By Tony Hinds
Making the leap from the garage to the main stage can be a tricky move for any aspiring musician or band. Pushing beyond the weekend warrior phase is not easy, achieving that moment where you can ditch your day job for a life in music. However, it's undeniably attainable, if you can make the plan work for you.
On the occasion of Manitoba Music's DIY Series workshop on Strategic Planning in April, we sat down with Coalition Music's Liam Killeen, manager of USS, The Proud Sons, and Faber Drive, and former drummer for Not By Choice. During our chat, Killeen outlined three key steps to forming a strategic plan for touring, releasing an album, or even your band's overall five-year plan. Let's face it. You wouldn't start any other type of business without a business plan, would you?
1. Define success.
In order to map out a business plan, it's essential for you -- and your fellow band members, if you have them -- to decide what you hope to gain from your hard work and artistic output. You need to treat your art as a business, setting realistically attainable goals, and figuring out how you can achieve them. Even if it's as simple as deciding that you hope to make X amount of money and play for X amount of people per year, you can begin to map your path to achieving this goal.
"It's not a question of the level of success, it's about knowing what success means to you," Killeen says. "This is what you want to do for a living, but you're starting at zero."
2. "Don't put material into the world until it's absolutely ready."
Many artists can feel overly enthusiastic after the recording process, putting them in the position of releasing unfinished work into the world, perhaps a little too early. How often have you heard: 'This is the demo version. The completed version will be way better.' Unless that person is looking for feedback long before a release, they could be making a glaring mistake. Just because a professionally sounding record can be created from the comfort of your own laptop does not mean it's necessarily ready to compete with the rest of the market. In these cases, musicians should seek out feedback from their peers, keeping the material private until they're sure it's their best work.
"There are no minor leagues in music," Killeen says. "Anything you put out into the world competes with everything that has ever been released, ever."
3. Start researching. Get creative.
It can be helpful at this point to look at yourself compared to other established artists with similar creative aspirations. With some research, their trajectory to success can be mapped out, if not necessarily replicated every time. It's wise to pick and choose the parts of those plans that make sense for you, creating your own map to success. If you're studying interviews in major media with successful musicians, it's crucial to keep in mind that there are no interviews with the band whose song failed to attain radio play. Remember, those interviews only exist because they're already successful artists. But how they got there can be important and interesting to learn.
"There is no clearly defined path to success for musicians," Killeen says. "Everyone's story is different, and that's actually pretty inspiring."