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Music Business: Avoid These Pitfalls

Author: Caleb J. Murphy

Last updated: Jan 7, 2020

Reads: 4,922

Caleb J. Murphy is a Songwriter/Producer based in Austin, TX. He is the founder of Musician With A Day Job, a blog to help part-time musicians succeed. He is also a contributor to CD Baby's DIY Musician blog, Sonicbids, and Bandzoogle. His work has been shared by ASCAP, Hypebot, and Music Think Tank.

No musician really enjoys talking about music business stuff. But we must if we want to really succeed.

So in this post, I’d like to talk about some music business pitfalls that I see a lot of indie musicians encountering. Plus, I provide a neat little checklist at the end that can help you keep your business matters organized.

In our discussion of music business pitfalls, we’ll cover:

  • The importance of music business
  • Things NOT to do when it comes to music business
  • Booking and promotion
  • Accounting
  • Music admin and legal
  • Your music business checklist

The Importance of Music Business

In today’s music industry, independent musicians play many roles as the founder and CEO of their own music business. They’re the artist, yes. But they’re also their own Manager, Accountant, Publicist, and even Music Publisher (sometimes).

Because of this, musicians need to know the business of music. They need to be more than just “a creative” who hides away in their bedroom making art. That’s just part of it.

Musicians need to know how to wear all of these hats — especially those of us who aren’t yet able to outsource those jobs.

You might make some amazing music, and that’s a great start.

But if you don’t know how to get the word out, no one will hear your songs. If you don’t know how to book a show and organize band practices, you won’t go anywhere as a performing artist. And if you somehow end up making money without these skills but you don’t know how to manage money, you’re doomed.

This is why you need to become familiar with the business side of being a musician.

Things NOT to Do When It Comes to Music Business

This list of music business pitfalls is a list of things NOT to do. Basically, just do the opposite of the items you see below and you’ll be on the right track.

I’ve split these pitfalls into three categories: Booking and Promotion, Accounting, and Music Admin and Legal.

Slide Do You *Really Have What it Takes? Do You *Really
Have What it Takes?
Let's See Let's See

Booking & Promotion

The first no-no on this list is assuming venues will approach you, asking if you’ll play a show. This might happen once you become well-known as a great performer. But you’ll never become a great performer if you can’t get gigs in the first place.

Starting out, you’ll have to act like a Manager and reach out to venues, book shows, confirm the details, and schedule practice sessions.

Part of booking shows is getting people to show up. This can involve things like posters and radio ads, but social media is another big factor. Not knowing how to use social media can seriously hurt your concert attendance.

Lastly, if you want to grow your fanbase and start filling bigger venues, there’s a better method than social media: an email list. If you never collect fan email addresses, there will be no guarantee they’ll hear about your next show. Social media algorithms change,1 but people who subscribe to your email list will definitely see that you emailed them.


New recording gear. Upgraded PA system. The hottest software that will make your music sound better. It’s tempting to buy it all. But frugality is a smart lifestyle for an indie musician.

I’m not saying you shouldn’t upgrade when you can afford it, but spending too much money can get you in some big trouble. When dealing with your music finances, you have to think like an Accountant — stay level-headed and realistic.

Speaking of thinking like an Accountant, combining your music finances with your personal finances is a problem. Personal money and music business money can get mixed up. You might start thinking of your music career as less important. And taxes will get really confusing.

Yes, taxes are a thing you need to pay attention to as a musician. If you ignore the taxman, that could come back to bite you. There are things you can write off as a musician2, and you should set aside 30%3 to cover both federal and state taxes.

With taxes, you have to be organized. If you don’t track your expenses, that could also make tax season a nightmare. The government will ask for those records, so you should be able to easily pull them out of a folder (digital or physical).

Your Music Business Checklist

To make things extra easy, here’s a handy-dandy checklist that will help you be sure you’ve done all of the music business things:

  • Write an email template for booking shows and use it any time you reach out to a Venue Manager.
  • Create a spreadsheet including 1) a list of venues you’d like to play, 2) the contact person for the venue, 3) their contact info, and 4) a few similar artists who have played there before (mention these in your email/phone call).
  • Pick your preferred social media platform and start using it and learning about it.
  • Create an account with MailChimp or FanBridge and add a “Subscribe” widget or page on your website where fans can easily sign up (consider giving something away in exchange for your fans’ emails).
  • Open a free checking account for music money only.
  • Create a budget for your music money (or find a budget template online).
  • Set aside 20-30% of your music income for taxes.
  • Track your expenses, either manually or with a tool like QuickBooks.
  • If you don’t already have a Gmail account for your music career, create one (you may be able to create a custom email address through your website-building platform).
  • Register your songs with either ASCAP or BMI (United States) or SOCAN (Canada).
  • Sign up with SoundExchange (digital performance royalties).
  • Sign up with Songtrust or Sentric Music Publishing (mechanical/publishing royalties).

After reading this post and completing this checklist, you’ll be well on your way to conquering the music business side of your career.

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  1. 1. "Keeping Up With The Algorithms". Social Media Today. published: . retrieved on: 26 December 2019
  2. 2. "The Musician's Guide to Taxes: Top Tax Deductions". TurboTax. published: 2019. retrieved on: 26 December 2019
  3. 3. "How to Sing A Happy Tune At Tax Time". Royalty Exchange. published: 19 March 2019. retrieved on: 26 December 2019
  4. 4Murphy, Caleb J.. "ASCAP vs BMI: What’s The Difference And What Can They Do For You?". Careers In Music. published: 1 August 2019. retrieved on: 26 December 2019
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