The world we live in is changing at a frantic pace. Many things that were considered the norm ten or twenty years ago are now being replaced, modernized, and reinvented.
The music business is no exception, as it too is being reshaped right before our eyes. The music business is moving to the online realm, together with many other things.
The times of the almighty record labels that would sign an anonymous performer or band and take them to the stars are all but over.
The proverbial producers with big fat cigars hunting for the next big thing in local bars are a thing of the past and unlikely to return.
TV and radio have been replaced by streaming platforms and the press and promotional agencies by social media networks. DIY recording software takes the place of recording and mixing engineers while musicians act as their own agents and producers.
Yesterday – The Old School Music Business
Back in the 20th century, brick and mortar record labels ruled the scene. Producers had the power to make or break someone’s career with a stroke of the pen. TV and radio stations were the only sources of entertainment, and the press decided who was a rock star and who wasn’t.
A typical musician’s story before the 2010s consisted of gathering a band, rehearsing, performing in local pubs, cutting a demo tape, and shooting for a record contract. It was a pretty straight road, one that everyone from the Rolling Stones to U2 and Coldplay had to traverse. Exceptions were few and far between, as there were virtually no alternatives. However, things started to change in the new millennium.
Winds of Change – The Rise of Streaming Platforms and Social Networks
Even though traditionalists might claim otherwise, the music business is actually healthy and doing quite well today. The changes brought many good things and opened up a whole new world of possibilities for the artists and fans alike.
With the rise of social networks like Facebook and streaming platforms like YouTube came the first music stars of the new era. They did it all themselves, everything from composing and recording to production, marketing, and management.
At first, they were snubbed by record companies as a less-than-worthy adversary. They had incomparably lower budgets, lower production quality, no air time on major TV and radio stations, and no access to the big concert halls and arenas, while established stars enjoyed all of that.
However, the DIY musicians had the power of the social networks and streaming platforms under their command. They had the freedom to be who they wanted to be and create the music they wanted. They also had the ability to connect with their audience on a more personal level.
On the other hand, fans gained choices and alternatives to the stuff commonly found on the major label catalogs. Other benefits included free access to music and more immediate access to their favorite musicians. It soon became clear that things would never be the same again, so here’s all you need to know about the music business today.
Brave New World – The New Music Business
The new music business is now open to anyone ready and willing to navigate the high seas of social networks and streaming sites. While still in its infancy, the new music business is changing rapidly as well.
Streaming platforms are rising and falling, fans sometimes migrate from one social network to another. New recording and composition tools are coming out daily, while instructional videos on everything from playing the E chord to selling your music are flooding YouTube and Vimeo.
Traditional record labels are still around, though they’re less involved with making someone rich and famous. Their focus is on keeping the rich and famous rich and famous, while the anonymous have to take care of themselves.
Record deals are slowly becoming obsolete, as the focus of the audience is shifting from full-length albums to singles and EPs. This shift has to do with the overall preference of internet users to shorter and easier-to-digest formats. Besides, full-length albums are commonly done in two to three-year cycles, while a well-versed independent artist can put out dozens of EPs, singles, remixes, and covers over the same period of time.
The meteoric rise of affordable high-definition video gear and ever-increasing accessibility of pro-level filming software apps have made it easier than ever to shoot high-quality videos on a budget. Platforms like WordPress and Wix have made it a lot easier to build a quality website.
Audio equipment, effect processors, and musical instruments have become a lot cheaper in recent years. Sites like YouTube, iTunes, and Spotify don’t reject music because “it doesn’t suit their style” and they can monetize virtually any song or album.
Welcome to the Jungle – It’s All on You
While it offers more opportunities for success than ever, the new music business isn’t a land of milk and honey. Musicians hoping to make it in the new music business have to rely on themselves for the most part. That includes writing the music, rehearsing, recording, putting the music out there, promotion, marketing, SEO, interacting with fans, booking gigs, hassles from venue owners, dealing with contracts and legal stuff, and a slew of other no-less-important things.
In other words, it’s all up to you now and you are the creator of your musical career. That being said, it is up to you whether to go in solo or with a team of trusted friends. Whatever you choose, you still have to learn the ropes. To learn them fast and well, you can check out the Music Business Accelerator, a program designed to get you up and running in no time.
It’s a Long Way to the Top – It Takes a Lot to Succeed
Getting in, surviving and, eventually thriving in the music business is long and hard work. It is a branching road with indefinite paths to the promised land. What worked for someone might not work for you, and vice versa. What took someone three years to achieve might take you six months.
There is no overnight success, meaning it will require a lot of time and effort to see the results you want. Once you get them, there will be no point where you’ll be able to say, “I don’t have to work anymore,” or you could be overrun and forgotten just like that.
Here’s a quick overview of some of the major tasks on your way to stardom.
Heading Out to the Highway – Start Your Journey to Success
When you decide to embark on the musical journey, apart from being a musician who loves their craft, you also become a businessman/woman. Even though you might not like it, the business side of things is very important today, especially with the record labels, booking agencies, and corporate media out of the picture.
You’d have to separate your business life from your private life. This means that your friends and family shouldn’t be the judges of the quality and potential success of your work. Instead, recruit them to give you support and act as your safe haven when you need to rest and recharge the batteries.
On the other hand, it also means that you shouldn’t become so friendly with your business associates to the point where you’re more friends than partners. Honest and unbiased feedback from a peer who is not walking on eggshells is invaluable, as is the ability to give it.
Tying into the previous point, you should treat yourself or your band as a brand. This shift in attitude will allow you to look at things from a more objective and neutral standpoint. It will also provide you with a good counterpoint to your passionate inner artist, shifting your focus from just making music to getting it out there and reaching as many people as possible.
Break on Through to the Other Side – Put Your Music Out There
In order to make it in the music business, just making music won’t be enough. Instead, you will have to post and promote it. Breaking through the barrier that stands between someone who makes music and someone who posts and promotes their music is the biggest jump you’ll have to make. Take a deep breath and break on through to the other side.
The fact that you’ve taken the DIY road also means that you’ll have to become a content creator. You will have to create high-quality original content that will keep your audience engaged in between songs and EPs.
The list might include writing engaging press releases and newsletters for your site’s mailing list, creating helpful how-to videos or music lessons and business/industry news and blog posts. You might also include interviews with other musicians, covers of other artists’ songs, collaboration videos, and Q&A sessions with the fans. This is a lot of content that you’ll need to create on a regular basis.
Due to the high volume of content that you’ll have to put out from the start, you’d have to be able to shake off perfectionism and accept minor mistakes and flaws. After finishing a song or a cover, post it. The point here is not so much embracing half-baked content but overcoming any need for perfection.
The key is to recognize the line between giving your best effort and becoming paralyzed by the fear of failure. You will get better over time as you learn what works and what doesn’t.
Hold the Line – Consistency is the Key
Once you’ve started creating content and posting it online, you’ll need to be consistent and persistent. Make it a point to release new content on a regular basis, while polishing your craft behind the curtains. This step has tripped up the vast majority of musicians that didn’t make it in the business. It is arguably the hardest, but also the most rewarding.
Between the Hammer and the Anvil – The Tools You Will Need
There are scores upon scores of software applications aimed at recording musicians out there. You can easily find everything from sound banks and libraries to scoring and arrangement tools and through to full-blown recording and mastering suites in no time. The popular options in each category also have large communities around them, so finding tips, tricks, and lessons on how to use them won’t be a problem.
Some of the programs and libraries are completely or nearly free, while the others might cost a small fortune. Most of them are freemiums where the creators offer the full program for a limited period of time for free or with the premium functions hidden behind a paywall. Some of the most popular recording software options include Cakewalk Sonar Platinum, FL Studio 12, Pro Tools 10, among others.
Aside from scoring and recording tools, you might also need education in playing an instrument, singing, arrangement, writing lyrics, recording, mixing, and mastering. There are many great courses on these topics on Coursera, Udemy, EDX, and similar sites.
Investing in your tools and education is investing in your brand and your business. Therefore, make sure to choose carefully whom to learn from.
Delivering the Goods – Streaming Options
Finished songs and covers have to be put online in order to reach an audience. At the time of this writing, there are countless streaming platforms, the biggest of which are YouTube and Spotify. Pandora, Slacker, and Last.fm are also excellent options. Also, Amazon and similar sites sell music in digital formats.
YouTube is your best overall solution, as it is consistently one of the most visited sites on the internet. Musicians who create their original stuff, artists who perform covers, and music and singing teachers all use YouTube to stream and promote their content.
Also, if you’re into making commercial and film music, you can opt to register your music under the Creative Commons license and put it up for free use by other users in exchange for the exposure. Monetizing your music videos is another option for the musicians on YouTube.
Spotify is a bit different as it offers only audio. Nevertheless, it is the most popular streaming app with around 15 million users on mobile devices. When streaming on Spotify, you get paid for each stream of your song, as well as for the mechanical and performance royalties. Another good side of Spotify is that listeners can post the songs that they like directly to Facebook and other social media platforms.
Spotify doesn’t pay mechanical royalties directly to individual songwriters. Instead, they are paid to publishing administrators. These companies are responsible for registering, administering, and licensing compositions, as well as collecting royalties on behalf of the songwriters. Lastly, you can get performance royalties from Spotify only if you’re registered with a performing rights organization as a songwriter and publisher.
Message in a Bottle – Marketing and Promotion
In order to succeed, making and posting your music on streaming sites will not be enough. You will need to promote your stuff, too. There are tons of options here. You can build a mailing list on your artist/band website, create a Facebook page and group, open up a Twitter or Instagram account, and get on any other social platforms frequented by your target audience.
On Facebook, make both a page and a group. The page will help you reach more people through promoted posts, while the group will give you direct interactions with your fans.
Twitter is also a great option for promotion, especially if you’re willing to use promoted tweets. You can use it to post your comments, photos, and short videos.
Instagram doesn’t allow you to sell music through the site, but you can use it to build up an online presence and promote your music. You can also use paid ads to extend your posts’ reach.
If you want to build up a newsletter mailing list, make sure to direct your social media followers to your site. Once they’re there, you can offer them free mp3 downloads or other perks in exchange for subscribing to your newsletter.
Opening a profile on Patreon or another crowdfunding platform like Kickstarter, ArtistShare, or PledgeMusic is a good idea if you need additional funding. Many of the platforms allow you to set different perks and advantages for different subscription tiers.
Driver’s Seat – Management and Booking
Finally, you will also need to perform management and booking duties yourself if you opt to go the DIY route. These include dealing with streaming platforms, collecting your revenues, contacting venue managers and booking shows, promoting the shows, making sure the venues meet safety and performance standards, dealing with the legal stuff, paying taxes, registering your music with the copyright office, and more.
On the bright side, the fact that you are in the driver’s seat means you can choose how you want to do things. If you’re not interested in live performances, you can skip them altogether and focus on your online presence.
You will have to decide the rate of publishing your music and its form, be it singles, EPs, full albums, or a mix of them. Also, you will have to decide the format. You can go the digital-only route or include CDs, cassettes, and vinyl records. Records are enjoying a renaissance and are currently the most popular physical format.
When the Smoke Is Going Down – Final Thoughts
The new music business, while still in its formative stage, offers huge possibilities to musicians who are ready to take charge and get their music out there. The downside of it is that pretty much all the works that used to be done by record labels, promoters, TV, Radio, press, and booking agencies are now squarely on your shoulders.
However, the good news is that with the responsibility comes the freedom to shape your music and career just the way you want. There are no album or tickets sales quotas to be met. Also, your music now belongs to you and the money comes to you directly. To maximize your chances of success, check out Music Business Accelerator and get all the knowledge you need.