A Guide to the Music Business
Written by Stephanie Wiley & Nancy Woo
If you love music and want to be a part of the music industry, there are a few things you should know about the "biz." First, don't think your success will be limited by your lack of vocal power or musicianship because while the musicians may be the ones on stage, the people around them are the ones who help get them there. As a business, the music industry requires many people of varying backgrounds, skill sets and talents to keep the musical machine running, and if you love music so much you want to spend most of your waking life immersed in it, then a career in the music industry might be for you. Finding out where you fit in to the scheme of things will be the first, and sometimes most onerous, task, and you may end up somewhere you never expected from the beginning.
That's not to say, of course, that you should throw your dreams of being a musician to the wayside, but it is important to understand all the different aspects of talent management and production. Very few people wake up in the morning and are suddenly rock stars because they're just "that good," and even those who do take the cake for being brilliant or original must have strong agents, producers and managers all around them. Deciding to be a part of the music industry is the very first step.
That being said, the most logical starting point when heading in the direction of a musical career - for musicians - may be a formal study of music, including musical training, musical teaching, music technology or music production. Of course, a musical instrument can be self-taught or aided with the help of a tutor, chord books, YouTube or other musical guides, and if you're reading this now, you're probably already somewhat of an accomplished musician just looking for the right avenue in. But for both those with no musical background looking for a fresh step in a new direction as well as the seasoned musicians trying to break through, taking classes can help you hone your skills, and it also has the added benefit of putting you in contact with other like-minded creative souls.
On that note, collaborating is key! Whether a solo artist or not, the music business really is (sorry to wring in this old cliche) all about "who you know." But if you're not yet familiar with Hollywood, don't let any cold-hearted turn of phrase deter you. In today's world of YouTube sensations and self-publishing, there's no better time than now to take the chance and put yourself out there in whatever way you can. But no matter who you are, how talented you are or how well connected you are, you will need good people around you to help you get where you want to go.
Basically, weigh the opportunities presented to you, but as a general rule, say yes when something presents itself to you, whether that's playing a show, giving an interview or helping a buddy out. One part of making it in the industry is talent, but an even bigger part is putting yourself in the right places at the right time, and since you don't know exactly when that will be, consider every time an opportunity to be the right one. This is the attitude you want to have. If you're talented, it will be worlds easier to meet the right people to know, but no matter what, socializing with people who share your musical interests, tastes or specialties will more likely open up wellsprings of opportunity in perhaps unanticipated directions. This is the part that can't be taught because the universe will shower its blessings as it sees fit, but it won't hurt to make yourself more available for that possibility! Not to mention, collaborating with others will serve the intrinsic purpose of stimulating creativity.
And also, don't be an asshole. Hollywood may paint the picture of being overrun with fearsome lions, but you want to build good relationships, not walk around like God's gift to the music industry. Good character is as important here as anywhere else, and you want people to want to work with you. That doesn't mean be a pushover or a kiss-ass; just treat people with respect.
So, networking is virtually synonymous with the music business, especially amidst a climate of increased social media, heightened internet presence and the floods of people trying to make their mark. This is where the behind-the-scenes magic comes into play. Marketing agents, publicists, merchandise designers, managers, copyright lawyers, music business attorneys and music journalists are only a handful of the various jobs out there for those who want to take on the more technical or organizational aspects of the business. And these are the people musicians will want to know. These jobs are no less important than playing for the crowd, and in fact these people do play for the crowd, just in mostly unseen ways. The perks, aside from a hefty salary if you make it in, are that if you love music, you will be constantly surrounded by the names in the game, maybe even working closely with some really talented artists.
The options for management or marketing in the music business are as endless as in any business, encompassing administration to accounting to technical programming. To obtain most of these jobs, a body of expertise will be required, so considering a school that offers online business courses, sales, production or technology degrees may aide in jumpstarting a career in the business side of the music industry. As an example of one career path, a publicist's duties include the advertising, promotion and coordination of events, gigs, and tours, raking in around $80,000 per year, perfect for someone who loves to plan events. Selling merchandise is a good source of revenue for bands to promote themselves, so a merchandise designer might be needed as a part of the promoting and advertising team - a little more creative side of the marketing game.
For those both musically and legally minded, a career as a copyright lawyer or music business attorney may be an intriguing path. Copyright lawyers are extremely valuable to artists because as a professional, he or she can help determine which limitations and exceptions are suitable to the artist's needs. In order to become a lawyer, you must first obtain a bachelor's degree in any major, though being pre-law minded means taking courses in English, public speaking, philosophy, history and economics. Once you pass the LSAT, you can take your pick of professional graduate degrees like JD, MBE, MEE, or MPRE. You'll also need at least three years worth of accreditation with an organization like ABA (American Bar Association). If the goal were to practice as a music business attorney, music and music business coursework would need to be added to the load. A lot of music industry knowledge is required, and internships working with different record labels, artists, and managers will probably be a stepping-stone to a full-fledged career. In the end, a qualified MB attorney could average around $170,000 annually.
This sounds great for the hard-working music business lawyer, but from the aspiring musician's perspective, the cost of hiring a copyright lawyer may induce a bit of apprehension when looking up at the steep wall of money needed to make it, especially on top of the cost of equipment and touring. But don't be disheartened, because patience, perseverance, dedication and the sincere desire to be a professional musician are all character traits absolutely necessary to make it in the music business. In the meantime, musicians should always be practicing and developing their musicianship while doing whatever they can to get their music out into the world. Again, collaborating with other musicians is key because it may lead to playing shows together, supporting each other, promoting each other or coming up with new ideas or styles of music. In big cities and artistic communities, the opportunity for grassroots promotion is rife with possibility for the budding artist. Find out where the hotspots in your city are, and find out who to know and how to play a show.
This is important to note: if you don't have a manager or agent, you will need to act as your own marketing specialist until you do. That means talking to people, offering CDs, selling merchandise, promoting a website and generally giving people the chance to hear what you have to offer. The more of this you do, the more likely you are to widen your net. And if you have to keep a day job in order to make ends meet before you make it big, so be it. As a part of marketing, a modern musician should never be without is a website. Along with it, the modern climate requires that anybody who wants to be somebody declare themselves along every social networking site they can find, including Bandcamp, Soundcloud, Facebook, YouTube, Myspace and Twitter.
Increasing your real-time presence in your city must be complemented by increasing your virtual presence on the internet. Don't be shy: send your samples off to record labels, music review websites or promotion agencies, and do a lot of it. In your e-mails, be clear, concise and to the point. Describe your music in an intriguing way so the reader will want to listen and provide a working link to a sample of your music. These days, it is increasingly accessible to put your music online and simply market yourself everywhere you can. So why don't you?
For others not quite sure where to fit into the music industry, lacking talent as a musician or unwilling to spend years climbing the business ladder, note that not all jobs require years upon years of education, and plenty require a different skill set. Big corporations like Fender and Gibson have national and international locations that offer a plethora of career opportunities. Gibson's manufacturing and General Labor department in Memphis, TN, for example, offers a music retail job for a person freshly graduated from high school as a Spray Painter. The job description includes use of an HVLP, preferably with experience of the machine, to spray paint guitars or other products. Compensation includes competitive wage, 401k, full benefits and an employee purchase program. Those who aim to design musical equipment might get a good start with a vocational training job like this, perfect for someone who is handy and wants to be a part of making musical instruments.
For those perched on the verge of technical order and creative spontaneity, there are niches for the merging of the two. Graphic design, recording engineering or other indirectly related creative technical pursuits might be fruitful, and filmmakers could find a great fit in the music industry making music videos. Video can be an effective promotional and artistic tool, and today proficient audio-visual specialists can average $60,000 annually. Along a similar vein, developing writing skills and becoming a music journalist is one other option to allow people who flourish creatively and who appreciate music to express their passion. It can be a chance to give credit where it's due, or maybe fulfill a legitimate duty to "keep it real."
If you don't know where to start, start by doing research, trying different things, talking to people who may know the business and thinking about what your particular skill set is, or what you want out of a career in the music industry. Then, after exploring your options, carefully planning and obtaining the degree of your choice or otherwise putting in the time, effort and sweat (along with the fun, because it is the entertainment industry, after all) for your particular career path, the time will come to show the music industry exactly what you're made of. When you arrive at this point, you must be prepared to negotiate. Keep in mind what you're worth and be confident when asking for it. Websites like BLS.gov (U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics website) will give you a good idea of what to negotiate within your job description. But remember that nothing comes easy, and you must put in the effort before ever getting to this step. Thomas Edison put it aptly when he said that genius (and subsequently, success) is one percent inspiration and 99 percent perspiration. Finally, remember the motto of the Wild Stallions: "Party on, dudes!! And be excellent to one another."