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11 bits of advice that every aspiring musician should know

22nd January 2020

The music industry can seem, frankly, like a bewildering and daunting world when you're starting out as an artist. We created the DOES MY MUSIC SUCK? podcast to help aspiring and upcoming musicians. In each episode you can hear from a different industry expert explaining how things work, giving real feedback on tracks uploaded to BBC Music Introducing and, most importantly, offering pretty invaluable advice!

If that sounds like your sort of thing, there are loads of episodes available for you to get stuck into (and if you want to keep on top of new episodes you can subscribe).

Below we've put together some of the most useful advice from the first series of the podcast. From general reassurance to quick hacks, these are eleven nuggets of wisdom that all artists should be aware of.

What is BBC Music Introducing?

Introducing is a platform committed to supporting unsigned, undiscovered and under the radar artists. It's an easy and free way for artists to have their tracks heard and potentially broadcast on the radio.

1. Sometimes you don’t need a label

(Toby L, Transgressive Records)

You should only go to a label if you want a partner to magnify or emotionally support you

Now is the very best time to be an artist, according to the Transgressive Records co-founder:

“You can control everything – from distributing your own music, to recording your own music at home, to gaining an audience via social media, to uploading your own videos via YouTube... We’re in a completely different era of the music industry.

“You should only go to a label if you want a partner to magnify or emotionally support you through what you want to do. The opportunities are only limited to those who see the limitations.”

Listen to the episode with Toby L

2. Make sure the stuff that you can manage is on point

(Darcus Beese, Island Records)

Don’t let them click on something and nothing be there

It sounds basic but have you invested enough time in your online presence? You don’t have to have a completely polished image on every streaming site and social media platform, but it pays to at least have something there. In the words of the Island Records president:

“Wherever people click on, what are they going to see? My preference might be Instagram, someone else’s preference might be YouTube. So don’t let them click on something and nothing be there.

“People wait for this perfect thing: ‘before I put a song out it’s got to be perfect’. No it’s not. You’ve just got to be excited to want to put it out and to get feedback to get better.”

Listen to the episode with Darcus Beese

3. Don’t have some Twitter handle that’s so obscure that not even your mum can remember what it is

(Emma Banks, Creative Artists Agency)

Simply put, make sure you are as easy to find on social media as possible.

Listen to the episode with Emma Banks

4. Start off with our Open Fund

(Vanessa Reed, New Music USA (& formerly PRS Foundation))

Start tapping into those organisations that are either in your region or in London

Incredibly, funding is available for artists at almost every point of their burgeoning careers.

“If you’re at a fairly early stage,” Vanessa says, “start tapping into those organisations that are either in your region or in London (like us, the PRS Foundation), and other development agencies who have got ways for artists to retain control for a bit longer.”

“The PRS Foundation’s Open Fund is up to £5,000. You don’t have to be at a tipping point at that stage. You just have to be able to explain why you need the money and what it’s going to help you achieve.”

Listen to the episode with Vanessa Reed

5. The only way to get good at live shows is to play live shows

(Toby L, Transgressive Records)

Everything’s on the brink of disaster and anything can happen

For most artists, sooner or later you’ll need to take the plunge into the wonderful world of live performances. Toby offers this advice:

“If you spend forever rehearsing and then no gigs, you’re not going to learn the beauty and the pain of playing live, which can often be totally out of your control.

“That’s what makes live shows magical because everything’s on the brink of disaster and anything can happen.”

Listen to the episode with Toby L

6. Make sure there’s something on the stage that says who you are

(Emma Banks, Creative Artists Agency)

We all have to make life really easy for people now

If you’re playing gigs, this is a very simple but effective trick. Don’t assume people automatically know who you are or that they will go out of their way to find out who you are. Emma explains:

“Sometimes you go to a gig and you might be the support band or in a four band bill and you hear something brilliant but obviously you can't Shazam it and there's nothing that says who it is. You either have to ask around and maybe someone knows. But if you're maybe quiet, shy and retiring like me you wouldn't do that. You may never know who the brilliant act was that you saw.

“I think we all have to make life really easy for people now.”

Listen to the episode with Emma Banks

7. Don’t gig in London on a weekend or a Friday when you’re starting out

(Emma Banks, Creative Artists Agency)

Why?

“People in the ‘industry’ don’t go out on the weekend.”

8. If you’ve got a brilliant chorus, get to it soon in the song and then repeat and repeat it

(Olga Fitzroy, Recording and Mix Engineer)

You need repetition, otherwise people forget it. People are stupid, they need repetition!

Olga Fitzroy has recorded and mixed for artists such as Coldplay, Muse, Foo Fighters and Adele, so it's safe to say she's probably got a pretty good ear for these things. In her view, repeating yourself is a valuable thing:

"You need repetition, otherwise people forget it. People are stupid, they need repetition!"

“If you’ve got something brilliant to tell them, then just keep telling them it”

Listen to the episode with Olga Fitzroy

9. Make sure you blow up in your own back garden

(Darcus Beese, Island Records)

Build up your own scene, build up your own story, build up your own audience
Toby L

Keeping it local to start with can be a very valuable approach. According to Darcus:

“People will go wherever there’s kids doing bits. If you’re doing bits and the noise on your street corner gets louder and then it goes to the rest of the postcode, then it goes out of the city, and then the noise grows - that’s what you should be doing.”

Or, as Toby L from Transgressive puts it:

“The best way to get label attention is to build up your own scene, build up your own story, build up your own audience.”

Listen to the episode with Darcus Beese

Listen to the episode with Toby L

10. If you like it, there’s a good chance someone else will like it

(Stuart Camp, Grumpy Old Management)

This as much a piece of motivation from Ed Sheeran's manager as it is advice. Almost all of the people interviewed in the podcast caution against getting hung up on what other artists are doing and how your music relates.

Headline: be true to yourself and what you’re passionate about. Which brings us onto…

Listen to the episode with Stuart Camp

11. When I hear someone’s singing voice, I need to believe what they’re singing

(Jamie Oborne, Dirty Hit)

I don’t want to hear songs about nothing

The 1975’s label boss explains how connecting musically with listeners can trump all other considerations:

“Sometimes I’ve really loved something, but I just don’t believe the singer. And other times I’ve had nothing but belief, and could be given the worst sounding production but just have total belief in someone’s presence”

“I’m looking to connect with something that’s honest and has purpose. I don’t want to hear songs about nothing.”

Listen to the episode with Jamie Oborne

Finally, a bonus bit of wisdom that's worth bearing in mind:

Life’s not easy

Great artists spend a lot of time getting their craft right
Toby L

(Darcus Beese, Islands Records)

Not necessarily the sexiest piece of advice, but an important one nonetheless. Positive results, unfortunately, do not come without hard graft. Or in other words (courtesy of Toby L):

“I can’t emphasise this enough: great artists spend a lot of time getting their craft right before we get involved.”

Success does not come overnight.

Listen to the episode with Darcus Beese

Listen to the episode with Toby L