If I Were a DIY Artist Today, This is How I’d Spend My Money

First, you’ve got to figure out some source(s) of money.  Since this likely means your own pocket(s) to start, you need to work out a band agreement.  It doesn’t have to be complex, but should cover basic stuff like: what’s the band name, who owns it, who owns the songs, how much money does everyone contribute, how will everyone be paid when there is revenue, how do decisions get made, and how to people leave and join the group.

Once you’ve got those details nailed down, you can start putting money in the kitty. Let’s start a list of things you’ll need to spend on, and then we’ll talk about how much, when, and how.

CLOTHES

You should expect to spend some money on wardrobe. Unless you’re Bruce Springsteen you should not expect to walk on stage wearing street clothes (yawn). Figuring out what your band is all about and how to represent it visually is a large part of developing your act.  You need to figure out the message and spend time and money to make that apparent on stage.

PHOTOS

You can’t take useful and meaningful photos until AFTER you define the band’s message and visual representation.  However, after you do have those things in order, you’ll need killer photos.  They’re really the first line of your marketing efforts, so they’re crucial.  Make sure you work with someone who really gets your image and message.  They should be able to suggest locations and themes that support your message.  If not, find someone else.  Also, be sure you like the style of their previous work; obviously, their artistic style will influence your outcome. Please, please, please don’t be another un-smiling band leaning on a brick wall. [Editor’s note – or on abandoned train tracks. Sigh.]

RELATED: 3 Important Things Bands Need to Know About Music Photography

WEBSITE

It’s all too easy to focus on social media (which you do need to do), but all social media should point potential fans back to your web site.  This is where you have the best opportunity to present your image, message, and music to listeners and hook them into being fans.  It’s the best opportunity to promote your gigs, and to sell your merch. Your web site should be engaging and fun, and not simply an information source.  Give the audience a reason to stay and poke around.  Give them reasons to come back often!

Notice a logical progression of ideas and tasks here.  Also notice that I haven’t, yet, mentioned recording. Ideally you’ll start to multi-task about now, once the message, image and photos are done.  Hopefully, somewhere in this process, along with continuing to play and refine gigs, you meet someone like myself who can guide your growth both in marketing and musicality. It’s about now that you should be thinking about recording a short project.  If you’ve been reading my previous Performer articles, you know that I’m big on small projects for bands in the early stages.  This is the Fan Acquisition stage, and the name of the game is giving your material to anyone who’ll listen. As I’ve said before, you want a product that is killer and undeniable, but also doesn’t cost you so much that you hesitate to give it away.  Since quality is paramount, and relatively expensive, you compromise by doing short projects (1-2 songs). Since you’re hoping to convert fans, whetting their appetite is all that’s needed.

STAGE SHOW

When you’re playing dive bars and hipster clubs, it’s terribly difficult to get decent sound, and lights are a joke.  But these are crucial details overlooked by most bands.  Don’t be that band. Learn how to play and sing under adversity (assume there’ll be no monitor mix).  Figure out some easy and quick lighting or props that help you command the stage and attract and hold an audience’s attention. It doesn’t have to be elaborate to work. In fact, cheap, light TVs make great effects

TRANSPORTATION

While you’re doing local shows, everyone can get there on their own.  If you’re doing your job well, however, you’ll soon want to, and need to, get out of town. Touring is the life-blood of fan acquisition. Remember your friends aren’t your fans, they’re friends.  There’s only so many times they’ll come see you play.  Fans are people who love your band, not you personally. Those are the people who will come out and who will buy your stuff. Plan ahead so that you can take the band, the gear, and the stage show on the road

COSTS

So, what does all this cost?  Well, the answer to that depends on your stage of development and how you’ll allocate your funds.  For example, your first web site will likely cost less than your second.  Many of the items I’ve mentioned above are not “one and done” but rather a cycle of doing it now and re-doing it later as things change and more revenue becomes available.

Here’s a quick break down:  I’d allocate $500 per band member toward wardrobe.  Incidentally, you cannot write this off on your taxes unless you can prove that the items have no daily wear value.  So, tuxedos, no, clown suit maybe.  I’d expect about $750 for photos.  Websites are easy to make, and hard to do well.  Unless you or a friend is a whiz at coding, I’d expect $2000 for a basic but engaging site.  Do your homework well when looking for a designer/coder. Try not to be too cookie-cutter, but expect some of that in this price range. This is a major area that’ll be revised as your act grows. [Editor’s note – if you’re on a budget, try installing WordPress with your hosting company and finding pre-made themes for less money to start.]

Recording is going to cost, because you can’t afford to skimp on quality.  For a top quality, studio-produced project including arranging, recording, editing, overdubs, mixing, and mastering, think $5,000.  Sure, you can do it for much less in your basement, or with the guy down the block, but it’s your career on the line here. 

[Editor’s note – we actually big advocates for home recording, read more of our home recording guides and tips here.]

Your stage show is a huge variable.  I’d aim to spend $1,000 out of the gate, knowing that you won’t have much time to do set up, etc., but also knowing that it really will give you a competitive advantage.  Stage shows can, of course, get really fancy and cost up to millions of dollars, so the name of the game is finding venue-appropriate, flexible ideas early on, and developing them further as your progress. Transportation is probably someone’s car or SUV with a trailer attached.  You can rent the trailer at first, but eventually if things go well, you’ll want to buy one.  They’re about $2,500 used.

So all told, perhaps over your first year of serious growth, you’re looking at just under $10k. I’m sure that number seems daunting and unachievable.  Remember, you don’t have to have that money on day one.  You grow into it, and keep going. But, it’s helpful to have a plan and to know what that plan is going to cost.  Somewhere toward the end of that year (or maybe it’s two) you’ll want to start planning a second record (that should probably be similar in quality and scope to the first) and larger tours.  Now, however, you have a fan base that you can count on.

ANOUT THE AUTHOR

Award winning mix engineer and producer Jordan Tishler runs Digital Bear Entertainment in Boston MA. The SSL console and racks upon racks of analogue outboard gear, tape machine, and gazillions of instruments helps Tishler meet the expectations of artists including B Spears, JLo, Iggy A, MOTi, Justin Prime, SIA, and London Grammar. Contact me about producing your next record, or mixing the one you’re working on now!  For more info, visit www.digitalbear.com.

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