Getting Started in the Music Business

This is a reply of mine to one of the many young people who ask me how to get started in the biz.

The first thing I want to say to all you young people out there who are sending e-mails to every producer, studio owner, and small (or big) record label on the net, is to not be so stupid! No one who is honest and legitimate in this business is going to sign you up to some deal just because you send them an e-mail. If you do get any positive responses, it will probably be from someone who will try to take advantage of you either sexually or financially. You need to be very careful! The internet is a great place for predators and scam artists to find naive young people who don’t know any better. You should be extremely cautious and very skeptical about any body who uses the old line “I’ll make you a star baby” or anything similar to that… especially if they ask you for money up front or try to come onto you in any way.

If you people are really serious about making a career in the music business, then get educated!! This is the hardest business in the world to make a living in, and it takes more work than you could ever imagine! You only see the what they want you to see on TV/Video, and it looks like it’s easy street! How can you expect to get anywhere in this business without a proper education on how the business works? Unless of course you want to be taken advantage of and end up having someone else take all the money for all your hard work. If you want to make it to the top, you need to be smarter and better than all the other millions of wannabees out there. You have to understand that this is a business and you need to prove to the big boys that you can make a lot of money for them. How can you do this? Here are my suggestions:

1. Before you run out and start telling everyone you are a great singer or rapper and trying to get the attention of people in the biz, make sure you are really ready! By this, I don’t mean being emotionally ready and claiming that you really really really want it… because nobody cares what you say, it’s what you do that counts. So, first, get yourself educated! Go to my Required Reading list page and get some books on the music biz and start studying. I highly recommend “Confessions Of A Record Producer, Donald Passman’s “All You Need To Know About The Music Business”, Tim Sweeney’s “Guide to releasing an independent record”, and Jeffrey Fisher’s “Ruthless Self-Promotion In the Music Industry”, just for starters. There are many other excellent books as well. Then stay in school and get involved in every type of musical program that you possibly can. Choir, Band, Orchestra, Musicals, everything and anything! The more you know about music (even if you just want to be a rapper) the better chance you’ll have of being a success. Convince your parents to enroll you in private lessons as well. Voice lessons and piano lessons are probably the best choices for anyone serious about a singing career. If you do really well with all these through junior high and high school, then maybe you can get into an advanced music school for college. Even if you can’t, I still recommend going to college and getting a degree in something that you can fall back on to make a living since only about 1 person out of every 10,000 who really tries will ever be able to make a decent living doing just music. While you’re in college, continue taking music classes. Learn music theory and continue with voice and instrument lessons and classes. The more you know about music, and the more talents you have, the more you’ll be able to do in the music business and the better chance you’ll have of being able to make a living at it in one way or another. Also, continue studying up on the business side of things and take some general business type classes at college as well. If you want to do this for a living, you need to treat it as a business and not just art.

2. Once you are educated on how things work in the business, and you have developed your skills as a singer or musician, then it’s time to put these skills to the test. Pretty much the only way to make it in the business these days is to do it yourself. No body else is going to do the work for you. You need to write some songs and put together the music (either yourself or by working with other musicians and forming a band), and put up the money to get a professional recording of your songs. You could just try to make a high quality demo of a few songs that you could use to “shop” around to record labels, managers, lawyers, etc… but, unless you already have strong connections with these people, that is simply not going to work anymore. Most of these people will NOT accept unsolicited material and it will go straight into the garbage can without the package even being opened. The real way to get noticed is to produce your own CD and then work your ass off to make things happen for yourself. Check out the Tim Sweeney book I recommended, which gives you step by step instructions on how to release and promote your own CD. If you work really hard at it and you can get to the point where you can sell out any show that you play in your region, and you can sell over 10,000 copies of your CD on your own (which can be done, I have a friend who sold over 25,000 copies of his first CD all by himself, in one year!), then you can start to draw the attention of the bigger record companies, because you have already proven that you are a marketable commodity, at least on a small level. However, if you can sell 20,000 or more copies on your own, you may think twice about signing with a major record label. Many artists are finding that doing it all on their own is a much more rewarding and satisfying way of being in the music biz. You remain in complete control, you get to keep most of the profits yourself, and your career won’t fizzle due to over exposure. With a major record label, they take control of everything (for new acts at least) and you won’t see any money (other than your advance) for at least a year or two, and probably won’t see any money at all unless you sell at least a few hundred thousand copies since you have to pay the record company back for every dime they spend on you before you see any royalty money at all.

All of this takes a lot of time, a hell of a lot of hard work, and a certain amount of money as well. Many musicians I know are working two different jobs just to raise enough money to put into promoting and marketing themselves in their quest to make it in the biz. It’s a very very tough life, and there is certainly no free ride out there. The only potential short cut I know of is for those people who are still fairly young and are blessed with the body of a model. If you are great looking, and have a decent voice, and can dance really well, then there may be some producers who are willing to put some time and money into developing another N’Sync or Britney clone group, and totally using you for an album or two until everyone is sick of you, and then totally discarding you and your career by the side of the road somewhere. Sure, if you make it big, you’ll get your brief time in the spotlight, but you’ll be working your ass off and you’ll be so overexposed that after everyone is sick of you, you’ll be finished and will have to find some other business to work in for the rest of your life. Do you really think any one is going to be interested in a 40 year old Britney or Christina? I seriously doubt it!

So… before you go chasing after that “dream”, be sure you know what it really takes to get there and what the reality of that situation is. It’s all manufactured to look great to the young kids on the outside looking in, but the reality of being in that position is something entirely different. If all you want is to make a lot of money and lead the “good life”… the music business is certainly NOT where you want to be. Likewise, if you just want to be famous, there are probably better ways to achieve that as well. If you want to be in the music business, then do it because you really love music! Don’t do it for money or fame, because chances are you’ll never make it to that level. Do it because you really love it more than anything else! If you really love making music, then those emotions will come through in all your performances and recordings and people WILL connect with that and will see that it is not just some manufactured BS designed to sell millions. The people who are great musicians/artists and who love making music are the ones that endure and can make a great career out of it (even if they never become famous). Remember, also, that there are many ways to make a good living in the music business without being a big pop superstar.

Also, remember, that what I’m writing here is just one person’s viewpoint from what I have seen and read and experienced. There are no rules in this business and no right or wrong paths to success. You have to make your own path and find what works for you.


© copyright 2005, DBAR Productions, LLC
This content may be downloaded for personal use only, and may not be reprinted in part or in whole in any form without the express written consent of Stephen Sherrard and DBAR Productions, LLC

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