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Navigating the Music Business - Mapping Out A Living

So how hard is it really?  You write songs and sell them, that’s all there is to it, right?  Unfortunately the music industry isn’t quite as simple as we’d all like it to be.  There are many different sectors through which an artist must pass and even more ways in which these sectors can be negotiated and traversed.  To successfully navigate the music industry one must learn what happens in each of these sectors and how they inter-relate.  To help you get started we have a ‘Map of the Musical Universe’ courtesy of PRS (click to enlarge).

This map provides a detailed summary of the business flow within the music industry.  Look closely at how and where money changes hands and try to work out where you might fit in.  Also, to help you make sense of it all, we’ve come up with a few top tips for navigating the music industry >>

1. Know your Brand

Always bear in mind that, just like purveyors of all other commercial products, you are a brand.  Music is, of course, a highly creative endeavor in its own right, but after it has been published, distributed, sold and bought it becomes the end product of a complex commercial industry which effectively makes you, the artist, a marketable brand. We know that great music can sell itself, but branding always exists in some form. For example, even an artist who rejects everything to do with marketing and branding will, in doing so, create a set of branding credentials and a marketable image: that they are nonchalant, they disregard convention etc. The Sex Pistols’ anti-authoritarian and anti-establishment attitude became their brand; what they were known for.

Branding is essentially how you are perceived and is something that you can try to actively influence with an array of marketing strategies. Alternatively you can let your Brand grow naturally as you make more releases and do more gigs. Whichever method you choose, the key thing is to be aware of how you are perceived and how this perception can be effected by different things.

With an accurate notion of your Brand and how you are perceived, you should begin to look for ways that you can use this perception to your advantage and channel it into good, effective promotion: select other producers/organizations/blogs that are in keeping with your Brand and look for with some form of mutually beneficial relationship. Find DJs and producers who play and make similar stuff to your own and swap tracks for collaboration or playing out. Write an article for a blog and ask in return to have your music posted there. Don’t confine your creativity to the studio: think of new and original ways to get your music to relevant audiences and people who will actually be interested.

2. Build a strong fan base

Aim to build lasting relationships with fans.  On Twitter and Facebook don’t only post about buying your latest release as this will bore people and lose their attention.  Keep your posts fresh, mix up the content and engage with fans as much as possible by replying to questions etc.  It’s better to have a few dedicated and enthusiastic followers than a large amount who are all indifferent and disinterested.  There are three different types of fan; passive, participating and passionate, so think of ways you can appeal to all three.

Don’t focus too much on selling tracks for 79p online.  This is actually a very long-winded way of creating a fan base.  You will be much better off giving tracks or other content away for free as this will encourage more interest and create a stronger connection between you and potential fans.  The first step is to build up a following, then you can start making money from selling content.  Additionally, a good sized following is something that will generate interest from promoters, venue bookers and labels and is therefore worth loads more than a few 79p downloads.

3.  Be professional

A Wise Man (who loved his job) once said ‘choose a job you love and you’ll never work a day in your life’.  You might not see your musical pursuits as a job or career, and it is true that the music industry is a lot more laid back than other areas of business, but it is an industry nonetheless and it is therefore vital to maintain a professional stance when dealing with the people you encounter as you navigate your way.  Such situations will not always be equivalent to a strict office environment; indeed, an evening’s work might involve a few drinks whilst networking at a gig.  The key here is to find a balance: Utilize the benefits of the music industry’s more relaxed conventions but always take it seriously.  Nothing is more off putting than someone who acts as though business isn’t important.

One of the keys to success in the music industry is good networking and therefore a great way to demonstrate professionalism is through your communication with others.  Here are some pointers:

  • Be conise, don’t ramble and make clear the reason you are contacting the recipient.
  • Avoid slang.  Spelling should be as per the dictionary, no text message abbreviations.
  • Don’t hound anyone.  Once you have sent the email or left a voicemail, wait at least a few days before chasing up.  Never turn up at someone’s workplace uninvited: always call ahead and make an appointment for business matters.
  • Think about your reputation.  The Music industry is made up of tight knit groups so if you have an argument with or are rude to one person, the word will soon get round.  Slamming one door could cause several others to close as well.
  • Be considerate and helpful.  The more you help people out, the more willing they will be to help you in the future.  Thanking people when they help you makes it more worthwhile for them, so they will be more inclined to help you again.

4. It all comes down to the music

Hone your skill and master the craft.  Ultimately, if the music is good it will sell itself.  The advice above is all valid but don’t get so wrapped up in the business side of things that you neglect the creative process.  Don’t worry about making a certain sound, stay true to the kind of sounds you want to create and your talent will show through naturally in the music you make.

For more advice on navigating the music industry, check out the Point Blank Online Music Business courses. Keep up to date with all of Point Blank’s news, tutorials and giveaways by subscribing to their Youtube channel, or following them on Facebook and Twitter. Please leave a comment below!


References (1)

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Reader Comments (5)

Thanks for posting this helpful and concise information. I couldn't have said it better myself. The bands with whom I work sometimes scoff at terms like "branding", "networking" or "fanbase". That's OK! I work with them because they are rebel raconteurs, and that's how I help present them to the their future listeners/fans.

October 11 | Unregistered CommenterJen Daniel

Great post James.

On building a fan base or, to be more specific, building a loyal fan base. Loyalty is they key - the more loyalty the higher the level of income. Lets take two bands as an example. Each band wants to earn a living of a modest £20,000.

Band A concentrates on selling their 79p track. Their fans each spend £2.37 a year (three tracks) and approximately a third of their fans spend that much (because the band is always looking outwards for new fans). Band A needs over 28,000 fans to earn their £20,000.

Band B focuses on building a great relationship with their fans. They put on high quality gigs that their fans are happy to pay for and they sell their music at their gigs. Band B's fans spend £30 a year and about half of them (the participating and passionate ones) spend that much. Band B needs only 1,300 fans to earn £20,000 a year.

The figures speak for themselves. It’s much easier to make a living by being loyal to your fan base.

Try the formula yourself.

Eliza Michaels is author of The Fan Formula – how to grow and keep a large loyal fan base.

As I posted on my facebook page... The message of this article was extremely to the point and showcased exactly what every musician should know and think about their music.

Free album download at

October 12 | Unregistered CommenterChancius

This article does a good job in mapping out how a musician/band needs to go about building their career to a point where it'll be very profitable to them. I think anyone who's an amateur in this business can use this as a blueprint to moving forward.

My partner and I have a site that has helpful info for musicians/bands trying to get their career started. This article actually coincides with our concept so that's awesome.

October 13 | Unregistered CommenterPF

Hi guys,

Thanks for the support on the post! We really appreciate the feedback.

You can read more of our Tips & Advice on our offical blog - -

Also, get in touch and put any production / technical / industry questions and opinions to our team of tutors via Twitter @Point_Blank and we will ensure to get back to you!


November 24 | Unregistered CommenterJames Hogg

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