Sunday, December 31, 2006

20 Ways to Make it in the Music Business, Part 1

I’m not a complete advocate of getting a record deal, but these suggestions will help you pretty much no matter how you want to execute your music career. How many of these you use will depend precisely on how serious you are. Now stand up and get to work, or sit down and shut up.

  1. Focus. Limit anything outside your career that you can. Boyfriends, girlfriends, irrelevant job, irrelevant school (okay, high school and college can be VERY relevant—so you’re not off the hook), drugs, hobbies, clubs, etc. I said, “anything that you can.” I know it’s impossible to drop completely out of your social life, but a distracting relationship, a demanding sport/hobby, a pregnancy, etc., can derail your focus very quickly. You can’t be in two places at one time, let alone three, four or five. The people you depend on must be equally as focused. That’s why moms and dads move their whole lives so their children who are Olympic hopefuls can get training. It’s like that. You’re in training—like an athlete.
  2. Network. All the other performers and musicians in your area are trying to develop their own industry and venue contacts. Share yours and get theirs—as a group you can move forward more quickly than as an individual. Try to develop an atmosphere of cooperation that extends across the boundaries of musical style—being a bigot in your own genre only limits your opportunities.
  3. Get the facts. There are dozens of books available to learn about the music industry. Read them. Learn from others. Learn about song copyrights, promotion companies, record companies, record deals, independent releases, songwriting, song publishing, CD pressing, digital distribution, online downloading. Read The Ultimate Survival Guide to the New Music Industry: Handbook for Hell by Justin Goldberg, How I Make $100,000 in Music by David Hooper, The Gigster Textbook by Ryan Michael Galloway, This Business of Music by M. William Krasilovsky, Guerrilla Music Marketing Handbook by Bob Baker, CDBaby artists’ area.
  4. Choose your genre. The more you focus your musical style, the more chance you have at commercial success. You probably can’t find too many places that you can place boot-scootin’ country mixed with occasional Mohawk spiked-inspired punk—although it would be really cool to try. Edgier style mixed with smooth jazz probably won’t work. If commercial success is not your goal, then go crazy…no limits. But if you’re trying to be a mega star or want a quicker start, you could make an already uphill climb much steeper by combining the wrong genres.
  5. Choose your image. This goes along with choosing your genre. If you keep changing your onstage persona, your audience will never know what they’re looking for. They want to find something new and then stick with it. The audience doesn’t always follow when you re-invent yourself, but it will be easier to make changes later in your career than right after your initial successes. If you’re still not sure who you are, go to and start figuring it out.
  6. Learn to “sell.” You need to be a cooperative person, even if you’re not. You need to get a song across in a way that rips the heart out of your listener, even if you’re shy. You need to pitch ideas to record companies, promoters and managers, even if you are inarticulate. Learn to communicate on many levels.
  7. Practice. Even a pro (Jessica Simpson) has trouble overcoming a screw-up when they are obviously unprepared. A little mistake is common, and fine. Constantly messing up because you’re not ready, is not.
  8. Play live. A live performance is worth ten rehearsals. If you don’t have paid bookings, play for free.
  9. Write or acquire original songs. It is hard to compete with no new content. If you can’t write, there are armies of songwriters who want you to cover their songs. Contact groups like the Collin County Songwriters Association, Blogging Muses (World’s #1 Songwriter Blog Site), GarageBand, or IdolUnderground as sources for writers and material.
  10. Polish. Review with your team after every performance, rehearsal, disaster or success. Reinforce what works, tweak what doesn’t. Do it always, even if you just address it in informal conversations.

To be continued...