The current music industry is completely different to the music industry of the past. Gone are the days when a musician could rely solely on performing for their income. Gone are the glorious days when super star performers could indulge in the glamour of rock stardom, whilst managers looked after their day to day business activities. In today’s industry, in order to achieve financial reward and a somewhat stable career, a musician must be versatile and wear numerous hats. To have a chance at success in today’s music industry, alongside being a competent performer, it is also necessary for musicians to be a competent songwriter, manager, booking agent, sound engineer, and teacher. There are always exceptions to the rule, however, as the music industry landscape is forever changing, being a multi skilled and business savvy musician has never been more important for success.
Modern technology and the power of computing systems has allowed musicians to create and record high quality audio material on a relatively small budget, as all one needs is a computer with a few select instruments. This has empowered a whole new generation of bedroom producers, and amateur musicians into having the means to create albums. What is even more exciting is that the rise of the World Wide Web has allowed all musicians, amateur and professionals alike to have access to a potential worldwide audience at the click of a mouse. This greatly contrasts to the fortune musicians in the past would be required to spend in achieving a recording of professional quality. The great resources and costs involved in recording in the past meant that only professional musicians with label backing had access to world class facilities to create albums of commercial quality.
Although modern technology has given all musicians the tools to record music of professional sound quality, the low cost of admission has greatly contributed to oversaturation of the market, and has greatly diluted the quality of music available. The internet is also one of the main reasons why the industry in monetary terms is struggling. Instead of going out and buying tickets to see your favourite band, punters can now watch live shows of bands on YouTube for free, and indulge till their heart is content in the comfort of their own home. Music streaming sites such as Spotify, and illegal downloading is another reason the recording industry is on a downward spiral, and as such, revenue through recorded material has decreased exponentially. Rather than whining on about why the music industry is struggling, we need to focus on what artists and musicians can do to make a successful career in today’s industry.
The modern music industry is seeing a resurgence in live music as it is one aspect of the industry that still gives financial reward in ticket prices and merchandise sales. To have a competitive edge over other artists, it is obvious that you must have the ability to write well written and captivating songs which resonate with an audience, and obviously play them well. All the fireworks, acrobatics and antics on stage will not hide a poorly written and performed song. Artists must also develop their stage craft to be exciting, interesting, and most of all engaging. Musical talent, style, image, stage presence etc are all qualities that must be developed and combined to entertain and keep an audience engaged.
Along with being at the top of your game when performing and writing songs, you must also have some knowhow with technology. Recording songs, uploading clips to YouTube, advertising through social media, emailing venues, creating your website, designing posters, cover art etc, can all be done with home computers and smart phones. With today’s music revenues so tight, a d.i.y approach is the smart approach in keeping your expenditures low, creating more budget for where it matters most.
For most career musician, it is also important to be able to record your music yourself. A day in the studio can cost anywhere from $200 – $2000 depending on the studio. Now with the help of recording software, recording can be cheap, portable and relatively easy while still producing a high quality recording. If you know your way around recording software and have the money to buy some select pieces of equipment, there is no reason why you can’t produce music that is of radio quality. For most musicians, a good demo to send to venues or a live performance uploaded to YouTube is all you need.
Stories of many successful musicians being financially screwed by greedy managers and labels are plentiful. Since the music industry cash cow has diminished somewhat over the years…. Thankfully the greedy corporate types have finally moved on to other industries hoping to receive some kind of lottery payout. This has left musicians in a great predicament to manager their own careers and become masters of their own musical destiny. Make no mistake; running a successful band is just like running a business. Money comes in and money goes out, decisions must be made, bills have to be paid! A band manager must organise dates for gigs, email radio stations and liaise with venues and labels. These tasks must be accomplished all whilst you work hard in building your fan base and try to keep them engaged.
The internet has also helped bands in reaching more fans than ever. Social media has become the biggest vehicle for band promotion as sites such as Facebook, Twitter and Instagram have a huge following, can be effective in informing fans of band news, and best of all is inexpensive.
Gigs cannot be organised by simply emailing or cold calling many different venues, in the hope that they will give your band a go. I assure you know amount of sweet talk will ever persuade an event manager of a venue into giving you a shot, as they need the assurance that booking any potential act will result in a prolific and profitable exercise for the venue. Venues expect each act to attract a healthy crowd, and each act has the responsibility to market the event and bring as many fans as possible. If your act struggles to attract a crowd, you can guarantee that no matter how well you played, you won’t be asked to perform anytime soon at that venue. Likewise, if you attract a great crowd that spends big on extras the venue provides such as drinks, food and slot machines… the venue will most definitely be jumping at the opportunity to book your act for more shows.
Having a physical and digital press kit that highlights the gigs you have played, who you are (short bio), what you sound like (both live and studio recording), what songs you play (set lists), and what you look like will help venues decide if you are a suitable act. Many venues will operate though a professional events manager or booking agent which you need to get in contact with and present your press kit.
For most musicians, income from performances, downloads, CD sales, merchandise sales and royalties are not consistent enough to survive. Many musicians enjoy passing on their musical knowledge to others, and teaching music may become a viable means to earn some money consistently. This can be a rewarding and enjoyable option which allows you to continue working within the music industry, rather than seeking a “day job” in another industry.
As you can see, in order to build a successful music career that has longevity, it is most important to equip yourself with as many skills as possible. Modern musicians may need to wear multiple hats and become a jack of all musical trades in order to sustain a meaningful career. If you are a realist and recognise that the music industry isn’t the glamorous rock star fantasy, and that ‘making it’ requires hard work and dedication fulfilling multiple roles…. Then you are well on your way to having a successful career in today’s music industry.
Written by Ben Corby & Darko Zoric
JumboNote Music School – Sydney