How to Make It in the Music Industry

Finding Commercial Success as a Musician

Commercial Success int he Music Industry

If you're a musician who is only starting out, getting somewhere in today's vast music business can seem intimidating. As easy as the Internet makes it for anyone to get their music out to the world at large, there are millions of other musicians trying to do the same thing. How do you begin to get traction?

To find success you first need to understand how the business side of things works, then follow the new rules of the modern music industry. While it may seem confusing at first, there are plenty of tools online to address all of it. There's never been an easier time than right now to find success as an independent musician.

Never do gigs for free

It takes a lot of work to setup music equipment and perform for 2-3 hours. You definitely want a profit motive to help avoid burnout. However, the exception to this may be when you've never done it before. Performing to an engaged and responsive crowd is an amazing feeling. It can also be pretty nerve racking. When you're a new musician and just starting out, you need to practice the art of engaging and entertaining your audiences. Doing free shows can provide essential practice without the obligation of giving people their "money's worth". Once you've worked out the kinks and through the nerves, you should start to transition to paid gigs, and establish a minimum fee you're willing to play for.

Playing at parties for your peers, or at new lesser known venues, is a good place to start when you're new to a music scene. They won't pay much, but it will help people gain exposure to your music. Notable, established venues however, understand that good bands come with a bigger price tag, and are willing to pay a decent amount to get them. The places that low ball you typically won't have good bands coming through. You can expect tiny stage floors, terrible sound systems, and often uninterested audiences that won't do much to help you gain recognition anyways. It won't be easy to get into the more popular venues when you're just getting started, but you should definitely try to work towards them. And once you do get a chance to play somewhere you really like, try to setup a recurring schedule with them. Overtime this will create a residual schedule of shows, as well as consistent income for you as a musician.

Give your music away for free

"Give it away, give it away, give it away now" - Anthony Kiedis (Red Hot Chili Peppers)

The traditional copyright system tends to be expensive and cumbersome. With the rise of the internet however, all of this has started to change. The Creative Commons copyright system, first launched in 2001 as an alternative to help make digital media free, legally recognized, and flexible. Getting a Creative Commons license for a song is as simple as visiting their website and signing up for free. With a Creative Commons copyright license, you get to specify exactly what people can do with your music. You can give it away for free while restricting users from changing your work in any way, using it without attribution, and so on.

Creativecommons spanien
A pub in Granada with a sign notifying customers that they are listening to music that is freely distributable under a Creative Commons license.

While performing for free isn't a very good idea, giving away your recorded music for free is. It can help you gain a following that will buy tickets to your shows when you perform live, and pay for access to additional music online.

So you shouldn't think that giving away recorded music for free won't return a profit. When people like your music, they'll want to support you. You should list your music on sites like TuneCore and CD Baby. Once you're there, your music will be available on platforms like iTunes and Apple Music. Our article about online music distribution services can help you set this up. And once you do, committed fans will buy your music or pay for access to streaming, ultimately returning royalties to you.

Ignore the Trolls

Having a major music publication pay attention to your music has always been impossible. Shortly before Off The Wall, even Michael Jackson is reported to have had trouble landing interviews on outlets such as The Rolling Stone. More recently as an alternative, musicians have been sending their music to small music blogs, many which are run by well-respected amateur critics with roots in the music business. These critics accept music from no-name acts and write reviews that visitors to the blog read, including many music industry professionals. And more recently these "small" music blogs, such as Pretty Much Amazing and Gorilla Vs. Bear, aren't very small anymore. They get thousands of hits each day and hundreds of music submissions. In other words, the age of information has provided them the opportunity to turn into mini versions of The Rolling Stone themselves.

These music blogs and critics will pay you attention at some point. In the meantime however, you need to be building a fan base the old-fashioned way,  by performing at local venues. They'll become your grass-root advocates once your reputation starts to grow.

You don't need a Record Deal

Getting signed to a label is no guarantee of success. Online reports suggest as much as 9 out of every 10 artists signed to labels fail commercially. For many acts it's a better idea to stay independent, learn to reach audiences through the internet, and remain your own boss. You will be in control of your music, and can decide the direction of your image and your PR. If you don't have the marketing skills necessary, there are a lot of options to partner with someone who does. Sharing your profits with a marketing agent or firm, will still leave you far more profitable and more in control than you would be with a label.

Jackson 5 Record Label
Despite selling a massive number of records for Motown in the early 1970s, the Jackson 5 only earned 2.8% royalties on their record sales.

There's never been a better or more profitable time to be an independent musician. Check out our music marketing category for articles on how to control your future and market your music independently.

Submit Your Music to the Creative Commons Music Archives

Creative Commons is a system that allows people to use digital content like music, video and images, with “some rights reserved” copyright, legally and for free. 

There are dozens of popular websites out there that archive and popularize songs with Creative Commons licenses. Names like FrostWire and Jamendo are well-known. Use them and you'll start seeing downloads and plays practically the moment your song goes up.

Get your music on YouTube and TikTok

YouTube and TikTok have millions of meaningful and mindless videos alike. There are millions of pet videos, baby videos, news videos, and videos of other videos, all created by complete amateurs. When uploading these, there are options for adding background music. Influencers almost always choose music with Creative Commons licenses because they don't want to pay for copyrighted music. Frequently, people watching these videos like what they hear, check out the credits (your Creative Commons license requires these videos to credit you) and become fans. Or at worst, they only remember your sound. But after while this happens repeatedly and catches on, helping you gain popularity.

Getting your music on a YouTube and TikTok is easy. Sign up and add your music to these services individually, or sign up for an automation service like TubeAssist that will make your music available for content creators to pick up. 

Reconsider the importance of Social Media

Facebook, Twitter, Instagram and TikTok are great ways to build and retain dedicated fans once you have them. But if you're just starting out these networks with their stingy algorithms can be tough to get traction on. Still, you need to have a presence on them sooner rather than later. Whatever fans you do make will surely look you up. It's important to always respond to every message or comment when you're new to a platform, and early on even follow the people back who follow you. You'll make steadfast fans and followers this way, and eventually they'll start growing on their own.

Justin Bieber 2
A 12 year old Justin Bieber gained worldwide fame in 2007 by first posting music videos to YouTube

At BandPioneer we're constantly researching the most effective ways to market music successfully. Make sure to follow our channel dedicated to this, and read our articles on how to create your own independent music promotional campaign.

Email Is Often Better than Social Media

While social media is important, for musicians it's often inferior to email when it comes to user engagement. When people hear your music on Spotify or Apple Music, or in a YouTube or TikTok video, some will eventually try to look you up on Social Media. Once they get there, you can ask them to sign up for your email list. This puts them in what is known as a "funnel" in marketing, where you now have direct contact to them. You can email them about updates, music releases and concert dates, with confidence that it will go to them directly, without getting buried on a Social Media news feed.

Keep Rocking!

If you're persistent and keep making great music and searching for fans in the ways we've mentioned here, you can have confidence that people will notice. Music blogs will eventually write about you, your sound will be exposed to influential people in the music industry, and your fans will help spread the word about you. Online sales will pick up, live gigs will increase, and other bands will want to collaborate with you. It may take time, but you will independently be in charge of your own musical success. Which is something that was nearly impossible 20 years ago when record labels ruled the industry. There's never been a more opportune time to be able to find success as your own boss in the music industry.

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