So you wanna make it in the music biz? Here are the new rules

The music industry in general has been slow in playing catch up to the tools of new media. While record labels and publishers are still fighting to maintain ownership of their properties, there's a whole new world of new media elite who are working to find tools to empower musicians and to build a bridge between the new media and the old media.

Whether it's putting music online for free, working to build an online community, or simply starting a dialogue, the folks seeking out answers are quickly replacing the stagnant ways of old media.

I decided to check out the New Music Seminar in New York City this week to find out just how musicians are becoming empowered.

The mastermind behind the conference, Tom Silverman, founder of Tommy Boy Entertainment, started the New Music Seminar in 1980, to discuss the future of the business then.
He founded the conference to reach out to a industry that was historically resistant to change. It served as a forum for young entrepreneurs to launch their businesses and make connections, and it became a model for new conferences like South by Southwest.

Since 2000, music revenues have been steadily decreasing. By next year, for the first time ever, digital revenues are expected to exceed physical sales. By 2013, the breakdown will be 80% digital and 20% physical.

"Change will not come if we wait for a record company," said Silverman. "We are the ones we've been waiting for." The conference aims to teach artists how to make more money and less mistakes. Whether you want to be an artist, promoter, manager, or entrepreneur, here are the new rules to make it in the business:

  • The future is DIY. Learn how to use affordable tools, but remember it's not all about the tools. It's about your craft. Software won't solve all of your problems.
  • The best marketing is informed by art, not art that you try and inform. You can't create a viral video; that all depends on the audience. But you can create awareness.
  • If you're an artist, don't borrow money. You can only maintain creative control by maintaining financial control. The opposite applies if you're on the entrepreneurial side. Tim Westergren, founder of Pandora, maxed out a dozen credit cards and owed money to everyone he knew before getting his project off the ground. The best advice he ever received was from his wife: "Don't be self-conscious about being an entrepreneur."
  • There are a ton of places online to sell your music: Amazon, MySpace, iTunes, and TuneCore for starters. But don't underestimate the power of giving away your music for free. Lil Wayne gave his music away for over a year before releasing his album. He worked first to build a connection with his fanbase before asking for any money.
  • Fans are the new record label. The business now all depends on the relationship between an artist and their fans, most importantly the uber fans, the ones who buy all the merchandise, go to all the shows, and spread the word about their favorite bands.
  • The key to staying in touch with your fans is through e-mail, the most important data you'll ever collect. Have a sign-up sheet at every show. Have your audience text their e-mails to a road manager's cell at the end of every show and promise to personally stay in touch. Then you'll have both e-mails and area codes. Build an online community by blasting out webcasts, photoshoots, interviews, and even live streaming concerts.
  • Engage with fans in a meaningful way, nothing forced or fake. We the Kings launched a weekly webisode series, The Kings Carriage, that has collected over 300 million views. They sold 100,000 albums even before the music was on iTunes.
  • It's dangerous for an artist to spend time on things that aren't artistic. Build a management team to take care of the tools, marketing, and technology. If you're just starting out, enlist a college music lover to build your brand.
  • Sign any deal as long as it's short-term if it's going to get you noticed. Otherwise you're not going to be on the radar.
  • Start local, start tribal. The best band success stories come out of a music scene. The Internet has allowed for tribes to become bigger and bigger. Connect with similar bands doing similar music and go on tour with them. Build your own scene and work to break through together.

If you missed the New York seminar, there will be another conference this year in Chicago. Check out the Web site for details. And stay tuned to WalletPop for more on new music now.

Follow Ariston Anderson on Twitter here.

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Aaron Isles

Nice article. I agree with everything said here except the warning to artists not to spend time on anything but their art. I believe the tools have never been easier, the bar of entry has been lowered, and that managing your own marketing and online marketing is very powerful and empowering. I see it just as DIY as everything else you mentioned in the article, so why not be DIY and hands on with everything?

Sure, if you could find someone out there willing to take care of it for low pay it might be a good fit for an up and coming artist, but most beginning artists aren't making enough to afford someone who knows what they are doing.

I'm actually planning to release a PDF outlining the basics of online self promotion to help enable artists get their online promotions started the right way. It seems difficult at first, but once the steps are all laid out it isn't too hard. It just takes regular time to maintain it all. Since Youtube and social media are the new way to mobilize the fans and tribes you mentioned wouldn't it be best to let the artist have control over that aspect as well?

October 28 2012 at 10:24 AM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply
Nick Krautter

This is a great article. I used to teach music business at SFSU. I've written an article that touches on some other aspects of making it in the music business including distribution online.

January 21 2012 at 1:58 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply