15 Things You Must Do to Make it in the Music Industry

15 Things You Must DoWondering how to make it in the music industry? In this guest post, TakeLessons Teacher and music industry veteran Nick Gunn shares 15 tips musicians can’t afford to ignore… 

I’m not particularly famous (in most people’s eyes) and I’m certainly not financially wealthy (in Wall Street’s eyes); I’m just a guy who has pretty much done it all in the music business with some major successes, and some even larger major flops!

Just so we are all on the same page: I am a part of the approximate 98% of all music artists, music producers, and other music professionals who didn’t wake up one morning and put on their famous pants.

Yes, we exist! In fact, we are the majority. Sure, I can boast about my great track record in sales and the awesome albums I’ve produced, but the truth is I struggle like most music artists.

I’ve sold close to two million records but no one would recognize me, and the bulk of those royalties are all gone now. I also owned and ran a 75 artist roster label that died in the 2008 recession with the closing down of record retail.

Basically… I’m the perfect guy to write this article. I’m a music industry survivor and I’m still doing it!

Not only am I still doing it, but, shockingly, I’m still extremely optimistic and still finding new successes from what I have learned. So with pessimism aside, here are my top 15 tips on making it in today’s music business.

 

LET’S GET OUR HEADS ON STRAIGHT FIRST!

In this section, we’ll cover tips to help you get your head in the music game.

1. Be Optimistic at Every Turn

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It’s the only true survival tool you have that you can control. If you start with undying optimism you will be more resistant against the neglect you may feel when first starting out.

Trust me, this will be tested!

Try not to take things personally, as the barrier to entry in the music business is set incredibly high.

There are approximately 80,000 albums released every year, of which Billboard and other associated charts report on a revolving Top 200. That’s 0.25% of the total releases each year that are moving and shaking enough to get on the radar.

Still feeling optimistic? Keep reading….

2. Observe Excellence and Be Excellent at Your Craft

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This applies to everything you do!

It all starts with the music you listen to. Sometimes, society can train us to lower our expectations by convincing us mediocrity is acceptable. It is not. Excellence is at your fingertips, it simply needs to be understood and observed.

Study carefully from music teachers who are well versed in music theory and music appreciation. Study those who are successful in music and what they have done.

Listen to everything, no matter what the genre, and try to see the beauty in everything that is music, despite your personal preferences.

The foundation you lay now with your acceptance and understanding of these basic essentials will define who you will be in your own music career.

3. Be Careful Who You Take Advice From

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People often tend to seek advice from those who have been unusually successful. It’s a natural human tendency to do so.

But remember, the best advice always comes from those who have failed and are painfully aware of their mistakes.

4. Form a Strong Professional Peer Group as Your Sounding Board

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Family and friends are great but they are often too biased to give proper guidance and advice when it comes to your music.

Music professionals tend to give more constructive guidance and can set more realistic goals and expectations.

Remember: Grandma will most likely love everything you do, no matter what, so don’t take her advice too seriously!

5. Know That No One Simply Gets Up and Puts on Their Famous Pants

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The road to success in the music business is never a straight one. By the time an artist breaks into mainstream consciousness there is always a story to tell about how and when it all happened.

Unfortunately, the bulk of your new fans will never experience this part of your journey. The illusion is, to the general public, that one day you woke up, wrote a song, and put on your famous pants.

Don’t let the long and winding path to your success get you down, it’s totally normal!

SETTING UP YOUR MUSIC BUSINESS PROPERLY

This section is all about the business of making music, and making sure you get paid.

6. Understand What the Top Revenue Streams are in the Music Business

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Touring, Publishing, and Branding.

These top three revenue makers in the music industry encompass a wide range of sub-topics, but it’s important you understand how you can make money from these three main sources.

Touring: Touring and playing live is self explanatory. Festivals in particular are currently at an all time attendance high. It’s about getting the fans to your shows and having the promoters wanting you on stage.

Publishing: Writing and recording original music can ensure you own both your master rights and your performance/mechanical rights, giving you the ability to publish and control your own works.

Branding: Branding requires that your image and likeness – your logos, who you are and what you represent – are clear and aligned with similar products that aggrandize your musical mission.

I highly recommend reading This Business of Music, which is currently in it’s tenth edition, as a reference guide to your business future.

7. Incorporate Your Brand

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At first you most likely will be pinching pennies at every turn, so be smart about your cash flow and your spending!

One way to do this is by incorporating so you can receive tax breaks and manage your cash flow and expenses properly. It can also protect you as an individual and be more effective in financial growth.

Honestly, it’s not that hard. Just go to LegalZoom.com and spend the $500 to start your own LLC, or whatever structure company you want.

8. Learn How to Produce Your Own Music

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Let’s face it, the days of needing big recording studios is long gone.

I have constantly given this advice from the beginning and the result is always the same. Those who learn how to produce their own music have a much higher chance at success.

Not only does it make you well versed at your craft but it makes you highly authentic with your sound.

Yes, there is a learning curve. Sure, it’s gonna take some time and money.

But if you are serious and passionate about your music, this will be an amazing experience for you. Gear today is accessible and affordable and you can set up shop in your parents closet, if need be.

Make it work for you! Your recorded music is your calling card to your artistry, so start producing now.

9. Register Your Works

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If you are writing and recording your own music then you need to have a clear understanding of what Performing Rights Societies are and how they collect money for you!

In the United States you primarily have ASCAP and BMI (which collect on the same thing, so only register for one) and also SoundExchange.

These societies monitor performances of your works (ie. when your song is played on the radio, TV, a film, etc) and pay you – the writer/composer and/or publisher/administrator – according to how you have these works registered with the society.

If you are the sole writer then you will receive the entire share of the writer’s revenue stream. If you are also the Administrator/Publisher (which you are if your works are original and you’re putting them out yourself) you’ll collect the entire share of publishing revenue stream, as well. So make sure you register as both a writer and a publisher!

Yes, this requires some investigation but it’s important you do the work – this is money while you sleep, people!

So, if you haven’t already, you should look up ASCAP, BMI, and SoundExchange. Registering is easy; it will seriously take you less then ten minutes.

10. Understand What a Copyright Is

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Copyrighting is a process used to protect your works from theft. The United States Copyright Office offers a verified method that is used universally to acknowledge protected works.

However, in today’s age, time stamps on computers (that created the work) or using your originating publisher information, as well as sending self addressed, date stamped copies through the mail to yourself, can all suffice as proof of ownership.

Contrary to popular belief, deliberate music copyright infringement is quite rare. It often mistakenly occurs as we all emulate what we have heard over our lifetimes.

Also, choosing to flagrantly rip off music does nothing to benefit your career in the face of your peers.

11. Distribute Your Music Effectively

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It used to be that having your music distributed was reserved for signed artists to large record labels. That is no longer the case!

There are many distributors, large and small, now operating in the music and media business.

Some are harder to establish relationships with, however companies such as CD Baby are now at your fingertips and offer emerging artists a way to get their music in stores such as iTunes, Amazon, Beatport, and many others.

Music streaming platforms are now an integral part of how people listen to your music, so be sure you are well represented at sites such as iTunes, Spotify, and Pandora for streaming services.

Also, make sure you are visible on apps such as Shazam, as it’s an extremely effective way for fans to locate your music without knowing your name or the song.

12. Have a Clear Focus on Social Media Platforms

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This is a topic that rarely needs significant discussion, as everyone today is a social media pro. However, it’s important you separate personal social from business social, even though they may appear to be the same.

Make sure your social media platforms are engaging fans and representing your overall brand.

You don’t always have to post about your music. Make sure you are talking about related topics to the music industry, your favorite artists and things you love as an artist too!

Social media is a lot of work and can consume hours per day for most professional musicians. Try using tools that blast all social platforms at the same time or buffer posts throughout the day.

Having a great team player for your social media will soon become a top priority for you.

13. Create an Amazing Team

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This takes time and can be in constant flux. However, you can’t do this all by yourself.

If you look carefully at the most successful music careers you will see that it’s the team that creates the success, not the individual or band alone. Labels, managers, booking agents, publicists and social media all go into making a well oiled team.

Recognize talent in others and hold them close to your chest. It’s about surrounding yourself with talented and highly motivated people that believe in you and bring resources to the table.

Granted, getting the attention of the right team players is a difficult task. However, Rome was not built in one day and staying the course is part of what makes you attractive to influential team players.

MAINTENANCE OF A GREAT MUSIC CAREER

Now that you’re a success, keep on going! Use these tips to continue developing your career in music.

14. Stay The Course

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There’s a saying I often use that relates to success in the music business: “If you play golf long enough in a lightning storm you will eventually get struck by lightning.”

This basically means that you must stay the course, not deviate, and have faith that eventually your hard work will pay off. This is the same for artists that have already received success.

Sooner or later, every artist must redefine their path moving forward. As in most business, every five years you should take inventory of where you are in your career and map out the next five years with your team.

15. Don’t Bite the Hand That Feeds You

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I am actually a perpetrator of this one.

Music artists, including myself when I was younger, can have a slightly egotistical view of their music and persona after they receive some success.

We often think that the success we are receiving is the result of “my music,” “my hard work,” “my talent,” etc and make unusual requests of labels and team players.

There is no positive outcome here. Being a diva never results in long term success, it simply results in having a bad reputation.

BONUS: Give Back and Mentor

The generation behind you needs your support and wisdom. Reach out, donate money to arts and education, teach, mentor!

There is nothing more gratifying to the soul than watching a young person flourish from what you have shown them.

If you are experiencing success, donate to a cause that provides opportunity to underprivileged kids so they can experience something larger than themselves – the gift of music!

Well, there you have it. I hope you soaked some of this in and can use it on your musical journey. Good luck and keep on rocking!

 

Do you have any more music industry tips, or questions about how to make it in the music industry? Let us know in the comments below!

 

profile_79983_pi_Nick PicPost Author: Nick Gunn
Nick Gunn teaches audio engineering, songwriting, and music composition in Chicago, IL. Nick is a multi-platinum selling composer and producer.  Learn more about Nick here!

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Peter Matthew Bauer of The Walkmen Talks Living Room Shows and Liberation!

Peter Matthew Bauer InterviewGrowing up on indie rock, The Walkmen were among my favorite bands in high school and college. Though they are now on “extreme hiatus”, members of the band continue to make great music that I can love as an adult too.

The band’s bassist Peter Matthew Bauer embarked on a solo career with his 2014 album Liberation!, an album that pairs spiritual themes and literary references with catchy rock hooks and psychedelic vibes.

I got the chance to talk with Bauer about his musical background, his solo career, and his favorite Latin American authors.

TL: How did you get into playing music?

PMB: I started taking guitar lessons when I was a kid from a guy in Washington DC who was sort of the local guitar teacher of choice. I did that for a couple years. I had a friend who was an older kid who had a band, so I wanted to be like them.

And now you’re a guy who a lot of people would want to be like, with your time in The Walkmen and your incredible solo record. What’s it been like for you getting out on your own and writing songs?

It’s a lot of fun. It’s great! It’s a little lonely I guess. It’s a lot more on you when it’s your own name and you’re doing everything. That makes it fun.

One of the things I really love about your record is how you incorporate some Eastern sounds in your music, a little reminiscent of George Harrison and the Beatles but there’s also something really modern and cool about how you’ve done it. Did you have a kind of guiding philosophy around how you used those elements?

I was writing these songs about how I grew up, so I thought if I could figure out ways to use slightly Indian sounding things in a couple spots, without it sounding kinda hacky, it would be fun, sort of funny. I had a harmonium laying around the house and I liked the sound of it, and that was the idea. There’s not that much of it that was meant to be Indian, it’s just sort of stuff I had.

Yeah, it’s a really light touch with that instrumentation but it’s really cool. One of my favorite songs on the record is “Latin American Ficciones”. Is that a reference to any specific author?

Yeah, it’s a reference to Jorge Luis Borges, and Roberto Bolaño also. I think I just changed it to “Ficciones” because I had a bad mix of it when it was called “Latin American Fiction”. [Laughs]. It’s a dumb joke.

It’s sort of a song from when I was figuring out how to sing and what I was going to sing about, and I think both of those writers have meant a lot to me in terms of how strong their voices are.

As much as people think of them, Borges especially, with intricate plots and being this erudite fella, really he’s bluffing his way through the whole thing and it’s just his personality. It’s himself coming through whatever he’s talking about that he thinks is interesting.

He could write a movie review and you’d know who it is. I think that’s the sign of a really great writer or artist or whatever. They can be doing anything and you can tell it’s that person.

And I think it’s also very anti-psychological too, which I think is nice. It’s not like he’s whining or self-referential, which I think is a happy way to be.

In songwriting, a lot of people think it’s about trying to exorcise these psychological problems or something like that, and I don’t think that’s the case. Even maybe people who think that’s what they’re doing aren’t necessarily doing that, because that isn’t really what’s universal.

So it sounds like for you songwriting is more about the experience and finding a way to transmit something universal. A lot of the songs also reference spirituality, from Hinduism to Scientology. Where does that theme come from for you?

I guess it’s just how I grew up and what I think about. It’s not that popular of a theme in rock music, which is weird because it’s a pretty big chunk of life, to reckon with that sort of thing seriously, or not seriously, or somehow.

It’s what I think about and talk about and read about, so I thought I’d write songs about it. It seemed more where I’m coming from than writing songs about anything else.

What was it like for you growing up?

My father and mother were both very heavy into meditation and spirituality, so I was kind of dragged around as a kid to different ashrams and things like that. So I thought if you’re gonna write a solo record with your name on it, and it’s your first one, it should be about where you’re coming from, that seems to be what people do.

That’s where I was coming from, so I figured I would find my own take on that and figure out what all that meant to me.

Do you feel now after writing those songs like you have a better grasp on what all that experience meant?

Yeah, a little bit. I think it helps to kind of process something in a song, to process the experience in a way that you wouldn’t otherwise.

It’s much less of a psychological thing and more just the experiences coming across in music, which I think is something that the musical form can do that maybe other forms can’t do as well.

So I see you’ve done entire tours of living room shows, playing in people’s homes. How have you enjoyed that as compared to the club circuit, and how did the living  room tours come about?

Well, it came about because it’s a smart way of doing things when you’re by yourself. It’s either that or you hire five of your friends and drag them around and lose a lot of money.

Or you can kind of go out on your own and meet people and have these shows. You come to realize if you’re going to be playing for 50, 100, 200 people, you really don’t need a drumset to get your point across. It kind of ends up being a little off-putting to be playing with a huge band in a small room. It can be fun on certain nights but if you’re just trying to get yourself over to people it’s not that great.

I actually prefer it a lot now that I’ve done it, to the alternative. It’s a small group of people and you meet everybody, and I think they have a better experience than if they went to a rock club which can be very standoffish.

Yeah, there’s a kind of intimacy in a house show that you don’t get at another venue.

Yes, it’s a different thing. I think it’s something people will start doing more of. There’s starting to be a little network of it across the country, which is great.

It feels fresher, you’re not going to the same place that 500 other people just went through. You get to blaze your own trail. It takes a little more for everyone to be there, so everyone involved has more intention than just a Friday at the local indie rock place. I like it a lot better.

So  you have a performance coming up at KAABOO and some other tour dates as well. What’s next for you?

I just moved to Los Angeles so I’m trying to figure out what the hell to do with my life. [Laughs]. Yeah, so I’ve got to figure that out and from there I’ll see what happens next.

I’m going to put a more LA based band together, or something like that I think, just to start playing with locally and work with some folks out here. And just trying to enjoy California. It seems pretty damn great.

Keep up with Peter on Facebook and Twitter, and don’t miss him when he performs in your town!

 

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Get Lost in Indie Band Decker’s Emotional Psychedelic Folk

Decker Interview

Indie-folk group Decker is a band on the move. When I called guitarist and singer Brandon Decker for an interview, he was signing the paperwork for a brand new van for the band.

“I think it’s the nicest vehicle I’ve ever owned. It’s gonna be very nice to not have to worry about being stranded roadside.” Decker admitted.

And with their busy touring schedule, Decker needs reliable transportation now more than ever. I chatted with Decker about his musical roots, his prolific songwriting, and the Wu Tang references on his new album Patsy.

TL: How did you get started in music?

BD: My mom had great music taste and I grew up listening to vinyl records of Crosby Stills Nash and Young, Neil Young, Rolling Stones, Beach Boys and stuff like that. I liked rock and roll at a young age and I enjoyed singing.

So how it all came together for me is that I’ve always enjoyed emotively singing music and I also enjoyed writing, more so just words, like prose and poetry and short stories. I started playing guitar in my late teens, just covers.

I went through a really profoundly dark time in my mid-twenties, and when I came out of that I just wanted to write songs and I’ve been trying to write songs ever since.

You have written a lot of songs since then, in fact you have a few albums under your belt. What’s your process like when you’re creating an album and has it changed since you started out?

I’ve done five albums in the last six years, and I don’t know if I have a process. I don’t mean to sound mysterious or something. I feel like my songs really come out of the ether. I never know when it’s gonna happen.

I found that all my records tend to happen in these flurries. The pattern that I’ve gotten into is you make an album and it’s exhausting and all encompassing. You go and you tour it for some length of time. Then the touring ends and you just start writing another one.

All of a sudden I’ll have this set of songs and go, “this is it”, and start recording. I don’t know what’ll happen.

I’ve been going so hard for so long I haven’t been able to write lately. It’s really left-brain, right-brain. Being an artist of our stature which is so working-class and do it ourself, it requires a lot of right-brain functioning just to keep the wheels in motion.

But I’m looking forward to when this phase settles down for our most recent album that I feel really proud of and we worked really hard on, I’m looking forward to not worrying about that stuff and being musical and artistic again instead of working.

Yeah, you have to be a songwriter, a bandleader, a marketer, a business-person…

Oh I wear many hats!

Of all those hats, it’s clear to me that you’re a great songwriter, plus you have some wonderful musicians in your band with you as well. How do you choose the people you work with?

The number one requirement is that they have a pulse [laughs]. Kidding!

They have to be able to put up with me. I tend to be in my own world sometimes. Really sensitive artists don’t do well with me.

But I feel like I’ve got a very talented group of musicians playing with me and they’ve all been playing with me a few years, with the exception of one singer who just joined us.

My bass player is classically trained. The keyboard player and pianist is classically trained. She also teaches a ton of lessons and has her own studio. Same with my drummer, he is a percussionist and it’s his life, he teaches a lot (Ed. note: Decker’s drummer Henri B. teaches drums, guitar, and songwriting with TakeLessons in Phoenix).

I think it’s so many things, fate, destiny, and you wind up meeting these people. It’s just like how you don’t choose your family. When you’re playing in a band with people they end up kind of becoming your family.

So you have a new album, Patsy, out now, and a new video coming out soon. I’m hearing a lot of gospel, folk, and soul, but also some Wu Tang references? Can you talk about that a little bit?

I have this longtime friend and we always enjoyed our inside jokes, and definitely had a shared enthusiasm for ODB.

One of the first songs written on the record, one of the more gospel sounding songs, was inspired by all these people where I live talking about me that I didn’t even know, and I kinda started writing this song, and I don’t even know how the ODB thing happened. It just happened.

Obviously ODB is not a role model for life.

But I feel like there’s one thing about him, if you watch him, he didn’t give a shit about much of anything. He was just in his own world. I felt like paying tribute to how necessary that is for all of us aspiring to put ourselves out there whether it’s artistically or anything. It’s the way you have to learn to live.

I’ve seen your music described as psychedelic desert folk, and you live in Sedona which is a really special place. Are you really inspired by locations, nature, and where you live?

I think so. I love Sedona. I’m standing out in front of my house right now and I live under two mountains that I like to climb a lot, I live right by the trailheads.

When I moved here in 2008, I don’t think I would have considered myself so easily inspired by nature or anything, but I definitely believe that the lifestyle that is kind of fostered by living in this desert-mountain extremely unique place is.

I don’t know if I would say that it inspires me, but it’s fuel for my existence on a cellular level. I wouldn’t live anywhere else.

You’re about to head out on the road again. What are you going to be listening to on this tour?

I don’t know the answer to that. I put out a post on Facebook asking for recommendations and I got a lot of suggestions to check out. I just heard of this singer Angel Olsen, she has a record out called Burn Your Fire For No Witness and I guarantee that that will be happening on tour frequently. On our last tour the album of choice was Kendrick Lamar. We like to keep a good mix.

Don’t miss Decker when they come to your town! Follow them on Facebook, Twitter, or their website, and support independent artists.

 

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Photo by Matty Steinkamp

25 Ways to Break Free from Songwriters’ Block

Songwriting Tips- Songwriting Prompts for When You're Stuck

Every songwriter runs into writers’ block at some point in their career. To help you dig your way out of the dreaded doldrums of songwriters’ block, we put together 25 songwriting tips and prompts plus great songs to inspire you.

Check out these songwriting tips and find your muse today!

25-Ways-to-Break-Free-from-Songwriters'-Block

 

Bonus: Take the quiz to find out what you should write your next song about!

Write about your day.

Think your life is boring and you have nothing to say? Check out the lyrics to this Courtney Barnett song and think again. She starts “Small Poppies” by describing a yard and finds unique meaning in those every-day details.

Write about your favorite book.

You don’t need to have a degree in classic literature, and you don’t need to be an overtly bookish artist to pull this songwriting move off. For inspiration, look to Led Zeppelin. Their catalog is full of Lord of the Rings references, especially apparent in songs like “Ramble On”.

Literary references don’t have to stay on the page. Another great track that takes on this prompt is “Soma” by The Strokes. This song walks a line between referencing Brave New World and commenting on contemporary drug culture.

Write about someone from history.

No need to write a history lesson to follow this songwriting prompt. In her song, “Amelia”, Joni Mitchell drew on the amazing story of Amelia Earhart and combined it with a personal story to create a poignant and heartbreaking song.

Write a response to someone else’s song.

Got a song stuck in your head? Maybe you can write a response by taking on the subject of that song from a different point of view. For example, The Mamas & The Papas’ classic “California Dreamin'” is all about feeling restless and wanting to run away to California.

Wolf Parade’s 2008 song “California Dreamer” pulls imagery from The Mamas & The Papas original and tells the story of being left behind in the snow.

Write about something that makes you angry.

Odds are, the things that really grind your gears are super relatable. Tap into your anger and let it all out in a song.

Write about your favorite food.

Feeling hungry? Why not write an ode to your favorite food. “Grilled Cheese” by Cherry Glazerr is a fun and playful display of the band’s teenage attitude and garage-rock vibes.

Write a song with no chorus.

If you usually write songs with a predictable verse-chorus-verse-chorus structure, breaking out of that box can be great for your creativity. For song structure inspiration, check out “In the Aeroplane Over the Sea” by Neutral Milk Hotel, and their full album by the same name.

Use the chord progression from another song.

It’s okay to use the same chord progression as another song that already exists. There are hundreds of songs you can play using just a few chords. Experiment with some common chord progressions and feel free to put your own spin on it!

Write a song for your best friend.

Friends are some of the most special people in our lives, so why not honor your bond with your best bud in song? For inspiration, check out this song by The White Stripes.

Try writing in a different style than you’re used to.

Working in different styles is great way to avoid getting stuck as a songwriter. For example, check out this lovely acoustic song by drone-metal artist Chelsea Wolfe. On her album Unknown Rooms, Wolfe took a detour from her heavier, dronier electric material and wrote a beautiful album on acoustic guitar.

Write about your pet.

You can write a song about your pet without heading into childrens’ music territory. Pinback’s 2001 hit “Penelope” is actually about a pet goldfish.

Make your lyrics a conversation between two characters.

Thinking of a song as a conversation can open up tons of new songwriting possibilities. Even if you’re not as adventurous as David Bowie in his “Space Oddity” days, consider using dialog in your next song.

Write about your favorite holiday.

Holiday music doesn’t have to be sentimental or overly saccharine (unless that’s what you’re going for, of course). Take a cue from Misfits and write your own dark Halloween ballad, or be a trailblazer and write the first song ever about a more obscure holiday.

Write a sequel to one of your own songs.

Do you have a song that people seem to really love? Why not write part two! Ever since the 50s and 60s, pop artists have been following up hit singles with sequels, like Leslie Gore’s follow up to “It’s My Party And I’ll Cry If I Want To” entitled “Judy’s Turn To Cry”. Take that, Judy!

Write about someone in your family (you don’t have to tell them).

Family can be wonderful, horrible, comforting, difficult, or all of those things at once. There’s likely a lot of fodder for songs in your family story if you look. For inspiration, check out “Feet Asleep” by Thao, written about the singer’s relationship with her mother.

Write about your fondest memory.

Memories are a rich source of inspiration for many songwriters, so tap into your happiest memories to find your next song. Sylvan Esso’s Amelia Meath wrote “Come Down” about bathing with her cousins as a small child.

Write about something that scares you.

Fear is a powerful, primal emotion that we all experience. Whether you’re afraid of intimacy, loss, or monsters under the bed, your song about your fear is sure to resonate with many people.

Draw inspiration from your religion or spirituality.

If you’re a spiritual or religious person, you can absolutely find deep inspiration in your faith. Many of Leonard Cohen’s classic songs, such as “Hallelujah”, use religious imagery to illustrate personal stories and feelings.

Write about something in nature.

Get off  your computer, put down your phone, and write a song about something you see outside. Often, when you unplug, you’ll find inspiration is right there waiting for you.

Write about your daydreams.

Dreams and daydreams are great source material for songs! Don’t limit yourself to writing about the real world. You might even find themes from your dreams repeating throughout multiple songs, like Lorde’s frequent references to royalty in her work.

Write about something you regret.

We’ve all done things we’re not proud of or that we would rather not think about. Get in tune with your regrets and you’ll likely find something worth singing about. For inspiration, listen to “Cat’s in the Cradle”, one of the most well-known and haunting songs about regret.

Write about a social issue.

Do you have strong feelings about a social issue, like racial equality, LGBT rights, or feminism? Like Beyoncé, use your music to speak your mind and maybe even inspire change.

Write about the town where you grew up.

Evoke feelings of nostalgia by writing about the town where you grew up. How has it changed since you were young? What do you miss?

Write about the last time you cried.

You might not enjoy dwelling on pain or sadness, but there is something deeply satisfying about a well-written sad song. Check out this song by Angel Olsen for inspiration and try writing an emotional song of your own.

Write about someone or something that always makes you smile.

What makes you happiest? Whether it’s watching your favorite show, going to the beach, or just seeing that special someone, you can put that happiness into a song. The most important thing is to have fun!

For extra help or feedback with your songs, it’s always a great idea to work with a partner or private music teacher who can help you hear your songs in a new way.

What inspires you? Share the odd or interesting things that have sparked your songs in the comments below!

Learn more: Check out our step-by-step guide to songwriting!

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How Ukulele Artist Danielle Ate the Sandwich Built Her Music Career Online

Danielle Ate the Sandwich Interview

If you’ve spent any time checking out rising musicians on YouTube, you’ve probably seen Danielle Ate the Sandwich’s popular original songs or cover videos. Danielle is a uke-slinging singer-songwriter with a dash of comedy who touts inspirations like Paul Simon, Death Cab for Cutie, and Katy Perry.

I got the chance to talk with Danielle today about her musical upbringing, writing the songs for her new album The Drawing Back of Curtains, and her personal journey of growing up as an artist on the Internet.

TL: How did you get started in music?

DATS: I came from a musical family where we were encouraged and, um, forced in a way to take piano lessons and join the choir. I also always really loved writing stories and poetry and whatnot. As I got older, I kept it a secret, but I wrote songs. I think because my songs were a bit off the beaten path of the songs we were singing in choir and the songs I was learning in orchestra and band, I never shared them with people.

I was writing songs since I was ten years old, but I wasn’t sharing them with anyone because I was a very shy kiddo.

I really studied violin heavily in high school. I think my family wanted me to carry it on into college and become a famous violinist, if that’s possible. I feel like it’s even harder to be a famous violinist than it is to be a self-employed singer-songwriter.

But anyway, I dropped the violin and then when I went to college I started a band with some of my friends in school who also just happened to play instruments. We performed at open mic nights and I really loved it.

When college and life paths took them different ways, we kinda had to break up. I knew I wanted to do this more but I needed to do it on my own. I needed to share these songs that I’ve been writing, so I took a big step and started performing solo my handwritten songs, and eventually through playing open mic nights and booking small shows in Colorado, which is where I live, then posting videos of me performing these songs on YouTube, people started to hear them and catch on.

More and more opportunities came my way. A lot of things kind of happened on accident, and kind of came out of nowhere. I don’t know if it’s a story of magic, necessarily, but I had no idea I’d end up here.

TL: Let’s call it magic then! So, in terms of where you are now, I see you a lot with a ukulele. When did you get into playing the ukulele? 

DATS: My friend, who was also in my first band, had one at his house, and I picked it up and started noodling around on it. I really loved it, and he let me take it home and borrow it, and then I started writing songs on it.

When I found the ukulele, I knew it was an instrument but I didn’t know it was a thing, or that it would become a thing, I just thought, wow this is really cute, and it’s easy to play since I already had the foundation of playing guitar, and I liked what it was bringing out in me.

Then my friend gave me my own ukulele so he could have his back, and then kind of like a whirlwind before I knew it I had written an entire album of songs on the ukulele. A couple years later I started being invited to Uke-Fest, and now I really get it.

It took me a while to figure out that there was this community, not only that loves the ukulele and loves people who play it, but who wanted to learn about it and wanted to get together and play and jam. My career has actually kind of shifted from an indie singer-songwriter to more of a ukulele artist because the ukulele community is very supportive and they hire you to play concerts and to teach workshops.

The ukulele has been another big surprise, and it’s definitely my instrument of choice, the one I take out of the case first, and my favorite thing to sing with and write with.

TL: It’s funny how sometimes just going from one instrument to another can be all that you need to get a huge shot of inspiration.

DATS: I agree completely. Even playing a different ukulele that has a different tone can inspire a new set of songs. I feel that way with a lot of instruments. There should be an online rental system where every year they send you a new instrument to try and learn, and then if you take to it you can pay to own it, or you can send it back.

TL: Sort of like when you get DVDs in the mail from Netflix?

DATS: Yeah, Instrument-flix. They’ll send you a piano in the mail!

TL: That would be so great! So, switching gears a little, one of the things I really like about your videos and your songs is the way that you inject humor into your performances, but you’re also a really serious songwriter too. Is it a balance you have to find with those two aspects of yourself or is it very natural and organic for  you?

DATS: It’s natural until I start to think about it.

Whether that’s me in my own head or the voice of my fans and people who know me, and there’s also the voice of me as a woman growing up. I want to be taken seriously, should I still do this wacky stuff? It’s gotten harder to find the balance as I’ve grown up a little bit and become more successful.

When I first started, I wasn’t thinking about it enough. I should have probably been thinking about it more, but in my first YouTube videos I have wacky skits and then I play a sad song about a breakup or about death. I do really like to have seriousness and silliness, because it feels truly who I am as a person. I’ll talk about death and God for four hours, but I also want to watch Full House reruns and dress up in funny hats.

It’s funny though, when you hear that people like a part of what you’re doing, then you want to commit to always doing that, and then I start to think about it too much.

My new album is very mature and serious and there was a worrying voice in my head that said nobody’s going to like this, it’s too serious. But I’m growing up, artists change, people change, and hopefully we never lose who we are but it’s inevitable that we become a bit different.

TL: You mentioned your new album. The Drawing Back of Curtains was composed as the soundtrack to the HBO documentary Packed in a Trunk: The Lost Art of Edith Lake Wilkinson. How did you get involved in that project?

DATS: I have some friends in LA who are filmmakers. I met them several years ago when they found my songs on the Internet and we kept in touch.

We worked together a little bit when they used some of my previous songs in one of their films called The Bedwetter. I said, you can use these songs for free, and they said we’ll pay you back. And then this film came across their desk, they’re friends with a relative of the artist Edith Lake Wilkinson who’s the subject of the film. When they started to film, they got in touch with me and asked if I’d be interested in recording potentially the whole soundtrack.

I of course panicked because I have no idea how to do that, but they were very supportive and the perfect people to work with for a first time project where I felt very insecure.

So this project really came about because I was friends with wonderful people. It’s kind of all thanks to the Internet and the randomness of finding music and finding friends online.

TL: Was writing music for this film similar to your usual process? I get the sense that you like stories a lot in your songs, so was it helpful having a story kind of all ready to go for you?

DATS: When I went to dive in, I was thinking that I needed to go about it completely different. I was writing songs for a movie, I was writing songs for hire. There were people who I had to impress. And then there was this person, the artist who the movie’s about Edith Lake Wilkinson, and I needed to tell her story.

I really let that influence me negatively at the beginning. It almost stunted any progress that I could have made.

So I had to shake all that off and say, okay Danielle, what do you know how to do? You know how to write songs. You still have to put your own voice in it because they hired you because they like your voice.

And you have to think of this woman, Edith Lake Wilkinson, who I became very close to in a very supernatural way. I wanted to believe that she was surrounding me and that I was connecting to her.

So it was different, and it wasn’t at the same time. It needed to be similar to my previous process because that’s all that I know how to do. If you don’t know what to say for her, what would you say for yourself? I definitely still tried to tell her story, but I used my own voice and my own experience when I didn’t know exactly what to say for her.

It was kind of a wild experience. It was pretty arduous as it was going on. Now that it’s done I can look back and say, it’s easy. It’s easy to compose a soundtrack. There were ups and downs for me for sure. It was a wild process.

But I think that any project that’s challenging and that you’re passionate about is gonna have those moments of getting bit in the leg and taken down and pulled into the gutter, and then you gotta climb out for the moments of the glory. 

TL: Now on to the scariest question. What’s next on the horizon for you?

DATS: I don’t have specific plans. As a self-employed musician, you just kind of have to keep the balls rolling.

I’m going to continue to tour through the fall, tour the new album, and promote the new album. I’m trying to get together songs and the schedule to record a new album that will be solely my project, so I have that to look forward to and do.

Honestly, I’m coming to a really interesting point in my life. I’m a 29-year-old woman and I’m trying to find gratitude in every moment and be happy with exactly where I am. So there’s this balance I’m trying to find of working hard but also not trying to force it.

People ask me, are you going to get a record deal, are you going to open for big bands, are you going to audition for American Idol? And I’m just thinking that what I want is to make music, eat good food, relax, and make a living but also try to be a really happy and satisfied person. I don’t want to let potential success cloud the success that I have already. But that sounds like I could very easily become a couch potato, I don’t know, I just want to be happy.

TL: I get the sense that really doing your work makes you happy, just writing and singing and playing. Everything else is icing on the cake.

DATS: Absolutely. I think when you get busy with other stuff, like projects and record labels, you forget what you like about it which is writing and singing. The busier I am and the more impressive I look, the less time I have to do the stuff that I actually really enjoy, which is writing songs and telling stories. I love to perform, but it’s a very different thing than being alone and writing.

Don’t miss Danielle on tour, follow her on Facebook and Twitter, and subscribe to her YouTube channel for all her latest updates and new songs!

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Featured Photo by Jay Lee Photography

How to Get Gigs

Musicians’ Checklist: 23 Little Things That Will Help You Nail Your Next Gig

How to Get Gigs

Congrats on getting the big gig! Whether you’re preparing for your band’s first show or your album-release party, these tips will help you learn how to promote your band, make your best impression on stage, and get invited back to the venue to do it all again.

Musicians Checklist Gigging Tips

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At Least One Week Before

  • Put up posters around town. Don’t rely completely on social media and the Internet to promote your band. An eye-catching flyer or poster is another great way to grab attention and bring people out to your show.
  • Step up promotion on social media. Share and re-share your Facebook event and a digital image of your flyer or poster, and make sure you’ve invited all your local friends and followers.
  • Contact local bloggers, radio personalities, and alt weekly writers. If you can get a little media coverage for your gig, you’ll be able to reach new fans. Plus you can share the coverage you get on social media to keep your current fans engaged and excited. Look for people who specialize in covering local music or music in your genre to help you out.
  • Send an email to your local fans. Maybe you’ve noticed that it’s hard to reach all your fans on Facebook? For that reason, it’s a great idea to have an email list, as well. When you have a big show coming up, you can be sure your fans will get your email. The same can’t be said for your Facebook posts.
  • Confirm advance information with the venue. Make sure you know what time you need to set up, how long your set is, and the terms for payment have been agreed upon.

The Day Before

  • Double-check your gear. Do all your cables work? Do you need new strings? Better to take care of those things now than have an equipment issue on stage.
  • Pack your gig bag. I like to bring a bottle of water, a couple protein bars, a roll of duct tape, extra ear plugs, sharpies, spare guitar strings, a handful of guitar picks, a bottle of hand sanitizer, and a small notebook with me to each show. Pack your bag the day before to get it out of the way and reduce stress the day of the show.
  • Print or write copies of your set list. Don’t wing it on stage. Make sure you’ve planned your set and practiced it before your show.
  • Plan your outfit. Figure out what you want to wear and lay it out somewhere. Don’t add stress by scrambling to find the right stage look at the very last minute. If you’re in a band or ensemble, talk about what you’re going to wear with the group so you can present a cohesive image.
  • Get a good night’s sleep. You’ll perform better when you’re rested, and you’ll have more fun.

The Day Of

  • Banish your stagefright with a calming activity. Get into a good mindset by reading a book, meditating, exercising, or watching your favorite show. Figure out what calms you and helps you prepare to play like the rockstar you are.
  • Eat a light meal two to three hours before you perform. When you’re on stage, you don’t want to feel heavy and sleepy like you’ve just eaten five Thanksgiving dinners, but you also don’t want to get hungry and lightheaded. Have a healthy meal so you’ll be on top of your game.

At the Gig

  • Be there on time. Being punctual shows the venue that you respect their time, appreciate the opportunity you’ve been given to perform, and that you’re professional. Seriously, if you don’t follow any of these other tips, you must at least show up on time.
  • Always be polite and professional. Save your complaints about the crowd, venue, or other bands for the privacy of your rehearsal space. When you’re at the gig, be positive and kind. You never know who’s watching, and you want to make a great impression.
  • Say ‘hi’ to the sound person, and remember their name. The sound guy or gal is the person who has the biggest impact on how you’ll sound in the audience. Be nice to them, and always remember to thank them for the help.
  • Make friends with the other bands. Hang out and watch their sets, and they’ll want to stay for yours, too. If you’re lucky, the other bands will like you and offer you another great gig.
  • Don’t forget to bring merch. One of the best ways to make money at a gig is to have something for sale. Additionally, people will remember you better if they have something to take with them. Whether you’ve got stickers and CDs or vinyl records and t-shirts, don’t play a show without putting something on the merch table.
  • Always thank the venue, the fans, and the other bands during your set. Be gracious, and spread the love. Being likable will help you get further in your local music scene than just talent alone.
  • Have fun on stage!!! Enjoy your time in the spotlight. Your audience will feel the vibes and have a great time, too.

The Next Day

  • Post thank you’s on social media to your fans, the other bands, and the venue. Keep the good times rolling by thanking everyone again. They will notice and appreciate it.
  • Re-post the photos that your fans shared at the gig. If someone captured a really great live shot of you, show other people what they missed out on by sharing it. You can generate buzz for your next show by sharing how much fun your show was last night.
  • Update the upcoming gigs list on your website. Make sure your concert listings stay current by updating your site the next day. Or, if remembering to update your list is too hard, sign up for Songkick and their widget will update for you when the gig has passed. All you have to do is enter your performance dates, and Songkick will display them on your website, Facebook, SoundCloud, and other sites.

Once the gig has come and gone, remember that the most important thing is the music. Keep practicing and working on your craft, whether you have a show coming up or not. You can always improve musically, and you’ll likely find you get better with every gig you play. Rock on, and good luck!

 

Do you teach music lessons? Teaching music lessons is a great way for musicians to earn more on the side. Create a TakeLessons profile today to help you grow and manage your private teaching business!

Photo by Kmeron

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How Walk Off The Earth Got A Record Deal On YouTube

Walk Off the Earth Interview

From going viral on YouTube to touring the world, Walk Off The Earth has made an impressive mark on the music scene, and from the looks of it they are just getting started. Their album Sing It All Away will be released this month, and the band has been touring heavily in anticipation of this release.

Singer and guitarist Ryan Marshall gave us a call this week to talk about his inspirations, life on the road, and his complicated relationship with country music. 

How did you get started playing music? Was there anyone like a parent or teacher who really helped you along the way?

I come from a family where everyone has always played some sort of instrument. But for me in grade six, I started playing baritone, which is like a small tuba; some people call it a euphonium.

I had an amazing music teacher. I lived in a small town near Toronto and I had this teacher Sue Smith, who had been the trumpet in Canadian Brass. She actually came to my school and I started with her in grade six and then she came to my high school and continued teaching our class all the way through high school.

When you get a teacher like her it really changes the way you look at things and it makes you want to continue playing. I was the captain of the football team and the basketball team, and sometimes, when I was going to school anyway, the sports guys aren’t too keen on people playing in the jazz band or the concert band. But when you get the right teacher who explains things and helps you deal with peer pressure and all that junk, you can learn a lot.

Coming from that education, how did you form Walk Off The Earth?

I didn’t even start playing guitar until I was 20. I’m a really big Bob Dylan fan, so right away I did a lot of harmonica and guitar playing, and singing at the same time.

I hooked up with a couple of guys and we started a little reggae band that lasted a few years. When that band ended, I continued playing with my drummer, and we wanted to start recording a little two piece project.

He knew this guy Gianni who had his own studio, so we went there to record. Gianni started adding some bass and things into the stuff we were recording. We hadn’t even played a show yet and we didn’t have a bass player, so it just kind of turned into a three piece. We needed a name and Walk Off The Earth just kind of happened, and that was the beginning.

One thing that really stands out about Walk Off The Earth is your instrumentation and the really cool, kind of unusual choices that you make. Where do you get those ideas and what inspires you?

I think a lot of the inspiration comes from the different characters and influences that we have in the band. Having five people adding ideas and influences really allows us to use a lot of different instruments.

For Sarah and Gianni and I, it’s kinda like this: none of us are amazing guitar players and none of us are amazing ukulele players, or whatever it might be, but once you kind of understand the idea of the instrument, if you can shape a chord or something, as long as you have good rhythm you can get away with playing a couple songs on it here and there.

All of us are really interested in learning different instruments and finding things to add to the set. Sometimes it ends up being little kids instruments, and it’s fun to take something like that and say how can we sample it, or how can we record it. Then once you put it into a recording, you’re kinda stuck, and you have to figure out a way to do it live, so you end up bringing all these weird instruments live on stage.

Another thing that Walk Off The Earth is really famous for is that you “got a record deal on YouTube”. Was that something that you set out to do? What would your advice be to other artists who want to follow that same path?

We did the indie band thing, trying to get signed by a label in conventional ways, and it’s really tough. It finally got to a point where we all realized, we’re not going to get signed to a label, we’re going to have to do this on our own.

We had to find a way to reach a lot of people, and YouTube had just started up. Gianni said hey, why don’t we give this a shot? We put up some videos and all of a sudden we had 15,000 views on a video (editor’s note: that video now has over 160 million views). We’d never played to 15,000 people in our lives!

You also have to be lucky in the viral world. If people could figure out how to make a viral video, then everyone would. I don’t know what happens, something happens, and we got lucky with that one video.

We also had another 30 or 40 videos already on that channel, so when people saw the viral video, it wasn’t like a dog that was talking and all of a sudden there’s nothing else to watch. There was a whole catalog of songs, originals and covers, that people could watch next, and we noticed those all started blowing up at the same time.

That also was the thing that attracted the label. Labels want to see a body of work and a fanbase before they put money into a band these days. You have to develop your career yourself.

You’re currently on the road, and you’ve been out on tour for some weeks now. What are the best and worst things about being on the road?

I love playing for crowds. Honestly, the best feeling in the world for me is getting on stage and having people sing back songs to you that you wrote. To me, it’s the most rewarding feeling in the world. So that’s definitely the best. I have a family at home, and I have a little five-year-old, and I miss home when I’m away.

A couple of you in the band have families, and it’s got to be work sometimes to balance that with your careers as musicians. Recently, your bandmate Sarah even had an experience where she was asked to leave a flight because her toddler was fussy. How does that situation fit in with your overall experiences of balancing parenthood with being rockstars?

The Sarah situation was just insanity. I have no idea what the airline was thinking. I think that’s gonna get taken care of, and that aside, as far as balancing fatherhood and family when we’re on the road, it’s got its pros and cons.

For example, when we recorded our album it took us about three months, and we were at home in Burlington that whole time. So I was home for three months straight, every day. I could see my family every day. A lot of busy fathers are home every day but they work from 6 AM to 8 PM and their kids are in school and then they’re asleep. For me, I get to spend three months straight with my family and they see me whenever I want to see them, which is amazing.

But when you’re gone, you’re gone. When you’re on the road, you’re gone for months. Things like Facetime and Skype have really changed how we’re able to communicate with home. And you know, Sarah and Gianni, they’re both in the band, and they can travel with their son, and the second one coming along soon. I’ve brought my five-year-old Kingsley with me on a couple tours, not a bus tour, but a couple fly-ins, and it was really fun.

When you do get the chance to play music purely for fun, what do you like to practice and what do you like listening to?

I’m a big folk guy, I love listening to Tallest Man on Earth, a lot of Bon Iver. I listen to every type of music but I haven’t really gotten into any country yet. Everything else pretty much ends up on my phone. I have a pretty wide variety. When I’m playing, I usually just pick up my acoustic and I write a lot. I enjoy writing all different types of music. I will write a lot of country songs but I don’t really listen to country [laughs]. But I just love picking up my acoustic guitar and singing and doing singer-songwriter type stuff.

Is there anything musically that you hope to explore more in the future?

As a band, we really like trying to touch all aspects of the music world. On this album, we have a collaboration with Steve Aoki, which allowed us to kind of get into the EDM part of the music scene. We got to go and play with him at Ultra Music Fest in Miami. It was close to 200,000 people, and it’s a different scene for us, so it was great.

Our fans are such a large, eclectic group. We have three-year-olds at our shows, and last night we had an 89-year-old lady at our show. It really ranges and it’s really cool, and we’re able to collaborate with other artists that allow us to explore other types of music.

Don’t miss your chance to see Walk Off The Earth when they come to your town! Keep up with tour dates on their website, Facebook, or Twitter.

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Photo by Erin Blackwood