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Navigating the Music Business: Insider Tips and Unspoken Guidelines

Hello you beautiful musicians, and welcome back to yet another blog.


As I know you know, there is no shortage of courses in the music industry, whether that be for producing, for music marketing, or something else, but....


What about the unwritten rules of the music business?


There's not exactly courses on that, when in reality, that is what could be holding you back from the music success you're after.


Let me put it this way...


Have you ever gone to an audition, or got an opportunity, only for it to fall through, without ever being told why? Maybe it's because you broke an unwritten rule, that you never knew existed.



On the flip side, maybe you landed a deal, or got an opportunity because of something you did, that you didn't even know.


In this blog, I'm going to break down the do's and don'ts of the music business, to help you get more opportunities, and build more relationships with prominent figures and decision makers.


These are based on and gathered from professionals I have had the opportunity to chat with, many of which featured on the Musician Guidance podcast.



Let's start with the do's of the music business:


1. Do what you're asked to, better than anyone else, but that's it.

If you get a call, whether that be to record on an album, or play in a band, make sure you do exactly that, nothing more, nothing less.


This means show up early, introduce yourself, do a little warm-up (nothing extravagant) and then do what you were called for, exceptionally well.


Your goal for this is not to show off every skill you have, in hopes of making it big. Your goal is to do the job at hand better than anyone else can, in hopes you get a call back in the future, or a referral for another opportunity.


Why though? If you're more talented than everyone else in the room, why would you not show all your other talents too, right? Well... it's because it's so much more than music. In addition to being able to do what is asked, the manager, or organizer will want to bring on someone that:


a) won't be a pain in the butt

b) will be on time and not make everyone else wait on them

c) has a good attitude / personality so that they can spend long hours with them, whether that be recording, touring, etc.



2. Create content, lots of it.

Content is key, and there are many reasons for this, whether it be building a following, signing a publishing deal or wanting a record deal.


Let's break it down though...


Firstly, as related to social media... If you want to build a following, the first thing you need to do is figure out which platform will be best for you. The problem however is that no matter what platform you believe will be best, you will truly never know which platform actually is the most beneficial to yourself, until you try.



Now, as related to your music... One hit wonders are a thing of the past, meaning if you want to sign a publishing deal, or a record deal, you will need a great catalogue!


In other words, if you only have one song, no music company is going to take a chance on you, and so the best thing you can do is create, create, create.


In doing so, the reality is that many of the songs you create will never be seen or heard by anyone other than your friends and family, BUT... those songs will get you one step closer to having an exceptional and highly sought after catalogue.



3. Follow up.

Initial messages are almost always ignored, especially cold emails / messages, because there has been no common ground or relationship built (assuming it's not a referral).


I know of some professionals that purposely ignore the first message, even if it's a well crafted introduction email or message.


Why do they do this though? Many reasons. The biggest being they're not interested, or don't want to take the time to verify you're real...


BUT, many also want to know you're serious and dedicated, and follow ups do just that.


I cannot speak for others, but personally speaking, you would be surprised how many emails we get of inquiries that fade out to nothing... it's as if the person never existed.


One day you get dozens of messages from them, then you cannot get ahold of them for years. Okay that's an exaggeration, but honestly... not by much.


Professionals do not want to waste their times, so rather than getting involved too early, and spending their time and money on yourself, not knowing if the inquiry is serious, they'll ignore you, until you follow up with more information.


Look... I know follow ups can be daunting, especially the first one, without any previous relationship, because it can feel like spam, or like you're invading, I've been there, but it's just something you're going to have to get over.


Follow ups are mandatory, absolutely mandatory.



4. Ask for referrals, politely.

As I’ve said many times, the music business is an extremely connected industry. All professionals will know of others or have connections to others that you could benefit from.


What that means is if someone you reached out to is not able to mentor you, or not able to produce for you, or not able to market your music, or not able to manage you, or whatever it may be... there is a very good chance they know of someone they could refer you to.


There is nothing wrong with asking them.


With that being said, show that you're worthy of their referral, because if they refer you to someone and you're late to the meeting, or not professional, that looks bad on the person that referred you, and as a result, will lead you to lose opportunities.


In addition to asking for referrals, you can take it one step further.



If you know they have a connection to someone that you would like to meet with, you can say, I noticed “_____ follows you.” I was thinking they are someone that could help me. Would you be interested in introducing us to each other?”


That shows that you've done your research (which leads into showing you're dedicated / professional in your approach), and as a result, makes it more likely they will refer you.



5. Practice, write, record, produce, repeat.

Practice, write, record, produce, repeat. Practice, write, record, produce, repeat.


Build up your skillset. Expand your expertise. Learn new instruments. Build a great catalogue. Nurture new relationships.


The more you can do, the more opportunities you will be able to apply for, and the more desirable you will be in the eyes of executives, managers, promoters, etc.


All of this will help you have a prolonged music career, despite the everyday changes the industry goes through.


Okay, now onto the don'ts:



1. Don’t walk into the room like you know everything.

I touched on this above in the do's, but let me put it this way, would you like to work with a "know-it-all" or a "show-off?"


I'll answer for you, no!

Making great music is one thing, and it's mandatory for the professional opportunities we're talking about, but it's not the only requirement... even if it's all the posting says.


The unwritten rules are whether you will:

1) Make those around you sound better & look great.


This doesn't mean for you to play poorly, or to be late, to make others look great, but rather to play and act professionally, so that as a group, you all perform exceptionally well.


For example, let's say you're a trombone player, and you're playing with a trumpeter. Next week that trumpet player is recording on an album and they're looking for a trombone player. If you made that trumpet player sound amazing, they're going to refer you for that new opportunity.

2) Be fun to be around.


Imagine touring for 3 months with people you do not get along with. That would be tough, and I can only imagine it would show negatively during shows. As a result, people want to hire, and perform with others that are easy to get along with.


3) Be able to subtly do many roles.


If you can do more, you're an asset, because you're one person for the price of two.


With that being said, it's important that you show that naturally, rather than come in the room and do everything off the bat.


Showing you can do more (or other) roles will more likely come about after a relationship is built with the producer, or project manager, and after you have gigs or experience utilizing your different strengths.


This is because when that happens, there's a good chance you won't have to share it, but rather it will be learned by the organizer, resulting in more opportunities coming your way.



2. Don’t spam your music or any other links in DMs.

It's pretty cool to be able to get your music in front of people right away, by messaging them your music, but, there are a few major reasons, you need to stop doing it.


1) First and foremost, it will not get clicked or streamed, especially if no previous relationship was established.

2) There are much better and more effective ways to share your music with your followers, but even if you’re still wanting to send it out to everyone, please ask them before sending it. Such as, “hey, my new song is out. Would you like me to send you a link to it?”


3) It ruins a potential relationship. This is the BIGGEST reason why you should NOT spam your music links in DMs (or via email).


When you DM your music that wasn't asked for, it makes you come across as unprofessional, which ties into many points talked about above, such as point #1.



The best thing you can do is get people on an email list, that want to hear your music. Then when you have a new release, at the click of a button you can send it out to everyone who consented to having you message them about it.


If you have a song that you want someone to hear that is not on your email list, it's best to build a relationship with them first. Most people are happy to listen to a song, and even give feedback if they know you, know of you, or even have a connection to you (ie. a mutual friend).


So in hopes of not ruining a potential relationship, or coming across as unprofessional, ask for their permission first.



3. Don’t ask for something if you haven't given value.

If you're wanting something, such as a feature on a song, or even a shout out, don't expect to be given it, (or don't ask for it) if you don't have value to give, or a previous relationship.


Many professionals love to help aspirants, and while some will do it completely for free, 99% of them need value, (ie. monetary compensation, a donation to their charity, equity, or something else). Remember, it's a two-way street, or a "transaction."


You give them something and they give you something in return. Without that, it's a "favor" and favors are great, we all give them everyday, but... they don't put food on our tables, and they don't put a roof over our heads; they're not how the world works.


Asking for too many favors will not get you where you want to be, and it's certainly not sustainable. My best advice would be to think about your assets and leverage them.


Money is just one asset, but more often than not, there are other pieces of value that you can provide.



4. Don’t expect anything.

Prepare for the worst, hope for the best. Unfortunately things fall through all the time, (that's nothing new) and honestly, it feels like in the music industry that it happens more than any other industry.


Unless it’s in your hands, or been delivered, there is a chance it will not happen or come, so don't sit back and expect it (and certainly don't announce it), because if you do, and have to change it.. it's not the best look. For example, if you're releasing music, and it's complete, the artwork is complete and last you heard is that it "should be" ready for distribution in two weeks, so you announce the release date, get on playlists, scheduled for the release, etc, only for the distributor to not be able to meet that deadline...


Well, you could be out of money, and have flopped a release.


If it's not set in stone, don't jump the gun.



5. Don’t say you’re the best, or that you’re the next Harry Styles

I believe you have to have a bit of an ego to achieve the greatest feats, but there is a fine line between ego and delusion... okay maybe that's harsh but...


Every executive I have talked to says that they hear 'I'm the next big artist" hundreds of times a day.... yes a day!!


The truth is 0.0001% of you will be that next big star, and for the receiver (executives), they know how they sell artists, they know what's working with their roster of artists and more importantly they know what's not working.


So what some artists preach of "I'm the next superstar" not only gets ignored, but blocked by many executives, because it shows you're not professional.


I'd say 99.999% of people or businesses that fill your head with false information, saying "yeah you are 100% the next big thing" are a scam, and want nothing more than to exploit you for your dream.


So to recap, saying you're the next Harry Styles, or the next Taylor Swift is only going to hinder you from real opportunities and lead you to scams taking advantage of you.



6. Don’t make excuses.

If you feel a certain way, keep that within. Excuses only show that you're not determined enough.


I say that because... when something happens that makes it difficult for you to do something, people use that as an excuse.


That's not an excuse. That's a setback. An excuse is saying, I can't do this because of that setback. Another phrase for that is, "I cannot do this because I had a setback and I am not wanting to work longer, or harder to achieve it."


Will a setback cause you more work? Yes. Will a setback cause you stress & anxiety? Probably. Is a setback something that prevents you from doing something? No.


An excuse is is what prevents you from doing something.


If you're wanting a deal, where people invest in you (ie. a record deal), and during due diligence for example you give an excuse? You can kiss that deal goodbye.



7. Don’t think that your music is so great that you don’t need marketing.

I believe that there is a perception around "marketing," which is that marketing makes a bad song good, or that good songs don’t need to be marketed. It’s wrong!


Marketing gets your song in front of the right people, at the right time, and when done right, presents your song in a way that your audience wants to see it in.


BUT, there is no song or no artist that cannot benefit from marketing. In a previous blog, we mentioned that even the biggest names in music have 150+ Facebook / Instagram ads marketing their new album, their upcoming shows, their merchandise, etc.


Marketing should go hand in hand with music releases.

 

I hope you found some value in these that you can incorporate to ensure your next opportunity is a successful one.


Please note, this is by no means all of the do's and don'ts in the music business. These are however some of the most common ones that I have come across after chatting with over 55 highly regarded music professionals.


P.S. If you want to connect with me, send me a message on Instagram here.


Rock on : )

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