WEBSITES AND BRANDING
These days, most serious musicians are expected to have a website. Whether minimal or extensive, your website should introduce you to the public and offer excellent high resolution photos along with tools to learn about you and see/hear you in action. A website provides a crucial opportunity to curate your image as a musician. What do you want others to know and think about you? Consider crafting an experience for your audience based on your special niche, brand, personality, and style.
Fortunately, one no longer needs to understand HTML and coding to create a personal website. Instead, user-friendly website builders exist, such as Squarespace, Wix, Weebly, and WordPress, among others. These allow you to easily format pages and add media for little to no cost. It’s up to you to decide what to include, but common subpages may be About/Bio, Listen/Media, Calendar/Schedule, and Connect/Contact. Some musicians also include optional sections such as News, Reviews, Repertoire, Lessons, Blog, and links to items for purchase such as recordings or published scores.
Once you have a website, a few important steps can improve the site’s search engine optimization (SEO) so that it will be more easily found in online searches. You can help search engines understand (index) what your site represents by choosing/buying a good domain name, writing highly relevant text content, placing essential keywords in your page titles or descriptions, using links to other sites wisely, and including alternate descriptions to images and other media. For more information, see this helpful tutorial from Moz or refer to your web builder’s specialized SEO tip page.
Electronic Press Kits and Photos
In addition to a website, musicians who perform as featured artists or guests are frequently expected to share an electronic press kit (EPK) to be used for publicity. These promotional press kits are hosted within one’s website as well as in a downloadable PDF. EPKs are typically made up of the following:
A full bio and a condensed bio
Several high resolution photos
Images of album covers from recordings
Testimonials or quotes about you in the press
Link to your website
Videos or audio samples
Links to your professional social media
Contact information (to you or your PR manager)
Template for stage plots (for groups performing at festivals or managed venues)
It is essential to get a variety of images that represent you and your brand. High resolution images are ideal and should include a headshot, various portraits and full body shots with instrument, and action shots. Consider including a variety of options based on pose, facial expression, color palette/black and white, and orientation. Though it may not be used by other organizations, always include credit to your photographer.
If you are a gigging musician who will earn $400 or more in a year, give special attention to your records in order to alleviate any headaches at tax time. You will be expected to report on your income and deductions from performing, recording, and teaching in addition to any other positions with employers who provide a Form W-2. Freelance money can be earned directly or as an independently contracted musician and should be reported and taxed as self-employment. For example, a freelance musician may receive money directly from a bride and groom when performing for a wedding but may instead receive a check, followed by a 1099-MISC statement, as a contracted musician for a school musical. Both of these would be reported as self-employment income on a Schedule C (Form 1040).
Tax returns are due by April 15th most years. In preparation for this as a self-employed musician, you should keep clear records of when you worked and/or performed as an independent or contracted musician, the amounts earned, and other expenses such as travel costs and distances, parking, tolls, taxi or shuttle costs, advertising and publicity costs, business card expenses, equipment purchases, insurance, computer supplies for your business, union dues, accompanist fees, legal fees, management fees, business phone expenses, postage, and more. Many new freelance musicians only report on their earnings, but it is wise to deduct expenses as these directly reduce your tax liability. Without deductions, most musicians can expect to pay in anywhere from 10-30+% of their earnings in taxes. Some smart musicians will pay their self-employment taxes quarterly. This helps to avoid any large surprises at tax time.
Taxes can seem complicated at first, but there are many resources and professionals to help you out. A good professional tax preparer at a tax agency can walk you through the necessary steps and ask for appropriate documents. For more information, see the IRS self-employed tax information and sites that break down these ideas like StartupMusician. Start keeping good records, speak with other professionals, and keep the income incoming!
Serious musicians who perform frequently should give strong consideration to joining the local musicians’ union. Also known as musician associations, these organizations are in place to protect and support musicians primarily by setting fair expectations for wage scales in music based on time spent in rehearsals and performances, as well as working conditions and other contract details. As a collective bargaining unit, unions ensure that all members will be given fair baseline pay from those employing them. Unions work best if most musicians are committed to joining, which will keep pay rates and expectations fair for community engagements.
If you are currently an Eastman student, your decision to join the local musician’s union will depend heavily on your level of engagement as a gigging professional. One aim of musicians’ unions is to limit instances of undercutting by other musicians or employers. However, undergraduates who are not yet fully established in performance careers might not wish to limit the gigs they can accept based upon minimum base rates. While it is not ideal, this choice is typical for amateur musicians. Graduate students, however, will find benefits in both directions. Because the union is made up of professional musicians, your union membership will provide you with a straight-forward, established reason when asking for higher rates from clients. Without union membership, you have no obligation to pass up low-paying gigs, but you may not qualify for some high-level work in orchestras or musical theatre. If you accept a gig that doesn’t meet union standards, you play a role in preserving a local culture of low-paying gigs and may be viewed as an amateur, despite your high level of training.
To determine which option is best for you, speak with your studio teacher and local union members. For more information about membership benefits such as insurance discounts, see details from Rochester Local #66 or the American Federation of Musician—a national organization that unites over 200 local unions and publishes the journal International Musician.
As a professional or aspiring musician, it is crucial to insure your valuable instrument(s) in the case of loss, theft, or damage. Without it, how could you continue to perform or teach? It is generally advised to insure anything worth $5000 or more, which can include multiple items added together. For example, a violinist may own a violin, several bows, and a second instrument such as a piano or viola; these could all be insured under one plan. Policies differ among companies, so it is a good idea to research your options based upon your needs and your budget. A simple option for students is to add instrument coverage to your rental insurance for a small premium/percentage of the cost. This would also cover your instrument in the case of theft from your place of residence and potentially from your vehicle. However, there are also companies which offer stand-alone instrument insurance. These are especially appealing to classical instrumentalists who may wish for more comprehensive coverage and lower deductibles. If you intend to travel with your instrument, check with your insurer about worldwide coverage.
It is not uncommon for musicians who frequently play in corporate venues or who give lessons in-home to carry personal liability insurance. Liability insurance protects you in the case of bodily injury to others or property damage by covering you if sued or held responsible for damages (for example, an amp starts on fire and burns the nearby wall and socket, somebody falls on your slippery front steps and is hurt). Liability insurance is especially common for frequently gigging musicians such as wedding bands who perform several times a month in professional venues with large crowds of people and considerable equipment. Rates vary widely by companies, depending on the amount of coverage one chooses. Some companies also offer one-day policies for special events, which may run a bit cheaper than the typical one-year policy.
Because there is no limit to one’s liability if self-employed (sole proprietorship), one’s personal wealth and assets may be possessed in a worst-case scenario. Because of this, some very active music professionals opt to form limited liability companies (LLC) or become incorporated (Inc.), thereby limiting what may be counted against them in cases of liability.
Artist Management and Agents
While an agent primarily works on your behalf to secure performance opportunities, a manager is in charge of that and much more: coordinating the detailed behind-the-scenes work, corresponding with venues, managing schedules, PR, and finances. Good managers also work with you to develop your professional image, promote you, and pursue additional performance opportunities. Both agents and managers will rely on their network of connections and understanding of the music scene to get you gigs to advance your career. This can include securing recitals or concerts in exciting venues, planning featured performances with established ensembles, getting appearances in music festivals, planning concert tours, and working with labels to arrange recording projects.
Managers and agents are paid through a percentage of each of their musicians’ earnings from the results of their efforts and, in some cases, a base rate per contract year. The defining line between these roles is blurred when higher level music managers work for management agencies. While some musicians simply hire a friend or acquaintance to manage their business dealings, a professional artist/talent manager is more difficult to attain and needs to be motivated to sign you based on your talent and potential. To join a management roster, you should already be successful at promoting yourself, landing gigs, and attracting an audience. Many classical musicians attract music management options as the result of winning significant competitions while jazz and pop artists demonstrate professionalism through involvement in high level performances or studio recordings.