I can’t tell you how many times we’ve heard independent artists say things like, “If I just had a (choose one: manager/booking agent/record deal/publishing deal), my career would really start moving!” The idea that you’re just one set of hands away from the big time can be comforting but it’s probably not true.
This mentality can be poisonous because it promotes the notion that you don’t have to do things for yourself.
Before you think you’re in a position where you should have a manager, a booking agent, a record deal or a publishing deal, you need to ask yourself if you’ve done everything you can on your own. If you want a booking agent to book your shows, have you been booking your own shows and selling tickets to prove to prospective agents that you can go out and generate money on the road? Keep in mind, these are business partnerships; if you don’t demonstrate that you can generate money, people are agreeing to work with you on blind faith. Does that happen? Absolutely, but it’s considerably easier to get an agent to work with you when you can show that you have the ability to sell tickets. If you want a manager to come on board, keep in mind that managing you will be their job.
If you look up the definition of “job,” it reads: A paid position of regular employment. If someone isn’t getting paid, they’re doing you a favor not doing their job.
You want to show people that working with you can be fulfilling both artistically and professionally. If you’re making records and showing that people are willing to consume the music you create, record labels and publishing companies will show up. You need to create the complete package; the records need to sound good, you need to be able to get on stage and play a show, your web presence needs to be well put together and look professional, and then you need to be able to get off stage and have a discussion so it sounds like you can be interviewed (which is often a bigger part of your job than anything else). When those things are in place, business people will show up; they find out about artists on the rise and seek them out (that’s part of their job).
Make enough noise and people will hear you.
Are there exceptions to this rule? Absolutely. Some people still get discovered before they’ve ever written an original song or sung a note on stage, but stories like that are becoming more and more infrequent as the industry shifts towards A&R that is based just as much (or more) on statistics as it is on whether your prospective business partners think that you’re good at making music. For most of you, if you want to be noticed, you’ll have to do a whole lot of work all by yourself. Build yourself a brand and promote it until you can’t possible take it any farther on your own.
Here’s another kicker -- when you finally land that manager/agent/publicist/etc, THE WORK ISN’T OVER FOR YOU.
Yes, they will be there to guide you and hopefully secure more opportunities for your career to expand, but that doesn’t mean it will be totally hands off for you. Remember that you are building out a team here. A team implies that you’re all pulling a heavy workload. Hopefully this eventually leads to you doing more of the music and less of the business, but especially at first, it’ll still be a lot of both while you’re building up your career. Think an agent can just route a tour without a second glance on your end? Think again! (or you’ll really wish you thought twice before saying yes to a tour you’ve never laid eyes on).
Bottom line: As you grow your project, odds are, the right people will find their way to you, and if not, just keep doing it yourself!