While a traditional industry model would have relied on getting a record deal first and them have them provide you with the people necessary to launching your music career, such is no longer the case. That said, when hiring people as a DIY artist, it's a tricky game of choosing the right people while staying inside your budget.
Guest post by Nicholas Rubright
It used to be true that in order to succeed in the music industry, you need to get a record deal from a label that will handle hiring and firing on your behalf for things like recording, music video production, and graphic design.
With the rise of artists making a living doing these things themselves, this is no longer true. You still can go for a record deal if you want, but you give up ownership of your songs and can possibly go into lots of debt.
While going DIY for your music career is certainly a viable option, you’re going to need to hire talented people who know what they’re doing to help you reach the top.
My band, Days Gone By, recently finished tracking our first EP, and we’re very happy with the outcome so far. Additionally, we’ve hired a graphic designer that has put together amazing artwork, and are scheduling a music video with a fantastic music video producer.
This doesn’t mean we didn’t make hiring mistakes along the way. One of our songs was tracked 2 other times before we found our current producer, and the first guy we worked with on our artwork was extremely slow at producing results for us, required too much micromanagement to reach a polished outcome, and eventually bailed.
After making these mistakes, we changed our hiring strategy to produce more favorable outcomes.
It all starts with your band
Before hiring anyone to work with your band, it’s important to have 2 things:
- Band members that are committed to producing the best outcome (unless you’re a solo artist).
- Songs (and demos of those songs) that make people want to work with you.
If you have band members that are too willing to sacrifice quality for an easier or cheaper process, you might want to find new band members. It’s normal to not want to spend insane amounts of money for the best outcome, but if cheap is the first thing your band members look for when considering who to go with for a music video, recordings, artwork, or anything else, this can hold you back from making the decision that’s best for your band.
Additionally, you want to have great songs and demos before you start hiring anyone. When you write a song, make sure all of the layers work well together and it isn’t just a jumbled mess of parts lying on top of each other. Use chords on the guitar that work well with the vocal melody, for example. When you have songs written, find someone you know who has recording equipment, and get some high quality demos recorded.
My band made the mistake of reaching out to high quality music producers with phone recordings. Because of this, we ended up recording our song with a less than ideal recording engineer. Luckily, we were able to then use that recording to get access to someone much better.
Figure out your must have’s
For example, if you’re looking to do a music video, what type of video are you looking to do? Animated or live action? Is it just a performance video, or is there a story too?
You should also look at other examples of the work to see if you notice any common themes. If you’re looking at artwork, come up with an idea of what you want before you start reaching out to graphic designers to work with.
Once you have a list of standards in place, you can come up with a benchmark.
Choose a benchmark item
Before you go looking for people to work with, you want to choose a benchmark item. This is basically an example of the type of work you’re looking to have done. So if you were looking for a graphic designer for an album cover, this would be an existing album cover to be used as an example of what level of quality you’re looking for.
Whatever you do, don’t use local bands as a benchmark. Your competition isn’t the other bands in your scene; it’s every band that’s on Spotify. You should be using the best stuff out there as a benchmark for the level of quality you’re trying to reach.
Finding and choosing the right people
After you’ve found a benchmark item, start looking online for freelance workers, and ask to see samples of their work.
If you’ve never hired someone for the type of job you’re looking to have done before, a great option is to hire someone who’s worked with a successful artist or label that you know. For example, my band looked into artists who worked with bands like A Day to Remember and Of Mice & Men when looking for a graphic designer because that’s the style of artwork we wanted to go with.
If you’re on a tighter budget, things are a little more difficult and will take more time, and it can be harder to find people who are likely to produce a quality outcome. You may have to look at multiple options before you find someone who puts a high quality standard on their work.
Get outside opinions
Once you have a good size (around 5-10) of candidates that you’re considering to, it’s very important that you seek outside opinions from others who are experienced in the field.
This is especially true for things where you or your band have no experience at all. If you’re looking for a graphic designer, and no one in your band has ever even touched Photoshop or Illustrator, the opinion of another graphic designer carries a lot more weight than your own opinion does. With their experience, they’ll be able to see things that you won’t.
This goes for anything. If you’re hiring a music producer or recording engineer, have people who are experienced in recording help you identify quality work. For music videos, ask video people for help. This is such an important step in making sure the outcome is the best it can be.
If you don’t know anyone in these areas, ask friends if they can refer you to someone, or find Facebook groups consisting of people who do this stuff professionally. Ask them if they can take a look at multiple work samples from your candidates and tell you which is better. Include your benchmark item in these options, and if everyone is telling you that your benchmark item looks better than the other options, you might want to consider looking for more experienced candidates.
In my experience, the very best people are the ones who pay attention to things that outsiders would never consider or notice.
When you schedule a phone or Skype interview with them to discuss your project in more detail, look for comments about small details that even you may have never thought of. When I was talking to our producer on the phone, he was talking about all of the small things that affect electric guitar tone – some of which I’ve never heard of even after having played guitar for 8 years. Same with our music video producer – he was talking about things like wardrobe, how our vocalist will hold the microphone, and whether we should we be plugged in or unplugged for the video – all of which I never even considered.
By hiring someone who pays attention to the minor details that you aren’t experienced enough to consider, you can be sure you’ll have a very polished outcome that puts you in the league of even the most popular musicians in your genre.
You get what you pay for
In the end, if you’re weighing your decision too heavily on price, the results are going to be disappointing. You want to find someone who is going to produce something that represents your music in the best possible way, with price being one of the last considerations.
You aren’t paying just for the work; you’re paying for the years of experience behind them that enables them to produce a quality outcome.