A guide for musicians bringing in outside marketing help

There are no rules for how your team should look.

Aside from a lawyer, you can make it up to compliment exactly how you work. As someone who’s freelanced for different labels, management firms, and artists directly I’ve seen how varied teams are. No manager? No problems. 4 managers? Cool!

With the different financing options outside a traditional label deal and access to a global market through the internet, artists can build their team however they want. Meaning, more opportunity for creative professionals to work on a freelance or project basis.

You, as the artist, might not need all the services given by your distribution’s artist services team or you might want to build your own family. If so, you’ll rely on freelancers. 

I’ve been a freelancer, I’ve hired dozens on behalf of managers/labels and I’ve connected hundreds of freelancers with artists. 

This is a 4-step guide for artists hiring freelancers for the first time.

1. Scope a project based on outputs, not outcomes. 

The scope of work is the agreement both parties enter that outlines the work that will be done. 

An outcome is the result that happens from the work of the freelancer. I.e.: Increase Instagram followers from 0 – 2,000 in 6 weeks.

An output is a product created by the freelancer that contributes to the overall project. I.e.: Create 15 Instagram posts per week including 5 posts, 7 Stories, 3 Reels.

If you’re thinking this sounds bent, this is why outputs are more important than outcomes:

  • You want the scope of your relationship to be crystal clear

When you start working together and expectations change say, the project is going better than expected and you achieve 2,000 followers in 3 days as rather than 6 weeks as a result of a viral mix and not from direct work of the freelancer then you don’t want to pay for work not completed. 

On the flip side, if the results aren’t achieved as a result of aspects outside the freelancer’s control, you need to pay them for their work and expertise in good faith. 

A scope detailed with clear outputs will minimize risk on both sides. You, as the artist, know exactly where the freelancer fits into your overall marketing needs. The freelancer has a clear direction on how they add value to your project so they can get cracking on execution.

  • You want to be on board with their strategy. The freelancer is acting on your behalf so you want to make sure their best foot is forward. 

Back to our instagram example, if the outcome was to grow the account by 2,000 followers in 6 weeks then you might get a strategy back that is to buy a bunch of inexpensive followers that yield no engagement nor streams. You wouldn’t be on board with this strategy however, they’ve delivered on the outcome so the work is completed. 

Instead, if the output was to create 15 Instagram posts per week including 5 posts, 7 Stories, 3 Reels, then you know they are employing a rigorous content strategy in order to achieve your overall project goal on growing the Instagram following.

  • You can terminate the engagement easier

If you’re not happy with the work once the project has commenced or completed you can have an objective conversation about how to terminate. If you’ve scoped to deliver outcomes then you’ll find yourself in an emotional finger-pointing match. What may be a clear sequence of events in your mind may be entirely different to that of the freelancer.

Instead, if you have an output scoped project you have a checklist of what was and was not delivered on the project. 

2. Research your best fit

I used to hire the best freelancer I could afford thinking their genius would build everything in my/artists head. 

After many failed relationships, I realized you’re buying a person’s context, relationships, experience and taste. Your idea will take a different shape upon execution –

The color palette you had in mind, the styling, content ideas, and partnerships will enter the world branded by the people you’re working with. 

So, I now hire freelancers based solely on their previous work, not so much their expertise.

If you’re courting a music video director then visualize yourself in one of their previous videos because that’s what it’s going to look like. The subtle cues you may not pick up on like camera angles, performance, lighting, editing speed will all apply to your project.

The best fit will be someone who’s portfolio you flick through and see your image right there with it.

Places you can go to find freelancers:

  • Friends and other artist peers. Find artists whose work you like and dig into the credits. If it’s a music video you’re after then YouTube descriptions usually list the entire team on set. If it’s photographers then they’re usually credited on press pics. Trawl artists’ instagram pages and look for BTS and see who’s tagged in the pic.
  • Put a call out on your socials for people to tag freelancers in a specific area. People in your network are more likely to want to help you than straight cold emails.
  • Ask marketers. I’m asked a lot about when I take on new clients, for now my attention is 100% on the members of my online program – the School of Deep Cuts. I’ve compiled a list of freelancers in my network in this spreadsheet that you’re free to contact. 

Their collective experience span campaigns for Doja Cat, The xx, Lil Nas X, Rex Orange County, David Bowie and Jorja Smith. Just tell them you were referred by Amber Horsburgh’s music freelancer rolodex.

3. Draft a clear, detailed brief

You’ll need a brief. This document is different to your scope of work detailing outputs. The brief tells the freelancer why they’ve been hired with background from you as to what the problem is and how you expect marketing will solve it.

The brief is critical to a good working relationship. A good brief means you can: 

  1. Hit the ground running. 

It minimizes the freelancer’s learning curve so they can get cracking on the work as soon as you begin together. Otherwise, you’ll waste precious weeks educating them on what you want. 

  1. Inspires ideas. 

Provides a document that keeps you aligned on why everyone is here. When projects get chaotic, as they inevitably do, the brief gives all parties clear instruction of why they’re there.

If you don’t have a briefing template, I provide one in my upcoming course, the School of Deep Cuts, which is opening for enrollment in the coming weeks that you’re welcome to grab.

4. Know where everyone fits

No one cares about your project as much as you do, even if you pay them. 

You must be in control over all aspects of your marketing. If you know how each area works and how they interrelate then you know who exactly you’re looking for to outsource.

One thing that drove me nuts when freelancing is this silver bullet mentality of clients. You’re often hired to fix everything yet, you have access to only a slither of the project. 

Freelancers are brought on because there’s a hole in the team, they can’t fix that hole unless you can clearly identify what it is.

What I mean by this is, no-one can deliver you results if you’re expecting them to “fix marketing” or “grow the fanbase” or “make it look better”. These requests are too broad. 

There are interrelated disciplines at play and different problems required to “grow the fanbase”. You need to know how you’re going to grow it, then you can hire the best fit to do it. E.g.: digital ads, content marketing and community management will grow the fanbase, but, unless you know the fundamentals of each area of marketing you won’t know who to hire to best help you achieve your goals.

Once you know the fundamentals of release planning you’re empowered in your marketing decisions knowing you’ve got the plan. There’s nothing worse than trying to manage other people in a project where you yourself don’t really know what’s going on.

I teach the fundamentals of release planning in the School of Deep Cuts, which is open for enrollment in the next few weeks. So, if you want to get clearer on release planning make sure you’re on the list to get updates.

Wrapping it up

If you’re ready to get outside help from a pro make sure to set them up for success by getting yourself prepped. Understand the fundamentals of music marketing and release planning in order to know exactly who you’re looking for, where to find them and what you want them to do. No one cares as much as you do so take the reigns, get in control and propel your project to where it deserves to go.