DEV Community

John Smith
John Smith

Posted on

15 things you MUST do to succeed in the music industry

I'm not especially famous (by most people's standards) and I'm not rich (by Wall Street); I'm just a guy who's done pretty much everything in the music business with some big hits, and some even bigger flops!

That's pretty much how we all are: I'm part of the approximately 98% of musicians, producers and other music professionals who didn't just get up one morning and put on their celebrity pants buy.

Yes, we exist! In fact, we are the majority plays for sound cloud. Sure, I can brag about my record sales and the wonderful albums I've produced, but the truth is that I try and struggle like most musicians.

I've sold close to two million records, but no one would recognize me, and most of those royalties are gone. I also owned and ran a label with a roster of 75 artists that died in the 2008 recession with the closing of record stores.

Basically… I'm the perfect guy to write this article. I'm a music industry survivor, and I'm still at it!

Not only am I still doing it, but surprisingly, I'm still extremely optimistic and still looking for new successes from what I've learned. So, pessimism aside, here are my top 15 tips for success in today's music business.


In this section, we will talk about tips to help you play your particular game in music.

**1. Be optimistic at all times
**It is the only true survival tool you possess and can control. If you start with eternal optimism you will be more resistant against the abandonment you might begin to feel,

Trust me, this will be put to the test!

Try not to take things personally, the barrier to entry into the music business is incredibly high.

Approximately 80,000 albums are released each year, of which Billboard and other associated charts list about 200. This means that 0.25% of the total releases each year move enough to appear on the radar.

Do you still feel optimistic? Keep reading…

**2. Focus on excellence and pursue it in your craft
**It all starts with the music you listen to. Sometimes society can lead us to lower our expectations by convincing ourselves that mediocrity is acceptable. Excellence is within our reach, it simply needs to be understood and observed.

Study thoroughly with music teachers who are proficient in music theory and music appreciation. Study those who are successful in music and what they have done.

Listen to everything, no matter the genre, and try to see the beauty in everything that is music, beyond your personal preferences.

The foundation you have laid with your acceptance and understanding of these basic principles will define who you are going to be in your own musical career.

**3. Choose well who advises you
**People tend to seek advice from those who have had unusual success. It is a natural human tendency to do this.

But remember, the best advice always comes from those who have failed and are painfully aware of their mistakes.

**4. Create a group of professional peers to act as advisors to your music.
**Friends and family are great, but they are often too biased to give you proper advice when it comes to your music.

Music professionals tend to give more productive advice and can set more realistic goals and expectations for you.

Remember: your grandmother will like everything you do, no matter what it is, so don't take her advice too seriously!

**5. Know that no one just woke up one day and put on a celebrity suit.
**The path to success in the music business is never straight. By the time an artist becomes established in the minds of the general public, there is already a story to tell about how and when everything happened.

Unfortunately, most of your new fans will never experience that part of your journey. The illusion, for the general public, is that one day you woke up, wrote a song and put on your famous suit.

Don't let the difficult and twisty part of your path to success make you self-conscious, it's totally normal!


This section is about the business of making music, and making sure you get paid for it.

**6. Understand well what are the most important sources of income in the music business
**These three fundamental sources of income in the music industry include a lot of sub-topics, but it is important that you understand how you can make money from these three basic resources.

Touring: Going on tour and playing live is self-explanatory. Festivals are now at their all-time high. It's about bringing fans to your shows and having promoters want you on stage.

Publishing Rights: Composing and recording original music guarantees that you own both the phonographic and performance/mechanical rights, giving you the ability to publish and control your work.

Branding: Branding requires that your image and presence (your logos, who you are and what you represent) are clear and in line with similar products that expand your musical mission.

I highly recommend reading This Business of Music, currently in its tenth edition, as a reference guide for the future of your business.

**7. Make your brand a company
**At first you will most likely be dropping money at every step, so be smart with your treasury and your expenses!

One way to do this is to legalize yourself as a company, so you can receive tax deductions and manage your treasury and expenses properly. It also protects you as an individual and makes you more effective in financial growth.

Frankly, it's not that difficult. You just have to go to and pay the US$500 to start your own company (LLC or whatever structure suits you best)

**8. Learn how to produce your music
**I have constantly given this advice, from the beginning, and the result is always the same. Those who learn how to produce their own music have a much better chance of success. Not only does it make you know your craft better, but your sound is more authentic.

Yes, there is a learning curve. Yes, it will take some time and money.

But if you are serious and passionate about your music, this can be an amazing experience for you. Today the equipment is accessible and affordable and you can set it up in your parents' closet, if necessary.

Get going and make the most of it! Your recorded music is the calling card for your art, so start producing today.

**9. Register your works
**If you compose and record your own music you need to have a clear understanding of what rights management entities are and how they collect money for you!

In the US you mainly have ASCAP and BMI (which do the same thing, so you have to register with only one of them) and also Sound Exchange.

These societies track the performance of your works (e.g. whether your song is played on the radio, TV, in a movie, etc.) and pay you – as a composer and/or editor/administrator – based on how you performed. registered these works in the management company.

If you are the sole composer of a work then you will receive the full share of the composition income. If you are also the administrator/editor (you are if your works are original and you publish them yourself) you will also receive the full share of the publishing income. So sign up as a composer and editor!

Yes, this requires some research, but it's important that you do the work - this is money made while you sleep!

So, if you haven't already, you should contact ASCAP, BMI, and Sound Exchange. Registering works is easy, it will take you less than ten minutes.

**10. Understand what Copyright is
**Copyright is a process used to protect your works from theft. The United States Copyright Office offers a verified method that is universally used to recognize protected works.

However, these days, recording dates on computers (on which the work was created) or using your original publishing information, as well as mailing yourself postmarked copies, can all count as proof of authorship.

Contrary to what people believe, deliberate infringement of copyright in music is very rare. Many times the error occurs because we all emulate what we have heard during our lives.

Furthermore, deciding to blatantly plagiarize music does not benefit your career in the eyes of your peers.

**11. Distribute your music effectively
**Music distribution used to be something reserved for artists on major labels. This is not like that!

There are many distributors, large and small, currently operating in the music and media business.

Some are difficult to work with. However, companies like CD Baby are within reach and offer emerging artists a way to get their music to stores like iTunes, Amazon, Spotify, and many more.

Music streaming platforms are now an integral part of how people listen to your music, so make sure you're well represented on sites like Apple Music, Spotify, and Pandora for streaming services.

Also make yourself visible on apps like Shazam, it's an extremely effective way for fans to locate your music without even knowing your name or the song.

**12. Focus on social media
**This is a topic that rarely needs much discussion, since everyone is a social media professional these days. However, it's important to separate your personal social networks from your professional ones, even if they appear to be the same.

Make your social media platforms build fan loyalty and represent your brand well.

You don't always have to post about your music. Talk about topics related to the music industry, your favorite artists, and also things you appreciate as an artist!

Social media is a lot of work and, for most professional musicians, can consume many hours a day. Try using tools that cover all social platforms at the same time or publish posts throughout the day.

Having a social media proficient person on your team will soon become a priority for you.

**13. Create a great team
**This takes time and can be an ongoing task. However, you can't do all this alone.

If you look closely at the most successful music careers, you will see that it is the team that creates success, not the individual or band alone. Labels, managers, booking agents, publicists and social networks all intervene creating a perfectly oiled team.

Recognize talent in others and keep them by your side. It's about surrounding yourself with talented and highly motivated people, who believe in you and provide resources.

Yes, recruiting the right team members is a difficult task. However, Rome wasn't built in a day, and consistency is part of your appeal to influential team members.


You're already successful, now you have to keep it up! Use these tips to continue developing your career in music.

**14. Be constant
**There is a phrase I often use related to success in the music business: “If you play golf in a lightning storm long enough, you will eventually get struck by lightning.”

This basically means that you must stay in the race, without deviating, and have faith that eventually the hard work will pay off. This also works for artists who have already known success.

Sooner or later, every artist must redefine their path forward. As in most businesses, every five years you should take stock of where you are in your career and plan the next five years with your team.

**15. Do not bite the hand that feeds you
**Musical artists, including myself when I was younger, can have a selfish view of their music and character when they have some success.

We often think that the success we enjoy is the result of “my music,” “my hard work,” “my talent,” etc., and we make unusual demands on labels and our teams.

This does not bring anything positive. Being a diva never results in long-term success, it simply results in having a bad reputation.

Top comments (0)