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Artist Advice Column: How To Build Your Team Pt. 2

Part 2 of our series on how to build the dream team that will help you sustain a long and successful career.
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To be a successful musician can seem impossible. You need great music, luck and a unstoppable work ethic. But to get to the top, you can’t do it alone. You will need a team of dedicated people who want you to succeed at the highest level. That team will be small to start and then grow as your career grows.

In part 1 we gave you the first few people who will likely join your team at the onset of your career. Now we will get into some more individuals who will make an appearance as you start to release more music, look for more sources of revenue and develop a stronger brand.

5. Distributor / Publisher:

If you have a label, they probably handle some or all of the distribution on your releases. Though if you are releasing on very small labels or self-releasing, then you will need to look into your own distribution because this will allow you to release your music into more markets and get onto more streaming / online download services.

Distribution can at times be complex when you get labels distributing to each other and territorial claims around the world, but publishing is where you need to do your homework. This is how you make money on your songwriting credits that are registered with a performance Rights Organization (PRO), which in the United States will likely be BMI, ASCAP or SoundExchange.

Without getting too heavily into the details of distribution and publishing (we could spend days on that), picking the right company for that is crucial. You can find one company that manages both distribution and publishing for you to make things easier. There are some pretty well established firms such as TuneCore, CD Baby, Symphonic or InGrooves.

However there are a lot of companies that just specialize in distribution to various streaming or digital marketplaces or help with publishing, to collect royalties from streams and digital or physical music sales.

So choosing one is key to getting your music heard and getting your money on time and correctly paid. Distributors will vary in their pricing pretty dramatically. Some will charge a percentage of each song sold, some will charge a flat fee and others will charge a mix. Choose what makes sense for you and what you can afford. If you are going to sell a lot, go with the flat fee, but if you aren’t moving too much at the moment, then a percentage may be smart.

You will hear horror stories about every distribution company, nobody is perfect, but ask around to your peers about what they use and check the pricing to see what makes sense for your music right now. You can always make a change as your career grows. Publishing is also the same. You can move your music to a different publishing house as well as they administer your rights. Publishers can specialize in terms of genre like country, hip-hop, dance or rock, or you can find more general publishers. Find the right group of people that you think you can work with and understand your discography. Don’t take this decision lightly since this will be very important in how you make money.

6. Sync Administrator:

This is how you will get your music on commercials, television shows, movies or other sort of major media placement. This has the opportunity to break an artist or revive a career. You probably know of the X Ambassadors because of their placement in a Jeep commercial. Jet “Are You Gonna Be My Girl” went on to be a hit in large part because it was in the first of the iconic Apple iPod commercials. Other acts like Phoenix, The Strokes, Matt & Kim, Kenny Logins and Huey Lewis and the News all had their careers propelled by commercials or films.

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Choosing a place where to get your music used for sync can be daunting. There are hundreds of sync houses in the United States, many of them very small with only a few employees since the margins are not large. Some only cater to orchestral music. Some ask artists to create original music for commercials, TV shows or movies that you hear as somewhat “background music.” You are scoring commercials or for smaller segments of a commercial or show, writing an instrumental jingle. Writing music for this style is not easy because it needs to be engaging, but not overwhelming. It needs to be easy to listen to and make the listener feel a greater attachment to what they are viewing. Use a company like SoStereo that can connect you with brands for these types of gigs.

But if someone is looking for a placement with a released song, say CBS wants a song for their NCAA March Madness broadcasts, then you will probably need a major label, or a well-connected sync house. However, for placements that aren’t getting played 100 times a day to millions of households, going with a sync house that gets songs indie films and TV shows off the major networks or on streaming services should be a good place to start. Licensing your music for syncs generates revenue and gives you good exposure. Find the right place that understands how to use your music wisely and believes in it. It will be worthwhile for your career.

7. Business Manager / Accountant:

At first you will be fighting for scraps and barely paying the bills. It may seem ludicrous to think you would ever need someone to handle your accounts, let alone a pile of cash. However, if you are a musician, your sources of income will come from a wide variety of different sources and possibly from different states or even countries. They all have different regulations and codes, so having someone to do that for you from the start will make sure you aren’t squaring off with the IRS and a headline for the wrong reasons. Pay your damn taxes. Picking an accountant doesn’t have to be too difficult. Choose one who has experience dealing with freelancers and understands your type of situation. Going to an H&R Block and asking the first person there may be ok, but you can probably do better. Find an experienced accounting professional in your area that knows how to file in multiple states. This will be invaluable.

Once you do get some money, if you can’t manage it yourself, having someone else do it will be helpful so you have some money for retirement or when the business forces you to (it happens). Going with family may seem like a good idea, but you know how money can tear families apart. If somebody approaches you with incredible, can’t miss investments that are “guaranteed” to grow your money with massive returns right off the bat, turn them away. Don’t be another person who gets scammed by an unscrupulous business manager. Ask some questions -- are they certified? Do they have your best interest in at heart or are they just trying to make some money off of you. Learn the basics of what they do so they can’t try and steam roll you with financial terms right off the bat.

8. Attorney:

An attorney is good have at every step of the way. The frequency at which you will need to use them depends on how busy you are, but having one ready is always good. Whenever you have a big contract to sign, have your attorney look it over to make sure all the language is correct.

Asking your friend who is a litigator to look over the odd contract may be helpful at the start if they can do it for free, but they shouldn’t be the person you rely on. You will need a good entertainment lawyer. The big cities are the main place to find one. Going to a big law firm will be expensive, so if you are really strapped for cash you can try something like Volunteer Lawyers for Arts (VLA) in New York, which offers pro-bono work for artists who can’t afford high-end lawyers. It is tough to get admitted though. Otherwise search for smaller firms in your area and go on a case-by-case basis, negotiate hard on rates and don’t be afraid to ask questions.

9. Tour Manager:

At the onset of your career, you probably won’t be able to afford a tour manager, but eventually once you are doing big tours with big production and a lot of different people involved, then one person managing the show will be needed. They will advance the show, making sure the sound is right, production looks good and everything with your hotels, rider, transportation is taken care of. You show up, play and leave. They will be the first one up and likely the last to sleep. They won’t be getting wasted and know how to deal with crisis situations every night.

Your manager will do some of this to start, but then when you need an official TM, start to do research on where to find one. There are companies that specialize in tour managing. If you have a label, they can put you in contact with one. Make sure your resumes match. If the TM is doing arena shows and you are doing 100 people cap venues -- that probably won’t work. This is your chance to find someone to grow with.

Now your team may expand even further from here as your develop relationships with brands, get stylists and consult with individuals who understand international markets better than anyone on your team. The scope of your operation will wax and wane depending on what you are doing at the time, but always know that having great people around you will give you the best chance to succeed. 

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