I’ve been working with a handful of people who are just starting out in music in the last few months. With these people I am often asked very broad music business questions that seem odd to me. It always surprises me that someone wouldn’t ask me a targeted question but I’m often asked stuff like “How Can I Get a Record Deal” or “How do I get my music licensed?” I guess the questions themselves aren’t that weird but I feel like people are waiting for overly simple responses. I feel like most new musicians I speak with are expecting me to hand them a small piece of paper that says 1-900-RCRDEAL and to whisper “just dial and tell them I sent you.” I picture getting a relieved and knowing look that just screams “I Knew it!”
The fact that a dozen industry experts could write several hundred page volumes that wouldn’t scratch the surface for every nuance and situation that will rise to meet an artist on the road to self sufficiency (let alone stardom) doesn’t even seem to enter most people’s mind. It’s just weird to me but I digress. I have compiled a list of behaviors that I have observed in the people who have careers that I admire and respect… I hope they help and I would love your feedback.
“Making it” to me just means making a living playing, writing and recording music.
Top 5 Behaviors that will help you make it in the music business:
#1 PRACTICE & LEARN: It is ALWAYS about the music. Practice your craft daily. Learn everything you can about music theory and writing and reading music- this will make you much more employable than the dozens of hobbyists out there. Never ever stop learning and finding people to learn from. This has to be your number one priority no matter what happens. You have to keep finding new ways of challenging yourself because just keeping callouses on your fingers is not enough. If you really hit a wall with your instrument - pick up another instrument or get better at home recording techniques. Sometimes taking a break from your primary instrument can help but there is no reason to stop learning all together.
#2 NETWORK seek out and befriend people who make a living making music be they session players, band members, music executives (at labels, publishers, management companies or booking agents) or producer / engineers… The music business is all about your talent and who you know. In many cases people can get away with less talent if they know the right people and can convince them to participate in their projects. Find conversation currency with these people and a way you can collaborate with as many people as possible even if it is just throwing networking events. A note about “conversation currency” - talking exclusively about yourself and how you want to be a star could put Sominex out of business - stop it already.
#3 PLAY AND RECORD OFTEN … Play live, get basic home recording gear so you can preserve your ideas and share them with other people. Join a band or two - co-write with anyone and everyone who will let you. Start simple with open mic nights and work your way up. Meet and keep in contact with everyone who is doing what you want to do. Your songs and recordings are like viruses - make sure you have lots of them out there and have the help of people with a vested interest in making them get heard. The best way to do that is to collaborate.
#4 BE PROFESSIONAL … The music business if full of flakes. Don’t be a dude, there’s a million dudes out there. Be a man. (please replace Dude with Chick and Man with Woman if this applies to you). Do you know why Spinal Tap is so F*cking hysterical? Because it’s based on too much truth. Start by being punctual. More than just punctual make sure you are paying attention - it’s your career! Ask questions rather than nodding your head as if you already know and remember the people you are dealing with when booking shows or making records or whatever are making a living in music too so be considerate of them and their time.
#5 LEARN ABOUT BUSINESS… Look at and learn all of the ways that money is made in the music business. A good starting point is Donald Passman’s “all you need to know about the music business” - if you understand where the money comes from in the music business it will be much harder for people to take advantage of you…and they will try. To this end- find knowledgeable people you trust and surround yourself with them. Nothing is more terrifying than things we are vague about.
This last one doesn’t need to be advanced accounting either. Take control of your financial life. Keep receipts for everything and make a spreadsheet of everything you spend (I do this - it has saved me lots of $$$). Most people find they are spending too much in some areas and not enough in others. I once advised someone to do this who realized after three months of record keeping that he spent more on beer than he did on his career… He is much farther along in his career now.
Got other practical suggestions? I’d love to hear them.
(Originally posted on my website at http://musiciancoaching.com and modified for MTT)