Back in 2002 I wrote a popular piece on how to become a Professional DJ, at the time I promised to follow it up with an article on becoming a
professional producer but then everything changed. The MP3 was tearing up the music industry, at the time the business was struggling to cope with the new media but in the years since digital music has been embraced and now it is the business. We have seen the file sharing revolution come and go as well as the rise of iTunes but now the field is opening up with a multitude of other companies jumping on the bandwagon. The end result is the death of the major labels and the rise of the successful independent artist. For the first time artists can distribute their music to a global audience without the backing of the major labels and distributors, whatís more they can get a bigger cut of the sales than they would have 5 years ago. With these factors in play shrewd artists can make a living off their music with little or no commercial backing, giving them the opportunity to really work at improving their sound and fan base.
Most people our drawn to the music business with the lure of sex, fame and money, the rest just love music. Regardless of whether you are the former or the latter you do need to realize that success does not come easy, there will be a lot of hard work and difficult times ahead but with the right attitude and the proper motivation even the hard times can be fun. Sure nobody is going to be throwing their underwear at you before you've even sold a track and theirs definitely not going to be any sex in the champagne room when you can't even get into the club but rest assured the road to the top is filled with lots of interesting people, experiences and stories to tell your grandkids (when they are old enough). You can start under many different guises a producer cutting sounds in his basement, a one man band busking on the subway, or a band struggling not to kill each other rehearsing in mom's garage. In any case the start is the same you need to record a track. Not to difficult for the producer who can just mix down and master his current session while watching TV but for everyone else and initial investment will be required. Thankfully recording studio's are not as expensive as they were a few years back and with the rise of the homemade studio's there are many low-cost even free options out there. You don't even need to spend top dollar on an engineer or other recording experts as long as your track sounds like you it's a start. Once you have a copy of your music ready to go then the next step awaits.
"Learning? But I already know how to play and I even have a record ready to sell what more do I need?" This isn't the old days where you would be sending a demo to every address you can find, the industry has moved on, while there still are a lot of labels who will do all the work for you good luck getting signed or even finding one you will look in your direction without fleecing you for every penny. Buddy right now you are on your own and trust me, it's the only place to be. "Fair enough, what do I need to learn?" So you are sitting there with your music in hand, in many ways you are a small business owner with a product they need to sell, all that's missing is retail space and customers. Finding a place to sell your tracks is easy, we have a free store service right here and there are many other options out there. My advice: sell your music on any digital service you can just don't go and do something stupid like signing an exclusivity agreement. Different sites will give you different cuts of the sale, we give a very generous cut while other sites wonít be so nice but hey a sale is a sale regardless of where it comes from. Moving on you have your music up there and ready to sell but where are the customers going to come from, definitely not out of thin air you need to attract them first and this is where you need to learn how to market yourself. Not an easy prospect since this is all so new, nobody has written any books on how to launch a music career online so you are on your own but I'll give you a couple of tips.
Firstly: Make friends! Right now social networking sites are all the rage
they cost nothing to join and give you access to a lot of wallets. Make
sure you work out what market you are trying to appeal two and tailor your online sites to them. Don't stick to just the big ones like Myspace, there are many more out there waiting to be used and abused. Look around first and find artists that are similar to your own style and sound; it'll be easier to pick off fans of your genre than converting others. Make sure you move with the times, what's cool today maybe naff tomorrow, make sure when a new site or service pops up you are all over it before it becomes the rage.
Secondly: Make friends in different industries, I cannot stress the
importance of this, keeping in with the music crowd may make sense but
it'll limit your options in the long run. Get to know film-makers, game
developers or anybody that publishes content online who may need music to accompany it. You never know that video your friend made that used your song might explode on YouTube benefiting your music career or just imagine a friend of yours makes a flash game that becomes the next Tetris and people are humming your theme song for decades.
Thirdly: Get out there and make yourself seen in the real world, play
gigs, busk, perform it doesn't matter where or to whom just so long as you have people signing up to your mailing list or picking up flyers with the address of your website or where your music is being sold on it. If you can put on a good show word of mouth will drive a lot of sales "Hey check out this link, it's a band I saw last night song 3 is hot."
Fourth: As a small business you'll be on your own with respect to managing your finances, taxes, etc. So make sure you pick up a book or two and teach yourself how to survive before the taxman comes looking for his money.
If you get to the stage where you are selling enough music to live on then congrats you are a professional musician, not many dreamers get this far now you just need to sustain it. With music sales paying for your food and shelter you will have plenty of time to write new material and seek out new markets. Remember it's a global business and you will find fans in the unlikeliest of places. If you find your music sells well say in Germany then it may be worth your while to go over there and help push it by playing a couple of gigs and letting those fans see you firsthand. Don't think small it's a big world and there are a lot of opportunities, it may help to get one of your bi-lingual fans/friends to do some translating of your online promotional materials making it easy to pursue sales in other markets. You may even find it worthwhile to partner with them and offer a cut of sales in said markets giving them the incentive to push your music on the locals in a way you cannot. if things are starting to go very well you may find yourself stretched, when that happens don't be afraid to get some management, there are millions of people out there who want to be part of the business but don't have the musical talents, one of them might be a good fit for what you do and the life of a manager isn't too shabby.
Also when you have some revenue don't be afraid to invest some of it by
hiring pr professionals, they have contacts in places you wont and can
make a difference in keeping your career going or pushing it forward. As
things get going don't ignore other sources of revenue such as ticket
sales and merchandising, as a pro these could easily become your bread and butter just don't expect your fans to sell their souls to follow you or they will be gone in a flash.
THE BIG TIME
Getting to the very top and becoming a headline act raking in millions of
dollars may seem far fetched but if want a music career why not shoot for the very top. Every day the top tier of the industry is becoming less and less controlled by who the major players want to be there, with the right sound at the right time you may find a place. There is no easy way to make that leap, keep doing what you are doing and if you are hitting all the right notes and show enough potential then people will come to you offering the big bright lights. But be prepared you may have to lose some control of your career and thus your life. Good luck.
TEN TIPS FOR SUCCESS
1. Be wary of the industries 4 major pitfalls, alcohol, drugs, sex and
scandal. Great in moderation but excess will lead to a dark career ending.
2. Donít let your ego get out of control, a little success can go straight
to your head and everyone loves to see those with the big ego's fall.
3. Never ever sign anything without legal advice, even if that advice
comes from your little sister who's in her second month of law school.
Especially if the paper is blank (autographs excluded)
4. Beware fake labels, as a sign of the times there are lots of new
digital labels popping up who offer you a deal that basically consists of
placing your music in all the places you can place it yourself and taking
a cut of the sales. Avoid like the plague, they wonít do any marketing for
you just take your money and limit your career.
5. Respect your fans, they are your customers. As a business owner you
would know better than to abuse your customers so don't do it as musician.
6. Donít be scared to give a little away. If the opportunity arises to
work with somebody who can push your career forward it may be worth giving them a cut of your funds.
7. Avoid stagnation, whatís cool today will not be cool tomorrow. Keep an
eye on trends and if what you are doing no longer works re-invent
8. Seek out talent, if you need vocals find a great vocalist, need a new
band member get one who can really play. Why settle for average when you can have magnificent.
9. Trust no-one. The music biz is cutthroat and there will always be
someone smiling at you while they plan to tear your heart out.
10. Donít spend above your means, if sales are good now they may not be good tomorrow, always keep some cash in reserve for when you really need it and never borrow money in anticipation of future success.