whether that be the PRS for Music Foundation, Help Musicians UK or the national art's councils in England, Scotland, Northern Ireland and Wales.
Since 2000, PRS has provided over 5,300 new projects with a total of £23.6 million, with artists such as James Blake, Floating Points and Mount Kimbie receiving funding. Funding programmes include The Open Fund, which looks to push "outstanding new music" across all genres, and Women Make Music, which aims to counter gender stereotypes in the industry and encourage women making their own music.
Highlighting PRS for Music as an example, Tomas Fraser, whose label Coyote Records is a platform for new talent, believes artists should definitely be open-minded towards funding. "It can do wonders for artists, particularly those that lack the access to certain production equipment, studio time or even contacts. Granted, it's not for everyone, certainly not within the underground dance music paradigm, but given the UK's current lack of investment in the creative arts, funding has become more and more influential."
7. BUT DON'T BE AFRAID TO FUND YOURSELF
By all means, if you want to finance everything yourself, then do so. This way, all decisions and creative direction are owned solely by you and you're free to do whatever you wish. "With absolutely everything, artists should maintain control," Melissa Taylor says. Even if you were to apply for funding, there's no guarantee you'll get it, so a Plan B is always wise. That might mean working a job during the day or playing the odd pub gig on evenings and weekends to rack up some money for studio equipment. Don't think you're bigger or better than dropping Dexys Midnight Runners' 'Come On Eileen' at a wedding, either. Danny Daze spent his youth DJing for newlyweds to make some cash, but these days you'll catch him at fabric, Panorama Bar and Warung in Brazil.
Just don't run yourself into debt with the wish of sorting yourself out with gear quick-time. Taking out loans can be dodgy, so only do it if you can work out a viable payment plan to pay it back. Remember there's not a time limit on you 'making it'. Bristolian DJ Eats Everything was juggling a recruitment job and DJing until the age of 30, very nearly jacking in the dream of being a DJ by occupation before his big break came with 'Entrance Song'.
Don't let finances stress you out. Keep your mind clear for working on productions that could potentially elevate your career to a whole new level.