Your Music Career,
One Step at a Time
Article by David Nevue
The Music Biz
Academy - Oct. 27th, 2002
Back to Internet Music Promotion 101
It's not that difficult to figure out what and when to write a new article on a particular topic. Usually, I'm
prompted to do it when two or three visitors to the Music Biz Academy ask a similar question. Sometimes it's just
easier to put my thoughts down in an article for everyone's benefit. Such is the case with this article.
How to you begin planning for a serious career in the music business? What are the steps you need to take to 'make
Before answering the question, let me share with you some of my own thoughts on the business. First, a lot of musicians
are looking to be signed by a major record label (duh!). You, the reader of this article, may yourself have aspirations
of Ďmaking it big.í However, if there is one thing that Iíve learned over the years, itís that these days record
labels arenít looking for fly-by-night musicians they can turn into stars.
What 'Labels' Are Looking For
What they are
looking for are musicians that are already doing the work. They are looking for artists that have proven they can
create a huge fan base, sell thousands of CDs and sell out shows all on their own. They are searching for musicians
who are already Ďstarsí in their own region. What Iím saying, in a round-about way, is this; if you want to Ďmake
it bigí and get signed to a major label, the best way to do that is to forget about being signed to a major label
and do the work yourself. Get out there, play your music, build your fan base, and sell CDs. Your goal should not
be to Ďget signedí, but to bring yourself to a point to where you donít really need the backing of a record label
anymore. Once youíve reached this point, and you have a marketable name and product, then you might find some A&R
people knocking on your door. Maybe.
My intent with these comments isnít to discourage you, but to empower you. You really donít need a major label deal to have a successful music career.
If you are seeking only fame,
then yes, you need the backing of big money. But, if youíre just wanting to do music full time and be the quintessential
artist (as I now do), thatís something you can do all on your own. But it takes a lot of hard work.
Planning Your Music Career
Now to the topic of this article. In regards to planning your career, you need to treat it (your career) just like
a business. That means, you need to think about where you are now, and plot out where you want to be a year from
now, two years from now, and then five years from now. You might even break this down, plotting your 'life' out
in six month increments, giving yourself small goals to aim for. That way as you progress you can see how well
you are doing on achieving your goals.
Here are some steps you'll need to take if you're serious about your business. This is intended to be a very high-level
summary overview. For a more detailed look at some of these points, please see Chris Knab's excellent three-part
guide to Career Planning, which I have summarized (and added my own thoughts to) below.
1) Write the Business Plan
It's just something you gotta do. If you don't plan and just take each day as it comes, improvising along the way,
well, sometimes the 'day' you're dreaming for never comes. Take control of your future, and sit down and put together
a business plan. Peter Spellman has a great article on this topic which includes a music business plan template
called Writing a Music Business Plan That Works.
2) A Band Agreement
Put together a band agreement covering such issues as copyright ownership, sharing of profit (and loss), the band
name (who owns it), rules around hiring and firing members, who pays expenses, what rights ex-members have, and
whether you are going to operate as a solo proprietorship, partnership or corporation. Once you've decided on the
latter, register your business name with your state government (you can usually get the forms from your bank) and
you can open up a checking account.
3) Publicity Photos
Find a professional photographer with experience in the music industry to create some publicity shots. You will
also need to determine (in your band contract) who in the band owns those photos and the negatives. Whatever you
do, don't use cheesy K-Mart photos for your press kit! You're not posing for your high school yearbook here. Hire
a pro to make your image one worth marketing.
4) Local Gigs
Local shows will likely be your first source of income. You'll need to put together a 45-60 minute set of music.
Once you have that, contact and start sending your press kit to local venues and follow up with them via telephone
and in person. Write out a written performance agreement that both you (representing the band) and the venue will
sign. Get all the details on paper so everyone's expectations are set, and then sit down and go over each point
with the hiring manager.
5) Make Your Own CD
When you start booking shows, consider recording a CD to be sold during your shows, distributed to local and regional
record stores, and marketed via mail order, your fan mailing list, and via the Internet. Research local studios,
find which studios are popular with other local bands, and interview bands who have already released a CD about
their experience. Learn from their mistakes, and ask them what they would do different if they could start all
6) Local Radio Promotion
Which local radio stations support independent music? Start by calling college and university stations in your
region. Ask for a program schedule and find out where your style of music would fit in. College radio is where
you are going to build your following. Most 'commercial' stations have no say over what they play and aren't going
to be able to offer you much in the way of radio support. Kenny Love has written an excellent article which includes
some tips on promoting to college radio called Greed: The Diarrhea of the Music Industry.
7) Tell a Story / Benefit Concerts
To create a sensation you need a story. Why should people, who have never heard of your music, care about you or
your music? Find a story, something unique about your music, something you can stand up for and use that to promote
yourself to the local press. You might get involved in a local cause, support a benefit, or find a community service/event
you can team up with. Read your local news, figure out what your community is emotional about right now, and find a way to get your
8) Maximize the Internet
Use the Internet as a tool to enlarge your fan base, both locally and abroad. This is a huge topic. Let me recommend
my book, How
to Promote Your Music Successfully on the Internet, considered
by many to be the essential guide to web promotion for musicians. Also see my other articles
dealing more specifically with online promotion.
9) Booking Agent
You don't need an agent to help you book your local and regional shows. That's something you can do all by yourself.
However, if you decide to tour nationally at any point, you'll want the help of an established agent. How do you
know when to get a booking agent? If you create enough buzz locally and are selling out venues, they will come
to you. But don't think touring is all fun and games. Check out this prototype tour schedule
to get an idea of the kind of grueling hours you can expect to put in.
10) Research Publishing Companies
Signing with a publisher has a lot of benefits; they can promote your songs, shop demos, issue and negotiate contracts
for you and much more. But, as a result of signing you also lose a big part of your copyright. For questions about
publishing, let me recommend viewing Nancy Reese's excellent Copyright & Publishing Q&A Column.
11) Join a Performance Rights Organization
Performance Rights Organizations (ASCAP, BMI, SESAC) collect royalties. If someone plays your music on the radio
or uses it in film or television, it's the users responsibility to report that to your P.R.O., who distributes
your income generated from mechanical and performance royalties.. Decide on one and sign up.
12) Get an Entertainment Attorney
Eventually, you'll want someone to look over your contracts that knows how to protect your long-term interests.
Don't enter into any major agreement without counsel. See this great article from Entertainment
Attorney, Bart Day.
13) Educate Yourself
Learn everything you can about the music business. Understand how it works from the inside out. There are a ton
of articles here at The
Academy to help you get a grip on the realities of this business.
Read them, absorb them, know your business. Music is Your Business
by Chris Knab, is an excellent resource.
14) Work, Work, Work.
Now you're starting to get the picture. It's hard work, and this is just the beginning. With everything there is
to do, you can see the importance of sitting down and plotting out your strategy on paper. The music business really
isn't just for anyone. Playing music for fun? Sure, anyone can do that, but to make it your business? Well, it's
a long, hard road, full of unexpected twists, turns, and hair-pulling frustration. But, if you can endure, if you
can persevere, if you can work and not grow weary, if you're both obsessed and talented, well, you might have a
Again, for more details on planning your music career, let me recommend Chris Knab's three-part article
which goes into more detail of some of the things covered here.. Also a must-read, is Kenny Love's article, Are
You Really Ready?
is the founder of The
Music Biz Academy. He is also a professional pianist,
recording artist, full-time Internet musician, and author of the book, "How to Promote Your Music Successfully on the Internet."
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