10 Life Hacks for Skint Musicians
I’ve been in bands for nearly twenty years (I started very young) and I’ve worked, rehearsed and played on three continents.
That doesn’t qualify me for much in this life but I have picked up a few simple things that have made my life as a musician easier, and most importantly, cheaper!
Most of the time when you’re trying to make something happen with your music and your band there isn’t much money to go around. You’re usually reasonably young with a lot of demands on whatever money you have.
There’s lots of ways that you can stretch your resources to get the most out of them – you can save money on the things you need, you can cut deals, you can earn more and you can hustle.
I’ve scratched my head and come up with ten hacks that have made a difference to my life as a working musician and have helped me get the most out of my meagre funds.
It’s not a full list by any means and I’d love to hear your further ideas in the comments so that we can make this a really useful source of information for every skint musician.
1. Set Up Your Own Online Label for You and Your Friends
Who hasn’t dreamed of having their own record label?
I know – you can easily lose your shirt running a label. So, I’m not really talking about you setting out to build this great visionary label – although it could end up as that. I’m more talking about creating an identity and leveraging your scene to get a lot of music out there at a reduced cost – a modern self-help label if you like!
A lot of online digital aggregators (such as Ditto Music & NoiseHive) offer you the opportunity to release any music you choose online to hundreds of stores, all for a yearly fee rather than paying for a one-off release each time.
So why not club together with some friends on the scene, pay the initial fee and release, release, release.
I’ve released tons of music by myself and with my mates and it paid for itself after the first few singles.
Not only does this help all involved but you can start to build your own scene. That always helps you to get noticed and you could even end up with an in-demand label. Result!
Ditto offer a paid package (which I haven’t tried) called ‘Record Label in a Box‘ which they say gives you all the tools you need.
I’ve worked with Ditto and had good experiences so I think this would probably prove helpful, but, equally, you can get started with a bit of online research and some graft!
2. Buy Stuff In Bulk
Strings, picks, merch. You name it, the more you buy the cheaper it is.
Too obvious? – I don’t think so. It’s not just about saving money, but if you’re really smart you can buy your own supplies for your band and sell the rest on at a profit to other bands you know, or, even better, as merchandise.
From some eBay stores you can buy a 10 pack of guitar strings for the price of 4 packs from a shop?!
So, if you have a couple of guitarists in your band – do it now!
Not only cheaper than your average store but we had an endless supply of them with our logo on that we sold for a dollar each at shows.
3. Create Your Own Sleeve Artwork – Well
A band’s artwork is one of the most important factors when putting your music online, as a lot of potential fans DO judge a book by its cover.
A good thumbnail can be the difference between someone clicking that play button…or not.
Designers can be expensive and your mate with Photoshop can often let you down which is why I came up with the idea for our app.
If you need good, cheap artwork that you can create yourself there are some good on line options but (even though I’m obviously biased) there’s few ways that are easier than using TAD on your phone.
Get it and give it a whirl here – Get TAD
4. Make a Split Vinyl Release
If your band is playing gigs regularly (and you should be!), then you’re more than likely to be part of some kind of scene (even if that is just you and your mates’ bands).
Why not club together to release a split vinyl?
Two bands on a split 7′? Or even better / cheaper – four bands on a 12”?
There’s no denying that vinyl has had a massive resurgence in popularity and sales in the last few years. In doing this release to sell at shows you’re not only promoting yourself but also the other bands on the record – just as they are also doing for you at their shows! Spread the love!
There’s a lot of places you’ll be able to find to make your vinyl but Discmakers are a trusted source for many DIY bands and competitive.
Think about how this could work as a physical release strategy for your online label you set up in my first point – a whole local (or global but niche/genre based) scene working together to promote each other and make a little profit along the way.
I love the idea of a band in Australia splitting a 7″ with a band in the US and having them sold at local shows in each country when the bands have never met in person but come together through some kind of online meeting of the minds. Make it happen!
Here’s a great example of two Japanese bands getting together and doing exactly this and tying it in with the recent Record Store Day and some shows. They even managed to leverage it into some press (see my next point!).
5. Do Your Own Artist Publicity- Properly
There is nothing better than a good publicist, and nothing worse than a bad one.
However, both will set you back a lot of money and it’s always a gamble, so test the water first by doing your own publicity. At least you’ll find out whether press and blogs are at all responsive before shelling out.
It is really hard, time consuming work, but if you’re serious about your music then that shouldn’t be a problem, should it?
Make sure you delegate the tasks between your band mates and go hard on the internet looking for the people you want to reach. Check out Hype Machine, an online database of Music Blogs, for starters, but you can go a lot deeper and more niche to get started.
You can contact blogs the world over and share your music and story with them, but here’s a few tips:
Make sure you know what blog you’re writing to, and reference something you like about their blog;
DO NOT copy and paste a message – it’s so obvious and impersonal;
DO NOT attach MP3s or press releases – bloggers hate that, so have a nice Soundcloud link ready and downloadable.
There’s a lot more to it than that though!
Pretty much the best ‘step-by-step’ article I’ve ever read on this is on the blog of a professional PR firm, Sunshine Promotions.
It’s really detailed and is so good it’s been reposted on a lot of bigger DIY Music sites.
Well worth reading.
6. Record Yourself, But Get Someone Good to Mix
If you can’t afford the full weekend at Abbey Road with their in-house engineers (and not many can these days..) and you have to cut corners somewhere, then push your limited budget to the rear-end of the process.
A good mix engineer can do wonders as long as he has something not completely useless to work with.
That microphone you use for gigs/rehearsals (an SM58) is what they use in the ‘big boy’ studios to record guitars (well they use an SM57 but that is the same mic – you just have to take off the 58’s popfilter!).
You can do that at home, stick a room mic up too if you’re feeling really posh.
A good set of drum mics you can hire for $80 a day.
DI the bass – no-one mics them up anymore anyway.
A good friend of mine (and awesome artist), Adult Cinema follows this path as you can see with his self-built home studio below.
As long as you can play well, a good mixer can make you sound great, but if you spend all your money on an incredible recording and scrimp on the mix it’s going to sound like crap regardless.
We like the guys at MixButton who you can hire for a very reasonable rate, and they have plenty of great recording tips on their site too!
That said, our go to guy for recording and mixing advice is Graham Cochrane at The Recording Revolution . He has some paid training but also loads and loads of free stuff that will improve your recordings no matter what level you think your studio skills are at!
7. Use Online Mastering
Opinion is divided on this, as the purists will tell you (probably rightly) that there is no substitute for the human ear.
However, those purists may have a spare grand to spend on a master.
If you’ve spunked all your money on a great mix (as I just told you to) and have nothing in reserve, then you can use online mastering services such as LANDR for less than it costs for a pint.
I use it quite a lot and I think the results are pretty great.
Just make sure your mix engineer gives you a bounce with plenty of headroom (peaking at around -6db).
LANDR offer a free trial so don’t take my word for it – give it a go and see what you think of the results.
8. Share a Rehearsal Space
I shudder to think how much money myself and bands I’ve been in have given to unsanitary rehearsal rooms that don’t maintain their gear over the years.
Last year we came across a guy that had decked out a private rehearsal room for his band and asked if we wanted to share it with his group and a few others.
Secure lock-up, we all had keys, we all knew each other and we worked out a roster for who needed the room when.
It was like a breath of fresh air.
We could keep our gear set up and then just rock up and play. We had air conditioning (this is when I was living in Melbourne!) and parking and it was a fraction of the cost of rehearsing twice a week in a dive (and there was no loading in or out or setting up!).
So if there’s a few bands you know who all (hopefully) rehearse, try and find a place that works for all of you and pay the monthly rent.
When you do the maths you’ll be surprised how much you’ll save.
Ours didn’t look quite as fly as this space from Gem Studios in Birmingham (UK), but they recommend and offer this kind of facility and, if you’re lucky, you’ll be able to find a similar space in your area.
9. Set Aside Some Time for Boring Admin
Don’t skip this one!
This is something no-one really likes doing, but if you’re serious about your craft and sustaining a career then stop complaining about how there’s no money in the industry and file your taxes and fill in your live performance returns!
There’s money there – you just need to ask for it.
In fact, if that makes no sense to you, go and read this brilliant article from Sentric Music that explains how they collect royalties for their clients from them playing their own songs – even in tiny local gigs.
That’s clearly something you should do – it’s sort of money for nothing – just a bit of admin!
You should also be registering your band as a business and getting your tax code, depending on the rules and regulations in your country or state. This might give you some additional ability to apply for grants or tax breaks as well.
Keep ALL your receipts – musical instruments, rehearsal space costs, petrol to and from your gigs, that new pair of ripped jeans that makes you look like Kurt Cobain. Then at the end of the financial year you can claim that back against your earnings (band related AND others).
Join APRA/PRS (whatever relevant society for your territory) or a company like Sentric Music who will deal with it for you. There’s’ a similar set up with a company in the US called Song Trust.
Make sure you check in regularly and register all your compositions and collaborations. The agencies or companies will look after all your music globally and you never know, your new jam could be on rotation on a station in France and that could get you that new Jagstang you’ve been dreaming about.
10. Put Your Money Where You Can See It
How many times do you ‘umm’ and ‘aah’ over purchasing new gear?
“Well, we do reeeally need a new PA but that’s gonna cost about a grand, and no-one has that kind of money”.
Except, between the band you blew that much last weekend getting fucked up.
Admit it, you did.
I can’t preach about this – I’m the world’s worst, but if you can, TRY and invest your hard earned cash in something that’s going to benefit you and your career.
If it means all of you staying in one weekend, eating toast and watching a Star Wars marathon with the sound of Tie-fighters blasting through your slick new PA system is that really so bad? Is it?…
More Hacks for DIY Musicians
That’s my ten, but I’d love to have your feedback and other ideas on how every musician can save money and get a better result on any aspect of their career.
Drop them in the comments below and I’ll be there to join in.