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.
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.
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!
- Should You Use Reverbnation?
- Making It In Music: How to Define Success
- Recording Acoustic Guitar and Vocals