In the information age in which we live, falsehoods, myths, and misnomers about today's music business are prevalent. But if you want to get ahead and achieve your goals, you better focus on the realities of the business. Here are five universal truths that all musicians should understand.
1. If you don't DIY, you die
Music industry professionals (managers, agents, labels, publishers, and more) are attracted to musicians who take initiative and accomplish a great deal on their own first. Given the numerous tools available today for artists to promote their music, there's simply no excuse for bands, solo artists, and songwriters not to build a story about their careers and generate a small buzz. Remember that no one is going to come save you and whisk you from your garage to superstardom, no matter how special you may think you are. If you want to get to that next level of your career, you have to roll up your sleeves and get to work. Attract the attention of those who can help you by first helping yourself.
2. There's a quicker path to wealth than a career in music
Don't be blinded by the media hype or glamour you see and hear in music videos, magazines, and news shows. The expensive houses, yachts, carefree attitudes, and overnight success stories are often spun to make it look like the music business is an easy path to the good times. The truth is that these "riches" that artists flaunt are often leased, loaned, advanced, or purchased via other businesses and investments just to look the part. Make no mistake: if you're in it for only the money, you'll likely have a quicker path to success by being a money manager or a stock broker. As a musician, it could a very long time before you start making a comfortable living in the music business. Thus, be sure that you're focused on the right things, like making quality music that you're both proud of and can help you cover your bills. The rest, as they say, is gravy.
3. What you learn is as important as what you earn
It blows me away how so many musicians are interested in what they're going to get paid before they even have any experience. They grumble about pre-selling tickets to their own shows, recording a song without getting paid, or playing another student's recital for free. But as I see it, experience is a form of payment. Remember, the more stripes you have on your belt, the more respect you'll get from more seasoned musicians and industry pros, and the greater chance you'll have to get paid fairly. So at least in the beginning of your career, it's not about what you earn, it's about what you learn.
4. Music is never free
You spend several years writing your songs, thousands of dollars recording your music, and several hundred dollars packaging your album for the marketplace. When all is said and done, you've spent thousands of dollars and hours of your precious time. So stop devaluing your music by giving it away for free! Rather, from now on, give your music away "at no cost to the customer" and build value for it. Tell people about the high-quality producers and musicians with whom you worked, the high-tech studio in which you recorded, and the time and love you put into making your record. This way, that CD or USB flash drive you hand out in front of your local club might actually get heard. Pursuing a career in music requires blood, sweat, and money. Nothing's for free, and you should make sure that people know it.
5. Contracts are meant to be negotiated
After years of hard work, the day will eventually come when contractual offers are presented to you. Congratulations! But don't be so quick to jump at every deal like it's a "take it or leave it" situation. First, you should never sign anything that you don’t understand or that you feel rushed or pressured to sign. Second, remember that most contracts are form agreements that are always drafted to favor the other party and are used as starting points for negotiations. That's right! Most companies (labels, production companies, etc.) expect that you're going to read, analyze, and ask for contract revisions. In fact, based on their desire to do business with you, and based on your strengths and accomplishments, many companies are prepared to make reasonable concessions. So slow down and remember this: In business (and that includes the music business), you never get what you deserve – you get what you negotiate for.
Bobby Borg is the author of Music Marketing for the DIY Musician: Creating and Executing a Plan of Attack on a Limited Budget (September 2014). Find the book on Hal Leonard's website under "Trade Books" or on Amazon. Signed copies with a special offer are also available at bobbyborg.com.