If you're going to succeed in this music business, you need to understand exactly what you're getting into. This lesson is not as much a lesson as it is a warning. For years folks have been asking for my advice on how to get started in the music business. It didn't matter if it was the kid of my wife's best friend, somebody sitting next to me on an airplane, the taxi driver on the way to the gig or one of my golfing buddies who just met this singer, Ren, you've got to hear.
Everybody wants to get in the music business and why not, it's sexy, it's cool, it's fun, if you win big in the music business you can make millions of dollars and become rich and famous. And so when those folks ask for my advice, in most cases I would meet with them, I'd listen to what they had to say, I'd hear what their dreams were and then I'd try to talk them right out of it. I'm not looking to scare you folks, I'm not trying to be a vibe-killer or a wiseguy but I'm looking to prepare you for the reality of what you're about to sign up for.
This music business is really tough. The odds of success are overwhelmingly stacked against you, you've got a better shot of winning the lottery, getting hit by a lightning bolt and living through it or running across a crowded freeway at rush hour and not getting hit. We all know what huge success in the music business looks like but it's been my experience is that there is no middle ground, you're either somewhere, read rich and famous, or nowhere, making very little money, struggling to make ends meet while you shoot for the gold.
This music business is wildly unpredictable. While more traditional businesses assemble parts into products in big factories or technology campuses in a very specific and logical way, in the music business our product factories are artists and they're made of flesh and blood. Those artists and their creations are inherently emotional rather than logical. Songs are built around feel rather than a specific process or set of instructions. In the music business we're not assembling cars or building smartphones or getting a law degree or going to medical school where the process guarantees a predictable result.
We're making art and music and that my friends is a much, much different animal. So what makes sense in a traditional business sense may not make sense at all in the music business. So if you're one of those folks that are looking for a checklist of all the things you need to do to be successful in the music business, you won't find it here. What worked for me in my career might not work for you. A strategy or plan that works today might not work tomorrow.
Where getting a degree in finance or law or in a trade might help you get jobs in those fields, a degree in the music business won't guarantee you anything. Part of your education will be for you to figure out what works for you and do more of it, and figure out what's not working and stop doing it immediately. Consumer tastes in this music business are fickle and change every minute. Building a real career in the music business happens over time and that means you'll need to get a lot of things right over and over again for a very, very long time.
There have been a lot more one-hit wonders out there like Psy than there have been long and successful careers like Neil Young. Anybody can get lucky for a minute, you've got to be great to do it for years. This record selling side of the business is going through radical changes as well. Album sales have crashed and it's had a huge impact on the record labels and their ability to sign and promote artists. They're taking less shots than ever, playing it safer than ever. Where the business used to be all about selling albums, now it's all about selling singles and downloads and streams, and those revenue streams are not nearly as profitable or predictable.
In today's business standing out from the crowd is more difficult than ever. Technology and the internet have made it possible for more artists to make music, to distribute music and to promote it, and while that is awesome for artists in general, it also creates a huge challenge for artists to be heard amongst all that traffic. Here's your takeaway. If you want to be successful in the music business you've got to know exactly what you're getting into and if you decide that it's just too tough, that's okay.
If you're in, you'll need to roll with all the unpredictability that comes with the music business and once you're in there's no crying allowed, you'll need to spend all of that energy doing.