Whether you went to music school or learned about the music business on your own, there are some things about the industry that you won't find written in any manual.
The business of music is so much more than just singing, playing an instrument, and having fun. There are a variety of other aspects that musicians generally would love to leave alone, but would be foolish in doing so.
Here are five things they won't tell you about the music business.
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1. You'll Get Rejected More Than Ever
You won't get into every venue you call or send an email to. You won't always get spun on the radio. Your tour plans could change at the last minute because an event planner or venue decides to drop you. A record deal could quickly turn into a nightmare when you realize you signed a contract that funnels all of the money away from you.
There are some things within your control (i.e. how hard you work), but there are also things outside of your control (like whether or not an industry influencer likes your music).
The point is not that you can avoid rejection. Rather, the point is that you can learn from every experience. If someone is unhappy with how you communicated with them, you can try another approach. If a radio station refuses to play your music, you might want to try a different radio station.
You will get rejected, and you can't do anything about that, so focus on what you can control.
2. Some Genres Of Music Are Easier To Monetize Than Others
This doesn't necessarily mean that you should sell out and go do something that a commercial audience will love. It's just something you should be aware of if you're planning to start a career with a particular genre in mind.
Consider Country music. Fan bases are still willing to support Country artists through CD sales (yes, you heard right; Compact Discs), and in some parts of the world, Country acts get paid a lot more money to play live than Rock acts.
Jazz and Classical can be really hard genres to break through in, mostly because the audience is limited. It's not that there isn't room for more respected acts in these styles, it's just that there are only so many people who appreciate and support the genre.
Of course, the favoritism towards Pop music shouldn't even need to be addressed. Just remember that your musical style could have an impact on the direction of your career.
3. Costs Quickly Add Up
Music careers can be quite expensive. As an independent artist, recordings, album artwork, marketing, equipment, merchandise, clothing, gas, and a variety of other costs come right out of your own pocket. No one else is going to pay for that stuff.
It's easy to say “we need to record a new song”, but it's quite another to be budget-conscious as you continue to produce new music and marketing materials. You shouldn't overextend yourself, because you have no idea whether or not you're going to make your money back.
The key thing here is to treat your music career like a business, and have a separate bank account where you pay all of your music-related income into (if at all possible). That way, you'll be able to scale up your efforts as you continue to save up every cent you earn.
Ok, here are a few more important things they don't tell you about success in the music industry (number 4 is especially important).
4. Success Takes Time
You have to cut through (or even ignore) the sensationalism that's so commonplace in the media. You've probably heard of “overnight successes”, but rest assured most of them have been 10 years in the making. Does Billy Talent, Metallica, or The Beatles ring a bell? They – and many other popular acts – all took about 10 years to really get their careers off the ground (and they were all hard workers too).
As cliché as it may sound, the sentiment still rings true; you have to enjoy the journey. Success will seem exciting for a fleeting moment, and then you'll just come to expect it. One day it will be as ordinary as eating toast for breakfast.
Don't rush into anything. Yes, you should have a sense of urgency about your goals, but if you don't enjoy the experiences along the way, success will just become a means to an end. You'll look back and wonder what you worked so hard for.
5. It's A Business
It's implied, but it isn't explicitly stated. In other words, even though the term “music business” is used to describe the intersection of music and business, musicians don't immediately recognize that this is what they're getting themselves into.
If you want to get your song on the radio, it has to fit the format. It needs to be a particular length, and it has to be accepted by DJs and tastemakers.
If you want to get booked into certain prominent New York venues, you have to have the right esthetic. It isn't always about your look or your audience size, but if they don't think you're the right fit for them, they're going to pass on you.
These are just a couple of examples of what it means to be in the music business. You have to remember that a business always has a product or a service, and it exists to make a profit.
If your desire is to succeed in the music business, then the business is just another aspect of building the career of your dreams. You can't ignore it or avoid it. It will find you if you reach any level of success, and if you're not careful, someone with more experience will wind up in control of your music and your money.
Choose to remain a student of the music business, and keep on learning. No, you can't know everything, and you can't turn a weakness into a strength, but you are capable of learning more. You can partner up with those who can help you. Of course, don't rush into any contracts or partnerships without first understanding what you're getting yourself into.