The music industry can be a cruel and unforgiving master. It can give you stability and comfort one year, and it can take it all away the next. However, if you play the game right, make the right connections, and plan correctly, you can have a long and fruitful career. You can bring countless pieces of artwork to the public. The issue is the balancing act of the artform of music and the business of music. The business is formed around the art and that can instill a sense of tension around the process, sometimes.
However, if you are a musician in our culture, and you desire to do music as a full-time career, you need to learn to approach music as a business. You have to take it seriously. You have to dedicate yourself to it. You have to learn all you can about it. You have to take it as seriously as a professional athlete does. Training, studying, and working towards your goals.
As intimidating as the business world might be to some artists, in effect all business revolves around three very simple concepts:
- Identifying a need or desire among people;
- Developing a product that meets that need or desire; and
- Marketing the product to the people who need or desire it.
These three concepts flow directly into the idea that you, as an individual, can effect a great amount of change within niches and musical sub-genres. You can work your skills and personality within the framework of that niche to fulfill all three of these directives. Sooner than you’d think, you’ll be a mover and shaker within that subset, and you’ll be developing a name for yourself. You’ll quickly be upwardly mobile.
Business in Music
To see music as a business, one simply needs to re-think the elements of his/her art in the light of these concepts—to translate musical elements in business terms. In the context of doing business, then, here’s what the translation looks like:
- Music is both a need and a desire in people. The needs for inspiration and entertainment are part of our makeup, and music is a key part of both. A culture with no music would likely destroy itself.
- Your music is a product that can potentially meet that need. If you are a performer, as cold as it might seem, you are also a product. If you perform music (not just create it), the public will be interested in you, not just your songs. The business of music, then, seeks to tailor the product(s) to be something people will spend money on.
- Once you’ve created a musical product, you market that musical product for sale to the public through promotion, concerts and record sales.
Understandably, there are a lot of musicians who chafe at this translation. As we said before, music is not a business. Music is a very right-brained function, and business is a left-brained function. It’s important to remember the difference between them, because—to be frank—the reason much of today’s music lacks inspiration and memorability is that people have blurred the lines and turned music into too much of a product. This actually devalues the product, because it no longer meets the original need for inspiration. So in a sense, the negative response of many musical artists is quite correct.
How to Start a Music Career
You need to make music from the heart. You need to express what’s in your soul. You need to connect with people and share your music. You need to take your thoughts and hopes and dreams and channel them into the work. That’s the key to making something that people will connect with. You can’t think about the business side of things when you’re doing that part of the job.
But then, after the creation is done, you need to be able to switch over and think about the best way to position the work you have. made. How to care for it, protect it, and how to insure that it will be something brings dividends back to you. This is the way that you build a career for yourself. Think about the creative stuff when you’re in the middle of it, and think about the business stuff when you’re done being creative. Don’t mix the two.
That said, business is still the way our culture meets the needs of people—and music is still a need. The answer, then, is probably not to do away with the business aspect of music entirely, but rather to learn to keep the balance between them. If you want to make a living in music, you still need to treat music as a business; but by remembering that music is art first, your product will keep its value in the long run.