10 tips for making it in the music business
In our cut-throat industry it takes more than a few good tunes to be a successful artist. We outline our top ten ways to get ahead.
1. Understand the industry you work in
There’s no sense in playing the game if you don’t know the rules. Ask yourself, how did the biggest bands on the planet get to where they are? Try to understand consumer habits, keep up with technological advances and think like a marketeer. Read industry papers, messageboards and blogs – do whatever it takes to consistently immerse yourself in your culture.
The business is rapidly evolving, and each time there’s a revolution, a great many are left behind. Don’t go constantly chasing innovation since that’s a dangerous pursuit in itself. But do your utmost to keep up and understand why decisions are made.
2. Remember you are a business
History is littered with anecdotes about ripped-off musicians. Major success stories almost always have high-profile gripes associated with them. Understand from the outset that you are running a tight ship, on which you are the chief commanding officer. Manage your outgoings, spend wisely, sign contracts diligently and make sure you are properly advised on every major business decision, whether by an industry body or a paid professional if you can afford it.
3. Set yourself realistic goals
As a creative person you’re not instinctively programmed to break your work down into manageable chunks or set yourself targets. It’s easy to lose yourself without having a clear-cut objective. Most successful people advance by setting quantifiable goals. Try it for yourself. Strive to finish a specific piece of work by a definite date, or to have an album finished by a certain point in the year. Write your expectations down. It will improve your focus in remembering, aiming for and achieving them.
4. Increase productivity
How genuinely productive are you? There’s the famous tale about an old-school publisher insisting on their artist writing a song a day every day. While this may sound like a recipe for diluted quality control, there is some sense in this arrangement. By increasing your workflow you are much more likely to hit on paydirt, rather than labouring the same ideas endlessly.
That’s not to say you should flood the marketplace or spam prospective labels with tune after tune. Retain your in-built quality control, but make a conscious effort to progress faster – as a general rule of thumb, if an idea doesn’t work after a day, revisit it a week later and if it’s still not working, shelve it and start something new.
5. Maximise your opportunities
There was a time when a recording contract was all one needed to secure a hefty advance and guarantee substantial touring income, since major labels traditionally had great marketing potential and were willing to spend as much as it took to convince the world to buy an album.
That model has now changed significantly, with a decline in recorded music sales and labels curtailing spending.
The good news is there are now more accessible revenue streams for musicians than ever before, particularly in music publishing – video games, ad syncs, mobile devices, internet performance royalties and ringtones are all revenue streams that have risen in prominence in recent years.
6. Build a great team around yourself
There’s never been a better time than now for the self-sufficient, enterprising musician. That said, never underestimate the importance of a good team. It’s humanly impossible to fulfil every role yourself, and even if it was you would be taking focus away from your core task of creating.
Having trained personnel who specialise in the key functions of a successful business will help you achieve your goals more expediently. There are enthusiastic people everywhere who will be willing to help from the outset for little or no pay if they genuinely believe in you.
7. Think positively
It’s an old but important maxim: it’s easy to be cynical and demotivated when things don’t work out but by being a hater you’re subconsciously reducing your own chances of success. Thinking positively increases your motivation and helps you influence those around you more effectively. Both are essential to any form of success.
8. Don’t be afraid to promote yourself
This one’s going to divide opinion – and with good reason; no-one likes an egomaniac. It’s traditionally been frowned upon to promote oneself, the common belief being that the cream automatically rises to the top. While there is no substitute for hard work or creative skill, ask yourself how much talent would have flourished organically if it weren’t for the co-ordinated mass marketing spend of yore. Sadly, those big budgets are now a dewy eyed memory. With labels no longer able to commit to expensive advertising and promotion, virtually every artist is harnessing the power of the internet to promote directly to the consumer. Be part of it or get left behind.
9. Invest in yourself
It’s a surefire contender for the cliché pile, but investing in your talent is perhaps the best thing you can do for your career. Not just in the financial sense. Declining incomes in the wider financial world mean less money and fewer resources for labels, publishers, promoters and managers. Very few will invest in an unknown artist. Creating that elusive ‘buzz’ or gaining the attention of anyone of note, requires self-investment. Be it in the quality of your recording, marketing, website or graphic design, any time or money you spend on yourself is a wise investment from the outset.
10. Have a no-nonsense attitude
This final point is not to be overlooked. The music business is in reality just a giant extended network where relationships are of key importance. Sadly there are a great many within that network with a considerable lack of merit or morals. Of course the distinguished are in abundance but are usually the hardest to reach or approach. From the outset you will encounter those that make countless promises and guarantees but lack foundation or credibility. Knowing how and when to steer clear is an art in itself. As a general rule of thumb adopt a zero tolerance policy to bullshit. Never be afraid to search out or investigate an individual. Seek recommendations, ask questions, and set a realistic time period for deciding whether an approach is genuine or not.