It’s no surprise that so many people want to be a part of the music industry.
From the outside looking in, it looks fun, glamorous, and exciting, though I can tell you right now it doesn’t always look this way from the inside.
Make no mistake about it. Starting a business in the music industry is no small deal, and it will require considerable time and effort on your part. It’s best not to think of it as being any different from starting a business in another industry, because it isn’t. Depending on the niche you’re planning to get into, it could prove even harder to build a business in the music industry than in other sectors.
But maybe music is what you know best. Or maybe there’s an important message you want to share with musicians. It could be that your skills and experiences are exactly what the industry needs and is looking for.
If you’re passionate about music and can’t see yourself doing anything else, here are several opportunities you can pursue in the music industry.
1. Marketing, Promotion & PR
The need for marketing and promotion is unlikely to go away any time soon.
For one thing, best practices are changing fast. Things are moving from a “push” approach to a “pull” approach, which involves less hard selling and more value delivered upfront.
For another, marketing is human by nature. It is generated by human beings to appeal to other human beings. A machine is incapable of fully understanding human beings or their behaviors. So, it’s up to you to understand buying behaviors and sales psychology.
I once interviewed former CD Baby founder Derek Sivers, and he shared with me that promotion and marketing are crucial now that recording, and distribution have gotten so inexpensive and easy. It was about eight years ago that he shared this with me, but I think it’s still a valid point.
Call me out if I’m wrong on this – but it seems to me that most musicians leave school not knowing the first thing about marketing. Schools clearly aren’t prioritizing the business side of building a music career.
Good promotion is hard to come by. If this is something you can provide for musicians and other businesses, I think you’ll do well. It can be hard to create proper timelines for your clients or know exactly what to charge for your services, but as you navigate these challenges, you’ll learn to streamline your operations and develop a worthy service.
2. Record Label
Starting your own record label has become significantly easier over the years.
For instance, Ditto Music has an offering called Record Label In A Box, which comes with prearranged business banking, a domain name, business registration documents, and pretty much everything you need to get started.
Even if you’re not entrepreneurial, if you’re a prolific musician, there are certain benefits to starting your own label. It’s a good way of legitimizing what you do, and can lend more credibility to it too.
The toughest thing about building a record label is:
- Determining what your niche is going to be.
- Finding talent that reflects your branding.
For instance, CandyRat Records is known for signing virtuoso guitarist types. When people want to hear great guitar instrumental music, they can check out the latest releases on their website. If an artist feels they have the chops to succeed as a guitar instrumentalist, they would likely reach out to CandyRat for a chance to be signed.
Building a reputation is important for a label. It’s not wise to try to be good at everything. “We work with everyone” is not a branding statement – it’s a good way to be vanilla. You’ll never stand out from the crowd!
Your goal should be to work with specific artists with a specific esthetic. Once you succeed on that level, you can begin thinking about expanding. Until then, stick to your guns.
3. Social Media Platform
There are many emerging businesses developing social media platforms specifically for musicians and the music industry at large. This means there’s considerable competition in this space, but if you can come up with a unique idea, you may be able to break through.
For instance, there’s an app called UpNext which allows you to build your virtual record label comprised of real emerging artists. It’s the meeting place of mobile games, music discovery, and social networking.
Personally, I’m a little overwhelmed by social media as is, and I’m more than sufficient with Facebook and Twitter. The only reason I’m on any platform is because I’m looking to share my content and add value to the world. I don’t mind sharing the occasional personal update too, but I’m certainly not there to brag or show off.
So, I might be a little jaded about social media. But that doesn’t mean you can’t start your own social networking business. The main thing to think about is your value proposition. Why will people use your social network? What will make it unique? Who will it appeal to?
We don’t need another Facebook, because Facebook already exists. What we need is a platform that’s tailor made for smaller niches and communities.
4. Streaming Platform
Today, streaming is the most popular mode of music consumption. By far, one of the most well-known streaming platforms is Spotify, which is about to go public.
Meanwhile, major players like Microsoft are shutting down Groove Music (their streaming app) because of the intensity of the competition. This shouldn’t come as a surprise when you consider that companies like Google and Apple are competing in the same market.
A few years ago, it seemed like there were news items about new streaming companies launching every other day. These days, not so much.
I’m not trying to discourage you from getting into this space – quite the opposite, in fact. If you can find a way to keep operations streamlined and determine what your unique selling proposition is, you could potentially create a successful niche streaming platform.
But tread lightly, because general consumers already have convenient, universal options to meet their streaming needs. The supply isn’t scarce, and there aren’t many inefficiencies to be worked out. So, you better find a way to stand out and offer something unique if you think this is the right opportunity for you.
5. SaaS App
It’s surprising to me that not many music entrepreneurs are thinking about developing SaaS apps to help musicians and the industry.
SaaS stands for Software as a Service. Basically, customers become subscribers and pay a monthly fee to use your app. You’re probably familiar with platforms like Hootsuite, Slack, Zendesk, Dropbox, and so on.
It’s clear to me that musicians have many needs in terms of digital and online marketing. I would think a SaaS app to serve this market would be welcomed – an app that helps musicians streamline the process of posting to social media and sharing their show dates across many sites, for instance. I’ve talked to a few programmers, and they said this wouldn’t be hard to do.
What about a SaaS app that tracks all your merch sales and inventory? An app that keeps stats on concert attendance, audience demographics, and ticket sales? An App that streamlines the process of ordering CDs and digital distribution?
I’m just throwing out ideas here. I’m not saying they would all do well. But it seems to me that you could pretty much create a Hootsuite (social media), Zendesk (accounting), or Dropbox (file storage and sharing) for the music industry and see some success with it.
SaaS businesses tend to be valued highly over other types of online businesses, and can therefore become major assets in your portfolio too.
Agencies provide other companies and individuals with the solutions they need to succeed in their endeavors.
There are many types of agencies. Some agencies handle dancers for music videos. Some book musicians for specific gigs and events. Some oversee marketing duties for music businesses.
If you’re interested in becoming the go-between and filling gaps in other people’s businesses, then you’ll love running an agency. And, oftentimes, it’s not rocket science to figure out what your customers might be looking for – talent, marketing, PR, strategy, and so on.
Essentially, an agency is a B2B (business to business) type business. This means your customers will typically be other businesses. While this shouldn’t change the way you approach it, it’s good to be aware of what you’re getting into.
So, what gaps do you think you could fill? How could you benefit other businesses? What can you take off their plate to make their lives easier? This is where the opportunities lie as an agency.
If you have experience in a lot of areas, and you’re a generalist as opposed to a specialist, then starting your own consulting business might be an option worth looking at.
The adage in entrepreneurship is that if you can’t figure out what to do, then you should go and become a consultant. Someone will be willing to pay for your advice.
And, to be fair, there are some unsavory consultants out there. They take money, offer a few nuggets of advice, slack off and offer very little value.
An outside perspective is often valuable to musicians and music businesses alike, so some will happily pay for your time, even if you’re ultimately incompetence. But I am not advocating this approach. If you want to be a professional at offering consulting services, then you should take your job seriously, do your research, and come up with meaningful solutions that help your clients.
The further along someone is in their career, the harder it can sometimes be to help them. So, recognize that your job only gets harder when working with larger clients.
A consulting business can be hard to scale, but not impossible. Here’s what I mean. What often happens is that an individual expert becomes a consultant in their industry and charges a fixed hourly rate for their time. The problem is that they have limited time and can only book so many sessions before their schedule is completely full.
What you might need to do instead is build training products that solve common problems and sell them to get more leverage on your time. Or, train a team of experts that can handle clients on your behalf.
There are plenty of other opportunities in the music industry. The above list is but a starting point. Your choice will be determined by your goals, as well as your skills and experience.
What I mean by this is that a big business might not be what you have in mind. Perhaps you would be happy being a solo studio engineer or publicist. Maybe you want to start a live sound rental company with a partner. Maybe a staff of five overseas contractors is all you need to get your blog off the ground and your digital course selling.
It’s good to have big dreams. I have many of my own. But you must start somewhere. You’re probably not going to have an enterprise level business with 500 employees overnight. You’ll need to build up to that.
So, have a vision for what you want to build. Getting to where you want to go will probably take more time, more effort, and more money than you ever imagined. But what separates the successful from unsuccessful is often a simple matter of persistence – staying the course even when it’s difficult or tough.
As an entrepreneur, an important consideration is always whether you have the experience, time, and resources necessary to run a specific type of business.
If you don’t, you’re going to need to hire a team that does. At some point, you will want to build your team anyway, but if you start a business you can’t run, you’re going to need a competent team from day one.
When it comes to business, I believe in getting started sooner rather than later. Many people get paralyzed by research and analysis, endlessly considering their options and never coming to the point of deciding. This is counterproductive and will ultimately hurt your confidence and business career.
So, while I will encourage you to consider your options carefully, please don’t wait to act. Your biggest growth will occur when you have some skin in the game.