What Does It Take to Make It in the Music Industry?

What Does It Take to Make It in the Music Industry?
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What would you recommend to learn how to survive in the music industry as an artist and/or manager of artists? originally appeared on Quora - the knowledge sharing network where compelling questions are answered by people with unique insights.

Answer by Glen Sears, PR, Demand Generation, & Digital Strategy, MediaNet, Co-Founder & CEO, Dance Music Northwest, on Quora:

What would you recommend to learn how to survive in the music industry as an artist? A second job, haha!

I'll never forget what my uncle told me when I broke the news to my family that I would be abandoning my English degree to study music instead:

"No one will support you in the music industry until you make it."

So start by developing iron will, a thick skin, and the world's greatest listening skills. These are tools required by the music industry, and life in general.

From there, in my experience, you can rocket past 70% of the people in the music industry if you learn and understand the copyright laws of your country and the United States. If you want a career in any back-office part of the industry like management, you'd better be damn sure you know how to protect your intellectual property and your artists. If you're an artist, you should be aware of how to protect yourself. All You Need to Know About the Music Business by Donald Passman isn't everything you need to know, but it's a tremendous start when you're beginning your journey.

Next, you need to learn how to interface with a few different types of people: lawyers, journalists, technology developers, and (critically) other artists and industry people. You'll spend the entirety of your career dealing with these folks. It's imperative you know how they think, what they want, and how you can benefit them materially. Enchantment: The Art of Changing Hearts, Minds, and Actions by Guy Kawasaki is a good start here but there is no replacement for real people experience. Find your way into conversations and situations with these people.

Once you've got working music industry experience and legal knowledge, along with sufficient connections, your next steps involve uncovering opportunity. This is the longest, hardest climb and you'll be doing it your entire career.

The music industry is brutally competitive. To get your foot in the door requires giving more than you get. There are a few ways I've found to achieve this without undercutting yourself or seeming "easy" to others:

  1. Charge appropriately for your services, but always offer to throw in something extra; don't be a pushover, but let people know you want to work for them.
  2. Ask three questions for every one you answer; the more you listen and let people tell you their story, the more opportunities you surface (and candidly it makes you a better person too).
  3. Love the part of the industry you're in; I can't stress this enough, the music industry is almost entirely populated by true believers and we can smell a rat from a mile away.
  4. Understand your own timeline; it took me almost ten years and three major cities to finally achieve the primary goals I set for myself at the age of twenty-one, but I knew that going in.

You'll encounter many artists, managers, and industry operatives who seem to have it all. It will pummel your confidence and make you question your methods. In my experience, for every one that is truly successful beyond their years, there are nine who are in massive debt and perpetually on the verge of collapse. The Rolling Stones are still going strong in their 70s. You have time.

While you're doing all this tireless work and study, remember to take the time to learn who you are and care for yourself. This will not only ensure your long-term mental health, but it will inform your decisions as an artist and entrepreneur, and expose your personal risk tolerance.

Oh and while we're at it -- take risks. The earlier the better.

Now let's talk about the music: There is such a thing as "objectively good" and "objectively bad" music. Like any other art, it is a product of craft, and therefore is subject to the scrutiny of true craftsmanship. Some things you should learn to judge music on:

  • Production
  • Arrangement
  • Lyrics & Melody
  • Novelty
  • Potential to sell

Over time you'll learn to use these to vet your music and the music of others. Always assume everyone will know if you didn't. Never, ever treat your fans or the listening public like they're stupid. Instant career suicide, unless you enjoy toiling away in obscurity for only a chosen few. Music should always be inclusive, intelligent, and of lasting quality.

Finally, really hold on tightly to the things that inspire you about music. We all entered the industry because music is deep in us. We play it, and we listen to it, we feel it very profoundly; enough to make it our life's work.

The machine of industry will try mercilessly to beat that deep abiding love of music out of you, but don't let it. Every song and artist you've ever known came from a series of people who refused to be stopped, who made a series of decisions despite their long odds. Be a person who always stays the course, and good luck.

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