5 Ways to Rise Up in the Music Industry

Now that artist’s careers are not reliant upon getting a record deal, the market is saturated ~ perhaps over saturated. And if you frequent Spotify playlists like I do, then you know that there is no shortage of incredibly talented new artists. However, when it comes to breaking through to the big time in the music industry, clearly, talent is not all that you need.

Like the new business owner with the dream of success, the idea is only the starting point. Then comes the business acumen, team and resources to make it happen in the music industry. It’s the exact same for musicians.

Talent may be a non-negotiable edge in the music business, but it’s an artist’s business acumen that will determine their real fate. An understanding of the industry, your relationships, how well you handle and lead people, the integrity with which you conduct business and working with the right people, is what success is really made of.

Longtime rock n’ roll ‘preneur, Mick Jagger, doesn’t just have performance swag and a frontman’s personality, he also has a business head. Before The Stones, he attended the London School of Economics. The Stones, and U2, have grossed more in concert sales than any other band, well north of a billion dollars. Gene Simmons of KISS is a longtime self proclaimed business man. Their costumes, persona’s and clever merchandise raked in more merch dollars than any other musical act in history –nearly a billion by some estimates.

And this conversation about business in music is urgent. Because artists are losing out. Losing out on opportunities or in a raw form – cash dollars.  

And what’s worse, is that not only is the music business already confusing for how to collect revenue, and full of potholes and bad characters, but in general, business is not an artist’s focus or their strong suit. For those of you who have a business brain, then you’re the lucky ones. For everyone else (and that would be the majority), don’t worry, it’s never too late to adopt a business head. It can still be creative, I promise!  

At the end of the day, it’s the decisions you make, from who you choose to work with, to your detailed understanding of the music industry and who’s who in it, to your ability to navigate and negotiate with skill, vision and ease, that will determine your fate (and your pocketbook.) It’s not only the schieving, thieving, goatee sporting, managers in the industry that are out to swindle you, sometimes it’s you who hasn’t got own your back. And unfortunately one, two or three wrong decisions and it can set you back years even decades, or — leave you out of the game altogether. And you won’t even realize what happened, usually until it’s tens, or hundreds, of thousands of dollars too late.

But the good news is, that you have an opportunity to change all of that, and avoid that completely. When you master the 5 steps below (even 2 of them), you will have a ginormous advantage over everyone else, who like you, is trying to master the music machine. And it will actually speed up your progress.

1. Getting Real, Honest, Professional Feedback From People Who Give A Sh*t About You.

Friends and family don’t count. Unless they are in the business. The worst thing you can do is to be insular and not get professional feedback. Perspective from those who are further than you, and who have a track record, (and who give a sh*t about you, not some label dude that is just grandstanding) are worth their weight in gold. Those perspectives will actually grow your career. It’s easy to know whose advice to follow, the ones that work!

2. Building a Community of Artists, Resources to Help You Grow.

Artists should not be in competition with each other. They should be of help. Why reinvent the wheel? Learning from other artists is the fastest way to grow. But only look up the ladder one rung or two. Focus on people that are just a few steps ahead. How are they doing it? What’s working for them? Then filter it through your “gut.” And ask yourself if it’s an approach you think would work for you. But more than anything, reach out to other artists, be supportive, and ask for advice from those further than you. Oh, and keep up on your Wikipedia’s to read about how artists made it. It helps to give you a model plan. Keep in mind, everyone’s path is different, so you have to stay tuned to what is working for you and go more in that direction.

3. Increasing Your Music Industry ‘Know How’ and Acumen.

Nothing is worse for you than just “being an artist” and not knowing the music business. Mary J. Blige said, “the music business is no place for people that don’t know things…” It’s a complex business, and not knowing how it works will leave you vulnerable to big mistakes and even costly ones. Study music business books, and keep an open, upbeat and positive mentality. Suspecting that everyone is out to rip you off will hurt you in the long run. You have to give to get, especially before you are proven.

4. Building Your Music Business.

The second worse thing for you is not being set up in business. Are your copyrights filed? Are you registered with a Performing Rights Organization (ASCAP, BMI or SESAC in the U.S.) Are your song titles and copyright numbers filed and up to date with your PRO? Are you registered with Soundexchange? All of those things need to happen for you to get paid royalties. Some artists and songwriters have a publishing administrative company who handles all of that for them. Worth looking into if you’ve got a large catalog. It’s important to dot your “i’s” and cross your “t’s” in this business. Not doing so will hurt you. It’s also an important thing to help you grow. Knowing everything is ready to roll when you get that song in a big film, helps you go for it.

5. Working Inside the Music Business.

The indie world is a great thing, but sometimes gives artists the wrong message. That they can indeed “do-it-themselves”. That doesn’t mean to literally do-it-yourself. YOu can’t produce yourself (99.9% of the time.) And you can’t grow to where you are making a great living from music as a complete solopreneur. You need a team to help you do that. Someone to manage your online content, someone to help you with booking and contracts, and someone to help you grow your business. There are key people in the music industry that can make things happen. Don’t isolate. Seek out those pivotal relationships that can help you get there faster and better.  


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