How to Build an Independent Music Career

We recently interviewed Rachael Sage, a talented singer, songwriter, poetess and all-around musician.

She’s living the dream: making music, playing gigs, and supporting herself 100% through her music. Her experience will inspire you to work harder, write better music, and take more risks. So pay attention! When you’re done reading her mind, check out her website, MySpace page, and buy her music.

How long have you been at this game of writing music and sharing it with people?

I’ve been writing music at the piano since I was in kindergarten…and I think I started sharing it with people “officially” at summer camp. I was nervous, but it was exciting and definitely a milestone! After that I began to play my own songs at the weekly talent show, which was a pretty big deal for me since I was not popular. It felt like I was finally discovering something about myself that other people might appreciate.

Before that I’d played mostly for myself, my family and occasionally before dance class for my fellow dance-students, before the teacher arrived. So I’ve been doing this a while!

What have been some of the milestones in your career in terms of growing professionally?

Lilith Fair was a huge learning experience, and I still draw on many of the elements I observed as both a performer as well as an audience member, attending the rest of the concert after my own set was over. I was an enormous fan of so many of the acts performing on the bill including The Pretenders, Suzanne Vega and Sarah McLachlan, so it was nourishing musically just to be able to watch and listen to them all at close-range. But beyond the sheer thrill of sharing a stage with my idols, I learned so much about about how I wanted to engage with younger, emerging artists myself, as I evolved in my own career. Everything about Lilith Fair and Sarah’s vision was inspiring, positive and classy on so many levels, yet it was also brilliant from a business perspective, and a successful venture economically. So I learned one of my favorite lessons, in essence: with the right combination of persistence and talent, it is possible to be compassionate and community-minded, and still be successful in the music business.  It might not be easy…but it is possible!

Another milestone for me was opening for Eric Burdon & The Animals in Europe. A friend of a friend ultimately hooked me up with that gig, and I was petrified to say “yes – I can open for a rock/blues legend in a foreign country for audiences that barely speak English, of up to 10,000 people!”  But I didn’t hesitate to accept when the opportunity arose, and it forced me to really get my act together as an artist, at the time. Musically it was very daunting to open for Eric, when I wasn’t sure if his audiences would like me at all; but once I stopped worrying about how I’d go over and committed 100% to the band and the songs themselves, the shows really gelled and the connections with each audience became stronger. I think I learned a great deal about what it feels like to play a show with beginning, middle and end, and not just a “set”. Just by doing it over and over every night for two months, I got a feel for how much to talk, how to transition between songs, how to project to the back of a large venue and ultimately, how to amplify my personality beyond the songs themselves. I guess I learned showman(woman)ship!

Do you support yourself entirely through music, or do you still have a “day job” like so many of us?

Yes, I do music full-time and have for a number of years. My last official day job was also music-related, I was a jingle writer at a music production company and worked crazy hours – sometimes all night – composing and recording 30 and 60 second spots for every conceivable product and service you could imagine. Since then, I’ve continued to do some freelance graphic design for peers and the occasional commercial music commission, but I’ve been touring full-time for about 6 years, and haven’t looked back.

Have you ever had your music licensed? If so, how did that come about?

Yes, I have had several songs featured in indie films as well as on television. I’ve banged my head against the wall over and over trying to get to the right supervisor or director, but in all honesty, anything significant I’ve ever placed has been through some type of personal connection, thus far. For instance, I knew a director of a Lifetime film who was already a fan of my work – so when she requested my material for a made-for-TV movie of course I was amenable and the negotiation was easy.

And as recently as last week, an engineer who worked at the mastering facility I used on my last album licensed a song from an older album of mine for a film he produced years ago that is finally about to be released.

This month my new album “Chandelier” was licensed by MTV, but we’re not 100% sure what songs they’re going to use where yet; supposedly it’ll be featured on “The Hills”, which I’ve never seen, but I understand is a very big show. I don’t even have cable – but plenty of my friends do so hopefully they can TIVO it if we determine my music will actually be used!

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Your Online Music Marketing Strategy – Evolvor Media

For some great tips on marketing your music online, we recently turned to Eric Hebert, CEO of Evolvor Media. His company works with bands and labels to roll out successful web marketing campaigns. Here are his thoughts…

In your opinion, what are the essential social networking sites that bands MUST be on these days?

There are a ton of networks out there, and with new ones coming out every day it seems, the task of setting up all these profiles can be time consuming. Obviously MySpace and Facebook are no-brainers, they’re going to be the ones you use the most. If you’re in the rock genre, Purevolume and GarageBand are must haves. Virb is becoming very popular because of its clean but customizable options. You’ll have to get on YouTube for videos and Flickr for photos, they’re part of the plan as well. You’ll also need to make traction on the big three streaming networks –, iLike, and Imeem. Saving the best for last, Reverbnation offers the best tools out of any of these networks to help promote their music and nurture their fanbase.

How can an independent artist use MySpace effectively to develop a fan community? Is that even possible anymore?

MySpace is just a tool in your toolbox. It has to be part of a bigger plan. You’ll use it to gain fans and communicate with them, but ultimately you’ll want to have your own website, your own blog, your own contact list. Use MySpace and the other networks to interact and bring them to your website. Do you own the contact list you have through MySpace? You want to build your communnity and own the asset.

What are some of the most exciting music marketing tools you’ve seen lately?

I mentioned Reverbnation, they are offering fantastic tools, mostly for free. They have the best streaming music widgets out there, the sound quality is far superior to MySpace’s player. The have a full list management system that also coordinates your street team. I used to pay money for a similar system that was harder to use! Full analytics for everything as well, all in very nice charts and graphs. Their Gig Finder helps you book shows with contact information available right there. Soon they’re going to be rolling out some awesome new options, you really need to check them out.

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Guilty Pleasures

In keeping with Friday’s “casual dress policy,” I’m injecting some spontaneity and humor into the mix here. Don’t worry, our cutting and dry editorial style will return on Monday morning.

Goodbye MySpace

I took great joy moments ago in canceling my MySpace account for TheMusicSnob. I wasn’t interested in spending ANY time on their site, and so I wasn’t making any human connections there at all. A total waste of time.

Now I can focus my efforts on composing Twitter haikus about the Olympic games.

You May Already Be Famous in Japan

Have you ever dreamed of achieving super-stardom in Japan? Then go to YouMusic, where foreigners can look at pictures and stare puzzled at Japanese text. Or click on the “English” link to have the site magically transform, and add a profile of your own. I’m curious to see how it’s done on the other side of the world, and will be creating a profile later today. I also want to hear what indie Japanese music sounds like!


What I love about Facebook is that it is actually useful. For connecting with people I actually know.

Given that, I’m not sure how useful adding a TheMusicSnob page to my profile will be, but here it is anyway.

Sidenote: It will be great when Google owns EVERY tech company in the world, that way we’ll only have to upload our videos, photos, blog posts, songs, etc. once.


This weekend I’m leaving the comfort of the quiet Manhattan streets for the big city lights of Philadelphia. Going to see a friend play some live music, hang out, and hopefully gather with some musicians and bang on pots and pans.

If you have any suggestions related to Philly, let’s have them.