Month: February 2014

Tax advice for musicians: how to make the most of your pile of receipts from last year

February 15, 2014{ No Comments }

taxes Tax advice for musicians: how to make the most of your pile of receipts from last yearTax tips for the independent musician

It’s that time of year again: tax time!

Uncle Sam needs to spend some of your hard-earned musical income on paving roads, funding schools, and a few million other programs and services. As the saying goes, “Two things are certain.” One of ‘em is taxes.

But tax time doesn’t have to be such a downer. Sure, you might have to claim that $150 bucks the door-guy handed you at your last gig, but you also get to write off many expenses, including equipment purchases, maintenance, travel costs and car mileage, practice or office space rental, audio and video production expenses, web hosting, etc.

For some great information on how musicians can make the most of their confusing tax forms, check out our interview with Allen Jones on the DIY Musician Podcast episode #47: A Musician’s Guide to Taxes.

Also, be sure to read “Tax tips for the working musician,” an informative new article over at the Disc Makers Blog.

http://diymusician.cdbaby.com/2014/02/tax-advice-for-musicians-2/

What is your best tax tip or other tax information that could be helpful to others?

How To Make It: by Bob Lefsetz of The Lefsetz Letter

This is an article about making it, as a band, in the music business. Is there anything you would add or that you disagree with?

PRACTICE

Your ability to play exceeds social networking. Your chops are more important than your social skills. Frequently the best musicians are near mute, they speak through their music, which brings adoring fans to them. First learn how to play. Everything else comes next.

WRITE

You can make it with other people’s songs, but it’s hard to sustain. Consider writing another club in your bag, not only does it give you more options it also makes you more attractive to labels and other investors.

RECORD

A great song translates with just you and your instrument on YouTube. But if it’s someone else’s song, you’re not going to go far. We all pass around YouTube covers, but none of the acts ever stick, because imitation is the sincerest form of flattery but it’s not the way into our hearts.

+“Song Power” – The Importance of Good Songwriting

+Tom Kelly, Acclaimed Songwriter, Speaks on Writing “Like A Virgin” for Madonna

RECORD 2

Yes, if you hire name people and record in a top-notch studio your track will sound better, but ultimately it’s about the song. Slick means nothing if the song sucks.

DISTRIBUTE

Put your music everywhere. Starting on SoundCloud. It’s the default home of the wannabe. If you get any traction thereafter, get it on iTunes and Spotify, et al.

+Get your Music on iTunes, Amazon, Google Play, & More

+Tunecore Founder Jeff Price Talks About Music Streaming Services

YOUTUBE

Comes after SoundCloud. A lyric video is good enough assuming people want to see it. But if someone comes to your clip and the count is low it’s going to work against you, especially if you told people to go there.

HYPE

You start with your friends. And try not to burn out your friendships. Seed them with material. Listen to their feedback. Don’t lean on them to spread the word, if they like your material they will. If you give it to them and two weeks go by and you’re not hearing from other people, especially those you barely know or don’t know at all, your track wasn’t good enough. Maybe good enough for you, but not good enough to make it.

MAILING LISTS

Retain all the contact info of anybody who contacts you about your music. You want to know who your fans are.

+The Tools of Music Fan Engagement [Part 2]: Newsletters

MAILING LISTS 2

Put yourself in the shoes of your fans, look at it from their perspective, not yours. You may be frustrated you’re not more successful, but that’s not their problem. Only contact people when you think they’ll be thrilled to hear from you, when they’re interested in what you’ve got.

MAILING LISTS 3

If you’re getting positive feedback, feed information on a regular basis. If you’re seeding people and getting nothing back, the problem is you. Back to the drawing board. Yes, you may want to tell everybody they don’t get it and you’re misunderstood, that’s your prerogative, but that won’t help you make it.

TWITTER

Almost meaningless unless you’re already a star. Then it’s purely the cherry on top. And sundaes taste quite fine without the cherry. The problem with Twitter is most tweets go unseen. But if you notice retweets and feedback feeding the system is not a bad idea, as long as it doesn’t take your focus away from your music.

+30 Day Twitter Guide for Musicians

FACEBOOK

A home for looky-loos before you can afford your own URL/website. But don’t expect any virality on Facebook.

+Facebook Advertising 101 for Bands & Musicians

PLAYING LIVE

Comes last. It’s after you’ve learned how to play, practiced, written and recorded. If you put it first, you’re probably gonna be in trouble. Especially if you don’t know how to play and make mistakes. Yes, road chops are the best. But that’s assuming you’ve got somewhere to play. That’s the problem today, live music is not everywhere. Venues don’t want to pay and certainly don’t want to alienate their patrons. They’d rather spin records. So don’t beg anybody to play at their venue unless you’re going to make them money. That’s the cardinal rule. It’s your responsibility to bring people in (+The Art of Self Promotion – How to Fill A Venue), not theirs. Certainly if you’re completely unknown.

Having said all that, it’s not a bad idea to start out as a cover band. But use originals sparingly. And if people stop dancing and/or leave the room, pull them. If you can get places to play, more power to you. But don’t put the cart before the horse.

BLOWING UP

It’s gonna happen slower than your wildest dreams. It’s gonna be long after your buddies have graduated from college and have careers and are starting families. If you’re not willing to risk it all and fail, music is not the business for you. And if you do fail, don’t complain, either get out or go back to the drawing board and work harder.

BLOWING UP 2

Your one big break is never the one you think it is, and is oftentimes a series of mini-breaks.

TV CONTESTS

Are about the shows, not the talent, about advertising, not music. At first, they were such a hit surprise this wasn’t completely true, but Kelly Clarkson made it a decade ago. Contests are short cuts that usually lead nowhere. They tar your resume.

MERCH

Assuming people come to see you, and like you, they’ll want to buy something from you, to evidence both their support and their identity. T-shirts are great, but make sure they’re well-designed and made with good materials, otherwise people will buy once, if that, and never again. As for CDs…this is what they’re made for, live gigs. They’re souvenirs. The music is available easily online. But personalized, signed product is not.

+Double Your Income…No Really

A MANAGER

No act makes it without one. Don’t sign a contract if you can get away with it. If you do, give up no more than twenty percent, hopefully fifteen. And hire a MUSIC BUSINESS LAWYER to negotiate the deal, not your dad’s attorney buddy. Whatever you spend will be a pittance compared to how screwed you will be if you actually make it and have signed a bad deal. The bottom line is when you start no one good wants to manage you, and chances are you’re going to leave your initial garage manager for someone more experienced. It’s gonna cost you, remember that.

+You Don’t Find A Manager, A Manager Finds You

AN AGENT

More important than a label these days. Agents work on commission, usually ten percent. And they don’t like to work for free. So if you’re not making any money, an agent isn’t gonna wanna represent you. I know it’s a conundrum. You need an agent to get work, but you can’t get an agent unless you’ve got work. Figure it out. Oftentimes it’s the drummer who both manages the band and gets gigs before professionals get involved. As to why it’s the drummer, we’re still trying to figure that out.

A LABEL

You might feel good you’re signed, but that don’t mean diddly-squat if it’s an indie who neither distributes nor promotes you. Give up rights commensurate with how much you’re being paid. Up front. Upon delivery. Guarantees of marketing and promotion are worthless, even if they’re in the contract. If you’re not getting any money, you want it to be a one or two album deal, with a hefty royalty rate and a return of rights upon termination of the deal or shortly thereafter.

+Record Labels: Recording, Marketing, & Promotion

A MAJOR LABEL

You give to get. Your deal will be lousy unless you don’t need them. If you’re pulling in thousands of people a night and tracks are flying out of the iTunes Store the major label will cut you a good deal, otherwise they won’t. And just because you have the deal don’t expect the label to break you. The hard work is just beginning. Give them tools, i.e. music. And play nice. Otherwise the label will blackball you, they don’t need troublemakers, unless they’re guaranteed revenue makers. And major labels only want acts they can easily market and profit from, i.e. radio acts. Remember that. If you’re not one of these, a major label deal is worthless, furthermore you won’t get one.

TRACTION

Comes slower than you expect once you’ve got a deal. It’s all work with very little reward for a very long time. In other words, if you’re not willing to enter the Ironman competition, don’t be a musician. Just when you’ve scaled one hill, there’s a mountain range looming in the distance.

HITS

You need more than one to sustain a career.

+Musicians: “What You Need To Know”

MONEY

Comes long after you think it should. Not only does the label take most of it, what you deserve isn’t rendered for eons, that’s the nature of royalties.

GETTING SCREWED

It goes with the territory. You’re never going to receive what you’ve earned. You just hire the best people and try to get the most you can.

SUCCESS

Won’t be as sweet as you think it’ll be. But don’t freak out in the middle of it. Because we need neither you nor your act. Do your best to be humble and sustain. Otherwise, you’ll be replaced.