In today’s episode, I’ll be talking about my most frequently asked question. “How can I make it in the music industry?” I get so many messages asking the same thing. I figured I should talk about it today in a podcast instead of sending a message using two thumbs.
I’m going to be pretty frank: there isn’t a definitive answer. Some of you might hear this question and think, “Oh, great, I’ve been waiting for this answer.” While some of you might be thinking, “That’s an impossible question. There’s no real answer.” And you’re right. There’s no real, single answer. And we can end the podcast right here. But that’s not satisfying, right?
So, what’s the solution for the folks that ask me this question? And what’s the upside for the non-believers? And by non-believers, there’s definitely a category of folks that argue you just can’t make it, because it’s impossible. But the truth is – making it in the music industry is definitely possible.
Before diving in, you’ll need to understand that by listening to the entirety of this podcast, you’re not going to magically turn into a successful musician. There’s no magic bullet on how it can happen. There’s no singular response, blog post or podcast episode that will be able to possibly summarize how you can get from where you are now to what you’re expecting. The truth is – it’s a long, challenging process. Successful musicians know this. But by by the end of this podcast episode, I hope that you realize that you can make it in the music industry. But in order to make it, you may need to take a shift in perspective in order to be able to succeed in the music industry. I’ll explain.
“Making it” these days isn’t a singular, linear path. Typically when I hear “make it in the music industry”, it’s in the context of the traditional music career path. You create music, or at least do covers, and you’re hoping to get discovered by a record label, get signed and make millions. But the truth is – this road is supremely narrow and almost impossible. But I do have good news for you.
You CAN still make it in the music industry. The truth is, though, you may not be making it quite like Taylor Swift, Adele, Ed Sheeran, Bruno Mars, or any big name artist that is known internationally. There are, however, a few very rare cases, like Chance the Rapper and The Civil Wars that make it pretty big without a major record label. But then there are artists that “make it” but on a completely different level.
What do I mean by that? Artists can thrive by being an independent musician and still make about $35K to over 6 or even 7 figures. If you were given the opportunity to create music at $100K a year, would you take it? Of course! What about $45K? For a lot of full-time students or even folks fresh out of college, that sounds like a great start!
Now, this doesn’t look like the glamorous lifestyle of celebrities we see. But if you’re in music because that’s what your goals are – you’ll need to find another career. Why? Because if you don’t have the passion, you won’t have the perseverance or desperation to want to keep pursuing what you truly love. And people that truly love music and truly love what they do will work hard for what they believe in. And if you’re only in it for the money, you need a serious reality check. Because that will not be enough to pursue a music career. So, before you even pursue a full-time music career, ask yourself, “why do I care about this so much? And what am I really pursuing here?”
Let’s get back to thriving as an independent musician in this changing music industry. And some of you might be thinking, “what changing music industry? Seems to same to me except less album sales.” And with that mentality, you might feel like it’s impossible to succeed.
The industry has shifted from something that was run primarily by major record labels. Now, it’s opening up more opportunities for smaller indie labels and independent musicians to succeed. I’ve already listed artists that have been making it independently. YouTube is another place where artists are able to monetize their craft and make a living from their music without a major record label. That’s just the abbreviated business side of the music industry shift. Music production used to be in large, expensive studios. Now, there’s equipment that allows you to record music on the go with mobile technology. Apogee is a brand that provides mobile audio interfaces so you can record on your iPad or even your iPhone. All of this new technology is opening up doors for musicians to now be able to create music from their home. Social media has made it easier to connect with people outside of your towns and into different countries. This means growing your fan base is a little more time and cost effective than traditional means of advertising and even touring. These are three major ways the music game has changed for independent musicians, and they’re huge opportunities.
So, what does this mean for you? This means you CAN make it in the music industry, but how you make it in the music industry will look different. You’re not “lowering your standards” of goals. Instead, you’re actually just carving yourself an opportunity based on where you are at now. And the best way to achieve your goals is one step at a time. This means you realistically won’t be a super star tomorrow. This probably won’t even mean next year. Those aren’t “steps”. That’s wishing upon a star and hoping for the best. True success is something that requires a lot of small meaningful steps each day until you reach your goals. Then, you make more goals.
By now, I hope you understand just a glimpse of how the music industry is changing and how you have an opportunity to succeed in your own hands. This means that you don’t need to bank on luck and a random viral moment to make it in the music industry. This also means that there is actually a framework and strategy to achieve your goals.
For a lot of the DIY musicians listening, you may not have any money to produce or advertise, but you always have to start somewhere. And with this day and age with new convenient recording technology and social media, so much is possible.
So, what kind of framework would you need? Because this is a bitesize podcast, I’ll keep this short, but I encourage you to keep investing in your learning. I do have more learning opportunities beyond this podcast, but I’ll mention them later after I finish explaining this framework.
This framework to help you succeed isn’t a magic pill or a get rich quick scheme. It requires a lot of hard work. I don’t think there’s any artist out there that can truly say what they do is easy. What you need to start with is first: define your niche, second build a fanbase with super fans; and finally monetize your craft.
These three things can be week long courses for each thing. So, I’ll give a brief explanation for everything.
1.) Define your niche.
A lot of artists don’t want to be in a bubble. But when you look at successful artists today, even the independent ones, they’re in specific niches. The reality is, you can’t be everything to everyone. And if you try to be, you’ll likely fail. So, understand your niche, do your research, and define your music. Once you’ve defined your music, understand the folks that love that niche. This will help you build your fanbase, which is the next part of this framework.
2.) Build a fanbase with super fans.
I can already hear people saying, “Duh” in the background. But I want to highlight the word “super fans”. Because a lot of musicians think building a fanbase includes growing your Facebook likes or buying followers for their Instagram. But those likes and followers hardly ever convert to buying and loyal fans. Building a fanbase with super fans is crucial to not only your continued word of mouth power but monetizing your fanbase. Building your super fans means understanding your niche well and the fans that love your niche. This way you know how to uniquely reach them through platforms they use, blogs they read, and content they like to consume.
3.) Monetize your craft.
Believe it or not, there is a camp of artists that like to think, “well, if you truly love what you do, you’d do it for free.” They might even scoff at musicians that try to earn a living with their music because it feels “less genuine”. But the truth is that they simply don’t know how to make money from their craft, and so they rationalize their efforts as “well I love it so much I’ll do it for free”. And unfortunately their insecurities downgrade the efforts of others. We live in a world where you do need to make money in order to survive, and tons of people make money from what they love – like nurses, doctors, lawyers fighting for justice, make-up artists, bakers, whatever. They all make money from what they love, so why not you?
So, how do you monetize your craft? How you do this will depend on your niche. You might do tours. But you might ditch tours all completely. You might rely on special, limited edition album sales with unique packages that include limited quantity merch. You might have a mixture of revenue streams including digital streams, fan clubs, seasonal merch, online gigs, etcetera.
That’s the micro-sized version of this framework that helps you make it in the music industry. In short, it’s a system that you create that you work at to help you get to your goals one step at a time. And it pains me to finish the podcast here, because there’s so much to talk about.
I hope to keep talking about this more, so make sure to stay tuned. Also, I plan on giving my exclusive free webinar that is more than a bitesize podcast and actually expands more on this fun topic. I hope to do this sometime at the end of the year, so being subscribed makes sure you’re in the loop for that.