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Click to email ChrisThe Business of Music
by Christopher Knab 

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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 whoever.

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 CD's for?
  • Will radio play my Indy record?
  • 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 worthwhile?

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: chris@chrisknab.net

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 Christopher Knab.

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