Recent years have accelerated the long-winding convergence of music and tech. Recent weeks even more still.
Silicon Valley titans contribute to the cultural conversation and investment dollars continue to pour into entertainment. This month alone, Elon Musk made headlines for calling Kanye his inspiration at SXSW and Spotify finally announced its plans to go public. From Apple to Amazon, global goliaths are shaping the direction of music as much as any record label.
While the macro implications of these changes can’t be ignored, the micro response is just as interesting. Mentalities are bound to morph when you have young artists and managers admiring Steve Jobs as much as Jay Z. Now, we have articles like this one that rightfully compare the marketing of Apple iPhones to the marketing of albums living on Apple Music. No wonder small teams model themselves after Google.
Plenty of lessons can be found in popular startup schools of thought. Consider the empathy research of design thinking, or the low-cost testing encouraged by lean operations. Even simple principles like flat communication and streamlined project management can make or break any team. Luckily enough, a handful of cost-effective tools can make a world of difference. Here are some tools artists can use to run their team like a startup.
Nothing gets done without it, nothing gets done with too much. Communication among team members defines your possibilities; communication between your private operation and the public in part defines how you’re perceived. Luckily, there are apps for that.
Slack (for your team)
Imagine a sleek office space with teleportation enabled between floors and custom emoji art adorning walls. See it? That’s Slack.
A productivity staple, the freebie app is a haven for small teams looking to move their everyday chatter off iMessage or WeChat. Immediate benefits await: The search function won’t let you down, app integrations abound and channels encourage organized action.
For artists, breaking down core activities into a handful of channels (#music, #socials, #video, #live) can facilitate concurrent conversation. It’s a simple way to successfully juggle competing priorities. Did we mention the custom emojis?
Buffer (for social media)
It’s not easy to stay on top of social channels, especially when everyday pressures or packed schedules keep you off the grid. To help maintain your online presence during busy periods (or downtime!), publishing tools mitigate the daily juggle. Buffer, one of the more accessible examples, lets you schedule posts in advance—an easy-access social calendar for Twitter and Facebook.
Communication unlocks collaboration, but it doesn’t protect against human forgetfulness. Ditto goes for our tendency (re: lack thereof) to look more than a few weeks ahead of present day. Enter project management, two words that can’t be ignored for two-plus people to remain reliably consistent over time.
Broken down into its smallest parts, project management means allocating resources, human or otherwise, to different goals in hopes of achieving them on a timeline. Tools like Trello and Monday help you keep track of short-term, mundane tasks and turn long-term moonshots into more actionable, approachable steps.
Trello (for turning big ideas into bite-size pieces)
Trello operates on a drag-and-drop ‘bucket’ system used to organize the evolution of a project. For example, an artist might make six buckets—idea memos, recorded drafts, edited songs, mixed songs, mastered songs, release assets. An entry in the “idea memos” bucket would, ideally, make its way through the pipeline and become a mastered song with released assets.
Monday (for colorful timelines)
Monday offers additional customization for the same starting price of free ninety-nine. Teams can divide their key activities into different boards (similar to channels) that feature collapsible to-do lists with visualized timelines and status updates.
Google Calendar (for scheduling multiple people like a pro)
Google’s G Suite, which costs just $5 per team member, introduces shared calendars to the mix. Especially helpful for those working across state (or country) lines, Google’s business calendar helps paint a more transparent picture of scheduling. It also protects you from hacking, better securing sensitive files exchanged through email. Better still, G Suite makes it easy to procure a company domain name if you incorporate ([email protected]).
Feedback, even if ignored on grounds of artistic purity, will always offer audience insights. Artists and their teams can leverage simple tools (Poll Everywhere, Google Forms) and social features (Instagram Story voting; Twitter polls) to make iterative improvements, just as startups conduct empathy research with users to improve their product.
Poll Everywhere (for the spectacle of live voting)
There’s something thrilling about watching vote results unfold in real time. Likely familiar to anyone who’s spent time in a classroom since 2010, the company lets viewers text their vote to a chart graphic that updates with each response. Qualitative responses work too. Artists can leverage this tool in live broadcast settings (or at shows) then use Poll Everywhere’s built-in analytics to derive conclusions from the responses. Here’s a cheesy video from 2012 to explain:
If it wasn’t already clear, Google has a lot to offer. Their Forms tool is readily available to all Google account holders and lets you send clean, simple forms to anyone with an email. You can share an invite RSVP form to fans for a private show. You can solicit independent feedback from your team members about a new merch design. Endless possibilities from your pals at Alphabet.
Social Media (for giving fans a voice you can learn from)
The header says it all. Polling (be it on Instagram Story or Twitter) can solve internal team debates, shape releases, illuminate what your audience cares about and fuel overall engagement.
While feedback collection can lead to set list adjustments or release date decisions, a treasure trove of information already exists for you to act on. Open APIs make it possible for any artist to track their streaming and social performance with just a couple websites. In addition to must-download apps like Spotify for Artists, Chartmetric and Next Big Sound aggregate invaluable information so you don’t have to.
Chartmetric offers a free one-stop-shop for social following metrics and playlisting info too.
Next Big Sound (for making data-driven decisions)
Next Big Sound ascertains a given artist’s buzz based on online chatter.
When coupled with downloadable data from Instagram analytics, Twitter analytics and Facebook insights, artist teams can determine the success of campaigns and perform competitor analysis without losing a dime.
There’s truth to the old adage, ‘Takes money to make money.’ For both tax purposes and peace of mind, consider allocating a small portion of your budget to the monthly subscription costs of Expensify or Quickbooks. From coffee meetings to flight tickets, work-related expenses are tax deductible if you do business as an LLC or corporation. Basic accounting practices help you save money as you turn your team into a legitimate business.
Expensify (for managing receipts on the go)
With a streamlined mobile app and web portal, Expensify is a helpful financial organization tool that won’t intimidate first-time business owners. Staying on top of expenses is a breeze thanks to the camera feature. You can translate pictures of receipts into digitally logged proof-of-purchase filings with one tap.
Quickbooks Self-Employed (for making sense of your dollars)
Similar to Expensify (and likely an inspiration for it), Quickbooks pioneered expense management for small businesses. Otherwise hefty admin hurdles (tracking receipts, invoices and taxes) turn into straightforward tasks. This will help you make educated spending decisions and keep the IRS happy. Win-win.