Nobody tells you when you are starting out how many hats you have to wear. (and I say "starting out" because after 2 decades of performing, they still tell you you're starting out.) I've learned that being an indie artist isn't just about singing...it's about wearing all the hats of the music business-and hopefully still being in style by the end.
The Songwriter: The first hat you wear is the one of the songwriter. When I moved to Nashville, I didn't even know I would have to write songs. I thought you could just be a good singer and people would want you to sing. I was wrong. You're expected to write your own songs. And you have to write good songs. And in Country music, you have to write very specific songs, for a specific crowd. I don't follow all the rules...but I've learned them-and since I'm an indie artist- I can break them-because I'm in charge :)
The Producer: Now, the word producer has many connotations and it's different in the music industry than in other industries, but for our purposes today, I'm using this word in the more musical theatre/tv-film sense- the Producer being the funder of the project. You want to record the song you just wrote...but if you want a good recording, it's gonna cost you! So, you have to round up the money by saving or finding investors.
The Studio Singer: After you write the song and have money to record the song, you have to sing the song! But you can't just "sing" it like you're singing in the shower. You have to sing it with a "style" that makes you sound like no one else. You have to sing with imperfection so people think you're feeling something. You have to re-live the words you wrote and make sure the emotion is heard or no one will believe you lived it. People have literally told me I have to sound less perfect and less pretty. My Bachelor of Music degree cried a little.
The Audio Engineer: After you sing the song, you have to listen back to different mixes of the recording. Yes, I have an audio engineer recording it for me, but at the end of the day, when you are an indie artist, you have to listen back to the mixes and discern if any changes need to be made. I've had to learn what phrases like,"We need more 2k range" mean and learn to read wave forms- I didn't know I would become a scientist!
The Website Designer: After you have the song recording, you have to have a website to promote it. I've had to learn how to design my website, update it for changes in my tour schedule, and even use html code when necessary!
The Stylist: Once you have a website, you have to have photos to put on the website. To have photos, you have to have a photoshoot, and to have a photoshoot, you have to have clothes to wear. You can't just have any clothes though. You have to have clothes that represent you as an artist and build your brand for the album. And I'm not gonna lie- shopping is harder than you think!
The Model: Once you have the clothes to wear at the shoot- then you gotta wear them! This is probably the weirdest hat to me. I have no idea how to be a model or what to do except smile. I've literally had photographers yell at me to stop smiling and I'm like- what else am I supposed to do?! (I have a photoshoot this Sunday- so we'll see if I get yelled at again...)
The Publicist: Once you have the website and the photos and the music, you have to get all this material into the right hands. A huge part of my job once I have the finished product is to send everything to as many blogs and radio stations as possible. I've even had to learn what the heck a press release is and how to write one! The more people that hear the work, the better!
The Social Media Team: After I've emailed everyone and their mother about the new music, I have to post on social media so that my friends, family, and music base also know about it! This can be the most annoying part, because selling myself on social media isn't my idea of fun, but people won't respect your music if they think no one listens to you, and the only way they see that people are responding to your music is through your numbers on social media! Oh yeah, and when you get all fancy at social media and have all these tracking and metric apps, you also know which of your "friends" unfollowed you...so....
The Booking Agent: Once you have the songs, the social media, the website- you gotta play some live shows! In order to play live shows, you have to find a venue that will have you! As my own booking agent, I contact festivals and venues all over the southeast to book my tours and try to team up with other artists that have traction in their area.
The Promoter: Once you book the show- you gotta get people to come to the show! So- you gotta promote the show! How do you promote the show? Promote through radio stations, ads, targeted social media, posters...etc!
The Performer: Once you get people to the show, you gotta perform at the show. But performing isn't just about "singing in front of people" - it's about moving people with each song and selling your product to the crowd so that they will want to hear the music on their drive home and come see you live again- and hopefully share it with their friends.
As a young girl, I dreamed about being "The Performer." But, I didn't realize all the other hats I would have to wear before I was able to wear that one. I've learned it's a long vertical climb of hard work. You might get some hat hair along the way, but I think it makes getting to "The Performer" all the more worth it in the end.
Sometimes I think I'm crazy. But sometimes, I think I know exactly what I'm doing.