Updated: Sep 19
We've created the Bluffers Guide To Music, a simple A-Z glossary of key terms for indie musicians in 2023. Along the way, you'll find some killer stats, the occasional joke and links to further reading from Major Labl and our sister blog Right Chord Music.
Let's kick things off, here is our Bluffers Guide To Music.
A&R stands for Artists and Repertoire, it’s the department at a record label or music publisher responsible for discovering new talent and signing them to the company. A&R also works to guide the artist’s career once they’re signed.
A digital aggregator (or digital distributor) is a company that helps to distribute your music to streaming platforms like YouTube and YouTube Music.
AAC is a music file format. It's Apple's alternative to MP3 and stands for 'Advanced Audio Coding', Used for Apple Music streaming.
AIM is the not-for-profit trade body exclusively representing the UK’s independent music sector, which makes up around a quarter of the recorded music market.
Also known as split testing, refers to an experimentation process where two or more versions of a variable eg ad creative or audience are run at the same time to determine which version performs best.
Research shows the best way for a brand or indie musician to grow is by focusing on acquisition over retention. It's easier to get new people to listen once than existing listeners to listen twice. So while you shouldn't ignore retaining fans, your focus should be on broad-reaching acquisition.
A blanket agreement is a standard music rights licence which the BBC and other broadcasters have in place which allows them to use any song from their music catalogues, in exchange for an annual fee. They are less time-consuming than acquiring the licence for every song they wish to use individually.
A blog is a regularly updated website or web page. The primary value of a music blog is credible, third-party endorsement. A good blog should show up in Google when people search your band or artist name. We recommend our sister blog Right Chord Music.
Blog aggregators allow musicians to submit their music once in exchange for the opportunity to pick up support from multiple blogs or music promoters. See Right Chord Music's Indie Collective, Musosoup or Submit Hub.
BPM stands for beats per minute. The BPM of a piece of music is also called the tempo. A piece of music's tempo can vary from extremely slow (20 bpm) to very fast (200+ bpm).
The music industry’s three biggest record labels: Sony Music Entertainment, Universal Music Group and Warner Music Group.
When you play a gig drummers might share the bones of a kit, but they’ll rarely share the whole kit. Breakables are the pricey parts of a drum kit including the snare, cymbals, and kick pedal, for example, that each drummer brings themselves.
Copyright is a legal right by which creators claim ownership of their original material. There is no official method to copyright work in the UK. You can mail (post or email) or save a copy of the work in any way that will help to establish when it was created with a time stamp. As the owner you have the sole authority to: copy the music, issue, lend or rent copies to the public perform, show or play the music in public or communicate the music to the public (i.e. broadcasting it via TV, radio, internet etc.)
Brand consistency is making sure that your image, style and messaging is consistent across all channels. This makes it easier for fans, blogs and music industry people to confidently know they have found the right artist when they search.
A cover song appeals to our minds on a basic psychological level. “Our brains like both the familiar and the novel." (Jason King) Cover versions provide a proven strategy to help indie musicians grow their fanbase by leveraging the existing equity of a well-known and loved song.
A conversion occurs when an ad click leads directly to a behaviour that's valuable to you, such as a stream, purchase or mailing list sign-up. You can set them up on the Meta Ad Manager to track conversions on a landing page set up to promote your latest release. Read more.
A Custom Audience is an ad targeting option in Meta that lets you find and retarget audiences that have previously engaged with your content. You can build custom audiences from sources including Video viewers, Page followers, website visitors, or advert interactions.
Stands for Digital Service Provider a DSP is a streaming platform like Spotify or an online service that distributes digital audio to consumers.
Musicians can learn a lot from Disney. Disney understands that a good story is always a good story. They also understand that once they have a good story, they have endless new audiences for that story. Disney ensures each new generation is exposed to the story in the latest consumption format. How can you be more like Disney? Read more
Door Deal Split
A door-split deal is a financial arrangement between a venue and the performer, in which the musician doesn’t get paid a fixed fee to perform, but receives a percentage of the profit generated from ticket sales.
A demo is a basic recording designed to showcase the quality and style of a musician’s work. Demos are often sent to A&R representatives, booking agents or management companies who might be interested in working with the artist.
Short for “electronic press kit,” an EPK is a digital promotional package of assets that an artist can send to journalists, radio DJs, record labels, and booking agents. The EPK should provide a summary of the artist’s career and latest work. The assets typically include a biography, promotional images, current singles and videos, social media links, and highlights of the artist’s streaming, sales, and radio statistics. If you want one designed get in touch!
Eyes Before Ears
When creating social content remember that on most social platforms (excluding TikTok) content is consumed with the sound off as the default. That means you have to engage the eyes in order to engage the ears. If your content looks boring, nobody will click to listen.
Engagement can take many forms, but not all engagement is the same, so always think of it as a spectrum and focus on driving the highest forms of engagement EG Buying, listening, and joining the mailing list rather than the lowest: A like or 5-second view. Read more
Fit For Format
When creating social media content ensure it is correctly formatted to fit the full screen, it's way more impactful. Avoid widescreen YouTube videos in vertical Stories or Reels.
Fans are more than listeners. Fans listen to everything, they buy your merch, join your mailing list, come to your shows and tell their friends about you. Take time to get to know them and do everything you can to get more fans at every turn.
Fake It To Make It
'Fake it to make it' means to consciously cultivate an attitude, feeling, or perception of competence or success that you don't currently have by pretending you do until it becomes true. If you look and sound professional, people will believe you are.
FLAC (Free Lossless Audio Codec) files are another example of lossless audio, but there’s limited support for them. You can play an MP3, AAC, or WAV file on almost any device, but not FLACs.
Avoid the temptation to boost your social media follower base by buying followers. It's counter-intuitive, fake followers or bots won't engage, and it prevents you from creating meaningful lookalike audiences as the base audience is fake.
Genres are a simple, if somewhat lazy way to categorise your music. In reality, most people choose music to soundtrack a mood or moment. For example, you might never choose to listen to Country music, but you might enjoy love songs which happen to be Country in style. Consider this when writing your next press release.
How do you know if you are growing if you don't track growth? Record benchmarks before the release of every single to understand the impact on Followers, Engagement, Listeners and Fans. Set targets and understand what success looks like.
Help Musicians is a charity for professional musicians of all genres, both in work and in retirement. They help at times of crisis, but also at times of opportunity, giving people the support they need at the crucial stages that could make or break their career. They love music and want a world where musicians thrive.
A hashtag refers to the hashtag symbol (#) used before a relevant keyword. Hashtags provide a way to link your content to a wider conversation or theme. 99% of the value of hashtags comes from linking to an existing conversation. Creating your own hashtag is only effective if a large number of other people use it.
In a drum kit, a Hi-Hat is the double cymbal on a stand, usually positioned next to the snare, which can be played with a foot pedal and/or by the top cymbal being hit with a stick.
In a recent study of independent artists conducted by Major Labl, we discovered that only 18% of musicians are confident they get paid what's owed to them. To solve this issue, we are launching a new service. You can be the first to try it by registering here.
Income Per Stream
Spotify pays artists between $0.003 - $0.005 per stream on average. That works out as an approx revenue split of 70/30. 70% to the artist/rights holders and 30% to Spotify. If you want to calculate your approximate income from Spotify streams make use of this free calculator courtesy of Right Chord Music.
An ISRC (International Standard Recording Code) is a string of 12 unique alphanumeric characters that is used to identify any sound recording or music video. ISRCs are like ISBNs for books. ISRCs make recordings automatically identifiable, which helps ensure that royalties are properly distributed.
Jack Your Body
Steve 'Silk' Hurley hit the UK number one in 1987 with the track 'Jack Your Body' and helped launch dance music in the UK. It arrived with no promotion, a video cut from black-and-white films and barely any lyrics. 1987's dance hits also included Pump UpThe Volume by M/A/R/S Frankie Knuckles's Your Love and Coldcut's Say Kids What Time is It.
Q: What do call a guitar player without a girlfriend? A: Homeless.
Q: What do you call a drummer in a three-piece suit? A: The defendant.
Key Man Clause
A clause within a contract that names an individual, where the contract depends upon the named individual remaining in their role. For example, you can't imagine Radiohead without Thom Yorke.
KPI stands for Key Performance Indicator. At the start of every year or before a new release, you should set some to help determine whether your objectives have been reached. KPIs could include monthly listeners, follower growth, press coverage, or the number of headline shows you perform this year.
The time delay experienced between a sound or control signal being generated and it being auditioned or taking effect, measured in seconds.
Load In / Load Out
When you play live the Load in time is when you need to get your instruments and gear from the van into the venue and on stage. Load-out is the exact opposite.
Layering is a production technique which refers to the blending of similar, multiple musical parts or vocals at once, often combined on one channel or assigned to one controller. The aim is to create a fuller, richer sound than the vocal/instrument by itself.
If music promotion is the output, music marketing is the input, it’s the thought and plan behind the action. The what, the why and the where. Music marketing considers the bigger picture and the best solution rather than racing to the quickest or cheapest solution. Music marketing is about building a plan for success not just expecting it.
Metadata is the data about your audio files, which is embedded in them. It includes, among other things, artist name, song title, album title, year of release, songwriter credits, and genre. Without accurate and complete metadata, your files aren't searchable, won't display correctly, and royalty distribution can't happen.
The 'Manager' is the business manager for a band. Their responsibilities vary greatly from one manager to the next. Typically, band managers are paid in the region of 15%–25% of total earnings. It's hard to attract a manager as an independent artist because 15% of nothing doesn't pay the bills! We offer a pay-as-you-go solution for independent artists who need help and support. Discover more.
Research from the brand marketing world conducted by Kantar highlights the importance of 1) meaningful and 2) difference. If you can build a business that combines these two behaviours it's proven that you grow at a faster rate. Think AirB&B. Consider how as a musician you can stand out by being both meaningful and different.
Spotify Marquee is Spotify’s own in-platform advertising and recommendation service. It enables musicians to activate their fanbase by recommending new releases to their current and previous listeners. To use the platform musicians need to have a minimum of 5,000 streams in the last 28 days and have more than 1,000 followers, so sadly it's not for everyone.
NFT is a (Non-fungible Token) Ok think of this analogy… As a kid I collected football stickers, imagine if they only printed one Lionel Messi sticker and you owned it, had proof you owned it and there was no way you could lose it. That’s basically the principle behind an NFT. An NFT could also be a unique piece of art, music, video, invite to an exclusive event or even an item of clothing. Discover more
Organic reach is the number of people who have seen your social media post through unpaid distribution. We recommend you always start by posting content organically to test which content resonates the most with your audience. Paid promotion can be used to boost content that is proven to engage. For more social media best practices, download our free guide.
One sheets are used by Record Labels, Distributors, and Independent Artists as PR summaries to sell a new release. As their name suggests they should be one page long. They normally include: Short Bio, Press Photos, Upcoming Release Details, Tour/Shows and key selling points or achievements.
PRS for Music
PRS pay royalties to their members when their music is: broadcast on TV or radio, performed or played in public, whether live or through a recording or streamed or downloaded. The MCPS have an agreement with the PRS, they pay royalties to their members when their music is: copied as physical products, such as CDs and DVDs, streamed or downloaded or used in TV, film or radio.
There are three major types of playlists on Spotify: Spotify editorial playlists, Spotify algorithmic playlists, and listener playlists. The key algorithmic playlists are: are Discover Weekly, Release Radar, Daily Mix, Repeat or Rewind and Radio. You can increase your chances of Spotify playlist support by pitching new music to them, increasing streams, followers and saves.
Push marketing is as the name sounds about pushing content at their audience and hoping some of it sticks. EG. ‘We have something to tell you and you will listen’. The problem is 90% of the content on social media has become about passive push, and consequently, 99% of it becomes bland wallpaper that is ignored or skipped. Your challenge is to create content that pulls people in Read more.
The pre-save was designed as a way to increase engagement with music ahead of release. However, for independent artists, it rarely works as the fan base is too small to drive any pre-saves beyond the core fans that were going to listen anyway. It's often more effective just to ask people to listen and save on release day. Read more.
Pay to Play
Never pay to play. If a promoter asks you to pay your way onto a live bill in return for exposure don't do it. It rarely if ever pays back, know your worth and ensure you always get paid for your art and your time!
Public Relations can be a key part of the music marketing effort. But for independent artists, it's rarely worth the outlay. Remember anyone can set themselves up a PR, sending emails to a mailing list is not PR. A review published on a blog that can't be found on Google isn't helpful. Build your own relationships with blogs and do it yourself. Read more.
Did you know... Brian May’s father actually made his guitar for him by hand. Affectionately known as “Red Special”, May even helped work on the guitar himself. The wood used to make it was over 200 years old. They took the wood from an antique mantle.
Daytime radio playlists are controlled by major record labels. Your best bet is a one-off spot play. Don't waste your money on radio pluggers. Start with free plays via BBC Introducing and Amazing Radio, build relationships with local radio, student radio and Podcasters and build buzz until the radio stations have to come to you. Read more.
Whenever someone uses your intellectual property, they have to pay for the right to do so and those payments are usually in the form of royalties. Make sure you are registered with your local PRO to ensure you are receiving the royalties owed to you. See PRS for Music.
A rider is a part of your contract that stipulates what extras the promoter must provide. This is most often in the form of food and drinks in the green room before and after a live show. Remember: the rider comes out of your money at the end of the day.
The biggest mistake made by independent artists is to spend months writing and recording their music and then releasing it, announcing the release with one social media post and expecting everyone to flock to listen. We have produced a free webinar to help musicians plan to release music more effectively. Watch it here
Don't be obsessed with Spotify streams. Your save rate (total track saves divided by total track listeners x 100) is a great proxy for engagement and shows which of your tracks fans love and want to hear again. Use this data to decide which track to release or promote. We typically see much higher save rates for tracks promoted with Meta advertising than using playlist promo. Anything above 10% is good, anything above 20% is exceptional.
Remember there is no story in unknown band releases an unknown song'. Increase your chances of press support and attention by creating an engaging story around your release. Read more
A stage plot is a visual representation of what your set-up looks like. It indicates where amps, drums, keys, microphones, DIs, and anything else you’ve got in your arsenal goes. It’s usually just a simple drawing of where things go on stage, most often a digital image file, and is provided to the venue’s stage manager so they know how to prepare for your set.
Only 18% of independent musicians are confident they get paid what's owed to them. This depressing statistic is caused by manual processes. After all, if you are relying on your drummer to remember your splits and collect and distribute your money, you might be waiting a long time! We're building a new service with automatic splits, so you always get paid. Sign up to be the first to try it.
Music sync or publishing placement is when your music is used in TV adverts, programmes, films, videos and games it can be a valuable revenue stream for independent artists. Discover more.
A venue or promoter is likely to ask for a tech spec so they can set up the stage properly for a band and ensure all of the bands technical needs can be met. Also see Stage Plot.
Tour managers take charge of the details of a tour, making a tour planned by a Booking Agent, actually happen.
At the start of your musical project, your target audience will be your friends and family but as you grow you will hopefully attract a wider audience. Use stats provided by social channels to understand which audiences are engaging the most. When you start paid promotion start with broad targeting to a wide audience and slowly narrow down based on who is consistently engaging the most.
A microphone in the control room of a recording studio that is carried on a separate circuit from the recorded channels, which allows the recording engineer to communicate with the musicians in the live room or sound booths through the monitoring system.
A Universal Product Code is necessary to identify your product within a digital or physical store. Similar to an ISRC, it is a 12-14 digit alphanumeric code; However, UPCs denote the album level and not the song level of your product.
USP is the unique benefit or feature that makes you stand out from your competitors. The USP must highlight the benefits in a way that is meaningful to its target audience. See Meaningful Difference.
Vinyl recorded a 15th year of growth in 2022 and overtook CD in terms of revenue for the first time in 35 years. According to ERA, 2022 vinyl album sales revenue grew 11% to £150.5m, while CD album sales fell 17.4% to £124m - the first time vinyl outsold CD by value since 1987. That increase is largely due to the format’s increasing prices - £30 is now common for an LP.
A smooth and repeated changing of the pitch up and down from the regular musical pitch, often done by singers or performed by string and wind players.
A wah-wah pedal, or simply wah pedal, is a type of electric guitar effects pedal that alters the tone and frequencies of the guitar signal to create a distinctive sound, mimicking the human voice saying the onomatopoeic name "wah-wah".
A visual representation or graphic of a sound wave, audio signal or other types of wave, showing the wave’s oscillations above and below the zero line.
A format for storing uncompressed audio files.
A microphone placement technique in which two cardioid microphones are placed with their heads toward each other at a 90-degree angle, and as close together as possible. Stereo miking techniques can be used to create the perception of width, space, and location.
A percussion instrument set up in the form of a keyboard whose bars are made of wood. Played using mallets.
Launched in 2005, YouTube is the biggest video-sharing platform and the second-biggest social media platform in the world, with over 2.68 billion users. Despite the scale, it remains hard for independent artists to monetise their channels. To qualify for monetisation an artist needs 1,000 subscribers and 4,000 watch hours (within 12 months).
A musical instrument composed of strings mounted upon a resonate frame, strings can be plucked with fingers or struck using small mallets.
If you have made it through this guide, you deserve some sleep. Sweet dreams!
Further Reading & Resources
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The Bluffers Guide To Music was written by Mark Knight, Founder Major Labl Artist Club.