In the publishing world, most agents won’t even consider a prospective author without an established platform. Same goes for the music industry. Without a platform, you are simply not worth the risk to them. So let’s put the work in and get established – before we think about attracting an agent.
This might come as good news. It means that you can stop spending all your time sending emails, pitching, and cold calling. Unless you have a proven platform and an established presence, this will likely be wasted effort anyway. Instead, let’s start setting up a business around your creative work to demonstrate to industry partners that you are a worthy investment.
Before we go through this point by point, here’s the great thing about this plan. Even if it doesn’t work – and you don’t secure an industry partner – it’s still a good business plan. Either way, you’re running your own business as a creative. You want to put yourself in a position to succeed, no matter which path you take.
Let’s go through everything you need to get started, in the form of a checklist. Obviously, there are a lot of nuances that go into setting everything up. What follows is an overview to help lay out the most important baseline activities.
Set Up Your Basic Business Infrastructure
1. Your website. Online hub = required.
- Start with simple “landing page” site; expand it into a portfolio.
- Tell your story in clear language and images.
- An About page and a call-to-action (a contact/subscribe form).
- No “digital sharecropping,” this has to be on your own site.
2. Your email list. Start this immediately.
- Email is your “conversion instrument,” way more effective than social.
- Pick a provider and set up way to capture addresses.
- Collect names at appearances/events whenever you can.
- It’s OK to start slow, but don’t wait to get it started.
3. Your social presence. Meet new fans.
- Do a “land grab” in every social media channel.
- Pick one or two “fertile” channels to focus on.
- Do not treat it as a broadcast channel; make connections.
- Primary goal: Get people on your email list.
4. Your online store. Allow people to pay you!
- It’s OK to start small, but set up a basic ecommerce site.
- Connect it to your site and make sure it’s easy to find and easy to use.
- People can’t pay you if you don’t give them the opportunity to do so!
- Offer multiple pricing “tiers,” low, medium, and high.
Create an Online Portfolio
5. Your creative work. Showcase it on your site.
- Set up a page on your website for each particular project.
- Do not have a separate “book site” or “album site.” You are the brand.
- Pick URLs that are easy to speak and easy to remember.
- Connect these promo pages to your online store.
6. Your creative work. In other outlets too!
- Pick appropriate “marketplaces” where your work can get noticed.
- Try multiple outlets, then focus on your most successful one.
- Support each product with good, clear, descriptions.
- It’s OK if fans prefer a certain outlet rather than purchasing directly on your site.
7. Your blog. Content that supports your work.
- Yes, we need a blog – or some way to publish content regularly.
- A blog is not for random thoughts – it’s a strategic business instrument.
- Every blog post must be optimized for SEO (search engine optimization).
- Every blog post must have one call-to-action – something for the user to do.
Build a Powerful Audience Platform
8. Your art matters. Get it in front of people.
- Let your creative work do the talking. Keep producing – and sharing it!
- Don’t hold off releasing something because you’re waiting for “that call.”
- Share some work before it’s ready – fans love behind-the-scenes stuff.
- Make some of your work exclusive ONLY to your subscribers.
9. Your presence. Show up and converse.
- Seek conversations on social, NOT just spraying one-way content.
- Ask questions. Observe. Watch your fans’ behavior – what do they share?
- Measure activity data and constantly change one variable in your strategy.
- When you get a nibble, try to move them along to the next step.
10. Your funnel. Create a path to purchase.
- Mix your art and supporting content to build a must-see site.
- Use your blog to keep fans coming back and feeling involved and engaged.
- Repurpose blog content to create social posts so that you are efficient.
- Expect multiple “touches” before you can ask for the sale.
Now this looks like a business, doesn’t it? Sometimes it’s hard to see from your studio or practice space, but that’s what you’re trying to do – build a business around your creative work. And if you have this all set up, industry partners will start to take you seriously. They will see you as a business, too. You will appear to be a competent partner – one who’s worth the risk of investment.
An agent, producer, or publisher has to make decisions based on money. If they invest in you, will they get that investment back? Will they make a profit? If the answer to these questions is, “I’m not so sure,” then you are not going to get picked. It’s as simple as that.
But what if you have your platform established and thriving? What if you have a large email list? What if you have an active, engaged fan base on Instagram or TikTok or Twitter? What if you get tons of comments on your blog – and a bunch of people sharing your work with their friends? What if you have people coming to your openings and virtual events? What if you even have people paying you for your work?
You look a lot different to potential industry partners, don’t you? For example, what if they’re considering two different artists – both with a equivalently great work. One has a platform as described above, and one doesn’t. Who do you think they’re going to pick? It’s pretty obvious, right?
Building your platform is the single biggest thing you can do to attract the attention of the industry, and get the deal you’re looking for.
Start Pitching: Strategic and Focused Outreach
Once you have the platform that you’re proud of, then you can start doing some outreach. With an established foundation, you’re not going to get brushed aside quite as easily. It starts to become worth the effort.
1. Build Your Media Kit
The first and most important step is to create a media kit. This will have all the basics about you and your creative work:
- Project name, plus some background or backstory.
- About you and your work; why you do what you do.
- Simple project “pitch copy” or descriptions for others to pick up.
- Photos – portfolio and headshots (or group shots for bands).
- Links to your site and social for easy reference.
- Contact and booking info.
You can have this all collected right on your site on one page. Standard industry format is: yoursite.com/press-kit or yoursite.com/epk (“electronic press kit”).
2. Identify the Right Outlets
Next, it’s time to start doing outreach. Be strategic about it though – don’t just send it to everyone on the planet. As much as we want to believe that what we do is for “the whole world,” not everyone is going to care about our work.
Look for similar artists – and find out who’s representing them or publishing their work. The way to make it easy for industry partners is to appear similar to prior successes. This can be hard for creatives to grasp, because we always feel that our art is unique. That may be so – but that’s not how someone “in the industry” is going to think about it.
Make a list of about half dozen to a dozen potential industry partners. Hunt down the contact information for the person at the office who takes “cold” submissions. Before you start your outreach, have your list prepared so that it’s nice and efficient to just work your way down the list.
Most industry people will prefer email to phone calls, simply because it’s less intrusive. Respect that.
3. Make Your Pitch
When you start contacting people, make your pitch relevant to them. Just because you’re selling yourself doesn’t mean that you abandon principles of content marketing. Train yourself to maintain the following principle: “It’s not about me, it’s about them.” What can you do to make a Gatekeeper happy? What can you bring to them that will pay off?
This is another difficult thing for creatives to do. We all think that we produce art for others to enjoy. It feels like a one-way process, but really what you’re doing is providing value to someone else. When you’re running a business, your primary goal is to serve others. Sometimes this requires a shift in mindset, but it can really help your pitch stand out.
Remember, you want to be seen as a partner. Sure, you are the talent. Maybe someday you’ll be famous enough that everyone will be tripping over themselves to serve you. But for right now, when we’re just getting started – we exist to serve others. This mentality will get you a long way when you’re trying to make a name for yourself.
Lastly, don’t waste their time. Get right to the point with nice, crisp copy and easy links to be able to sample your work. Get them on your site so that they can experience you and your brand, with the portfolio you’ve set up. And don’t forget to demonstrate to them how strong your platform is. Testimonials are great for this, but I can also just revolve around highlighting active audience interaction.
Final Word: Don’t Depend On It
What if it doesn’t work? What if industry partners don’t answer my calls? What if they don’t come looking for me?
There’s one answer to this, and one guiding principle that you should live by: Keep going. Head down, with all effort on two things:
- Keep producing great art.
- Keep building your audience.
Yes, you want to make adjustments. You want to actually listen to what your audience wants from you. You want to experiment with new strategies until you find the ones that work the best.
But you have to keep focused on these two things. If you’re producing excellent work, and you have a audience that is growing week by week – you don’t need industry validation. You will have everything you need to build your own business on your own terms. There are thousands of successful self-published authors. Thousands of indie musicians who make a living without a label. Thousands of artists who sell their photos, paintings, designs, and graphic novels.
Only one thing matters when you’re producing your work – that your audience likes it. If your audience likes it, then it’s valuable. Period. You don’t need it to be validated by a Gatekeeper.
In other words, do the work and you will be successful. It’s not likely to happen overnight, so have some patience. Be persistent. Half the battle is showing up each day to serve your audience of fans and followers – building relationships with them. Do this for long enough, with a genuine intent to connect, and they will not only become fans – but they will help bring you more fans as well.
The more attention you garner, the more people will start to take notice. Think of when you start to see a crowd gather for a street performance. You can’t resist the urge to see what the fuss is about, right? This is basic human nature, and the same dynamic happens online as well. Keep doing the two things above, and a crowd will start to gather.
You’ll accumulate more and more fans. Week by week, you’ll increase the chances that a Gatekeeper will start to notice. That Gatekeeper will see an opportunity, and will want to ride the wave that you’ve created – to plug into you as an established creative business, using their resources to amplify that business and make money for both of you.
And if is doesn’t happen today, then maybe tomorrow. And if is doesn’t happen tomorrow either? So what. You have a devoted audience and great art to sell to them. You are a business owner. You call the shots. You make your own success. You live by your own terms. You have the power.