Category: music career

How to Get Started in the Music Business in 3 Simple Steps

By NationWide Source - Estimated reading time: 6 minutes

In the music industry, there’s a saying that gets tossed around pretty often. Though there are different variations, the basic mantra is this:

“It’s called the music business for a reason.”

This is what the pros are saying when they toss that phrase around:

For recorded music to reach a listener, 98% of the time, some kind of business transaction was involved. For every beautiful song, for every masterful lyric, there was a person doing business behind the scenes making things happen.

Lets put it this way- if you want an electric guitar to be amplified, you have to plug it in. If you are only playing to a few people who are about 3 feet away from you, you might not need to use the amp. But if you want more people to hear what you’re doing, you have to plug that bad boy in and crank up the volume. Your music(the awesome creative stuff that comes out of your brain) is the guitar, and the business (the money, the marketing, the networking) is your amplifier.

Unfortunately, many independent musicians I meet are only plugging the guitar in halfway. Sure, they look like they’ve got everything right, but a guitar that’s only partially plugged in still isn’t going to make much noise.

So if you’re just getting started on the business side of “music business,” we’ve outlined the first three things you should do to plug in, power up the amp, and start your journey in the music industry.

Step 1- Be Professional

This may seem a little obvious, but the way you present yourself is important. You need to be professional in every different facet of your music career, but a good place to start is your web presence. This means creating a nice looking website with a custom domain, a simple electronic press kit (EPK), and making sure your social media profiles are up to date. To add an extra touch of professionalism, it’s also a good idea to choose a font or 2 and try to stick with those when you are making your website, EPK, and creating graphics for social profiles. Creating a website and EPK show industry professionals that you are willing to put some effort and energy into your music, and updated social media profiles will help your fans get to know you, and know where to find you and your music on the web.

You also want to invest a little time in the way you present yourself to people face to face. It might be a good idea to have a few business cards made up (after you’ve already decided on a website domain!) to give to other musicians and pros you might meet. You also need to decide if you’ll have merchandise to sell, and make sure your merch set-up is functional and visually pleasing. And as much as we hate it, go ahead and take a look at what you’re wearing. Whether you like it or not, many people’s first impression of you is going to come from what you’re wearing, especially when you’re onstage. So take an extra five minutes before your next gig and think about if what you’re wearing is a good visual interpretation of who you are, and what kind of music you play.

Step 2- Be Organized

If you want to be a part of the music business, you have to treat your music like a business! Most well run small businesses started with a plan that detailed a mission statement, legal  structure, and how daily business will be run. I’m not saying you have to have a complicated business plan. But there are two things you need to keep careful records of.

Money:

You need to know what you are spending money on, and what money is coming in. Not only will this make your taxes way easier at the end of year, (yes, you do have to pay taxes on the income you earn from music!) but it will let you know how your business is doing. If you make a profit for six months, and then the next three months you are losing money, you need to find out why, and detailed records will help you with this. You can use a spreadsheet (like Microsoft Excel or Google Sheets) or a more complex accounting program like Quickbooks.

People:

It’s also vital that you keep track of your contacts. You need to know who you’ve talked to, when you talked to them, and what you talked about. This helps you define and expand your network. You can easily create a spread sheet, or a word processing document to keep track of these things. I recommend Google Docs, since you can access it from anywhere as long as you have a Gmail account. This is the place to keep the phone number of the graphic designer you met in line at the grocery store, and the email of the booking agent of that festival you want to play. A database like this will help you to know when to get in touch with people, send a follow up email, and if you need to send any extra materials to them (maybe a demo or a press kit).

Step 3- Be Proactive

Great music and great business ideas don’t mean much if you don’t put action behind them. To borrow from our earlier analogy, you need to turn the volume up on that amp! Just like practicing your instrument takes time, energy, and commitment, the business side of your music does too. Start out by devoting a few hours a week to your business. Spend some time marketing and creating content for fans, or work on getting your music placed in some licensing opportunities. Opportunities in the music industry come to musicians who are looking for opportunities. Don’t just sit around and hope you’ll get discovered. Go to some local shows in your area and meet other musicians. Play as many open mics as you can. Do some research on ways to grow your career (like reading the blogs on this website!).

Most importantly: perform, and do it well. Playing your music live is the best way to get new fans, cement relationships with current fans, and meet other musicians and industry professionals. Putting on a great live show also gives you legitimacy as a musician.  This means lots of practice time making sure your music is absolutely killer before you get in front of an audience. The relationships you form at shows, and the reputation you will gain by playing awesome shows, are major factors in propelling you to the next level of your music career.

Beginning the journey of turning your music from a hobby into a business can be intimidating,  but it doesn’t have to be. Putting these three steps into practice can help you put your best foot forward, and begin that journey in the right direction.
Have any tips to artists just starting out, or any advice on beginning a career in the music industry? Let us know in the comments!


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Apple Music and Why Taylor Swift is Your New Best Friend

By NationWide Source - Estimated reading time: 3 minutes

If you are an independent musician, this weekend Taylor Swift became your new best friend. Whether you like her music or not,  you should be thanking T-Swift.

Here’s some background info:

This month Apple announced the launch of Apple Music. You can read more about the launch here.

Apple’s streaming service will require a paid subscription (no freemium like Spotify) after a 90-day free trial. About a week after the announcement was made, a contract leaked that stated that Apple Music was not going to compensate rights owners during the three month free trial.

This put the entire industry on edge, and for good reason. Three months with no revenue is never something a business owner wants to hear.

While the music industry was trying to decide what to do with Apple’s decision, Taylor Swift stepped in.

She famously pulled all her music from Spotify last year, stating that she was not okay with people listening to her music for free. And she took the same position with Apple.

Swift announced that her newest album, 1989, would not be available on Apple Music during the free trial period. In her open letter to Apple she said “We don’t ask you for free iPhones. Please don’t ask us to provide you with our music for no compensation.”

Swift also declared that this was not a selfish move. She says “This is not about me. Thankfully I am on my fifth album and can support myself, my band, crew, and entire management team by playing live shows.” She goes on to say that she is speaking up for the artists, songwriters, and producers who rely on this income to make ends meet. Swift asked Apple to change their policy, stating that the tech giant has enough money to pay musicians during the free trial, even if the fans aren’t paying.

Luckily for musicians everywhere, Apple listened.

Senior executive for Apple, Eddy Cue, announced over Twitter that Apple heard Taylor and independent musicians, and they will change their policy so that rights holders will be compensated during the free trial.

This is a big victory for musicians and creators everywhere. And we have Taylor Swift to thank for that. She was the catalyst behind changing Apple’s mind.

Why Does This Matter to Independent Musicians?

Something independent musicians lack is organization. That’s the nature of being independent. We don’t report to anyone, there is no standard network we all belong to. This is a great thing because it means that musicians are free to create whatever they want, with no fear of being told what to do by a label or other third party.

But this lack of organization is devastating when it comes to effecting major change in the industry. As individuals, we have no real way to influence government policy, and no power to affect decisions that are made by big businesses.

But today, we found a voice. Taylor Swift has the fan base, the fame, the influence, and the sales record to make Apple take notice. And Taylor seems to genuinely care about the future of the music industry for everyone, not just major artists and labels.

While we can’t expect Taylor to fix everything, she just accomplished a great thing for the music industry as a whole. And independent musicians should be thanking her.

We should also be having conversations about sustainable streaming on a regular basis. People are getting used to the idea of paying a subscription for music, and as we look forward to a sustainable income model for musicians, we can use that to our advantage. Things may not look so great right now. But we are in the beginning of a whole new music industry, and good decisions— like Apple’s decision to pay artists—are helping us move in the right direction.




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Making It In Music: How to Define Success

By NationWide Source - Estimated reading time: 6 minutes

Have you ever gone to the grocery store and bought a whole trunk full of food, and realized when you got home that you have nothing to actually eat? You bought good food, but you can’t make a complete meal out of any of it.

Being an independent musician can feel like that sometimes. There are lots of choices, lots of decisions to be made, but in the end, what makes up a successful career?

Some people want Ramen noodles for dinner. Some people want steak and potatoes. Others may want lasagna. People have different tastes, and musicians are going to have different ideas about what being a truly “successful” artist looks like.

You have to decide what defines success for you.

Who Are You?

To determine where you want to go with your music, you need to find out who you are. Take a step back from yourself for a moment. As an artist, it can be difficult to separate yourself from your music, but in order to make some decisions, we need to take a bird’s eye view and create an objective analysis. Ask yourself these three questions:

What is my genre?

I know, this is a terrible question. You hate pigeonholing yourself. I understand. But practically, you need to have some idea of the genre of music you play, and the sub-genre you fit into.

Some genre decisions are easy. You may know without a doubt that you are a country artist. But where exactly do you fit in country? Are you Texas country? Nashville pop? Bro-country? If you’re a rock artist, are you punk?  Neo-grunge? You play folk? Does it lean more bluegrass or folk/rock?

There are hundreds of choices. You don’t have to stuff yourself into a tiny box. But having a good, descriptive genre can help you communicate with listeners, distributors, labels, venues….the list goes on and on. When you know yourself well, you can help other people get to know you. And you can make wise decisions about where you are headed.

Who is Successful in my genre?

There’s a good chance you’re already listening to artists whose music is similar to yours. Do some research on someone who you would consider successful in your genre. This might be someone like Carrie Underwood, Sufjan Stevens, Kendrick Lamar, Joywave, or Sara Bareilles. Knowing who is doing well in your genre can give you a good starting place as you try to determine your idea of success.

It will also help you be realistic about your aspirations. If there is a large audience for your genre of music, your definition of success might be broader than someone who has a more niche market. Country, pop and hip-hop artists at the top of their game regularly play arenas. A artist who makes meditation music probably won’t be playing in an arena, but that doesn’t mean they aren’t successful.

Having your dreams of a music career firmly planted in the solid ground of what’s actually possible will help you avoid major disappointments, and will give your career a foundation to stand on.

What do I want?

So you know who you are, you know what is possible, now what do you want?

This is going to look different for every person. We all have different dreams, goals, locations, resources, skills, and talents. Maybe your idea of success is as grand as playing sold out stadiums. Maybe it’s creating music full time and sharing your music regionally. Maybe it’s playing once a week at an open mic or being signed to a record label. All of these ideas of success are good goals to work towards.

Take a second to jot down what success looks like for you. It doesn’t have to be a long description, maybe it’s just a few key words. But go ahead, put it in writing.

Then put it somewhere you’re going to look at it. You might tape it to your mirror, or put it on the dashboard of your car. Remind yourself daily of what you want your career to look like.

Success in the music industry (or any industry) takes hard work, dedication, and action. When you know the direction you want to go in, you can begin to take the steps to get there.

Success in Stages

No success is overnight. If you look at the careers of many top level artists, you will see years of hard work behind current successes. If success is achieved too easily, it will disappear just as fast as it’s gained. You have to put in blood, sweat, and tears to reach career goals.

But what if your goal is miles ahead of where you are now? It might seem like an impossible task to get to where you want to be. To get to any level of success, it’s a good idea to have smaller goals leading up to the big one. This allows you to track your progress, and can keep you from getting discouraged.

Want to play in huge arenas? Start with shows in a coffee shop, or play some open mic nights. Once you feel comfortable there, and people are responding well, start trying to get shows at venues with a bigger capacity. Do you want to be a hit producer? Start analyzing songs and find out what makes them great, and ask a friend if you can arrange a song or two for them.

Small steps and manageable goals add up to create success.

Don’t Be Afraid to Evaluate

You also need to be able to look objectively at your idea of success and your goals. You need to know when they aren’t going to work. This is extremely difficult, but knowing when to back out of something that’s not working is just as important as moving forward when something goes well.

Sometimes, life just doesn’t work the way you want it to. You need to be able to step back—even when that’s the last thing we want to do—and objectively look at what’s going on. You may need to reevaluate your overarching career goals. You might just need to alter the way you are trying to achieve those goals.

I’m not saying you should give up.

What I am saying is that we live in the real world, not fantasy music land. Things aren’t always going to go exactly the way you want them to. Sometimes we are limited by circumstances beyond our control. That doesn’t mean you throw in the towel, it just means that you look for an alternate route. Detours are hardly ever pleasant, but a road is a road, and can still take you to your destination.

Being a successful musician is going to look different for everyone. Knowing your own personal idea of success is the first step in achieving your music industry goals.




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