How To

Starting a career in the Music Industry? Grow some cojones!

Photograph of the blog post author, Jon Skinner

Jon Skinner

23.3.2013

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Regardless of what stage you’re at in your career, I suggest you read on, this article could change your life, which by itself is a bold statement, but I want your undivided attention because the music industry is a serious business and you need to wake up and smell the coffee if you thought otherwise.

I’ll take it stages & I’ll assume you know f*&% all about business, frankly most people going into the industry don’t and that’s the main issue. Let’s start with a BIG reality check, do me a favor and take a good look at yourself in the mirror, from a talent perspective, people have a crazy notion that artistry is somehow a god given right to succeed & make it in the industry, well it isn’t! You have to work hard, know your shit & work smart at the same time!

Mirror, mirror on the wall, I am the next Coldplay, Adele or Stevie Wonder? No your probably not, so reality check over, time to start thinking smart. If you still think you are the next “Big Thing” good luck, you can bounce off this page, as you’re probably got the same attitude thousands of other artists had at some point in their early career, it’s called being a little delusional & unrealistic. Without trying to sound patronizing, you’re probably fairly young and have a lot to learn. (Apologies if your middle to old aged and know jack shit either, don’t worry your included).

Intro over, let’s get down to Business.

1. Understand your skills, natural talent, what do you bring to the table?

2. What are your goals, short term & long term? This is not the right time to tell yourself “I want to be a multi platinum selling artist” it’s highly unlikely, shit, you may already need another reality check, and we’ve only just started.

3. Know your business, understand your market place; the internet is your best friend. If you can’t read, get back to school, because you have a lot of reading to do, trust me. Use keywords in Google & read, read, read.

4. Talk to people, not friends & family, people working in the industry & in business in general, There’s thousand’s of us so network & get yourself along to events, check online what labels, artists & musicians are based near you and go and talk to them, ask nicely and they should be helpful. Regardless of what you have heard, most of us in the industry are nice decent human beings and happy to give back to grass roots, not everyone, but most.

5. Dedication, sacrifice, confidence, all key words that you will hear time and time again, but without them, forget it now & stop wasting your time reading this, you’re not cut out for the music business, if you think you can make it big by watching Rude Tube & X Factor then thing again. Come on, get real.

6. Work smart and be resourceful, this all depends on your goals and I will touch on this later.

The Music Industry

You need to fully understand, that regardless of any romantic notion you may have, music is a Product.

“Sorry did he just call my work of art, those endless hours in the studio, that pain staking song which I wrote from the pit of my stomach a Product?”

Yes I did and I’ll explain. This article is about business full stop; this doesn’t detract, devalue or derail the creative process. So please keep your passion on hold for 10 minutes whilst you read on, this is the last & only time I will apologize for my references.

Like any other business, music is the creation of a product, which can be sold into a market place as a physical product or more likely these days as a digital format & to generate revenue from broadcast & publishing. If you are an artist, you are also a product, a marketable figure that performs, ideally for money and the satisfaction & recognition of your creative art.

“Hang on, did he use that dirty word money, it’s not about the money, it’s about the music… you twat”.

Actually it’s about both the music & the money, and please don’t call me a twat, that’s just being nasty. No money, no problems by Notorious B.I.G does that song ring any bells, we live is a society where you have bills, overheads & commitments, you need money to survive, unless your bank rolled some other means, so taking care of your money and business is fundamental.

So how do I get money & support for my music projects or career?

Again, the internet if your best friend, for the UK there is the Arts Council, local council grants, Prince of Wales trust, all over the world there are opportunities and funding for the arts & music, you just need to do your homework online and see if you qualify. Regardless, you can still work on a very tight to zero budget.

Work with others that do have the funds to support you, producers, artist management, record labels. Don’t email these people asking for support, that won’t work, go & talk to them, but before you do, think about what you have that they want or need, what skills do you possess & what can you put on the table, cut a deal, if you have talent, time permitted, they may want to work with you.

Work experience is a great way to get yourself in the front door & learn from people within the industry, you will learn more in 2 months on the job that any college course can provide in a year. Work experience is what you make it; yes a label may have you entering meta data into their IT systems, which anyone can do, but don’t go home, when it’s 5pm, be the first in the office and stay behind, listen, ask questions, jump on any opportunities, if something comes up like an event go 100% to everything you can and talk to people, make connections, it doesn’t matter how much talent you have, you still need to network & build your contacts.

Know your market place!

Music is a product; products have a market place, which is why they sell, no market place, no product is required, simple.

Markets are broken down by geographical location & demographics, eg. people, sex, age, musical preference, style & genre of music. There are niche markets & global markets. From a music perspective, you have what’s called cross over records, where from time to time, a record will appeal to a mass audience, but spawned from a niche market, some people call this selling out, I call it, getting rewarded by a lot of people who appreciate your music, there’s nothing wrong with being popular, not everyone can start & create a movement, like rock n roll, punk, disco, hip hop etc, if it happens great, don’t try, it will happen if it’s meant to be.

Let’s look at some market examples, One Direction.

They have mass appeal because they record and perform pop records to the largest buying market in the world, which is the female teenage market place, they are good looking & very marketable in that respect, they can sing, yes they can sing very well actually & are good performers, listen they aren’t my cup of tea, but that’s doesn’t mean you have to slag them off. They are manufactured, so what, so were The Jackson 5, The Monkeys, Take That many other number of bands that were manufactured, you don’t have to go the Coldplay route and all be mates at University and be lucky enough to write incredible songs together.

1D have a massive team working round the clock on their image, media, A&R, management, styling, production, the list is endless. When you’re selling that volume of product, you need a big team, to keep the train on the tracks & protect your position in the market place, it’s the same thing that big brand’s do in business, they protect themselves as a market leader. Like Tom Jones, Harry Styles appeals to middle aged mums as well as the teen market, the guys have sex appeal and sex appeal sells regardless of whether you agree with it or not, its fact.

Let’s look at another example, Jamiroquai, started out as a soul funk solo artist & signed to Sony in the early 90’s. Sony spend a small fortune breaking Jay Kay through the dance market & radio with early remixes from Masters at Work & David Morales, we are talking circa $25,000 a single remix, not small change for anyone, but it paid off and created one the most ironic songs of the 90’s with David’s remix of ‘Space Cowboy’.  Jamiroquai & his songs have the ability to appeal to both mainstream audiences, radio & the “cool” crowd. Striking this balance in the market place is one of the hardest things to achieve and it’s not just down to just luck either.

Ask yourself a question, why do you think Rihanna, Nicki Minaj, Usher, Chris Brown & all those American Pop / R&B acts turned and started working with European producers like Calvin Harris, Benny Benassi & Mr. David Guetta?

One very good reason, is that their production has global mass appeal & they make cross over records, blending the balance between great pop songs, top lines & music production, that works on multiple levels, radio, TV & on the dance floor.

So what’s the common denominator of all this?

There are several, but the biggest one for me, it is about surrounding yourself with talented people. Collaborations with the right producers & artists, working with the right musicians, singers, whatever your project needs, don’t think of yourself as a one man band; bring the talent to your project.

Mike Oldfield for example, is multi talented & can play most instruments; he also had Richard Branson to launch his career, not something that happens every day. So start thinking smart and work with the right people.

Ok, so another reality check, Calvin Harris is unlikely to want to work with you, even if you are sleeping with this manager at Three Six Zero, it isn’t going to happen! But you can work towards it if that’s your goal.

I quickly want to explain about “Brand Association” as for any business, in music it’s important to associate yourself with successful people & companies, that’s what brand’s do especially on their way up the ladder. In music, working with the right people, brings attention to your project, if you pull up outside a shop on the high street in an Aston Martin, people will assume you are successful, you probably are, but did daddy give you the money or did you earn it yourself, frankly it doesn’t matter, the perception is you’re a winner and people naturally lean towards successful people, its human instinct.

I recommend you read a book called “Rework” by the 37 signals guys, it’s a great easy read, by the way I didn’t write it, I wish I had, it’s a best seller, I’m not on commission either. I’m dyslectic myself and found it very transferable to read and apply to my business & my own goals in life so do check it out.

Back to Music, how do I get to work with amazing people?

In the modern age of the industry, you have to be your own A&R person, you have to manage yourself & you have to take care of business first. I am going to assume you have no management, or a label to guide you, so again, turn to the internet & start reading, and then start networking. Cold calling is very much hit and miss, but an introduction is worth its weight in gold, so you have to get out there and get in the mix with people. Network events, artist showcases, LinkedIn, Music Organizations are all great starting points to get you connected to industry people; however that’s not normally enough & is time consuming.

Without plugging my own stuff too much, I have draw on my experiences in the industry and actually addressed this by creating a business platform called Music Gateway www.musicgateway.com I’m not going to plug it any more than saying “I think you will benefit”, that’s all.

You are a BUSINESS!

We have already established that music is a Product and you as an individual you’re a business, unless you already work for a company, you are a business 100%, let me explain.

Part time or full time you’re making music and therefore you are making a product that can & ideally should sell. You should now understand your market place, the way the industry works, reading online resource is essential, read, read, then read some more, knowledge is key and the most powerful tool in your armory.

Write a plan & be organized.

If you were setting up a coffee shop in your local town centre, you would do a business plan, create a forecast & work out your budgets. Doing your market research is essential & checking the competition too.  You would then speak to the bank, and assess the risks & if it was the right thing to make your moves. So why should the music industry be any different?

Smart & successful people balance the need to be creative & passionate, with the knowledge of making the right moves at the right time; investing your resource & money into music you believe in, always trust your gut instinct. Don’t hesitate, you will lose, get out there and go for it, what have you got to lose after all?

Be resourceful, regardless of your goals, get a team round you, friends, family, people you know, in fact people you don’t know, advertise online & explain what you need and why you are doing it, people will work with you for free, if they share your values and goals. Trust me, I’ve done this so many times before myself, it works 100%. If you don’t ask you don’t get, it’s that simple. Having said this, look after people and be loyal, if they help you get where you want to go, take them with you & if you can support them with their own goals, do it. Your time is more valuable than any amount of money, money is pretty endless & hollow, time is short, on average you only have 71.6 years unless you live in Sweden where you have about 83 years, it’s something to do with air they breathe apparently 😉 so time to get busy!

Lose the boyfriend or girlfriend, I’m serious, f&*^ them off!

In my mind, no one should get settled down until they are in there thirty’s; you have plenty of time for kids, families and holidays to the Costa del Sol. If you are serious about your career, you don’t need distractions; ok it may sound a little extreme, but unless you have a very understanding partner, especially when you’re an independent artist, producer or a musician. If they hinder your progress, get rid, if they are happy and support you, then fine happy days.

Confidence & grow some balls!

It’s easy to say I know, but you must be confident, believe in yourself and your ability, with a large slice of reality pie.

Don’t send out emails and give up if you don’t get any replies, get off your backside and present yourself to that label, that management company, that publisher. Sell yourself, by doing that, you’re showing them you have balls, male or female. In their eyes and any employers eye’s what makes you stand out from the 100’s or thousands of people, demos and emails they receive week in week out? Put yourself in their position and think about what would make your ears pick up? More importantly do something about it, take action, turn off the TV and get out there.

In Summary

No one can wave a magic wand, not me, not anyone. You have to do it for yourself, sure, people can help you, that’s why I woke up this morning and this article popped into my head, I did something about it. I sit on my sofa with a cup of tea as my fuel tank and wrote this for you. I shared what I know at a given moment, some will disagree, that’s fine, I hope some of you will listen and take my some of my advice, its free after all, no lives were lost writing this article and I didn’t test it on some lab rat.

My final thought. Grow some & get out there!

Words by Jon Skinner CEO & Founder – Music gateway

www.musicgateway.com



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