Here lately, I’ve been busy recording and consulting young bands, aspiring songwriters, and singers who are eager to “break into the music business”. Besides being fairly talented, they all have one thing in common: they all have absolutely NO idea how the music industry works.
As with most of us who make music for a living, many of them think their music is the greatest thing since sliced bread. The problem lies that they’re then unwilling to take advice on how to make their music better (read: more competitive). They wrote their “baby” in a moment of inspiration. It’s gold. That’s that. This attitude is not only amateurish, but it’s childish as well. Now, I’m not saying that much of their music isn’t good, but the music business is inundated with artists, bands, and songwriters who are “just good”. To compete, you must be great. Your music must be great. Your image must be great.
Study! Before you decide to dive into the shark infested waters of the music biz, you have to know exactly what you’re getting into so you won’t get eaten alive. Okay, I exaggerate a bit. Just not much. Before you expect to have any success in anything, be it business, science, technology, medicine, etc., you must understand your particular field inside and out. That’s exactly why people seeking any particular career path go to college. Education makes sure you’re at least somewhat prepared for entering your career. Music is no different.
Know your rights. Learn how copyrights work and where your money comes from as a writer or artist. Horror stories abound of bands and artists who were taken advantage of because they were ignorant of income opportunities, or, worse yet, they signed away those rights in shady contracts.
Educate yourself on contracts. Always consult an attorney before you sign anything, but at least help yourself by being familiar with contractual “norms” and how to read them. Know that contracts are a give-and-take type of thing. You likely wont get exactly what you want out of the deal, but know that the other party should be giving up certain things as well. It’s all about compromise.
Be prepared for failure. Say this with me: “No one owes me anything.” One more time. Good, now say it a thousand more times so that it sticks. Chances are you will knock on a hundred proverbial doors before someone lets you in. You may not even be let in. Your demos WILL sit on someone’s desk (if they even make it to the desk) amid a sea of SeaDs CDs from other people. They may not get listened to. If someone likes your music, you may get a call (which could be months, or even years, down the road). Just don’t expect them to call you back if they don’t like it. They’re just too busy for that. In the Music Biz, generally no news is bad news.
It ain’t about you. I could make you say this one a thousand times, too. Unless you just rub someone the wrong way, a rejection is not personal. It’s purely a business decision. After all, we’re all participating in the music business, right? There are scores of reasons why you may face rejection. Your songwriting or singing skills may not be strong enough yet. You may not fit their image. They may already have artists on their roster that are just like you. Once you start to work with music on a professional level, music ceases to be about art and becomes a commodity. Your music and your image is solely used to make money for someone else. Then, if they make money, you can reap some of the benefits of their success. Just don’t make the mistake of thinking that “you’re gonna get yours before they get theirs.” Remember, until you are making money for someone else, you have no leverage over them.
Talent can only carry you so far. You may be a fabulously talented singer or band, but if you don’t take responsibility for your own successes (or failures), then you can never expect to make it in the music industry. Your manager can’t do it for you. Your agent can’t do it for you. Your label can’t do it for you. All of these are avenues to help you succeed. In fact, don’t even go to them first. Learn to be successful without these other people, and your potential for greater success is much higher. If you’re successful on your own, these people will take notice and come to you. Then, if you feel they will help you to succeed further, make use of them. Remember, those who help you succeed are seeking their own success as well.
I don’t say any of this to scare any of you away from the music business. I am, on the other hand, saying it to scare some sense into you. Educate yourself. Prepare. Take responsibility for your successes and failures. While having “a good voice and a dream” is a good starting point, make no mistake; the music business isn’t at all easy. What else you got?