10 Innovative Indie Musician Ideas - dummies

By Jeff Strong

The Internet and digital music formats have opened countless doors for enterprising musicians. Here are ten innovative ways indie musicians and recordists have capitalized on the new technology in making and promoting their music:

  • Crowdfunding: Crowdfunding allows you to raise money from your fans to fund a CD, tour, or other creative project. You offer your fans benefits in the form of postcards, CDs, T-shirts, concert tickets, and other merchandise, and in some cases house concerts, or other opportunities for personal interaction with you or your band. Crowdfunding is done through websites such as Indiegogo, Kickstarter, PledgeMusic, RocketHub, and Sellaband.

    Fewer than half of crowdfunding campaigns are successful. In fact, for some platforms the success rate is as low as 10 percent. In order to maximize your chance of success, learn as much as you can about running a crowdfunding campaign before you begin.

  • Going vintage: Well, the people at The 78 Project are using a 1930s Presto direct-to-acetate disc recorder to record acoustic music. The Presto recorder basically carves a vinyl record live and The 78 Project has been travelling the United States recording a variety of artists performing old-time tunes. The sound of the recording adds to the feel of the music and takes you back in time.

    Sometimes using older gear can enhance your style. Even a lo-fi mic can make a huge impact on your sound for not much money. You can find old gear at antique shops and on eBay. If you’re really hardcore, check out the finds at Vintage King Audio.

  • Recording in the field: A variety of artists have used field recordings to add a little something extra, or at least different, to their music. For example, the Danish band Efterklang records tracks in the field to use in their songs. Some are just samples, like a rusted water tank played like a bell, and others are complete instruments in unusual places. One of their CDs, Piramida, was recorded in the town of the same name located in the far reaches of Russia using what was considered the world’s northernmost piano. Consider getting out and recording in places that complement or add a counterpoint to your music.

  • Creating compelling packages: Like him or not, Jack White (from the White Stripes) has a knack for engaging his fans. His Third Man Records has a quarterly subscription service, the Vault, which offers unique recordings that aren’t available elsewhere. Every three months, you get a selection of music on a 12-inch record, a 7-inch record, and some bonus item like a specialty postcard. Subscriptions are $60 and are prepaid, which means that Third Man Records is able to know exactly how many to produce and receives the money beforehand to do so. This concept is good for the label because it can afford to release music that may not have a huge audience and it’s good for the fans because they get music that they may not have found on their own.

    You may not have the fan base to offer a subscription service like Jack White’s, but you can package your CD with a T-shirt or coffee mug or offer some other unusual combination that will get your fans engaged.

  • Performing spontaneously: Musicians have been performing on the street for years. But with video and YouTube, any performance can be leveraged to enhance the awareness of your music. Spontaneous performances (also called flash performances) can get people talking. There are hundreds of examples of spontaneous, sometimes improvised performances to give you an idea of what you could create. In addition to YouTube, check out Field Recordings (NPR) and La Blogotheque.

  • Personalizing your music: Brian Eno has taken his basic musical approach—ambient soundscapes—and morphed them into interactive apps. Even if you don’t have the technical chops (or money to hire them), you can still find ways to make your music more personal. See what type of personalized touches other bands are including in the benefits they offer on crowdfunding platforms. You’ll find dinner with the band, custom-written songs, voice or instrument lessons, and countless other ways to get more personal with fans.

  • Making house calls: House concerts are where you play at someone’s house, and not necessarily the house of someone you know. House concerts aren’t huge moneymakers, but you usually make a few bucks (say, $10 per person attending) and sometimes a meal and a place to stay. Typically, house concerts are organized by fans and allow you to fill in off days while touring.

    The idea of house concerts has been around for a while and, because there is a growing interest in hosting and playing at them, there are quite a few resources to help you book them:

  • Being social: Facebook, Twitter, or whatever social media platforms are trendy today are considered essential for the indie musician to gain exposure and connect with their fans (heck, even artists on the major labels need to be on social media). These platforms are great for people who like to engage at the most basic level, but they only work if you stay active and offer something relevant and engaging to your fans.

  • Documenting your process: People love to go behind the scenes. They want to learn more about the artists they enjoy. This is why social media is so popular and why the most followed people on Facebook and Twitter are musicians. Being involved with social media platforms is important for most artists, but you can go the extra mile and document your process. Blogging and blogging (video blogging) can allow you to build your brand while becoming more human to your fans.

    You can craft a more in-depth and nuanced story with blogs and vlogs than you can with social media. Social media is for short updates, whereas blogging and vlogging are for telling a story.

  • Becoming a video star: There are tons of stories of musicians who became stars based on videos they posted on YouTube. In fact, there are so many success stories that some experts say that every musician should have his or her own YouTube channel. YouTube is, by far, the most popular site for hosting music. If you only make your music available in one place online, this is the place to do it. The videos you post don’t need to be elaborate, but your videos have the potential to be rewarded with exposure and possibly money as people discover your music.

    You can learn how to put your music on YouTube by looking for tutorials on, you guessed it, YouTube. Search YouTube for “put your music on YouTube” and you’ll have plenty of advice.