I meet hundreds of talented artists and songwriters every month, some of who have attained widespread success in the music industry. I am often shocked by the high percentage of them who do not really know how the music industry works. It’s one thing to have a hit song, or songs. It’s quite another to know how to parlay that exposure and notoriety into a career! Many don’t know how to book themselves, or market their song catalog, or even register to receive all of the royalties they have coming to them.
If not knowing the business is a challenge for a world-renown artist or hit songwriter, just think of how much harder is it for an unsigned artist! Of course, there are many singers, musicians and songwriters who are happy just playing or writing music as a hobby. But if you are looking at making music your career, here are some reasons why it is important for you to study and be involved in the business side of your career just as much as you are on the performing or songwriting side:
- Missed opportunities: You miss out on advances in technology that can make your life simpler. You lose gigs that you would have found online. You lose out on licensing opportunities because you don’t know how to find them and/or submit your music to them. You lose potential endorsement deals because you’re not growing your fanbase with a tangible email list. You get trapped into being just the local bar band even though your talent could take you so much farther.
- Leaving money on the table: You may have money waiting for you at Sound Exchange but you don’t know who they are, what they do or why you should register with them. The same goes for the PROs, the Harry Fox, Agency, the musician’s union and even AFTRA. Your fans don’t know how to buy your music because it is not available in the most common online stores.
- Lack of credibility: Your peers who run their own music businesses effectively do not take you seriously. Music industry decision makers (record labels, managers etc.) don’t believe you ‘have what it takes’ because of your lack of music business knowledge, or;
- You are easily taken advantage of or exploited: I know hit writers who were swindled out of their catalogs. You don’t get paid what you’re worth because your management takes or spends too much. You get into bad deals or sign bad contracts because they look good to you. You make rookie mistakes like paying too much for recording, paying to have your songs published, getting song critiques from non-reputable sources etc. You get taken by a vanity record label.
- Failure to communicate: You are left out of high-level industry conversations because you can’t add anything to them or discuss them intelligently. You can’t negotiate the best deals because you don’t have the leverage. You don’t understand what your peers are talking about.
- Lost income: You don’t get the best gigs because you don’t know how to pursue them. Your songs aren’t cut because you don’t know how to promote them effectively. Your music isn’t in film and TV because you don’t know how to license them.
- Losing money that you earn(ed): You squander away your money. You make bad investments. You get involved financially in deals that are over your head. Your management loses your money for you.
- Bad business decisions: You sign bad contracts or management deals. You sign your songs over to a publisher for life. You don’t know how to get out of bad contracts. You hire an attorney who is not familiar with entertainment law to review and negotiate your contracts. You take gigs on which you ultimately lose money. You pay too much for things that shouldn’t cost you much, if anything.
- Inability to monitor your business: You don’t know if your manager is taking you for a ride. You don’t know if your publisher is actually working on your behalf. You don’t know how much money you really should have.
- Lost relationships: You lose touch with important people because you don’t keep the relationship alive, or have a reason to keep it alive. People you know who are moving ahead don’t take you with them.
- Poor team selection: You don’t pick the right managers, business managers, financial advisors, band members etc. This is because you don’t know the right questions to ask, you don’t do your due diligence, or you are just elated that someone wants to come on board with you.
- Lost fanbase: Because you don’t keep in communication with your fans, or do it effectively, they forget about you and move on to other artists who do. Your fans don’t know where you’re performing so obviously they don’t follow you. Your fans don’t know that you have a new CD out because you don’t know how to reach them.
- No respect: You get a reputation as a talented but lazy person. People love to help others who are working hard to improve themselves. You’re not recognized as someone like that. You’re looked upon as someone who is ‘waiting for his ship to come in’ instead of someone who is building his own ship.
- Loss of time: It takes you longer to do things that others who know the industry do automatically. Some examples would be copywriting your songs, organizing and sending an EPK, writing a press release etc.
- No advocacy: You don’t know the issues facing the industry so you don’t fight for your own rights.
- Depression: You get frustrated because things aren’t moving fast enough for you. You get tired of being taken advantage of. You believe that the world is against you. You believe the music industry is designed to keep you out. You often want to quit the business completely. You resent the fact that you’re stuck in a bar band because you have always dreamed of filling stadiums someday.
- Loss of support: Your friends, family and fans who believe wholeheartedly in your talent start doubting your seriousness. They don’t see you treating your career like a business. They become convinced that you should get a ‘real job’ and do music as a hobby.
- No legacy: Since no one outside of your local bar ever hears your music, and only your friends, family and local fans have your CDs, you don’t impact the world the way you dreamed you would. And when you’re gone from this world, there is little if any legacy that you leave behind for the world to remember you by.
The bottom line is that, to be successful, you need to be business savvy enough to develop and keep a large enough fan base to support you over the length of your careers.
I would be remiss if I didn’t recognize that there are many artists who spend all of their time studying the business. Often they never pull the trigger on actually performing and building a fanbase. You needs to balance your performing and writing with your business development. Keep learning what you need to know to move your music and career one step forward. Make wise decisions. Find a mentor to help. Build and maintain relationships. Remember the only saying, ‘When the student is ready, the teacher will appear.’ Show the world that you are hungry to learn all you can, and you will be amazed at how many teachers will cross your path!
Vinny Ribas is the founder and CEO of Indie Connect, a global business club for serious independent artists, songwriters, musicians and music professionals. Indie Connect helps its members increase their chances of success by providing practical career direction and education, combined with live and online industry networking opportunities. During his 40+ year career, Vinny has been a full time musician, an artist manager, a booking agent, songwriter and the Entertainment Director for the NV State Fair. He is a published author and popular speaker at music industry conferences.