The music industry is a strange one. Unlike most industries where you are guaranteed to make at least SOME money, musicians seem to either make millions or go broke. It’s tough. There are a few people right at the top, and then thousands of people hustling for opportunities below them, hoping to get their music heard.
Part of the reason why it is so hard to succeed in the music industry has to do with the ability of consumers to focus on particular artists. Unless they’re being exposed to an artist on the radio, in shops, and on the internet, it’s difficult to build a relationship with one. There are so many people making music that regular people don’t have the time to engage with all of them and then figure out which they like most.
The other reason is that music is a global industry. A consumer can just as easily listen to an artist recording in the US as they can one in India. It’s not like people have “local” music artists they go to in the same way as they might a hairdresser: each person in the market must stand out above everyone else, no matter where they live.
Being successful in the music industry is challenging. But there are ways that you can make your experience of it better and enhance your chances of success. Let’s take a look at your options.
Focus On Social Media Platforms
Whereas it was once essential to focus on playing live gigs at venues to rise through the ranks of the music industry, now the main driver is social media. If you think about many of the most successful artists today – like Shawn Mendes – many of them began their careers by distributing their material over sites like Facebook and YouTube. Almost always, the artist did it as an experiment, rather than a business strategy, but it paid off, and for some reason, their music got shared and liked.
If you want to be a musician, then treat distribution on social media as an experiment. You want to see whether people love what you do and if you have something of value to offer. Don’t worry if your music doesn’t go viral immediately: what you want is to build a social media presence that could explode in popularity at any moment.
Stick With The Day Job (Unless The Dough Comes Rolling In)
People who want to break into the music industry often have fantasies about leaving their day job and doing what they love. Quitting the regular nine to five should be a goal. But it’s important not to jump the gun: your day job is a good thing. It keeps food on the table; it pays bills and, perhaps most importantly, it helps you avoid the stress of financial uncertainty.
Sticking with the day job while you’re trying to make it as a musician might sound like a chore, but it has its advantages. Earning good money gives you more freedom to travel to gigs, play your music, and buy the equipment you need to experiment with sounds.
Get To Grips With How People Make Money In Music
Do you know how artists in the music industry make money? Selling records, right?
It turns out that publishing is only one part of a much more extensive range of opportunities for earning income as a music artist. The top revenue maker in the industry isn’t selling records at all, but instead going on tour – hence why so many bands do it.
Touring and playing live is one of your best methods of drumming up money fast. You can charge each person attending a gig much more money than you can for a record because they’re getting a much better experience. You’re not going to be able to charge the hundreds of pounds that some bands do – but you could make good money, especially if you already have a following on social media.
Finally, there’s branding. Branding is your logos, likeness, and image. You can plaster this on t-shirts and then try to sell them on at a profit. Merchandising can be useful when done in combination with a gig. People are more likely to buy your merchandise while at one of your concerts than they are at random, though nothing is stopping you from setting up a website to flog swag.
Stay Pathologically Positive
Few people succeed in the music industry overnight. It takes long-term effort to make a breakthrough. Thinking negatively about the process can quickly derail your efforts. If you’re genuinely talented, then there’s a fair chance that eventually you’ll get the break you need and can progress as an independent artist.
Staying positive can be difficult. Most artists go through hard times on their way to success. Ed Sheeran once spent his last £80 on a train fare to go to a concert that nobody showed up to – that was a test of character.
It’s worth pointing out that there are more than 80,000 new albums released every year. That’s a lot of music – too much for any one person to listen to. Only about a quarter of a percent of all albums make any kind of impact. But those that do experience enormous rewards. It’s a lottery. Remember that.
Learn How To Distribute Music
If you think music distribution is about going to record labels and getting them to do it for you, then you’re mistaken. That’s no longer how the industry works for the majority of people.
Music streaming platforms are now the go-to tools for most people wanting to listen to the latest songs. These platforms are an excellent way to get your music reviewed and out in the open, enabling anyone to listen to it. Apple, Spotify, and Pandora should be at the top of your target list.
Remember, there are also platforms like Shazam that make it easy for people to find your music, even if they don’t know your name or the name of your songs.
Don’t Just Create Music, Learn To Produce It Too
As discussed, the days of the big recording studio are numbered. Most independent artists active right now are both creators and producers of music. Learning how to produce music can be a challenge, and you’ll need to invest in some equipment. But the rewards are worth it.
When you produce music independently, you avoid all of the costs and fees associated with going with a recording house. Music platforms provide individual artists with exceptional reach, allowing them to go directly to consumers, rather than through a third-party with connections to radio. Just look at how many artists succeed online without having to develop cushy relationships with the major radio stations – it’s remarkable.
Learning to produce music will inevitably take time and money. But if music is something that you’re passionate about, it’s worth doing. Your early attempts might not succeed, but the trick is to keep trying until things finally do go your way.
Remember That Nobody Had An Easy Road To Success
It’s easy as a member of the public to believe that many recording artists had an easy road to the top. After all, most of us only hear about a particular musician after they’ve got a deal with a record label and their songs are on the radio. But it’s important to remember that to get to that stage takes most people a long time – perhaps a decade.
The problem is that the market isn’t perfect. It takes time for it to discover new talent. It’s also fussy about timing. You may make great music, but if people aren’t ready for your sound, then you’ll fail to gain traction. Bands that sounded different to what came before, like the Prodigy, got their timing right, whether by luck or design.
Be Picky About Whose Advice You Accept
As a budding artist, you probably think that taking advice from those who are successful is the best policy. After all, they did something that got them to where they are today, right?
The problem with many successful people is that they don’t emphasize the role of luck in their ascent. They like to believe that they did something extraordinary which propelled them to the position they enjoy today, and they don’t like the idea that random chance played a role; that would downplay their talent – or so they think.
When it comes to music, it’s hard to know who to go to for advice. The best strategy is to look for patterns that led to success like we’re doing here. You want to focus on things that repeatedly worked for other people, like uploading music to social media. Ignore some of the most impassioned “words of wisdom” from successful people: giving advice after the fact is trivial.
In conclusion, succeeding in the music industry is a bit of a lottery. Any foray into music should be treated as such: a punt at a different kind of life. Success isn’t guaranteed, no matter how talented you might be.