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How To Make It In The Music Industry - 4 Key Factors

How to make it in the music industryImportant Note: This is not one of those guides with no substance that says “Work hard and you’ll achieve it”. Have a read to see what I feel you need to give yourself the best chance of success in the music industry. If you find it helpful, please share with other musicians and band members.
Shaun Letang.

Making it in the music industry isn’t an easy task at all. If anyone’s ever told you it would be, they were lying!

That said, it’s not impossible to get where you want to be either. Want to make an additional part time income from your talent? Or want to play sell out tours by yourself or with your band? There are acts out there that are doing this as we speak, so it definitely is achievable.

But what factors are needed in order to succeed in the music industry? What should you be doing to ensure you hit your aims and objectives? This is exactly what we’ll be looking at today.

Below I’ve shared 4 key things which I feel are all important for hitting your goals.

4 steps to succeeding in the music business

I hope you find my incites useful, and get involved with any additional things you thing are important at the end of this guide. But first:

Early Disclaimer 1: I’m not saying these are the only factors needed to become a success in the music business. That said, these are what I feel are the most important, and will give you the best chance if you put them all into practice. All of the below 4 factors are broad overviews, as going into any level of real detail would require bring the length of this guide up to book level at least. Thankfully, a lot of the needed finer details can be found scattered around Music Think Tank and my website.

Early Disclaimer 2: Everyone’s has a different idea of what ‘making it’ is. Some would be happy with an additional part time income from the music business, for others making it means being both commercially and financially successful. Whatever your idea of making it is, these tips will still be relevant. All are good practices, and traits which generally encourage success.

Now I’m not saying it’ll be easy or happen within the next few months, but get these things in place and you’ll be on the right path. With that out of the way, let’s get into it. Here are the four factors your should be striving towards:

1: You Need To Have Undeniable Talent

Musician with undeniable talentThe first thing you need in place, is a good level of talent. Without this, your music career most likely won’t be very long lived. Sure if you have a strong marketing team in place and they spin a good angle on why people should like you, you don’t have to be the most talented musician in the world to see some level of success. That said, do you really want to be that person who has more people disliking them then supporting them? My guess is you don’t, even if you are financially successful.

Talent comes before all else. Until you’ve got a good level of talent, you shouldn’t do anything to promote your music. You want people’s first impression of you to be a good one, as it’s not a easy job relaunching yourself to a group of people who have heard you but weren’t very impressed. Chances are they won’t try and listen to you the second time around, even if you tell them that you’ve improved.

As you may notice, I didn’t just put “you should be talented”. I mentioned you need undeniable talent. There are lots of levels of talent, and while you can be quite successful with a ‘good’ level of talent, if you’ve undeniable talent (combined with the other factors in this list), it’ll be hard for you not to have some sort of financial success in the music industry. In all honesty, there are a ton of talented musicians out there who make really good music that will make their target audience very happy. That said, there are a lot fewer musicians whose talent is generally undeniable. If you can get your talent to this level, you’re going to be a lot closer to your music career goals.

2: Drive And Motivation Should Be Flowing Through Your Veins

Stay motivated to succeed in musicNext up, you need drive and motivation to push your music career forward. This is just as important as the above step, as without drive, your talent isn’t going to count for much.

You could be the world’s best singer, rapper, or bass player. If however you haven’t got the motivation to get your music recorded, to promote it in any way, or to generally do the things needed for a successful music career, then you might as well be talentless. Because you won’t make a success of yourself in the public eye. If you’re only interest in making good music for yourself, that’s fair enough. But I’m guessing as you read Music Think Tank, you want more then just that.

Making it in the music business takes a lot of hard work and effort on your behalf, so if you aren’t willing to invest the time needed, don’t expect to get very far at all.

Now I know someone in the comments is going to say that not everyone has a lot of time to dedicate to their music career, and I understand that. That said, do what you can. If you’ve the other factors in place and you dedicate as much time to your music as humanly possible, you can still have some level if success. It may take longer to achieve then it would for someone who has 7 hours a day to dedicate to their music and who has more disposable income. Furthermore, you might not even reach the same heights they achieve. But if you dedicate a few nights a week after you’ve finished work and put the kids to bed, as well as half a day on the weekend to what you need to do, there’s no reason you can’t make at least an additional income from your music. It is possible, but you need to put the work in. Now the question remains; Do you want it enough?

3: You Need Good Marketing Knowledge

Good music marketing knowledgeThe third factor you need in place is the ability to market your music in the correct manor. In the same way having talent won’t help you get out there if you don’t have the drive to push yourself, if you spend 35 hours a week doing the wrong kind of marketing, you’ll find it very difficult to make much progress; both in terms of building a fanbase and gaining recognition.

Marketing is what you need to do in order to raise awareness of you and your music. Without marketing, people won’t know you’re a musician, let alone hear any of your material. That said, not all marketing is made evenly. In fact, some types of marketing are pretty much a waste of time, as it’ll stop you doing the things that would really benefit your music career.

For example, let’s say you read somewhere that Twitter is a great way to promote your music. So you go on to build up 23 fans (You’re following 106), and you spend all your time sending Tweets to these fans thinking it’ll increase your exposure. In reality, it won’t.

Now I’m not saying you’re personally going to do this, but I’m using this example to illustrate my point:

If you don’t promote your music in the RIGHT way, you won’t go very far at all – Click To Tweet This

If you want to learn more about music marketing, check out my free music marketing ebook. It’ll get you on the right path with regards to raising awareness of your music, so give it a read.

4: And You Need… Luck (?)

Do you need luck to make it in the music industryOk, so I wasn’t sure if I should put this one in. I myself have mixed feelings about how big a factor luck plays. Sure you can get lucky and be in the ‘right place at the right time’, moving your music career forward faster then it would have gone otherwise. But if you’ve the above three things in place, it’s going to be pretty much impossible for people to ignore you for very long.

If you’ve an undeniable talent, you will make fans. If you’ve the motivation to get your sounds out there and the marketing knowledge to know how to effectively do that, you will get more people hearing you. That effect will snowball, and you will gain more opportunities and money if you market things right.

It’ll be silly for me to deny that luck doesn’t play any part in a lot of musicians careers. That said, I’m a firm believer that you make your own luck. By putting into place the previous three mentioned points, you will have made yourself more ‘lucky’ then a lot of musicians out there.

If you’re lacking in one of the above three areas, you’ll need luck to play a much bigger part in your music career. If you’ve the others in place to a good level however, you won’t have to rely on this factor quite as much.

How To Make It In The Music Industry Conclusion

So there you have it, four things that will greatly increase your chances of succeeding in the music industry. Regardless of what your definition of success is, if you put these things into place you’ll give yourself the best chance possible of getting where you want to be.

While all of the above are important, marketing your music is the only way you’ll get people to notice you enough to make a difference in your career. If you’re not 100% sure what music marketing involves or how to do it effectively, you may want to check out my free ebook. In there I give a nice introduction to the subject, and get you on the right path to getting your music better known. I hope it’s helpful. :) Ok that’s it from me. If you’re on social sites, be sure to add me on Facebook and Google+ and come and say hi. Until next time. Shaun Letang, Music Industry How To.

Reader Comments (24)

I have a standard rebuttal for pieces like this: A Nickel Ain't Worth a Dime Anymore. A version of this piece was published as "There is No Magic Formula For Success" on Music Think Tank 15-January-2013.


August 26 | Unregistered CommenterTom Dennehy

Wait........, and you forgot the biggest one of them all!!!!
MONEY!!!! or a Huge investor to help you pay for big media.... cause otherwise, even if all of the above are present, you are still going to fail.

August 27 | Unregistered CommenterChris

I would like a to be an artist who knows the difference between "then" and "than."

August 28 | Unregistered CommenterD Frost

I liked your article and thanks for the interesting thing I think to mention is that every successful act has their own approach.A lot of it is the same yet internally there are different nuances.The success I think really gets measured by the quality of people that you work with, not just the music,How can a guy who plays guitar and sings going to have time to learn html of graphic design.Some guys really do and it made a huge difference in their career,yet for the most part you have to find people to that for you.The bottom line comes out to be that a group of people for a given time were all pulling in the same direction.And the right people got exposed to what you are doing.That is the luck element,and you can make your own luck.It costs money to move forward in any kind of way.And time.yet i think the biggie comes down to two things,your own attitude about it and the people you are working with.Some are just waiting for the chance to let you down when you need them.It goes in steps not leaps,one minute you are playing at a pub for 200 bucks a night,next you are moving up to a grand a night and somebody decides not to show up for that gig.,the agent is all done with you and you are on your way back to the pub.

August 28 | Unregistered CommenterRene labre


1) Youth
2) Looks
3) Money
4) Positive Attitude (not a thick skin)
5) Talent
6) Youth

August 28 | Unregistered CommenterRex deWolffe

one word...FAITH...

August 29 | Unregistered CommenterRBP

It seems like every time I look up how some superstar made it big, luck was the #1 factor. Though I know there are definitely some exceptions to that rule.

August 29 | Unregistered CommenterKevin

This article is complete fantasy with no basis in facts at all. For one thing, undeniable talent can actually hold you back because it alienates the lowest common denominator of music fans who are too uneducated to understand and appreciate your art. These make up the vast majority of music fans! Was Miley Cyrus' performance at the Music Video Awards a display of "undeniable talent"? Or was it a calculated way of calling attention to herself to further her career (and it is working big-time!). This was hardly an exception!! I've been in the music business for decades and I've seen first hand what succeeds and what doesn't. By contrast, the author of this article evidently has no clue.

August 29 | Unregistered CommenterKeeze

you stand a better shot of winning the lottery than becoming a superstar in music. simple statistics. now go out and buy a ticket.

September 3 | Unregistered CommenterG

I think its multiplicative. That is, talent x drive x luck = success. If any one of those factors are 0 the others don't matter. On the other hand, a large dose of any one times a moderate amount of the others will get you pretty far. Especially if say, your luck is being lucky enough to be attractive, which is clearly all about the luck of the gene pool.

Drive = hard work and urge to promote. Learning your craft, learning about the business, getting off you butt and getting some gigs. It's the only thing that's really under your control (and even that is a little bit genetic). But talent, though it can be developed, is something you're born with. And luck is not in your control.

There are probably some other factors. Being able to get along with people, and having sound judgement as to who to work with, tha'is a success factor. Personal integrity, and a minimum of mental health issues - that's a success factor.

Being flexible in your goals is helpful. In my late 50s and too old for the mainstream music business, I am privileged to play music professionally, and eek out a meager living, playing on the small club and house concert circuit. Is that making it? It all depends on your definition.

September 3 | Unregistered CommenterBruce Kaplan

What does "Make it in the Music Business" mean? Or are we really talking about "How to be a Star"? These can be two very different propositions.

September 11 | Unregistered CommenterRoger Hudson

As per usual with this type of "advice", lots of "what" but no "how" or "why"..
Case in point - have you ever noticed that these types of articles always say "you need lots of drive/motivation" and "be willing to work really hard", but are ridiculously vague as to exactly WHAT you should be working on? Sometimes they follow it up with more "build an audience" vaguery, but again, no nuts-and-bolts, usable information as to how exactly one goes about doing these things. There is also never any explanation as to why people will flock to band "A" versus band "B" (assuming a comparable level of talent & songwriting ability between the two).
So much terrible advice on the internet...

September 11 | Unregistered CommenterKS

You'll never "make it," if you don't enjoy being a working musician first and most of all. Look at Bruce Springsteen. He had "made it" in the Stone Pony days, long before the Madison Square Garden days. He was loving the life and work of being a songwriter and musician leading a great band and making great music. If that's not enough "making it," then you don't have a chance, because most never reach those heights. No one reaches them from reality TV stages. (Whatever happened to what were their names, anyway?) You can't reach and play in the big leagues without being a "working musician/actor/artist" toiling in the minors for whateveer length of time your level of talent/drive/luck requires. And I have seen some of the greatest players never get out of the minors, but I love their work as if they were household names. "Making it" is reaching as close to perfect as you yourself can be in your work. Everybody can't be Dylan or the Beatles or Springsteen, but remember none of them can be the artist you can be either. "Making it" is in the eye of the beholder. Be yourself. Do your thing. When you perfect it, you've "made it." Hopefully, others will recognize it when you do.

September 11 | Unregistered Commenterbray

Check out my New CD .... It will be good luck for me....Thanks...!!
I loved the Shaun Letang | Print Article ..!!

September 11 | Unregistered CommenterTheAmericanHillbilly

Great post. Artists should also know that they will need a strong team as well as a strong mindset

October 2 | Unregistered CommenterKaahil Worley

Great post. Artists should also know that they will need a strong team as well as a strong mindset

October 2 | Unregistered CommenterKaahil Worley

My question is to the writer. What has he done in the music industry? Sorry, I just can't take advice from someone hasn't done shit in the industry himself

October 28 | Unregistered CommenterAllen

If you really want to get in the music industry, it is actually easier then you think BUT you have to have motivated, passionate, patience, a team, a plan, mind-set, talent, marketing and be willing to work hard. If you don't have any of this, then of course it will be hard to get in the music industry. Actually, using social media is a good thing, if used correctly. Social media can actually make you or break you though. Many people just use it to say silly things that makes them look ridiculous in the end. But if you use it to build relationships with people, add value, and positive messages, people will start noticing you more and more likely to want to go check out your music if they like you. And then transfer those people to your email list. We have had much success with this and have had music placed on TV. Even our business has grown even more. So yes, it is possible.

February 16 | Unregistered CommenterAmber

when I make it im gonna remember this site WHEN

February 25 | Unregistered CommenterMilesdumba

I do believe that business skills trumps talent tho. There are a few artists that are not as good, but they still make it.

March 2 | Unregistered CommenterAmber

GREAT info...but I would substitute luck for GOD....overall I say you hit the nail on the head. lets just not forget that every individual situation will always be different, but these are the main and most important factors. All the other factors involved solely depend on you being clever and resourceful...

April 21 | Unregistered Commenterpassion

Hey this was an awesome read. I actually linked to this article here:



August 30 | Unregistered CommenterEdward

Talent is the number one thing. Because nobody wants to listen to an artist with no talent.
Exposure is the second most important thing.
Drive, perseverance, and optimism is the third most important thing because exposure and talent don't pay the bills.
All three of these things should lead to discovery if balanced and made to be the most important things in your soul breathing life after God.

December 3 | Unregistered CommenterJAFO

Hey, did you know you can make music online, in your browser? Here you'll find all info you need: find out more

if you are wondering how to prepare for a live jam session, here's an article about how to make music in a jam session

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