Business of Music
by Christopher Knab
Back to The Academy
Anyone with a few
bucks can go into a recording studio and come out with enough material to release a CD on an unsuspecting world. And that is precisely the point. You've recorded a
record...so what? Everybody and their sister can rent studio time. Isn't there a bigger
question? What do you intend to do with it?
Making music and
making a living from your music are not the same thing. When it comes to getting your
music into the marketplace, you have entered the domain of Music Business Economics 101,
and the first lesson is:
The Supply of
Existing Marketable Music Is Greater Than Any Demand For New and Unknown Music.
You have to
make people aware of your music, and You have to create the demand for it, by
getting the attention of the various gatekeepers in the record business and in the media
who control the access areas for exposing new music (the record labels, distributors,
stores, and live venues, as well as radio, TV, and the print media). No one is sitting at
home waiting for you to release your music.
By saying all this, I
presume that the intention behind recording your music was the intention to get your music
in the hands of the record-buying public. Well, do you have the contacts and funds to
properly distribute, promote, publicize, and perform that music? So many artists and bands
go through the expense of recording and manufacturing their music only to find out they
didn't save any money for the marketing end of things.
There are two music
worlds. There is the world of pure music, which involves the creative side of things,
songwriting. rehearsing, and performing, and there is another world which must come into
play IF you truly want people to hear your music...the Music Business.
Even the utterance of
these words turns many people off. There is something potentially offensive about music
becoming a commodity. It smacks of 'sellout', or a betrayal of sorts. But I feel strongly
that there is a way to merge these two worlds, to not sell out, and to honor the way the
business of music is conducted.
For starters, keep
control of your music for as long as possible. Put out your own CD and dive
into the selling and promoting of it. So many people want to rush off and get an A&R
Rep from some record label to listen to their CD and make them the next Pearl Jam or
The point is that so
many bands these days talk about "getting signed", and I have even overheard
conversations to the effect that bands say they are forming in order to "get
signed" by some label. Musicians that are concerned about money before they even know
anything about the business of music are doomed to eternal unhappiness and frustration.
Talk about a cart coming before a horse.
Music should always
come first, followed close behind by simply asking oneself some simple music business
questions, such as:
- What is a copyright?
- What do publishers do?
- What happens when you
do sign with a record label?
- Why do labels pay the
royalties they do pay?
- What is a royalty?
These are good
beginning questions to ask when the urge to record and manufacture a record comes to mind.
But let's ask a few more questions that take a quick inventory of some considerations
about getting your music to the people. (By the way, I won't answer all these questions
for you in this particular article. My hopes are that by making you aware of some basic
issues you will take the initiative to learn as much as you can about the music business.)
If my attitude seems
to be one that the odds are against you, and so why even bother trying to make a living
from your music, you are getting the wrong idea. Through years of teaching musicians the
business of music, my only concern is to be honest about the odds. Once we know what it
really takes to compete in the music industry, we can at least look at the realities we
must face, and decide if we want to fight the good fight, or simply go back to having our
music be an enjoyable hobby. To help you get a feel for what all must be done, let's keep
asking a few more questions.
So here we go:
- How should the artwork
for the CD be designed?
- What information should
be on the product?
- Should I sell my music
at live shows?
- Should I consign my
CD's to local stores?
- What do Distributors
want from me in order to carry my music?
- What price do I sell my
- Will radio play my Indy
- How does commercial
radio choose what it plays?
- What newspapers,
magazines, music trades and fanzines might review my music?
- What clubs and other
live venues might I play in?
I could go on, but I
think you get the point. After 25+ years of supporting independent music and musicians, my
closets are full of 'wanna-be' demos, records, and CD's. I know that much of the music on
those records etc. is good music, but that's just the point...GOOD has very little to do
with anything when it comes to the music marketplace. GOOD is taken for granted. Why else
would anyone go into a studio to record, if they didn't believe their music was
Think about the
questions I brought up. You cared enough about your music to record it, so don't stop
there. Protect it and prepare it for the marketplace in a way that is comfortable to you.
Christopher Knab is an independent music business consultant based in Seattle, Washington. He
is available for private consultations on promoting and marketing independent music, and can be reached by email at: firstname.lastname@example.org
Chris Knab's book, 'Music Is Your Business'
is available from the Music Biz Academy bookstore.
Visit the FourFront Media and
Music website for more information on the business of music from