Resources for the Recording Musician
November 19, 2014

Finding and Keeping clients in the Music Biz

What online and in-person activities have you found the most worthwhile in building a client base for mixing and mastering?

I'm going to expand on this a bit, and make it a bit more generic for anyone trying to make a living in the music business, not just for recording, mixing, and mastering.

The 3 biggest factors of success in the service side of the music business are, in order:

  1. Your Personality & People Skills
  2. Quality of your work
  3. Networking

#1 -- Personality & People Skills

You might think that your skills and quality of your work would be #1 on the list, but I can assure you that there are plenty of people who are really great at what they do, but that nobody wants to work with because of their personality.  If you are difficult to work with, and can't make your clients happy, chances are they won't want to work with you again, and the word will quickly spread that you are difficult to work with!

I guess I'm a bit of a "people pleaser" and probably worry too much about what other people think of me, but that has actually been a very helpful personality trait to have in the service business.  My number 1 concern is making my clients happy.  That doesn't mean that I always agree with them, or even that I don't sometimes argue with them if there is something I feel strongly about. However, in the end, it's my clients who are paying for my time and are essentially my boss. It's their name that goes on their CD, and so I always give them final say, even if I may not agree.

I'm also a bit of a chameleon, and can adapt fairly easily to the personality types of my clients. I enjoy a very wide variety of music, and like to work with a wide variety of people as well. I'm pretty fast at tuning in to what they are after with their projects, and adapt my techniques and style accordingly.

Many business experts (of which I a NOT one) state that retaining the customers you already have is more important than trying to acquire new clients. That is certainly true in the music business. Once you have some clients, you want them to be long term clients that come back to you for all of their projects. A large number of my clients have been with me since I got started in the 90s, when I worked at a major recording studio here in the Seattle area. I was lucky to get in when I did, since not too many musicians could afford the equipment to record themselves back then, so they had to go to professional studios. When I went independent, the clients that I worked with at the studio followed me. At that time, although I was pretty good, I certainly wasn't the most talented engineer at the studio. But, I was always very nice and easy to work with,  and  I genuinely enjoyed working with all my clients. The other engineers were all great people as well, and they all had loyal clients as well. Our studio simply didn't hire people who weren't easy to work with, so it was more a matter of which engineer the clients were first assigned to. We really had a great team of people, all of whom are still in the business because they are all great at what they do, and because people really enjoy working with them!

It needs to be genuine, though. This is not something you can easily fake. You really need to enjoy your work and the people that you work with, and have the good sense to say no to projects where you don't think you would be a good fit.

Possibly with the internet these days, you can do a lot of work (especially mixing & mastering) without ever having to meet the clients in person. However, you'll still need to interact with them via phone or email, and be able to make them happy if you want them to bring you their business in the future. So, while the internet can make people skills perhaps less important, you still need to interact with them and keep them happy.

#2 -- Quality of your Work

This is the most obvious, so I won't spend much time on it. You need to be good at what you do if you want to get and keep clients!

Certainly everyone has to start somewhere, and no matter how good you are, you never stop learning and getting better. Doesn't matter if it's recording, mixing, playing guitar, or any other music biz service, if you can't deliver the goods at the quality level that the client expects, they aren't going to work with you again.  It's really that simple.

Potential clients are going to want to hear examples of your work before they hire you, so you need to have a good portfolio built up. That may mean that you need to do a bunch of work for free or really cheap when you are getting started in order to put together your portfolio. Get some friends or find some local bands/artists, and offer to work with them for free if you need to. You need to get some practice and experience and start building up a portfolio. At the same time, many bands and artists who are just starting out can't always afford to hire more seasoned professionals, so it's a win-win situation. Supposedly, superstar mixing engineer Dave Pensado did several hundred mixes for free/cheap when he was getting started, so it can definitely pay off in the long run!

#3 -- Networking

Networking is how you are going to find new clients, and it's going to be especially important when you are just starting out and don't have a large number of existing clients.

This is probably my least favorite part of my business, and something that I don't do nearly enough of, and am certainly not very good at! I'm lucky enough that I landed a job at a major recording studio early in my career, and so I didn't really have to go out and network to find my own clients.  However, to land that job, I still needed a good demo reel. Prior to the job at the big studio, I had a very modest home studio (back before you could do everything on a laptop), and I would find artists to produce and record by placing ads in the local trade papers while I moved around the country (was in the military at the time). This was before the internet (really showing my age), so we did things the old fashioned way by placing classified ads in local music publications, and actually talking on the phone. Since I don't sing (or, at least don't have the type of voice people want to hear singing), I would find singer/songwriters to work with. I would compose and produce all the music for them with my synths and drum machine, and record them on my cassette based 4-track recorder. But, I was good, and knew how to squeeze the best possible quality out of very limited equipment. We even got some songs I produced and recorded played on local radio stations.

As much as I'm a good "people person", I'm actually not very good at meeting new people, or getting out and networking in person. If you want to brush up on your in-person networking skills, I'm not the guy to ask! However, it doesn't take a lot of imagination to figure out. I know what to do, I just don't have the time or the desire to do it these days between my family and all the various projects I'm always involved with. But, a good place to start would be to get as involved as possible in your local music scene. Hang out at the clubs and coffee houses in your area where the local artists perform, and introduce yourself. If you like their music, let them know and offer your services for free or cheap (if you are still in the building clients phase). You can also find local songwriting networks, musician networking groups, or other types of networking groups in your community to become involved with. When you're young and have no family, you have a lot of free time, so get out there and become involved in your community, and network as much as possible! Don't be annoying about it, but make yourself known and make sure people know what you do.

Thankfully (for me, at least) these days we have the internet!

So, let's talk a bit about networking via the internet, and using the internet to get clients!  I've been a computer geek since the first "affordable" personal computers came out in the 1980s, so I have always embraced the technology and have been online since the days of dial-up modems, before there even was a world wide web. Although I'm far from an online social networking expert, there are a few things I can share that have certainly helped me get new clients.

You need a strong online presence!

Although there are too many social networking sites to keep track of these days, I still believe that if you want to be seen as a serious professional, you need your own web site with your own domain!

A Facebook page, although a good idea, doesn't cut it!  Anybody can have a Facebook page, or Twitter, Google+, YouTube, LinkedIn, etc.  While it certainly helps to have some sort of presence on all those sites, I personally believe that having your own personal web site and domain name makes the statement that you are really serious about your business.  How seriously do I believe in this? Serious enough that I have my own dedicated server at a hosting facility and run more that 10 web sites on it, most of which link to and promote each other (helps for search engine rankings, for one).  You certainly don't need to go that far, and I have helped many other people set up their own web sites with shared server hosting accounts that cost as little as $9 a month.  If you can't afford the price of a domain name and $9 to $20 for hosting, then you probably aren't serious enough about treating this as a business.  I'm serious enough that I spend over $200 a month to have my own personal server dedicated to only my own sites.  Sounds expensive, but I run some pretty intensive online sites with huge downloadable files.  Once I break it down on a per site basis, I'm paying about the same, or less, than I would for a shared hosting account for each site I operate, and my server is MUCH more powerful (not shared by hundreds of sites) and I have a HUGE amount of disk space to work with. So, for me, it's worth it.  Most musicians, or indy producers/engineers, can get buy with a higher quality shared hosting plan in the $10 to $20 per month range.

These days, you can use systems like WordPress, with pre-built themes and plugins, to quickly put together a site, even if you have little to no web site skills. Being the computer geek that I am, I have tried many different systems for my web sites over the years, but have been slowly moving all my own sites to WordPress, and even got back into programming and now develop custom plugins for WordPress.  I wrote an article, WordPress web sites for Musician, here not too long ago.

You could put together a simple web site, and then build up a portfolio of your work using Soundcloud or YouTube, or similar, to stream your music to your web site visitors. Having your music on an external site will keep your own hosting requirements and costs down, while also helping you build a bigger online presence since you can create pages/profiles on those sites as well.

If you're going for the younger crowd, you may want to be more involved with YouTube. I've read several times that a large majority of younger people these days are finding new music through YouTube. I was surprised when I first read that, as I have never thought of YouTube in that way, and I certainly don't use it in that way. I have a couple of videos here and there on YouTube, but I certainly haven't used it anywhere close to as much as I should be to promote myself and my services.

As much as I'm a computer geek, it's only been within the last year that I finally broke down and bought a smart phone. However, I still don't tweet or use Instagram, and rarely even text. But, these (and much more) are all valuable tools for younger people who are trying to network and build a client base! So, use them as much as possible, but be consistent and try to offer something of value without expecting anything in return. People quickly get tired of the "listen to my music" or "buy my music" or "check out what I just did" type of posts.

You either need to share some knowledge, or be entertaining, if you want to develop a good online following. I'm not very entertaining, so I try to share my knowledge.  I'm not very consistent, though, and am WAY too verbose to use something like Twitter!  I can go for several weeks, and sometimes months, between posts here.  But, that's because I've got a good client base and enough exposure that I'm not really trying that hard to find new clients (although I certainly welcome new clients).

If you want to learn from the best, check out George Takei!  He is the king of social media these days! Get his book, Oh Myyy!, and learn from the best! I have read it and it is not only very entertaining, but fairly educational as well. Although I'm not nearly as active on Facebook as I probably should be, I do look forward to George Takei's posts every day! With over 8 million Facebook followers, he is certainly doing something right!

On the other side of things, instead of trying to only get more followers for yourself, become active in online musical communities. Follow and support artists, musicians, and groups that you like.  Participate in online discussions without just blatantly promoting yourself. If you have something useful and valuable to contribute, people will pay more attention to you than if you are constantly trying to grab their attention through thoughtless self promotion.

Find what works for you!

I wish I could give you detailed step by step instructions on how to find and keep clients, but there isn't a simple procedure that works for everyone. #1 and #2 above are what have worked best for me, while I admit that I'm really not very good at all at #3! The most important thing is that you just keep trying and working at it! If something isn't working, then change your approach or try something different. At the same time, you need to be constantly practicing and getting better at your craft! If you spend all your time online, you won't have time to devote to getting better at your craft. Likewise, if you spend all your time locked up in your room or studio working on your craft, it will be hard finding time to network and find clients! You've got to find the right balance, and the right methods that work for you. I knew I was never going to get into things like Twitter and Instagram, because I just don't have the time or the type of info I could easily share through those sites. So, I focus on the things I know, like my own web sites, as well as doing as much recording, mixing, and mastering as possible!

Long answer to a short question, but I hope it gives you some ideas!

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