how to make money with music

How to Make Money with Music & Think Like an Entrepreneur

The music industry is now a place where aspiring artists and indie music labels can own vast catalogs of online music, Music Supervisors are just an email or social media connection away and music publishing is anybody’s game. This means those in the indie music scene — both labels and artists — have to be entrepreneurial in their approach. Jon Skinner is the CEO and Founder of Music Gateway, a London-based, international cloud storage and music licensing platform that seeks to empower creatives in the music industry. Here’s his advice on how the entrepreneurial is vital in the modern music industry, with a focus on how to make money with music.

Becoming an Entrepreneur

It was 1983. 5 am each morning, I would hear my alarm go off and within ten minutes, I was out the door, on my bike and en route to meet my employer. The coldest of winter mornings were the hardest but this minor barrier didn’t deter me from my mission, which was to deliver milk, by the way.

The guy I worked for was loving it, as he watched me leap from the milk float on each street corner at lightning speed to deliver those full-fat bottles of joy in gold top format. Hundreds of households in suburban Horsham in West Sussex, UK enjoyed a great service, for as long as it lasted. I’m not sure where I got the idea from but I recall approaching about three milkmen on their rounds before successfully bagging a gig as a runner.

Thinking back now, I understand why I did it, but at the time I didn’t think too hard, it was just a gut feeling and something I felt I had to do. It’s certainly wasn’t for the money (50p a day for 2 hours work wasn’t much even in the ’80s, but there were some perks along the way, including the odd loaf of Mother’s Pride bread to take home).

Sure, money was an incentive but at thirteen I had no real concept of value, apart from the cost of sweets from the school tuck shop. Regardless, I just didn’t care enough to ask. The goal wasn’t to be a milkman or take over the milk business. Money, like most entrepreneurial businesses, is simply a byproduct of success and stems from what sets out to be an idea, a goal or a vision. Delivering milk, at the time, was simply a tiny stepping stone, a means to an end, something I just wanted to do, to have my own little self-made pot of gold so ultimately I could buy The Best of the Jam cassette on sale at Our Price.

So what does it take to be an entrepreneur in the modern era? It seems to be more in vogue these days, whether you’re a tech startup, indie record label or just an individual who has a vision and is on a mission.

“Your time is limited, so don’t waste it living someone else’s life. Don’t be trapped by dogma — which is living with the results of other people’s thinking. Don’t let the noise of others’ opinions drown out your own inner voice. And most important, have the courage to follow your heart and intuition.” — Steve Jobs

I like this quote from Mr. Jobs; I’ve never been much of a follower but do respect what a lot of people have achieved and how they overcame their obstacles. Success doesn’t have to be Apple, Nike or GoPro; success is measured by what you set out to achieve. Some are more ambitious than others and that’s a choice every entrepreneur should understand. In your heart of hearts, what is it you want to achieve? It’s the getting there, that’s the hard bit.

What It Takes to Be an Entrepreneur

This is purely my own opinion, so don’t shoot me down as I haven’t done any research when writing this blog. It’s a beautiful Sunday morning and I just felt inspired to write something on the subject. (This is certainly one of the common traits you will find in most entrepreneurs.) So, here’s what I believe makes an entrepreneur:

“A person with a burning desire and a relentless drive to take their idea to market. An idea that if you don’t try to implement, will eat away at the very organs that keep your blood pumping through your veins.”

I personally don’t like tags, name association or labeling. So when I refer to myself as an entrepreneur, I’ll be honest, it’s uncomfortable. Hopefully, some of you reading this will resonate with me. This simply pigeonholes a person and I can’t stand that. Every entrepreneur I’ve ever met is lean, mean and can adapt to any situation or business at the drop of a hat. They want to be in the thick of it (which can sometimes be an issue). One minute they are designing, the next they are on lead sales or finance.

For most, being successful in a chosen path is natural but there’s no substitute for hard work, bootstrapping and downright determination to get the job done.

The people I admire the most are small business owners, who put so much back into their community by generating employment, training and career development. Success isn’t about being a millionaire or billionaire, it’s about scratching the biggest itch you have ever had. There are not many people I associate myself with who don’t want to help others around them, especially when it comes to advice and encouragement.

Here are a few things I believe you need to be an entrepreneur.

  • An unquestionable amount of self determination and drive.
  • The ability to convince others your vision is sound of mind and you are trustworthy.
  • The ability to build a team around you that complements your own skills and will help you achieve your goals.
  • The ability to fail, pick yourself up and learn from your mistakes.
  • The belief in your gut instinct but with the ability to listen and respect the opinions of others. Ultimately, it comes down to your decision. If you are on the fence, go with your gut every time.

Do you need money or investment to get started?

No, absolutely not.

Money helps of course and can provide much-needed resources, or a way to ‘go faster’ and develop your product or service. With investment, you can share the risk, but this comes at a price, normally in the form of an equity stake in your business or idea. Only a small percentage of startups raise investment, so if your end goal requires a lot of finance, you simply need to break this down into bite-sized chunks and work out a way of achieving your number one chunk.

“Hustle” or “bootstrapping” are two words that spring to mind when getting your startup off the ground. Basically, they mean finding the person who can deliver what you need and cutting a deal. Some take the beg, steal and borrow method, but that only gets you so far.

If you need to build a custom website and backend system because it’s fundamental to your future success, then find someone on a platform like AngelList. Be as resourceful as possible, that’s key.

If you need an amazing brand logo and icon but are struggling to find the pennies for your rent at the end of the month, you have about three options: Earn more money (second job), borrow some money or cut some form of deal with a freelancer. If you don’t ask, you’ll never know.

The takeaway is to be as resourceful as possible.

These days, anyone with a mobile phone can operate a business. The barriers to entry are long gone with this thing called the Internet. It’s all about you and your team. Investors may love the idea but don’t believe you can deliver it. On the other hand, they may not be sold on the idea or understand that niche market but love you and the team, which gives you an advantage. The investors I know ensure you are investable first and foremost and have the right team in place. New ventures are high risk with a 90% failure rate so don’t chase the money; if you get it right, the money will chase you later down the line.

Advice from Someone Who’s Been There

What advice would I give to a new independent record label or artist who’s looking to set out on their journey?

  1. Speak to everyone you know who has been successful and tap into their knowledge and experience, regardless of the sector. Seek out a mentor, someone who’s recommended and ideally does have some knowledge of the music business.
  2. When learning from others, don’t just focus on what went right, discuss the pitfalls and what went wrong and how they bounced back.
  3. The internet is your best friend and lifelong knowledge boat — it’s your biggest untapped arsenal and weapon rack. Lock and load people, because, trust me, it’s all out there!
  4. Network, network and then do some more networking. Attend conferences and events that help you better understand your market, talk to people and make meaningful connections.
  5. Be super focused on what you want to achieve. It’s ok not to have the full scope of your plan outlined; some do and some prefer to wing it, which is fine for a period, but then zone in and bear in mind what your end game is.
  6. Have a butcher’s at this book called Rework, which I found really useful when starting Music Gateway. Research any other books related to your market.
  7. Lockdown your niche and USP (Unique Selling Point). Is it you, the artist/s you’ll sign or the brand, genre or revenue model you have decided to deploy that’s different to everyone else? What’s different about your label, compared to others in the space?
  8. Work out why people will gravitate towards you and your plan.
  9. Secure a unique brand identity, name and website domain.
  10. Create a simple business plan and don’t be scared to change it, at lightning speed if needed.

The list can be endless, so don’t worry if you don’t have all the answers about your idea. The key is to be focused and work smart. Make yourself a commitment. I love the story about Jim Carey writing himself a check for $1 million dollars he kept in his wallet for years until he finally broke through with Ace Ventura, a film, which I have to say, I absolutely love.

What’s your Rocky Balboa picture you see each morning when you brush your teeth? Do you have a reason to be motivated? Maybe someone told you that you can’t do X. This can give you an edge and be a great motivator, so think about it and whether you’ve got something to prove. Do you have an Apollo Creed to defeat?

Tools You Can Use

Tools we, at Music Gateway, use every day that we find super useful and save us time:

  • Hubspot CRM. This is a great free tool to help you organize and track all your customers. I recommend you invest a couple of hours on their excellent tutorial video but if you are technically minded it will be a breeze.
  • Google Docs, Drive, Sheets, Email, Calendar, Analytics and more. Morally, they need to sort out their S%*£ when it comes to paying rights holders, writers, and creatives in general for their content, but that aside, take advantage of their integrated and collaborative tools.
  • Wunderlist. We used to use this and now have upped our game with Monday.com for task management but I recommend this as a good free starting point tool.
  • Freeparking. There are tons of sites to register website domains; I’ve stuck with this one throughout the years and it does what it says on the tin, register domains for you. GoDaddy is the other obvious option.

And for managing your music, metadata, playlists and optional sync (music licensing for film, TV, advertising and video games) representation (sorry, quick plug), you can check out what we provide for record labels and music creators.

A Few More Thoughts

Finally, a couple of points on timing and luck. These two are definitely factors that can make a huge difference to your success or not. How many times have you heard someone say, “Oh, I had that idea years ago before X was popular”? Sometimes, you can be too ahead of the curve and you have to pivot to be commercially viable in your market. Whatever you do, have fun and go with your gut. Do I think it was a waste of time delivering milk at thirteen when I could have been honing my skills in math and English? HELL NO. bring on the milk float every single time.

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