How to make it in the music industry… A popular question, 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 are plenty of opportunities out there for you to capitalize on, you just have to know where to look. If it’s celeb status, that’s going to be 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 out 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 of these myths floating around about making a living with music.
Common Music Industry Myths
1) You Need A lot Of Talent To Succeed In The Music Industry
Yes, 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 quality of work according to the Music 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. Focus on pleasing the client!
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. 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. As music creators, we tend to be victims of self-sabotage. We set unclear and sometimes unrealistic expectations and laminate them with a short deadline known as instant gratification.
We also stand in the way of our own success not purposely but oftentimes out of fear or lack of understanding.
On top of that, friends, family members, and failures are in your ear telling you what you can and cannot do when in reality it’s them that couldn’t do the things that you want to do so they put their limitations on your dreams because they couldn’t succeed.
3) You Have To Live In A Big City
There are far too many indie artists/musicians making $60 – 70k or more a year from the comfort of their homes armed with nothing, but a mic, headphones, and a few pieces of software installed on their laptops. You can live anywhere in the world as long as you have a decent internet connection.
Living in a big city has its benefits, but it’s not a guarantee of success in music. There are lots of talented people who live in LA/NYC who have yet to get their big break. Many working are Walmart or worse, unemployed.
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
Don’t feed into this bull****! There’s a lot you can do in a home studio these days. In fact, a lot of Music Cues, Video Game Music, Albums, and Film Scores are being created and mixed in the box these days.
Recording Studios run a pretty big operation catering to multiple clients, genres, and production projects. Some require multiple I/Os, various microphones, and external gear.
When you have clients in your facility paying by the hour, you want things to get done as efficiently as possible and it has to look aesthetically pleasing. Trust me, I’ve interned in and managed a few major studios.
Think about how silly a major recording studio would look if everyone hovered over 1 computer and a pair of Alesis Monitors. Would you take that establishment seriously? – Most wouldn’t.
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.
5)You Need To Be Original, Originality = Longevity
I don’t care what any industry professional tells you, ‘original music’ doesn’t guarantee anything. Good music = longevity and good music isn’t always original.
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 the music production process, 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 a lot was just as unoriginal then as it is today.
Everyone was leeching off of the success and sound of the next band. Some were successful and others, not so much.
I’m not trying to be disrespectful, just calling it like it is.
So, How Do You Succeed In The Music Industry?
1) Stay In The Loop
Pay attention to what’s happening with streaming platforms like Spotify, NFTs, and CryptoCurrency.
Learn the business of music, it helps a lot. People like speaking with others who have some idea of what they’re talking about.
Use Instagram and TikTok and find out when new shows, albums, and company events are arising. Glue your eyes to a little gossip and politics while you’re at it (I’m serious).
These are all good ways of finding and landing gigs and placement opportunities.
2) Build Strong Relationships
Having connections makes a difference. 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.
Other music industry professionals 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.
Make a habit of creating new relationships in the music industry on a regular basis.
3) No Fan Base = No Career
A fan base is an absolute must, especially for bands and artists. For music producers, composers, and writers, you need a market.
You must have someone to sell your music to.
No fan base/targetted market = no sales, no sales = you go broke. Going broke is no fun in my book.
Building a fan base takes time, but is a lot easier these days.
Some singer-songwriters rely strictly on social media and others build email lists. I’d suggest doing both and avoiding being screwed if the social media platform goes down which happens sometimes.
Having a fanbase gives you the ability to promote your music, shows, and merch directly to your fans without worrying about being smacked by a Social Media Algorithm.
4) Analyze Trends, Markets, & Their Competition
If you notice companies using a specific sub-genre of music in their ads, you might want to tap into that genre a little. Also, take a look at what similar companies are doing.
Are they using similar music? What are these companies’ agendas and what are they promoting?
Can you create the music being used? Is there an element that you can take and apply to your own music?
Might sound boring, but It’s all about being aware, anticipating what’s on the rise, and making yourself more marketable.
Pay attention to trends too!. 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 rag on issues surrounding celebrities like Miley Cyrus or Will Smith smacking Chris Rock, 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 elections. 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.
If a store clerk earned 3% from every transaction that went through their register and they’d take their job more seriously.
Music professionals and investors are more willing to help when they have a vested interest in your music.
I’m not saying just give these rights up to anyone, but give them to individuals who can help your career.
- Music Managers
- Music Publishers
- Co-Writers 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 recording 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 opened doors to other paying gigs allowing them to make a living from their craft.
7) Always Be Creating Music and Other Media Content
The more music you create, the more material you can promote. If someone likes your music chances are they’re going to want more. If you don’t have more, that could be a missed opportunity.
Why ask for more? Music Industry Professionals want to hear your range and consistency. How you deal with requests/pressure says a lot. They want people they can rely on and actions ‘do’ speak louder than words.
Not to mention, fans like seeing how things work (behind the scenes). You have to understand that fans fall in love with you as a person, not just your music. With that being said, share interesting quality content in general, not just music.
8) Be Willing To Change & Adapt
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’ve all heard stories 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”. A Google search research leads you to their Instagram or website, and you notice, they sound exactly the same as they did during the time they were dropped.
Some try to pick up where they left off and the result = music that is 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 results today. Moreover, you can’t cater to a market that doesn’t exist.
Things change, you have to adapt.
9) 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”, and 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 efforts.
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