In my 15 years of teaching and consulting, I couldn’t tell you the number of times I’ve heard a young musician say, “I just do what I do, and if anyone likes it, they’ll buy it.
“My reply? Congratulations, you’re a true artist.”
But as you get a little older and your responsibilities increase with a mortgage, spouse, and kids, this attitude is dangerous unless you have another source of income or you’re just a hobbyist. Make no mistake, music is an art, but having a successful music career and making money at it is a serious business.
What follows are a few tips that might help improve your chances for having a successful music career without compromising your integrity.
Have a clear vision
Success starts with a vision – and a vision statement. A vision statement is a declaration of where you’d like your career to be in seven to ten years down the road. With this defined and in place, it’s far easier to map out the directions for how you’re going to get to your desired destination.
A vision statement summarizes what you are truly passionate about, and includes everything from the type of music you’d like to create, the products you might release, and the overall brand image you might like to impart on your intended audience.
Long before Marilyn Manson hit the scene, he envisioned himself as being a “pop star who would shock the world.” He kept drawings of costumes and stage set designs along with other business and creative details in a personal notebook. This was Manson’s “North Star” – his guiding light. Several platinum albums later, he truly succeeded at bringing his vision to fruition.
As the saying goes, “If you don’t stand for something, you can surely fall for anything.” So what’s guiding your music career? If you haven’t thought about it before, now is a good time.
Identify opportunities or needs
While keeping your vision at heart, it’s time to examine what’s going on in the world around to ensure that your vision actually fills a need and represents a true opportunity – from a creative and marketing standpoint. As previously stated, Marilyn Manson had a clear vision of being a pop star who would shock the world. But he also identified and filled a specific void in the marketplace – and perhaps even a specific societal need – for an entertaining and horrifically dramatic “new” stage personality, similar to what a now aging Alice Cooper had done decades earlier. In other words, the commercial marketplace was ripe for an artist like Marilyn Manson, and he capitalized on the opportunity unlike any other artist.
A valuable tool to help you examine the external (and internal) environments of the marketplace is called a “SWOT analysis.” SWOT is an acronym that stands for strengths, weaknesses, opportunities, and threats. The idea is to identify external needs and opportunities that match your internal strengths while also considering your internal weaknesses and the external risks (e.g. competition) that could impede your ability to succeed. While all this might sound like business school jargon, the most successful companies, both big and small, use the SWOT model. And with a little training, so can you!
Don’t worry whether Lil Dr. Dre, or anyone else, knew this stuff
Make no mistake – successful people in all fields apply marketing and business principles to get their desired results, whether they know it or not. From jazz guitarist Pat Metheny who advanced traditional jazz music into the future with the use of synthesizers and robotics, to Nirvana who stamped out cookie-cutter hair metal and created a whole new genre of music called grunge, new trails were forged that filled a very specific market need. The advantage of being consciously aware of certain marketing principles up front is that you don’t have to find your path by chance. Rather, you can use these helpful tools at your own discretion to help you achieve your vision.
Be an innovator
Be clear that the marketing approach that I am discussing here is not asking you to compromise your artistic integrity and to “sell out,” but rather to adjust with the world around you, be more unique and innovative, and to “buy in.” Let’s face it, creating art is a beautiful thing, but creating a sound and style that is new and fresh, having it enjoyed by a large audience, and receiving compensation so that you can quite your day job is simply awesome! Remember, creating music in a vacuum and simply hoping it is successful can be a risky proposition if you intend to be more than a hobbyist.
Always stay true your vision, but be willing to adjust that vision to fill a specific need or void in the marketplace that matches your strengths. If you can fill that need first and do it better than anyone else, the rest just might be your amazing history.
At a time when new technologies make it more possible than ever for musicians to attract attention independently and leverage their own careers, DIY advice from a music professional has never been so desirable. Bobby Borg has been down the road of the self-made musician, and he brings his experience and his advice to other hopefuls through Music Marketing for the DIY Musician. According to Borg, publicity is the key!
Stimulating publicity and building good PR (public relations) are the first of many promotional strategies that you can use to help promote your products and services. Publicity refers to articles, reviews, and comments that journalist write about you because they want to write about you. In other words: Because you “earned” their interest and respect. PR refers to what happens in the minds of your target audience as a result of great publicity. Overall, fans are left with a much stronger image of you, your offerings, and your brand. So how should you start stimulating publicity and building good PR? Consider the following:
- Create an informative press kit (physically and digitally) that includes a biography, picture, current news release (or press release), and a sample of your music.
- Create a list of local magazines, newspapers, and blogs red by your target audience.
- Build relationships with local journalists by first reaching out and complimenting them on their work.
- Send local journalists (after getting permission) your press materials and be clear about what it is you want from them: A record review, live performance review, or an interview.
- Become part of the local news by being part of your local scene:Attend other artist’s shows, go to award ceremonies, and hang at parties where local press people hang out.
- Participate in community activities in which you strongly believe (feed the homeless, 5k run to cure cancer, etc.), and then inform the local press of the good deeds you do.
- Devise a “publicity stunt” (a sneaky/crazy/daring activity) that gets press people to take notice and write about you. Just be sure not to do anything illegal.
- Start your own magazine and write about local bands (including your own).
- Capitalize on your school’s paper, newsletter, etc., where you already have an “in.”
- Publicize (your publicity) by including various quotes and testimonials in your biographies, press releases, and anywhere else that you can.
- Hire a talented communications student at a local college to help with some of the above tasks, and/or entice one of your fans to help out with some of the work.
As you can see, there are a variety of different ways to generate publicity and strengthen your public’s perception of you. But don’t be mislead: publicity and PR are not as easy as 1 – 2 – 3. They require follow up (over long periods of time) just to get one magazine or blog review. But if you’re pleasant, charming, and have truly a great product, all the hard work will all pay off.
Check out more advice from Bobby over on his website
David Flitner, author of Less Noise, More Soul, has graciously written a blog post for us!
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“Anyone who has worked in the art and science of recording music knows the challenge of getting what’s in one’s mind to sound the same when, eventually, it emerges from speakers (or, more problematically, ear buds). There are so many variables that can alter and confound the journey of sound on its way from instruments and vocal chords, through hardware and software. And, for the most part, skilled hands and ears are required to navigate the passage.
This is also the dynamic that attends the writing and editing of a book, particularly one that collects the voices of numerous contributors. Less Noise, More Soul: The Search for Balance in the Art, Technology and Commerce of Music brings together, by design, diverse personalities and points of view, all trying to make sense of where music finds itself amidst the digital paradigm, and all with a passion for that music’s profound relevance in our lives.
Does the message get through?
Reviewers have commented regularly on the “wealth of knowledge” brought by the contributors (many of whom are Grammy winners). The essays have been called “well balanced,” containing “elegant arguments for rethinking where technology is taking the sounds we crave.” One reviewer even referred to the essays as “unexpurgated,” saying they were “amusing and eye-opening and sometimes shocking and will certainly make you start thinking.” (“Shocking” is likely a reference to a metaphor offered by essayist Will Ackerman that I’ll not spoil by revealing here.)
The Journal of the Music & Entertainment Industry Educators Association honed in on the diversity of argumentation in the book, declaring the volume “excellent food for classroom thought and study.” Another reviewer succinctly caught the book’s essential concern with “musical authenticity.”
And then there was the review that summed it up this way: “Less noise more soul. No more needs to be said.”
Since its release Less Noise, More Soul has been acquired by dozens of major institutions, from Yale, MIT, and UCLA to the distinguished Eastman School of Music and the Loeb Music Library at Harvard. And, for good measure, the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame.
Each reader may decide for herself or himself about the merits of the message. But it’s worth the journey.”
ABOUT THE AUTHOR
David Flitner (Wolfeboro, NH) holds a PhD from Tufts University and has been a consultant to the US Congress. He is the author of two previous books and has written on music and public affairs for numerous publications, from major newspapers to Billboard. He composes and records with the band Thinline.
360 degree deals present major disadvantages for artists, but faced with a choice of the 360 versus no deal, the 360 may be worth accepting – but only if properly negotiated and only if the major pitfalls touched upon in this article are avoided.
First, let me give every artist and manager a quick primer on what a 360 degree deal is. Basically, the 360 is an exclusive recording contract between a record company and an artist in which, in addition to monies from sales of the artist’s recorded music, the label shares in other income streams such as touring and live performance, merchandise, endorsements, appearances in movies and TV, and if the artist also writes songs, publishing.
In fact, most 360 deals have catch-all phases giving the label a financial interest in everything else that the artist does in the entertainment business.
A traditional recording agreement only provides an income stream for the label from record sales. But similar to the traditional recording agreement, under the 360 deal the label acquires the copyrights in the artist’s recordings and options for multiple albums. The 360 deal also usually includes all the same deductions from record royalties as the traditional deal, including producer royalties and reductions for packaging, “net sales,” foreign sales, midprice and budget records, and even “new technology.” (originally applied to CD royalties and now to digital sales).
The traditional recording agreement had a lot of bad stuff in it for the artist. The 360 deal usually has all of that, and a lot more.
Origins & Reason D’Etra
The 360 deal is not new. The first reported one was English recording star Robbie Williams’ deal with EMI in 2002. But in the last few years 360 deals have become common place. New artists signing with a major label or their affiliates can expect it as a matter of course. The reason for the prevalence of the 360 deal is the dramatic decline in income from sales of recorded music.
Income from sales of pre-recorded music reached its peak in 1999 at approximately 14.5 billion dollars. By 2012 that amount had shrunk to only approximately $7 billion — a decline of more than 50% not accounting for inflation.
Read more on Steve Gordon’s blog!
The Future of the Music Business – Third Edition provides a legal and business road map for success in today’s music business by setting forth a comprehensive summary of the rules pertaining to the traditional music business, including music licensing, as well as the laws governing online distribution of music and video.
The following is an excerpt from Making the Scene–Nashville: How to Live, Network, and Succeed in Music City by Liam Sullivan.
“I’ve never known a musician who regretted being one. Whatever deceptions life may have in store for you, music itself is not going to let you down.”—Virgil Thompson
Nashville, Tennessee. The name is known around the world as the home of country music. It has been referenced in hundreds of songs and if you say, “Nashville, Tennessee,” out loud long enough, you’ll notice it has a musical ring all its own. The warmth of those two words has drawn musicians of all stripes to this city for decades. For Nashville’s original inhabitants, playing music served as relief from the hard work and toil they endured forging a new life. They employed instruments such as violins (fiddles), guitars, and mandolins. They called out in song on back porches, churches, hilltops, valleys, and plateaus that make up the landscape of the state of Tennessee. It can be argued that music, to the early settlers, was as important to them as the food they put on their tables. Music was their spiritual nourishment. The songs they sang often drew upon themes from scripture, local folklore, and the hardships of working the land. They were songs of faith, everyday struggles, love, heartache, and pain. As country music grew in scope those themes would remain the bedrock from which future songwriters could pull inspiration.
Nashville is unquestionably a historic music hub. The Ryman Auditorium, which sits in the heart of downtown Nashville, has served as a beacon, if you will, for musicians for more than a hundred years. If you’re a musician, you want to play the Ryman Auditorium. The longest-running radio show in American history, the Grand Ole Opry, still broadcasts live from the Ryman Auditorium a few times each month. Situated around the Ryman down on lower Broadway in Nashville are the honky-tonks: bars bustling with live music, tourists, locals, and musicians from around the world. There is no other place like it. Amateur and professional musicians flock to Nashville each year to become part of what has become a musician’s paradise. However, the musical landscape has evolved beyond country music. Now, every genre of music is represented in Nashville: jazz, blues, rock, R&B, soul, country, and bluegrass. With the completion of the Schermerhorn Symphony Center in 2007, opera and classical music are represented as well.
Preparation Meets Opportunity
Moving to any new city is a challenge. For musicians, that challenge can sometimes be greater. As musicians, we make noise. There’s no getting around it. We thrive on working with other musicians and either playing in rehearsal spaces or gigging out. We need spaces where we can create, record, and hang out with other musicians. As musicians, we also need to know where to play, where to buy gear, where to see live music, network, and exchange ideas. We need to know where to live, where to buy a car, where to buy clothing or that cool hat. We also need to find jobs that fit a musician’s lifestyle.
As musicians, we prepare, we practice. We work at our craft so that when “preparation meets opportunity,” we’re ready. Therefore, moving to Nashville should be looked at in the same way. We need to set a budget and take care of all the variables before making that big move. Think of it as preparing for a gig. What will you need? A guitar tuner, an extra set of strings, extra pairs of drum sticks, batteries, a backup guitar, mics, patch cords, etc. In assembling these, you are prepared, not scrabbling around at the last minute asking other musicians in other bands at the gig, “Hey, can we borrow your drum stool? Our keyboard player needs something to sit on.” As musicians, we are constantly learning, not only from the music we listen to, but from people who see us perform. In the coming chapters you will read firsthand advice from musicians who have moved to Nashville and the challenges that they faced. I’ll also be interviewing music industry professionals who will offer up helpful tips so that once you get settled you can make your plan of attack and get your music heard.
There will be tips on how to get a music publishing deal and the benefits of becoming an ASCAP, BMI, or SESAC member. You’ll read about networking at open mic/writers’ nights, and how to find writing partners for co-writing projects. And finally, you’ll learn the best approach to getting a gig so that you’re not playing to the crickets on a Tuesday night at 1:00 a.m. I’ll also offer up my own personal account of the challenges that I faced as a musician when I first moved to Nashville and describe some of the hurdles that I had to overcome in order to make Nashville my new home.
The social diversity of this country is as vast as its borders. This should play a part in your thinking when relocating to Nashville. Social nuances vary greatly from the East to the West, North, and South. Nashville, like any city, has its own rhythm, and the more in tune you are to that rhythm, the better off you’ll be. Therefore, I’ll explain how Nashville became such an important music city, and how everyone from early music pioneers to today’s country music legends helped make that happen. Once you’ve figured out the lay of the land you’ll want to branch out to the various services that musicians rely on, as well as where to eat after a late-night gig (very important!). You’ll need to know where to get CDs made and duplicated. You’ll need to find local producers and recording studios so you can make a demo. Additionally, you’ll need to make the most of contacting local social networking sites, newspapers, radio, and TV stations that will further help you promote your image and build a following. Understanding how this music town works before you arrive is vital. By supplying you with historical references, modern resources, and interviews with a wide range of music professionals, this book will help guide you through the challenges of moving to Music City USA, Nashville, Tennessee.
Making the Scene–Nashville will serve as a comprehensive guide for musicians and artists of all types looking to move to and establish themselves in Nashville, Tennessee. Sprinkled with historical references on how Nashville became the home of country music along with interviews from a wide range of music professionals and resources, this book will become a prime resource helping artists and others meet the challenges of moving to Music City USA – Nashville, Tennessee.
Today is the 10th anniversary of Mixerman’s first book, The Daily Adventures of Mixerman. Since then, we’ve gone on to publish his books Zen and the Art of Mixing and the new Zen and the Art of Producing. Check out his website to join the conversation!
The following is an excerpt from the just-released Zen and the Art of Producing by Mixerman (Hal Leonard Books):
Since Homo erectus first thought to stretch an animal skin tightly across a hollowed tree trunk and then cleverly bang it with a stick, music has been an important force in human existence. Music became a way for early humans to convey their deepest thoughts, feelings, and intentions, all while celebrating life itself. The medium was certainly useful, whether performed to win over the opposite sex for propagation, to curry favor with the gods for rain, to warn nearby tribes of imminent war, or to express thankfulness for life itself, including the inevitable passing of it. Music was not an arbitrary expression—it had a purpose. It still does.
It seems that the act of sharing music is important to us as a species. It is human interaction and societal culture that propels music, not the needs of any given individual. Music is a communication tool, and as such is meant to include others. Oh, I can hear the arguments now. But what of those who acquire great solace playing their instrument alone? Why, that’s nothing more than preparation for an audience. And what of the teenager who listens to sad songs alone in her bedroom? That might be a good point, were someone not actually singing to her. A successful performance creates an inherent connection between singer and listener, even in the form of a reproduction.
Of course, long before the drum was invented, man most certainly sang—whistled even. We couldn’t live among the birds for very long without attempting to mimic their songs (although it seems to me that song is as instinctual to man as it is to bird). Singing was certainly an important step where the creation of music was concerned, but it was really only half the equation. Man needed something more. Man needed a beat. A pulse.
Oh, I’m sure some of you might bristle at the suggestion that a pulse is a requirement for music. Depending on how you define “music,” it would certainly be debatable. But if there’s a melody involved, there must be a pulse. Without one, note duration is undefined within the melody itself. Perhaps a rubato melody lacking any semblance of time falls within the definition of “music,” but unless that melody can be repeated, there is no song— an important distinction—and without a performance of that song, there is no production.
The moment man first combined improvised singing and drumming, he made a great leap forward where music is concerned, but without some organization and repeatability, that first attempt would travel only as far as the sound itself—perhaps a few miles. Improvised music could not be reproduced, and was therefore local and transitory. But once someone set a definitive melody to a drumbeat, the whole game changed. Not only did we now have a song, but we had a production of it as well. With the production of a song came repeatability. Now a song could travel beyond the scope of its initial performance. A song could be reproduced.
Passing a song from one person to another by rote is admittedly a rather crude form of reproduction fraught with problems. If you’ve ever played the game of “Telephone,” you understand it’s unlikely that a song survived many generations of hand-me-down reproduction without undergoing some kind of metamorphosis. The first successful songs were likely nothing short of open-source projects subject to constant changes down the line. There’s no telling how a particular song might have changed over time. Further complicating matters, as a song morphed, so too did its production. After all, drums were mostly limited to rhythmic function. Eventually, harmonic instruments would come into play.
As man developed tools for hunting and war, his capability to produce musical instruments expanded tremendously. It probably didn’t take long for early humans to figure out that they could produce a tone by blowing across a hole in a hollow stick, or by plucking a stretched vine. The creation and construction of scalable instruments, however, required tools. As our tools advanced, so too did the complexity and quality of our instruments. Once ore could be successfully removed from rock, all bets were off. Metal allowed artisans to shape instruments with absolute precision and stunning quality.
Just as the technology of the written word developed, so too did the written language of music. Using reliable, ergonomically precise standardized instruments in conjunction with Western scales and notation, composers were able to write more complex works. A single composer could not only designate who played what when, but also notate it in a manner that allowed for consistent repeatability. This was a major advance in reproduction technology. Now a record of both the song and its production could be preserved and reproduced centuries later, without requiring a direct transfer from one human to another. All that was left to reproduce was a particular performance. That would require electricity.
It’s remarkable when you think about it. Thomas Edison wasn’t just responsible for harnessing and delivering electricity; he also invented many of the early products that used electricity. This included his 1877 invention of the phonograph (of all things!). With the phonograph in conjunction with the microphone, the world had its first practical recording and playback device. Now, man could reproduce a song, a production, and a particular performance. Granted, the recording was a distorted facsimile of the original, limited in bandwidth and smothered in scratchy noise, but that didn’t matter. Poor sound quality was irrelevant given the convenience (sound familiar?). Music fans were no longer relegated to localized live performances. Music could now be automatically reproduced by the consumer, and therefore sold. Enter the Music Business.
The phonograph wasn’t the only popular reproduction device of the time. The player piano was invented in 1876, and proved to be a remarkably popular form of entertainment. The great thing about the player piano was that it allowed families with limited musical ability to gather around it and sing together . . . but then, so did the phonograph. And the player piano, with its programmed mechanical reproduction, required human power, while the phonograph offered automatic reproduction. It’s no mystery then why the phonograph ultimately won the battle for dominance. Regardless, they were both exceptionally popular forms of entertainment at the turn of the 20th century. In 1902, up to 75,000 player pianos and 1.5 million piano rolls were produced. Mean- while, phonograph records were selling in the millions.
With the invention of the phonograph, composers no longer required sheet music to convey their vision of a production. They could record an actual performance. Of equal consideration, the end user could automatically reproduce that performance on a later date, at any location, as long as there was electricity available. While this new recording technology opened up the scope of music and the distance that it could travel, there were still physical limitations. A piano and corresponding roll, or a phonograph and disc, were needed in order to reproduce music. Given the times, it seems unlikely that such technology was available to anyone but the very wealthy. Even so, it had to have a stunning effect on how a song was spread.
Before recording technology came into play, a song would have to be passed from person to person—traveler to traveler—over the course of many years in order to reach human consciousness. Even with the public’s limited access to phonographs and records, a song at the turn of the 20th century could reach every corner of the Western world in a matter of months. This must have been nothing short of miraculous from the standpoint of art and commerce—that is, until radio came into play.
The first experimental radio transmissions occurred in the late 1800s, but it wasn’t until 1920 that the first commercial public radio station—KDKA of Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania—started broadcasting. Few people heard that maiden broadcast, mostly due to a lack of receivers, but this changed dramatically in a short time. Receiver manufacturers had difficulty keeping up with a radio craze so widespread that nearly 60 percent of households had a receiver by 1930. Now a musical performance could be reproduced and broadcast to people separated by thousands of miles. Music could travel the world, not over the course of years or months— but in a matter of days. If the inventions of the phonograph and the player piano led to the creation of the music industry (and they did), the accessibility of radio exploded it wide open. Isn’t it ironic that the Internet, for all intents and purposes the 21st-century equivalent of the radio, may have caused an equal and opposite implosion of the complacent, century-old music business?