Music Industry: How to Break Into the Music Biz of the 2020s
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Music Industry: How to Break Into the Music Biz of the 2020s

Author: Tom Stein

Date: March 9, 2020

Reads: 201


Tom Stein is a Senior Professor at Berklee College of Music in Boston. He is a visionary musical entrepreneur, music producer, artist development consultant, arranger, bandleader and performer. He is an Administrator of the John Lennon Songwriting Contest and Multi-Media Tour Bus, and a member of the US State Department's Fulbright Specialist Roster for global entertainment and music industry.
FULL BIO

Wondering about how to get into the music industry as a career? The music industry of the 2020s is much bigger and broader than most people realize.

We will identify sectors of the music industry, including the music business, and discuss some effective strategies you can use to prepare yourself for a successful career, including some of the best ways to get started.

Here’s what you need to know about breaking into the music industry:

  • What the music industry is
  • Sectors and subsectors of the music industry
  • Industry trends
  • Where to start
  • Keys to success
  • Your next steps
  • Following through to the end

What Is the Music Industry?

The music industry has been around for centuries. Bach worked for the Church, Mozart composed and performed for royalty, Beethoven and Liszt introduced the idea of concerts for the listening public, Jazz musicians of the last century played for ballroom dances, and of course, the invention of recording opened up new opportunities for musicians to earn a living.

More recently, the adoption of digital technology and the internet have revolutionized the music business. Throughout, musicians have always found a way to keep a roof over their heads and feed themselves and their families.

For the aspiring music careerist, our music industry of the 2020s may seem novel in many ways, but it helps to keep a longer-term perspective. Understanding where we’ve come from will help you to see where we could be headed, and researching your future role in the music industry is no different from researching other career paths.

Like any other profession, finding your niche in the music industry takes a strong commitment to long-term learning and self-improvement. There are no shortcuts.

We usually think of the music industry as the business of composing, producing, performing, and licensing or selling music. As you will see, the music industry is much more than that.

Sectors and Subsectors of the Music Industry

Music is everywhere. It’s in films and TV shows, on the radio and the internet, in games and sports, in advertising, malls, stores, restaurants, elevators, theme parks, cruises, and hotels.

Every time we hear some music in the background, someone had to compose, arrange, perform, and record it. Music, as an industry, is integrated into many other industries. The music industry itself is part of the larger business of entertainment.

Music is a subsector of all these other fields, and music also has its own subsectors.

Recorded music alone is estimated to be an $18 billion industry globally. The live music and concerts industry is valued at around $13 billion.

Then there are music products, such as instruments, amplifiers, microphones, studio recording equipment, and even band uniforms. Music Therapy is a fast-developing field. Music education, music publishing, sheet music, music for films and video games, music for advertising (jingles), music for visual media, karaoke, and music streaming; music is a sizeable industry as a whole and is incredibly diverse in all its parts. As an industry, it’s also projected to grow in the future, as the global economy also expands.

You might ask: What’s the difference between the music industry and the music business? Sometimes these terms are used interchangeably, but there is a difference. The music business is but one sector of many in the music industry. Music business is usually equated to music management, especially associated with performing, publishing, composing, producing, and recording. The music industry is larger than this.

Anyone considering a career in the music industry should start by surveying the industry as a whole. Then, consider where you would best fit with your specific interests and skills.

Where to Start: Master the Basics

Begin by looking inward and asking some questions. Assess your likes and dislikes about your studies and daily activities. Take inventory of your skills and interests. What are you best at? What are the things you need to improve on? How can you best reach your full potential in music? You might consider discussing all of this with a trusted advisor.

It’s difficult to look ahead and imagine what will excite your passions years from now, but you can try. Do your best to visualize what your future life will look like, your lifestyle, and the work you will do.

Also, think about where the future industry needs might lie, and how you could meet those needs in your work. Believe in yourself, your ability to learn and grow, and that you can find a way to make your living in music. Many have done so. You won’t be the first or the last to walk this path.

Cover the basics by learning to do quality work. In his famous book, Outliers: The Story of Success (2008) Malcolm Gladwell writes about the 10,000 Hours Rule as the key to success in any field. According to this rule, research shows that achieving greatness requires practicing a specific task 20 hours a week for 10 years. Whatever you are working on, if you can devote this enormous amount of time to it, you can become really, really great at it.

Being incredibly good at something leads to being able to earn your living at it. Always strive for quality in everything you do.

Keys to Success: Prepare to Meet the Need

Let’s add the market perspective here. Having the freedom to choose your work is considered highly valuable, so there should also be a need (or demand) for what you do. If you find the demand is small, or the supply is much greater than the demand, it doesn’t mean you shouldn’t pursue it. You’d be smart to find some other way to create an income from work, however.

The music industry requires highly skilled and trained creative people to fill the many roles available. Professionals often undergo long periods of training, earn degrees and certifications, and prepare themselves thoroughly, including by building a strong network of other industry professionals. We often hear the maxim “do what you love.” It’s not necessarily the best advice, because what you love today may not be what you will love five years from now. Do what you are good at, and there is a need for.

One of my favorite definitions of success is from legendary NCAA Basketball coach John Wooden: “Success is peace of mind that is the direct result of self-satisfaction in knowing you did your best to become the best that you are capable of becoming.” I like this definition because it’s about being as good as you possibly can be.

The upshot of all this is that you should figure out what you are good at, find out if and where the need is, and then become the best you can become at doing it. Because it sustains your lifestyle, you should also come to love it more and more over time. This goes far beyond the simplistic idea of just following your passion.

Your Next Steps: Work Smart

Understanding that getting really good at anything takes time, let’s get more specific about some other actions you can take to prepare yourself for entering the music industry.

The following is a shortlist of recommendations for anyone looking to take the next steps to breaking in:

Educate Yourself

Get to know the industry. Read books, follow blogs, read news items, maybe even enroll in a music industry course online, or attend a few lectures. Become a sponge for knowledge, and stay curious.

Get The Right People

Find other people working in the industry to network with and learn from. Make friends with other music industry participants, as they can help you with valuable information and contacts. Find ways to collaborate with other, more accomplished people.

Get Your Act Together

Work on presenting yourself with professional quality personal branding materials, such as a resume, artist bio, or an EPK if you are an artist or band. If you have to, it’s worth spending some money to get professional quality materials.

Quality Is A Must

Create high-quality recordings and music videos (for artists, bands, Songwriters, Producers). This means writing, arranging, and producing some great music. Learn all about the creative processes needed to get the best recordings you can. Upgrade your technical skills.

Learn The Laws

Protect your intellectual property using copyrights and by registering with a performing rights organization (PRO) like ASCAP, BMI, or SESAC. Learn about the legal aspects of the music industry.

Get Social

Build a social media presence. Decide how you want your image to come across to fans, and carefully craft your online image and brand message. Build real followers, not fake ones, and engage with them in meaningful ways.

Stream It

Get your music on streaming platforms like YouTube and Spotify. You can use a music aggregator for digital distribution, like CD Baby, Tunecore, DistroKid, or AWAL. Start earning money from your music as soon as possible.

Perform Live

Get live performing experience. Get out and do shows, in order to learn what works with your audience and hone your stage communication skills.

Gear Up

Upgrade your gear.Whatever equipment you need to make your music and run your music business, find a way to get access to it. This requires learning about options, applications, and costs, as well as logistics. Put time into it.

Get to Work

Go work for someone else. Find an internship or a job that allows you to gain experience and contacts. Work for free if you have to. Learn the business from the inside.

This is a shortlist and not meant to be exhaustive.

You might decide to earn a degree or diploma in Music Industry Studies or some other specialization that attracts you. Since music is a business, learn all you can about business in general. Set up your business entity or register as a business in your city or state. Open a business banking account. Write a formal business plan. Consider finding a mentor. Focus your creative abilities in the direction you want your career to go, and observe where it takes you.

Real Tips: Follow Through to the End

Musicians have lots of skills which translate well to the industry, like creative problem solving, project management skills, focused learning, self-discipline, leadership, and even public speaking. Some musicians are great at math and solving equations in their heads because of their music training. Harness your creative abilities in taking care of your business. Remember that everyone starting out at anything will have initial hurdles to overcome. Even the most accomplished people had zero knowledge or skills when they first started.

As the music industry is highly competitive, prepare yourself to deal with rejection. Adjust your thinking to avoid negativity, discouragement, and impasse, and focus on the prize. Stay as positive as you can while being realistic about the work you will need to put in. Develop solid strategies for accelerated learning and skill-building, while supercharging your network. Cultivate a love of your craft, and don’t focus on things like fame. Above all, don’t give up.

All these activities demand your strong commitment to continuous hard work, focused learning, and artistic and professional growth. Write down your goals and hang them in a place where you will see them every day. Break your goals down into smaller, actionable tasks. Then put aside some time to work on those tasks every day.

It is possible to make a living in music. All you will need is a lot of work, some time, and a little luck. Others have done it, so can you.

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