How to...

The Empowered Musician 'How to' series

The How to… series builds on the practical industry advice on offer our The Empowered Musician event, highlighting the skills and knowledge you need to succeed in your music career. If you're already an ISM member, you can log in and access the full guides.

The guides include:

  • How to...Connect with a digital audience
  • How to...Write a DIY marketing plan
  • How to...Work with an Artist Manager
  • How to...Play at a festival
  • How to...Negotiate a contract

How to... Connect with a digital audience

Written by Chris Cooke of CMU, How to...Connect with a digital audience covers copyright, collaboration, understanding royalties, distribution services and much more.


The single biggest revolution in music caused by the shift to digital is that artists can now get their recordings to a global audience and communicate with a global fanbase by themselves. Doing so does require signing up to some platforms, buying some distribution services and joining a collecting society, but all of this can be done with minimal cost and minimal expertise.

Which means that early-career artists can release music and start building a fanbase without having any traditional music industry business partners - like management, a label or a publisher – in place. As the artist’s career progresses and their own artist business starts to grow they will probably want a manager, a label and a publisher on their team. But none of those partners are needed to get started. And, indeed, these days most managers, labels and publishers will expect an artist to have set things in motion before they come on board.

This chapter explains how you can get your music online, how you can earn money when your music is downloaded or streamed, how you can try to drive more listening, and how you can use your various digital channels to grow and engage a fanbase.


First things first, it is worth recapping some basic information about music copyright before we start uploading, monetising and promoting music online.

The different music rights

Every time you write a song you create a copyright. Every time you record a track you create another copyright. Which means there are two separate sets of music rights:

  • The song rights - aka ‘the publishing rights’ - created by songwriters and managed by the ‘music publishing sector’.
    • The recording rights - aka ‘the master rights’ - created by artists and managed by the ‘record industry’.Whenever a track plays on a streaming platform, it’s a recording of a song that is being streamed. So both the song copyright and the recording copyright are involved.

    How to… Work with an Artist Manager

    Get advice from global artist management firm IMG Artists, taking a look at what a manager can do for you and how to go about getting one.


    The majority of working musicians are able to have successful careers without an Artist Manager. Orchestral players and freelance musicians typically direct their own careers and forge relationships with the agents, presenters and fixers that book for relevant performances and engagements.

    If, however, your professional ambitions are to have an international performance career as a conductor, instrumental soloist, concert and operatic singer, or as a member of an ensemble – then it could be helpful to be represented by an Artist Manager

    What is Artist Management?

    In simple terms, an Artist Manager drives the strategic development and looks after the business elements of your professional life, but what does that actually mean?

    Your Artist Management team is typically composed of a General Manager and an Associate or Assistant. Some teams will also include a second Artist Manager and Booking or Local Agents.

    Your General Manager is your Chief Operations Officer, your negotiator, your sales person, your artistic advisor, your legal and business affairs expert, your business development and project manager, your branding and communications guru – and your champion, confidante and business partner. This dynamic relationship is essential to the development of internationally recognised careers. Artist Managers direct their acumen, insight and network into your career to enable you to achieve your professional ambitions.

    What Makes a Good Artist Manager?

  • Empathy
  • Strong strategic and business skills
  • Knowledge and love of music
  • Excellent organisational skills
  • Savvy salesperson and negotiator
  • Patience
  • Flexibility
  • Versatility
  • How to....Play at a festival

    In this guide, David Jones of Serious (London Jazz Festival) and George Vass of the Presteigne Festival talk to the ISM about how they programme and put together major UK music festivals.


    Do you have any tips for artists who are thinking about approaching festivals or wondering where to meet promoters?

    David Jones: When you first contact promoters, make sure you do your research and personalise the message. I regularly receive emails that open with, ‘Dear Sir or Madam’, so it’s clear they’ve just copied and pasted my email address. You have to strike a balance between brevity and being personal. Make sure you write your e-newsletters or emails in such a way so that they can be easily forwarded, as promoters will often share information with their colleagues.

    When contacting festival organisers, show why you’ll bring new energy to their event – but contextualise this within the festival’s framework. For example, if your YouTube videos show lots of people dancing to your music, you need to explain why you’ll work with a seated audience. Within any genre, there are normally half a dozen festivals which you should target. If you’re in jazz, aim to play Love Supreme, The Manchester Jazz Festival, Cheltenham Jazz Festival, EFG London Jazz Festival and Edinburgh Jazz Festival for starters. Obviously, there are dozens more beyond that which are exciting and important.

    There are places that certain promoters tend to gather. For example, if you’re in world music the WOMEX conference is worth going to. It can take time to find out all the right places to be, however it’s worth doing your research. Furthermore, because of the internet, we no longer live in an age of a select group of powerful gatekeepers: if person A won’t give you the information you need, you’ll probably find that person B will! So, keep talking to people and keep researching.

    How to...Negotiate a contract

    How to...Negotiate a contract, from Victoria Barrett of VLT legal, looks at reading, understanding and negotiating contracts.


    In most areas of musical activity, musicians provide their services on a self-employed freelance basis, whether as a performing musician, teacher, recording artist, writer or producer. This means that generally speaking, they all operate under some form of service contract.

    Service contracts can take many forms, ranging from something that is essentially a simple invoice with some additional terms and conditions, to a highly complex and lengthy agreement, such as a recording or publishing contract.

    The main matters covered by a service contract are: the definition of the service and how long it will go on for; fee and payment conditions; and what happens when things go wrong (such as how the right to sue for damages, or the right to end the contract, might be triggered). On some level, all music contracts will also deal with ownership and control of copyrights and performers’ rights.

    It is vital to have matters confirmed and agreed with clients or professional partners, whatever the situation. If left undecided, they can give rise to bitter and expensive arguments after the event.

    Although in some circumstances contracts have been found to exist where the terms have not been written down, the ISM always recommends that you provide your services under a written contract. This resource introduces some basic tools to aid you in your negotiations. At the same time, remember that the ISM legal team is always here to support its members and offers drafting and negotiating contracts as a free service.

    Reading the contract

    Let us assume that you have been given a contract to sign. The first step is to block out some time in your diary to read through it thoroughly. Never allow yourself to be rushed or bullied into signing on the spot, or by the next day. Unless it’s a standard one-page contract (such as a recording session release form) and you feel experienced enough to check it quickly, you have every right to insist on taking your time. If you have not been given enough time then that is the other side’s problem, not yours. If you’re at all unsure you can refer it to a lawyer, for example one of the ISM in-house legal advisors.

    Bear in mind that recording, publishing and management contracts should always contain a clause in which the artist confirms that they have taken independent legal advice in relation to the contract; and this will often be at the other side’s expense. It’s in the other side’s interest to do this – otherwise, the artist could later have the contract voided (‘set aside’ in legalese) on the basis that they were made to sign it under ‘undue influence’. No producer, publisher or manager wants to risk an expensive mistake like that.

    Full guides for ISM members

    How to... Play at a festival

    Specialist advice from George Vass (Presteigne Festival) and David Jones (Serious) on how to play at festivals. Includes a guide to preparing a technical rider.