How to make it in the music industry… Such a popular question, one that’s on the tip of everyone’s tongue that enters as well as those who’ve been in for a while without any success. Those who don’t know are confused and those who understand pretend there’s some sort of secret sauce.
I have 117 emails sitting in my inbox right now with this phrase meshed within a pool of other questions. So I figured I’d give my insight on the topic, clear up a few things and point you in the right direction.
First, what does “making it” mean? What does it mean TO YOU? Is it making a good living in the music industry or does it mean reaching celebrity status? Is it getting a Record Deal?… What is it? This is an important question because the answer will determine how complex your road to success will be.
If money is your aim, that’s easy as there’s plenty of opportunities out there for you to capitalize on, you just have to know where to look. If it’s celeb status, well, that’s more difficult.
A little truth – Most that make a living (5 & 6 figures) in the music industry you’ve probably never heard of. You don’t hear about these individuals much because they aren’t interesting enough to write about and the majority like staying behind the scenes.
I lived next door to a successful jingle producer for 5 years before I knew what he did. The only reason I found was because some of my mail was accidentally delivered to his address.
I thought he was some odd guy who had no family or friends. Have you ever seen “The Burbs”? Remember the Klopecs? That’s how closed off and anti-social he was. – Low profile foreal. So, what does it take to make a good living?
Great question, but before we get into that, allow me to shoot down some myths that are floating about.
Common Music Industry Myths
1) You Need A lot Of Talent To Succeed In The Music Industry
I believe you need ‘some’ talent, but you don’t need to be the most talented person in the world.
You have to be able to deliver what the client wants and to be honest, they don’t always “need” or “want” the best of work according to the “creator’s” standards.
I know that might be hard to believe because everyone says “hone your skills” “Make sure the music is really good” “Focus on GREAT QUALITY music” Eh… take that with a grain of salt.
Talent certainly does help, but don’t let the “lack of” factor keep you from pushing music and chasing opportunities.
Don’t worry about being a perfectionist either. I find that people who chase perfection miss out on a lot of opportunities. You have to know when to let go, and when to move forward.
Being able to deliver a quality mix and meeting deadlines trump talent and perfection any day.
2) It’s Hard To Make A Living In The Music Industry
It doesn’t have to be. I find that people tend to make things harder on themselves than they need to. People are afraid to move out of their comfort zones.
If touring is what you love, but you’re not successful with it, that might not be your calling. Some people are great songwriters but suck as performing artists and vice versa. We’re all aware of 1 hit wonders and or acts that have been signed to big labels, and then later dropped.
Years pass, and you wonder…. “what happened to those guys”. So, you do a Google search, you find their sites and notice, they sound exactly the same as they did during the time they were dropped. Most try to pick up where they left off and the result = music that is totally disconnected compared to the market – just no relevancy whatsoever.
Sometimes, these acts/artists have a small fan base they can rely on, but most of the time that fan base dies down or just fades away completely.
You can’t use what worked 25 years ago and expect to see the same or any results today. Things change, you have to adapt. You can’t cater to a market that doesn’t exist and forcing an old sound on a newer generation? That doesn’t work.
Look at it this way, if it wasn’t working for you 10 -20 years ago that might be a hint → It’s time to make a change!.
3) You Have To Live In A Big City
You can live anywhere in the world as long as you have a decent internet connection. There are far too many indie artists/musicians making $60 – 70k or more a year from the comfort of their home armed with nothing, but a mic, headphones, and few pieces of software installed on their laptops.
I will admit, living in a big city has its benefits, but it’s not needed. There are hundreds of talented people who live in LA/NYC who have yet to get their big break.
For some, being in a big city is discouraging because they begin to realize “hey, I’m not the only one trying to do this”. They also start to realize how clicky and relationship-dependent the industry is.
Big city, no strong connections? Good luck
4) You Need Expensive Music Equipment
It depends on the type of music you’re creating, who your audience is, and what you consider expensive. There’s a lot you can do in a home studio these days. In fact, a lot of cues, game audio, and scores are being created and mixed in the box these days.
I know you see magazines and recording studios full of expensive gear, but that’s not needed. Big recording studios record tons of artists, musicians and rent their facilities out to production companies. They run a pretty big operation, so it makes sense.
Think about how silly a big studio would look if everyone hovered over 1 computer and a pair of Alesis monitors. Would you take that establishment seriously? – Most wouldn’t.
Now, in a home studio, nothing has to look pretty, it just has to work. The clients and fans only care about 1 thing, and that’s if the music sounds good.
I went in a little longer than I expected on that one, but what I’m trying to say is → Don’t feed into the bull****
5)You Need To Be Original, Originality = Longevity
Oh man, I can just feel the heat from the infrared beam on my neck as I type this.
Deep Breath – Okay, here goes…I think this statement is crap, flat out. I don’t care what any industry professional tells you, ‘original music’ doesn’t guarantee anything. Good music = longevity and good music aren’t always original.
Back in the day, when music was harder to create if you had a sound or style that people liked, they had to come to you to get it.
These days, there isn’t a sound you can bring to the table that can’t be replicated. Technology has taken the mystery out of this, and it gets easier with each and every software update.
Most clients want something that sounds similar to something they’ve already heard anyway.
“I’m looking for a song that sounds like this”, “can you create something like that?”, “I need a hit that sounds like so and so”.
Managers, A&Rs, and Record Labels are no different. They talk about the need for ‘original’ music, but every hit that rips through the airwaves is a carbon copy of everything else that’s out
– So where’s all this original music going?
Older musicians rave about how authentic and original music was in their day. Truth is, if you study older music (from any era or genre) you’ll notice that it was just as unoriginal then as it is today.
Everyone was leeching off the success and sound from the next band or group or trying to, some were successful and others, not so much.
I’m not trying to be disrespectful, just calling it as I see it. Alright, I’m ready to move on:)
So, How Do You Succeed In The Music Industry?
1) Stay In The Loop
I know It’s hard to stay updated with the latest and greatest applications, mixing methods, or music trends, but do the best you can. If there’s a software application or update that will improve your workflow GET IT.
If there’s a hot music trend emerging you need to be all over it. If mixing is something you struggle with, take a class on it.
Get on a PR list, find out when new shows, albums, and company events are arising, these are all possible placement opportunities.
Learn the business of music, it’ll help with a lot. People like speaking with others who have some idea of what they’re talking about. Go to workshops, so much to learn and they’re FUN.
2) Build Strong Relationships
Ask any successful person how they got to where they are and how they maintain their success and they’ll tell you “I have good friends ” or something along those lines. Having connections makes a difference. Every month I find opportunities in my inbox from people I’ve worked with or met over the years.
They pass projects my way because they’ve worked with me and know I deliver in a timely fashion once contracted. These types of relationships keep food and opportunities on the table for a lifetime.
3) No Fan Base = No Career
A must have, especially for bands and artists. You must have someone to sell your products to. No fan base = no sales, no sales = you go broke, that doesn’t sound fun in my book.
Building a fan base takes time, but a lot easier than it used to be. Some artists don’t even perform, they just build a social following or email list (of fans) and direct the traffic back to their singles, albums, shows, and merch.
Some are clever enough to build their following online and then launch a script on their site that allows fans to suggest or where they play next. From there the band can map out a mini-tour based on the interest and location of their fans. Very effective if done correctly.
4) Analyze Markets & Its Competition
People always say “don’t worry about what the next man is doing” I disagree, you should pay close attention to what the competition is doing. Why struggle when you don’t have to? People have already made the mistakes and done the trial and error for you, learn from them!
If company x is seeing great results by doing ‘ABC, then you need to do the same or a variation of it. If you notice companies using a specific sub-genre of music, then you might want to tap into that genre a little. Can you create it? Is there an element that you can take and apply to your own music? It’s all about making yourself more marketable.
Pay attention to trends. When you see a trend in the media, it would be wise to reach out to companies that stand to make a profit from it. While people were ragging on Miley Cyrus, I was contacting gaming devs to see if my services could be used in any spoofs they planned on creating.
I did the same during the presidential election. Talk about easy money.
5) Give Up A % Of Your Publishing – Be Worth Someone’s Time
Yes, I’m telling you to go out there and bend over. Give up a percentage of your rights. You do want people to help you make money right? Make it interesting for them. Sometimes 20% from profits isn’t enough. 30% ownership? That’s another story.
Give a clerk 3% from every transaction that went through their register and they’d take their job more seriously.
People are more willing to help when they have a vested interest in your material.
I’m not saying just give these rights up to anyone, but give them to individuals who can give your career a boost. Managers, agents, publishers, etc.
I know that probably goes against everything you believe in, but this is the real world.
6) Be Flexible – Keep Your Options Open
Be willing to accept contract jobs. Not everyone can make it as a top record producer, musician, or performing artist. Don’t let this frustrate and stop you from earning good money in other areas of the industry.
There are talented singers who make a killing doing voice-overs. I know a lot of audio engineers who make good money editing sound for video, games, audiobooks, and all sorts of random things.
Yes, this might not be where they wanted to be initially, but it’s still audio-related, and it’s opened doors to other paying gigs allowing them to make a living from their craft.
7) Always Be Creating Music!
This industry is a numbers game. The more music you create, the more material you have to shop around. If someone likes a song of yours chances are they’re going to ask for more, and if all you have is 5, that could be a missed opportunity.
Why ask for more? Because they want to hear your range, your consistency, how you deal with requests/pressure, whether or not you can push quality music quickly, etc. This is especially true when it comes to music industry professionals. They want people they can rely on and actions ‘do’ speak louder than words.
Get in the habit of working from a template, working from scratch isn’t always a good thing depending on how long it takes you to create. Some opportunities only have 2 maybe 4-hour windows. If it takes you 5 hours to write, record, and mix a track and the agent needs it in 2, you’re SOL.
A lot of opportunities have short deadlines so get used to the time crunch. A good % of placements and opportunities come to those who have the ability to deliver with consistency – Be one of those people.
8) Keep Moving Forward
You’re going to hear “no” a lot. Deals will fall through, people are going to tell you “you’re not good enough”, your family may doubt you… Heck, you may even doubt yourself.
Push all that nonsense aside, and just keep moving forward. Good things happen to those who are consistent and persistent with their goals.
That’s how it’s done, no secrets or special tactics. Good ol common sense and action-taking, that’s it. If you’ve found this post informative, please share. If this is your first time on the site, thanks for stopping by, and please be sure to set some time aside to check out my Music Licensing Case Study