Breaking in to the Music Biz
Tuesday June 24th 2008, 12:22 pm
Filed under: Getting Started

I recently got an inquiry from a reader. She said her sister and fiance were both very talented musicians and wanted to know “who to contact” to get them started with a career in the music business. I started to email her back, but realized the answer I was writing might be useful to more than just her, so I’m posting it here instead:

Sorry, I don’t have any magical formula or inside contacts to launch your sister and fiance to stardom. What I can tell you is what’s worked for several friends of mine who are now making their living writing, playing and recording music.

And that’s to play out. They’re never going to make a living as a performer unless they perform. So if they’re talented and interested in a music career, they need to get out and start booking gigs. Maybe they’ll have to start playing for tips at the local coffeeshop, or playing for a share of the door at a local club. But if they stick with it, learn about about marketing themselves, and develop performing chops, they can eventually move up to better-paying gigs.

Is it hard work? Yep. Does it take time? Usually. Is it the only way to become a successful musician? No, of course not. But it’s the best way to go in my opinion. There are loads of incredibly talented people out there, but the ones who make it are the ones who get out and hustle.

If you want to stay independent (which is probably the most lucrative and satisfying alternative these days), you need to build a fan base. And there’s no better way to do that than to get out there and start playing in front of some of those potential fans. If, on the other hand, you aspire to the “traditional” path of getting “discovered” by an A&R person from a big label, the best way to attract the attention of a label (and get them interested in the potential profit they could make by signing you) is by consistently generating buzz and selling out shows where ever you play. Honestly, I don’t know of anyone who’s been “discovered” while sitting around in their living room.

The second thing would be to not quit the day job, and save the money they make from playing out to pay for recording. If they don’t write their own songs, perhaps team up with a local songwriter or two so they’ve got some original music to record. If they’re going to record cover tunes, they’ll need to pay royalties in order to be able to legally release the recording, and they’ll need to bring something unique and fresh to the performance to make it worthwhile for others to listen and buy.

Getting people to come to your gigs to start with is great. But if they like your music and buy a CD or download a few MP3s, they’ll start marketing you without your having to do anything. They’ll talk about this great new artist they “discovered” and spread the word to their friends and family. Which can lead to bigger audiences, better venues and more CD and merchandise sales (which in the end means a bigger paycheck for you).

Once you’ve got some fans, you can offer for sale all kinds of things besides just CDs: autographed photos, T-shirts, limited-edition “premium” versions of your recordings, etc. The possibilities are limited only by your imagination. You might want to read my article on making a living as a musician with 1,000 true fans and my take on Trent Reznor’s new model for music business success for some more ideas.

And it all starts with getting out of the house and playing gigs.




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