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The Three Legged Table: Songs, Magnetism, and Business

How do you tell a businessperson that success in the music business…has nothing to do with business?

On Music Think Tank, where I have posted over eighty articles, you’ll find an overwhelming amount of advice on social media practices, fan engagement and conversion strategies, business planning, artist management, music marketing, music technology and enough similar sounding posts to make your head spin.  One might even be misled into believing that the equation: decent artist + solid business support = success.  However this formula is about as a sound as building a one legged table. 

If you are ever thinking about financially backing or supporting an artist, you should know that there are two other legs of the table that are of equal or greater importance.  In fact, if these first two legs are solid, the third leg, the business leg, almost organically grows itself.

Songs are the first leg of the table.
On the surface, the first leg of the table seems rather obvious.  If your artist doesn’t have fantastic, phenomenal, groundbreaking (non-trite, non-cliche, non-average) songs then the venture is beginning from a place that is already underwater.  The challenges here are:  one million songs a year are being uploaded to the Internet; to most people, many of these songs sound almost great; the average music fan can’t separate the value of a live performance experience from the value of great songwriting; nobody can consistently pick hits, as record labels repeatedly fail at trying (but they do know what average sounds like); and the process of song adoption and falling in love with songs is a complex journey that often takes far more time than standard market research testing accounts for. 

If you really dig your artists and you love his or her songs, then my advice here is to seek out at least ten people that each have ten years of solid music industry / music making experience and then challenge each music industry professional to point out, describe and contrast similar songs.  Judgments aside, similar song/artist analysis - produced by people that regularly traffic in music - is going to give you the essential, comparative marketplace information you need to make an informed investment decision.  

Fortunately in 2011, music industry professionals are far more accessible than they were even three years ago.  You can go to sites like Hello Music, Music 180 and MusicXray (disclaimer: I am a shareholder in MusicXray) and find thoughtful and experienced industry pros that can provide comparative information and written feedback.  Like most professions, the quality of music industry professionals runs along a broad spectrum.  Do your homework prior to purchasing industry feedback and advice.

Magnetism is the second leg of the table.
The voyage your artist must take to obtain niche popularity is going to take at least three to five years, and your time and money cannot be glue that holds the raft together.  If your solo artist or band can’t attract, captivate and inspire fans, dedicated band members, experienced industry pros and a passionate support team without the use of your money, then think twice prior to investing.  No amount of money can buy enduring success in the music industry, and signing to a record label does not create an exception.  Instead, songs and magnetism are the keys to lasting success.  

In my opinion, magnetism is the sum of a dozen or more overlapping qualities.  To attract, captivate and inspire fans look for excellent songwriting, an alluring presence, unrivalled musicianship and the ability to deliver an arresting performance.  To find magnetism within a band and between band members look for the mutual dedication to excellent musicianship, generosity, genuine friendships, a natural leader and non-conflicting goals.  Personally, I prefer to find a notable industry veteran with twenty years of experience already attracted and attached (magnetized) to the project/artist/band; this may indicate songwriting chops, publishing knowhow, the wisdom to navigate within the entertainment industry, but most of all it indicates (to me) that someone that has seen a lot…also sees something that is rare and exceptional.  As for attracting a passionate support team - that includes levelheaded business people – this is one indicator that the artist(s) involved are 1) not fucked up, and 2) demonstrate remarkable character.  

If your artist is less than magnetic, and if you think you can pave over magnetic deficiencies with money, than I have two words for you…good luck.

Business is the third leg of the table.
If the song and magnetism legs are solid, the third business leg is simply there for balance.  All the business bullshit and music technology plumbing are nice-to-haves, mild accelerants, and/or revenue enhancers.  However if legs one and two are rock solid, everything else is trivial in comparison.  You can make numerous business mistakes and naïve technology decisions, but if your artist can’t write or obtain the best songs in the world, or if he or she is a selfish, lazy, drug abusing dullard then forget about obtaining enduring success.  The business leg is the easiest leg to change; the other two legs are often (permanently) carved into the table.

about Bruce Warila and on Twitter

Reader Comments (6)

As always Bruce, you've written a great article here! Honestly, as much as this pains me to say it, I think Magnetism is really #1. While great music is critical, and SHOULD always come first, there is no question that performers and 'artists' have found success based on their ability to lure people in with their captivating presence felt both on stage and online. If they can pull people in, the word can spread, even if the music isn't 100%.

Now, don't get me wrong, Id prefer to see all musicians focusing on their music first, nailing every song they produce, THEN focusing on the other stuff... but just from what I've seen personally, ESPECIALLY in the world of hiphop, it seems that those with the most magnetism take the lead, even if they don't have the most skill.

Again, great article! Thanks Bruce!

Jon Ostrow

February 17 | Registered CommenterJonathan Ostrow

Bruce ...

I think you are dead on with items one and two ... but, think you miss the mark somewhat with item three ... I've seen a lot of talent in my day that had one and two nailed and blew their careers for making bad decisions with respect to the business end on the business ...

If, as an artist, you can't handle the business end on your own ... and, that is generally the case ... you've GOT to put together a team behind you that can get the job done.

Your friend Bob the barber probably shouldn't become your manager ... You shouldn't rely on your local real estate attorney, Ernie, to handle your contractual relationships when it comes to anything to do with music, copyright and royalties. Choosing and agent that specializes booking bar mitzvahs or wine tasting events is never a good idea ... and, your accountant shouldn't be Martha the local tax preparer that uses the free edition of TurboTax to deal with the IRS.

An artist smart enough to realize he can't handle the business end to his career should be smart enough to take the time to delve into the people behind scenes of successful artists and use that information as a template for the type of team he or she should strive to put together when it starts to look like a career in music might be turning into a viable option.

But, again, if you haven't got the songs ... and are lacking in the charizma department ... get t real job.

February 17 | Unregistered CommenterTonsoTunez

Image + Great Music. Gotcha! The image part is the hard one to swallow for myself. I want to believe that I can be an awesome musician and songwriter, and everything will turn out okay. But, if I don't develop an image, I might as well stay at home in my underwear, eat cereal, and not shave.

Thanks, Bruce!

The two quotes below are the key to being a professional in the music business. They make this article one of the most important you will ever read. Knowing Bruce and having been in the music business for 35 years, I can say with assurance that you will not go wrong if you truly understand what these quotes really mean and then if you do, you follow them to the letter.

"If your solo artist or band can’t attract, captivate and inspire fans, dedicated band members, experienced industry pros and a passionate support team without the use of your money, then think twice prior to investing."

"To attract, captivate and inspire fans look for excellent songwriting, an alluring presence, unrivaled musicianship and the ability to deliver an arresting performance. To find magnetism within a band and between band members look for the mutual dedication to excellent musicianship, generosity, genuine friendships, a natural leader and non-conflicting goals."

David Sherbow (@MusicBizGuy)
CEO of

February 17 | Unregistered CommenterMusicBizGuy

I really enjoyed this article and all the comments left in response. Many realistic and factual cries and ideas here, but also just one person's veiw. What I find interesting is that others who are talented are at times told they have no talent or aren't taken seriously. For example, the comic book artist/painter Alex Ross was rejected over and over for years until he got his break into the comic industry where he is now well regarded and extemely well paid. In a book featuring a lot of his work he said that the single most important thing to success was persistance. This explains why certain artists who are clearly far less talented and organized (or even hard working) make it when others do not! Not everyone sees or feels the same way about something and sometimes you have to keep pushing forward! Even Jimmy Hendrix has gotten boo'd off stage before, not because he didn't have talent, but it just wasn't what THAT particular crowd wanted, but there were others who did!

Free album download at

February 20 | Unregistered CommenterChancius

Great article! I just had to jump in on this one though, because I think about this stuff all the time....My thoughts come from a complete 100% DIY artist's perspective, looking to build that third leg.

Is the implication here that I, without a single other person on the team handling business, should spend 99% of my time crafting those perfect songs and that perfect live performance, allowing the 3rd leg to fall in place when the time is right? Or is it equally as important to constantly engage fans via social media, develop creative ways to get music heard and focus on other general business tactics to build my following?

I feel like the harsh landscape we're faced with today, in which songs can be pulled up for free in seconds on youtube or elsewhere, in which a significant number of people cannot honestly see themselves purchasing an album ever again, and in which up and coming artists are actually THANKFUL that their music gets stolen simply because it's getting heard (as if the value of music is less than $0, and actually equated to spam-- "PLEASE download my music for free" mentality), renders it absolutely critical to the very survival of the modern artist to develop a sharp business sensibility (or as TonsoTunez pointed out, get someone on this if they can't handle it themselves).

The first paragraph about magnetism--the part about attracting, captivating and inspiring fans, and especially industry pros--I just don't see this happening in 2011 with simply good music and image. I've always felt that in the professional world great music and performances/magnetism ARE the standard.. and it's the business that is the actual x-factor. Perhaps even a fourth ghost leg (that somewhat falls under magnetism) would be the "story"??

To summarize my outburst of (hopefully not too disorganized) thoughts this article has led me to divulge, what IS the course of action you are recommending for a 100% DIY artist looking to build a team and ultimately a sustainable business??

Thanks again for this post... this is why I really dig MTT.


February 21 | Unregistered CommenterMitchell

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