If you’re in high school and have the dream of being a singer, rapper or musical artist of any sort, this article is for you. The business can be expensive, but here are six things you shouldn’t waste your money on while taking the first steps towards your goal of having a music career.
All through my high school, I was working towards being a singer-songwriter. I turned those dreams into a music blog where I talk to young artists such as yourself about business and marketing, so you can be as successful as possible. Grab some popcorn, and pretend I’m your cool older brother, giving you advice learnt from experience.
Money Waste #1 Top-Of-The-Line Instruments + Gear
My first acoustic guitar, which I played all through secondary, was a no-name plywood thing that didn’t plug in. I bought my first electric guitar at a garage sale. I’m not saying this to make myself a pity case, but rather to show that you can be perfectly happy and functional without a $3,000 instrument.
I understand that some of you reading this are fortunate enough to have been given a Taylor or a fancy amp as gifts, and that’s great! I’m happy for you. Just know that unless you’re planning on busking in large indoor markets, an acoustic guitar amp isn’t necessary, as most venues have PA systems you can plug into and they 100% have microphones. If you’re currently practicing in your bedroom, you don’t need the largest electric guitar amp the store sells either.
Once you know this passion is one you’re sticking with for life, and are making actual money from music, go out and get a nice instrument.
Money Waste #2 Expensive Photoshoots
Don’t get me wrong; you still need consistent, good quality images across all your social media platforms; but paying top-dollar for a professional wedding photographer to snap pictures of you all afternoon isn’t necessary. You’re a teenager! Your style will change!
Don’t believe me? Think back to exactly one year ago, what you dressed like. Did you just cringe? I rest my case.
Instead, I bet you have a friend who just loves snapping and editing pictures and would be more than happy to work with you. Go take some pictures against brick walls, in forests, by the lake, anywhere you won’t get other people or brand logos in the background.
This is exactly what I did for my first releases: text my classmates with DSLR cameras, and ask them for their rates. Chances are, their prices are much lower than the hourly fee + individual shots cost of a pro studio, where the photographer has to pay rent and groceries.
Once you get established enough and have a clearer brand, go out of your way to hire the best professional photographer who makes you feel comfortable in front of the camera. Who knows, it might even be that shy friend whom you believed in while in school.
Money Waste #3 A Website Not Owned 100%
Yes, you need an official website. You don’t need anything too fancy; a mailing list sign up, your official bio, a contact form and links to your socials is perfectly acceptable. If you’re not tech savvy, it can be tempting to go for a drag-and-drop style free interface, and then pay monthly for the business/premium plan. Don’t. Especially if your fans are around your age, they know how to use social media, so your website won’t be the hottest attraction. When I was a musician, I found the biggest money-drain was $20 every month for my website that had very few visitors.
When I started this blog, I figured out how to do it the right way: self hosting with WordPress for approximately $3 a month. There are two version of WordPress. The dot com version which starts free and then you pay for their business plan, and the professional dot org, where you own the ground it stands on, and then use WordPress as an interface. I bought the hosting (the bare land) from Bluehost, but there are other providers out there. Depending on how common the URL you want is (I recommend using your name), you might have to buy it off someone who has already claimed it, but isn’t using it (a domain squatter, basically). www.popofcolourmusic.com was free for me, but a singer friend of mine who shares the same name as a character on a TV show was asked $1,000, so she found another version of the URL and didn’t pay for that.
Another thing to note is that while it may be tempting to hand over everything to a website designer, this gets costly too. You’re young and good at learning, you can figure it out by yourself. Granting your parents (whose credit card you might need to purchase web hosting) the username and password is a great idea if they’re supportive and actively involved in your budding career, but never completely relinquish access to your own website.
Money Waste #4 Fake Followers
All teenagers want to be liked. Some want to be popular. Some will even take it to the extreme, hoping to find joy and friends by buying them.
There’s a scene in A Cinderella Story (the early 2000s teen movie starring Hilary Duff) where the high school Queen Bee fakes nice to the two stepsisters in the hallway, then quietly asks her entourage “remind me why we tolerate them again?” to which the reply is “because they got you a designer bag for your birthday.”
The marketing equivalent to this scene is artists or companies who buy fake followers. There’s no point! Instead of building connections with fans who will then spend money on your eventual recorded music and merchandise, you’re losing money by subscribing to fake follower programs just to make you look good. Just don’t.
Money Waste #5 Big Studio Time
When I was in grade 12, I started to teach myself audio engineering with some recording equipment I bought using money from a summer job. These demos became my audition tapes, which led the way to a spot in college for Music Business. Honestly, I think that as a singer-songwriter-instrumentalist, teaching yourself how to record demos is the best thing you can do.
Now that I’m older, wiser, and on the business side of the music industry, it hurts me to think of young artists working crappy part-time jobs while in school to pay for recording time in a big city studio… before they’ve built a fanbase.
If you have a label paying for the recording time and the marketing, that’s one thing. But as an unsigned singer to rapper paying from your own pocket, you need to know that there will be a return on your investment, AKA fans who will buy this thing when it’s released. Spend your time building up a fanbase online and connecting with these people. Let them come with you on the journey and be part of the team when you finally release that EP.
One word of note: You might find yourself tempted to seek out the cheapest recording studio instead. Don’t. 16-year-old me thinking this way led to a recording session at a strange man’s apartment in a shady part of town. Looking back, I wish someone had told me about this sooner.
Money Waste #6 Traditional Advertising
If your fans are around your age, they cruise down the sidewalk staring down at their smartphones, not looking at posters on telephone polls. In today’s society, we tune out traditional advertising: we change the station when radio ads start playing and turn the volume down on the TV during commercial break. You don’t need to worry about having a shiny ad campaign. You do need to build relationships with super fans, which can be done for free with social media and word of mouth promotion. When it comes to advertising, stick to the free soapbox that social media offers.
In summary (please tell me this has enough words, like an essay), you are about to embark on the journey of having a career in the music world. Spend your money wisely, and get ready for the time of your life.