The music industry is a weird industry, isn’t it?
And the deeper you get into it, the weirder it becomes…
Sometimes I think I’m in the minority of musicians who consider themselves to be more businessmen than musicians. That’s not a slight on my musicianship either,
it’s a strong affirmation that business is top of mind in all of my decisions as a producer and musician. Because of that, I have a career in music. Artists tend to miss the fact that music is a business and it’s remarkably similar to most other businesses.
Instead of realizing that, they hold onto a fantasy of “waiting to be discovered”. Artists should instead understand that they are a commodity not at all that dissimilar to a pizza place across the street. Artists must be sellable in order to be “discovered” by potential partners such as press, radio, labels, publishers, etc. These are businesses that need to make a profit in order to remain thriving enterprises.
People tend to put music in a different category because of how we feel when we listen to it. The reality is if you’re not making money off of your music, it’s a hobby not a career. 99% of musicians are hobbyists at best, and aren’t taken seriously in the industry. If you have already aligned your thinking beyond music for its own sake, you are probably already seeing some success from your music. Feels good to make money from your songs, doesn’t it?
I would even argue that it’s harder to create a successful pizza place than to get yourself to profitable place in the music industry. A caveat to that, of course, is that I am assuming you are above average in your musical abilities. Please don’t comment with stories of people who found luck along the way and seemed to bypass hard work by having a well-connected social circle or being at the right place at the right time. For the most part, these are origin myths repeated by hopeful musicians without a real plan for themselves. Relying on luck is a long shot. Unfortunately, it’s what most musicians do.
Let’s stay with the pizza analogy for a minute. When Alberto opened his successful pizza parlor, was he looking for free leases to establish his business? Did he look for free employees to work on a speculative basis (i.e. without a guaranteed wage working for a percentage of net profit)? Did he go to supermarket and ask for free ingredients to make the pizzas and offer the supermarket a percentage of pizza sales in return? In reality, Alberto or any other aspiring pizza entrepreneur did not. Instead, Alberto very likely invested his life savings or took a loan because he believed in his business. He likely decided to go “all in.”
As an artist, did you take a big amount of your life savings to produce a really good album? Did you spend money branding and promoting it? Chances are you didn’t. Instead, chances are you tell yourself that you have no money to get your music professionally recorded. So, instead, you spend your time looking for free recording sessions or laying down some amateur-sounding tracks in garageband hoping someone will “discover” you and take your horrible sounding demos and transform them into a fully realized hit. Maybe they’ll hear your potential and want to work with you merely because you are so obviously awesome, right?
I’ve seen so many talented artists disappear because they simply won’t invest a single dollar in themselves. Even worse, I’ve seen artists that not only refuse to invest money in themselves, but when an investor came along and wanted to invest money in them, they decided they are unwilling to share a percentage of their future success. (?#$%)
1) Don’t think someone will invest in you if you don’t believe enough to invest in yourself.
2) If you did find someone who believes in you enough and has the means, don’t be a fool and refuse to form a true partnership, including sharing revenue. You are probably not in a position to bargain – remember, 100% of 0 is still 0.
Do you think Alberto started his pizza place, but then decided to stop working on it for a while because he was too busy with his day job/girlfriend/college degree/social life or any other excuses musicians tend to tell themselves? Of course not! Alberto worked hard every single day, 7 days a week in the first 10 years, before he earned a sizable fortune from his pizza place. You tell yourself that you’re too busy to devote more time to making it in music. I know… life, right? Soooo busy, everything is in the way of your music… Well, this exactly why it’s easier for the people who are willing to work hard to make it, because nothing stands in their way. Finding a musician who is a go getter like the average entrepreneur is rare. I recommend you stop telling yourself stories about how hard your life is get to work.
Have you ever eaten a demo pizza at Alberto’s Pizza because Alberto did not have money to make an actual pizza, so he started making half-baked pizzas to showcase his potential? Have you ever eaten in a place where the walls weren’t painted or the chairs were broken? This is analogous to the crappy demo you are sending people. The demo is dead, you need to present a fully realized recording. You are competing against well-produced, mixed, arranged, recorded, and mastered music. In the music industry, artists think it’s okay to showcase unfinished work. In other businesses, people understand that they have to have the minimum standards before their products are ready for market. Before soliciting your material to the public and to potential partners (e.g. labels), make sure your music sounds killer by commercial standards and that it’s well branded via artwork, throughout social media etc.)
Incidentally, I get 2 messages a month from people asking me how to become a producer. When I ask them what they’ve produced in the past, they have no work to show me. My answer is always “well, start producing music”
Isn’t that obvious? (I guess not :))
Stay focused and treat your music like a business you’re building from the ground up and I have no doubt you’ll find success.