How the Internet Rocked the Music Industry

I found today’s infographic in today’s copy of The Dean’s List, a newsletter delivered to me each weekday from editor Dean Kay and ASCAP. I had been thinking about writing a post on the same subject, but graphic artist Bruce Houghton did it so much better. Enjoy.

The Importance of Knowing About Creativity

There are those who look at things the way they are, and ask why. I dream of things that never were, and ask why not?

– Robert F. Kennedy

Remember Phillip Reis? Probably not. How about Alexander Graham Bell? Oh, the telephone guy? Sure!

But what most folks may not realize is that in 1860, Reis was the first to invent the telephone. So why is he relegated to an obscure footnote in history when Bell’s invention made him immortal, at least with respect to telecommunication? The answer, according to Michael Michalko, is that everyone Reis approached in Germany dissuaded him from continuing his work. The telegraph is good enough, they said. Who would buy a telephone?

The lesson on creativity here, Michalko says, is not to stop with your first good idea. In an excellent article from Psychology Today, he goes on to list eleven other things about creativity that aren’t taught in school. Some of these lessons include the following:

  • Everyone is creative. If you believe you are, then you are.
  • There isn’t just one right answer. Reality is ambiguous.
  • Trust your instincts. Don’t let yourself get discouraged.
  • Approach problems from multiple perspectives. Even though you should trust your instincts, it’s better to not trust your first reaction to a problem, as it is only lockstep with your usual way of thinking.

While Michalko’s message to educators isn’t spelled out in his article, it is nonetheless clear: teach these lessons to your students. Tell them that they are creative, and tell them often. Remind them when they don’t succeed at something that there is no such thing as failure. Educators of music and the arts have a special responsibility to avoid getting bogged down in theory and technique, as students “must have knowledge but forget the knowledge” to create.

Performer, composer, and educator Ross Crockett wonders why such valuable lessons aren’t taught in schools. “Somewhere along the line, as we get older,” he writes in The Committed Sardine blog, “it’s like we’re refused permission to be creative. We’re steered away from it and we never really know why.” It may be easy to reply to Crockett’s musings with something about today’s teach-to-the-test culture in our schools. But such an answer would assume that there was just one right answer.

And since we’re all creative, we know that there must be more.

Teaching Empathy and Empowerment Through Music

In a time when boards of education try to make dwindling budgets work by cutting staff and eliminating programs, music programs sometimes become budget targets, presumably because their perceived value isn’t as high as that of a core course. Yet recent research at the University of Cambridge suggests that scaling back or eliminating group music activities for students could negatively affect their social development.

According to an article by Edward Ortiz in the San Francisco Classical Voice, a recent study showed that children who participate in group music activities are more likely to develop empathy, one of the highest orders of social skills. The year-long study involved students aged 8 – 11 and found that the control group of students (those who did not participate in group music activities) did not score as well on tests measuring empathy as those students in the experimental group. In such settings, children learn musical concepts (such as rhythm) from one another; one child imitates another’s actions, then another child imitates him, and so on. The children must be in tune with everyone else in the group.

Ortiz also notes that other research supports the conclusion that group music participation facilitates empathy development. Lisa Koops, assistant professor of music education at Case Western Reserve University, studied children aged 4 – 6 in both the United States and the African country of Gambia. She found that students in both groups who participated in musical play developed a sense of empowerment, an attitude that fosters academic success.

It isn’t hard to imagine the value a well-educated, empathetic, and empowered person could bring to the world. But by scaling back or eliminating music programs in the schools, are we sacrificing the education of the whole child by focusing on just that part of him or her that can boost achievement test scores? Joe Landon, of the California Alliance for Arts Education, seems to think that we are. “In the intense focus on academic performance and test scores,” he observed, “we can lose sight of the social and emotional dimensions of learning and child development.”


Special thanks to Ted Gioia, who posted this story on Twitter. Follow him at @tedgioia.

Falling in Love With Practicing: Gretchen Saathoff’s Goal-oriented Practice

In this book, my goal is to help teachers and students alike make steady progress in learning music.

Gretchen Saathoff’s concludes her introduction to her e-book, Goal-oriented Practice, with this humble yet powerful statement, and it doesn’t take one very long to find out that she delivers on her promise. In fact, it is her humility (“I was not a prodigy”) that endears the reader to her, and thus she easily becomes a collaborator with the student.

Saathoff begins the journey by taking the student through the first steps of setting up the practice environment, offering steady yet subtle encouragement along the way. The opening section clearly establishes camaraderie: “Our longevity as musicians,” “the shoes we wear.” She also avoids technical jargon whenever possible, using everyday words and phrases with which a beginner would feel more comfortable.

Of particular interest to me was the section on warming up. For years I had labored under the notion that I should warm up at least 20 to 30 minutes before beginning practice. In fact, in Rational Principles of Pianoforte Technique, Alfred Cortot prescribes an hour devoted to finger exercises. Saathoff flatly disagrees:

Playing etudes for hours is not necessary from my point of view….A warmup of, say, ten minutes should be sufficient. That is enough time to get used to a piano at a performance venue.

And with the preliminaries dispatched, Saathoff moves on to the most important portion of her book: learning the music.

It is easy to see that Saathoff enjoys her role as a collaborative pianist. As I mentioned earlier, her voice is gentle and encouraging, and the student can’t help but become infected with her enthusiasm for the learning of music. Mindless repetition doesn’t work, she coaches. Set goals for today, tomorrow, and the day after that. Break the piece down into sections, phrases, even measures if you need to. Take a break. And pay attention to the fingering, because that’s where mistakes start – before the mistake happens.

Naturally, she ends with the same, upbeat tone that runs through the entire book: “you will be successful.

As a jazz and pop pianist who is now getting back into classical music, I found Goal-oriented Practice to be an excellent investment. I have used lessons from it in teaching my own students, and all musicians, regardless of skill level, would do well to keep a copy near the piano within easy reach.

For ordering information, visit Practice e-book price $19.95; bound $24.95


Note: This review was originally published on August 29, 2011 on Tumblr. I have moved it to this blog for the sake of consistency. The text remains unchanged.

Invent Your Own Lottery – And Win It

I think the reality is the following: 99.9-some odd percent of every kid in the world that wants to have a recording career won’t have one…. And of the people that … really get a shot, some fraction of a percent will have any chance of having a career. So the truth of the matter is that when you do the math, it is really like winning the lottery to have a successful career.

This sobering observation is from Ken Hertz, a music industry attorney who counts and Britney Spears among his clients. Obviously, these two have won this music industry lottery. Will Smith has won it, too. Come to think of it, so have a lot of people.

There are two points to be made here. The first is that Hertz can only be talking about winning the Mega Millions lottery, as winnings with much better odds (and much smaller winnings) are paid out every day. In that respect, he’s probably right: in a Mega Millions lottery, the odds of picking the winning numbers and collecting a cool $554 million are 1 in 175,711,536, according to the LA Times. Spears,, and Smith would represent those that beat the odds and hit the big payout.

This analogy helps Hertz make his case to the jury of would-be American Idols about hoping for a music career. But it is misleading in a couple of ways. First, buying a lottery ticket and expecting to win the jackpot is like wanting a music career without planning for one. And the second is that Hertz never defines what a successful music career is. I can only assume it means having mega millions.

In keeping with the analogy, my second point is this: why play the established lottery when even Hertz admits the odds are stacked against you? Why not invent your own lottery and win at that? Or, as Dr. David Cutler puts it, stop competing against the other players and create your own market.

One way to create your own market is to figure out how you’re different. Not better, as that’s relative, but different. Dr. Cutler notes that he’ll play anything at a concert – from jazz to pop to classical to Broadway. The late piano virtuoso Victor Borge combined his musical skills with his sense of humor to create a niche market that propelled him to international success. And my bandmates and I market our band to brides and wedding consultants: not only can we play for the reception, the lead singer and I can perform a wide repertoire of service music as well.

Another way to succeed at your own game is to be the first to market. Consider the wild success of Steve Jobs, who forever changed the way the world thinks about buying music. When you’re first, you set the rules.

But the best way to succeed – to win your own lottery – is to know what success means to you. It isn’t the same to all people, and there’s more than enough of it to go around. Sit down with yourself, a notebook, and a pen, and write down all of the music goals you’d like to achieve. Once you have a realistic list, plan what you need to do to achieve those goals, then work the plan each day. You’ll feel like you’re in control of your career because you are, and it won’t be long before you start to feel successful.

Then you can reward yourself. Go buy a lottery ticket.


Note: There’s an interesting discussion on LinkedIn that is about this very topic. To view the comments, follow this link.

Songwriters: When a Plan Comes Together

I used to live in Nashville in the 1990’s, and at the time I didn’t consider myself a composer even though I wrote occasionally. I recorded my works on an old Tascam multitrack cassette recorder but that’s as far as it got for a while. Only much later did I decide to put them all together on a CD (which you can listen to here).

I wasn’t serious about a music career then, which was fine, because I was focused on other things. If I had really wanted to pursue one, however, I would have put together some sort of plan. And therein lies the lesson.

Nearly everyone I met in Nashville back then said he or she was a singer/songwriter, or that someone in their immediate circle was. And a lot of the people who claimed to be singer/songwriters told me sad stories of moving to Nashville with dreams of making it big. They’d been there for months, years, but had never gotten their Big Break.

To be totally fair, I suppose that the old business model of music was still in force back then. The labels were still large and in charge. Al Gore had just invented the internet. And email addresses and websites were not ubiquitous: lyrics and demos still got delivered though the mail and FedEx (nee Federal Express). But I’m wondering how many of the would-be singer-songwriters who never got their Big Break actually planned for one.

That’s why I got so pumped up when I read David J. Hahn‘s recent blog post, “How I’m Building a Songwriting Career.” It was exciting to me because here was a published plan by someone who had taken the time to think through the process! He’s very clear about his goal:

My goal is to have recording artists cover my songs on their albums, secure film and television placements for my music, and to work professionally as a songwriter and composer. A difficult goal, to be sure.

Most of the steps that he outlines involve websites and auto-responder emails, tools not readily available to artists 20 years ago. But most of the other stuff hasn’t changed at all:

  • Make and maintain good industry contacts (relationships).
  • Make quality recordings (much easier to do today).
  • Get and stay involved with the songwriter community (network).
  • Keep submitting recordings.

And I like the way he sums it all up:

Becoming a professional songwriter seems like an impossible challenge, but I think with the plan and tools that I’ve described above will help me start the journey.

I hope all who aspire to become a singer/songwriters (and composers) take note and follow his lead. Because I love it when a plan comes together.

The Working Musician: Money In Your Own Backyard

In a recent blog post, I tackled the issue of being too old to be a musician. The answer to that one really boils down to one’s own definition of success, and some see success as constantly being on tour and promoting your CD. But there are plenty of ways to be a successful musician without going on tour, and in this article I’ll discuss a few ways you can make money as a musician while staying relatively close to home.

Vinnie Ribas of Indie Connect Magazine has come up with quite a hefty list in “Making Money as a Singer or Musician Without Touring.” He notes that touring may not be a viable option for some musicians because of impossible-to-leave day jobs, family issues, health, and so on. It’s an excellent read, and I’ll just touch on a few ways of making money locally here, while adding a few of my own.

  1. Play in clubs, bars, restaurants.
  2. Record your music and sell it on iTunes and other distribution sites. Promote it with YouTube videos.
  3. Learn how to write for film, TV, and documentaries.
  4. Write and sell jingles.
  5. Become an Amazon affiliate. Create an online store and sell gear.
  6. Play concerts for local civic organizations.
  7. Become a music engraver. A friend of mine makes over half his music income making handwritten notation look great.
  8. Play at house parties.
  9. Play for weddings.
  10. Write and perform (or record) custom songs for anniversaries, birthdays, engagements, and other special occasions. (The poet laureates and court composers of the 17th and 18th centuries did this very thing.)
  11. Teach lessons. Find schools that don’t have music programs and offer to teach on-site after school.
  12. Become a church music director or musician.
  13. Learn how to take pictures. Go to gigs and open mic nights, take pictures of the bands, and sell prints.
  14. Learn how to provide live sound reinforcement. Invest in some good gear and run sound for local bands.
  15. Learn how to record. Invest in some good recording gear and record demos for local musicians.
  16. Handle bookings for other bands (those not in your genre, of course).
  17. Handle social media for other bands.
  18. Design and manage websites for other bands.

It’s important to understand that you are highly unlikely to make a living from any single one of these revenue streams; good money comes from combining several of them. You may only net around $200 for an evening at a club, but you can walk away with more if you sell a few CD’s and you land a new student, who not only saw your video on YouTube but also bought a guitar from your Amazon store.

And it’s possible to actually make a good living this way. David J. Hahn, who posted this article on his Musicians Wages website, insists that the following numbers are not only possible, he’s actually made them:

1. Get a church job (3 services a week @ $100/service) = $15,600
2. Start a teaching studio (12 students @ $50/lesson) = $31,200
3. Play background music once a month (@ $250/gig) = $3,000
4. Play in a band twice a month (@ $50/gig) = $1,200
That’s $51k a year. That’s how it’s really done.
Start with the annual salary you want to earn from music and work backwards. Figure out how many club dates, weddings, and lessons you need to have booked per month to get there, then work on getting those numbers. (The first time I did this I was amazed at how close I was to the numbers I wanted.) You might not achieve international fame, but you will be doing what most only dream about: making a living making music.

Treat Your Band Like the Business It Is

If you play music and make money at it, you’re in a business. And if you’re serious about maintaining that income, or making more of it, then you need to make sure you understand the basics of operating that business. In fact, this article by Brad Sugars in Entrepreneur covers the five basic principles you must know to make your band – your business – a success.

  1. Know where you want your band to go. Got vision? You’ll need it, or you’ll go nowhere really fast. A plan will help you set realistic goals. But watch out: if your plan is “just play out and have fun,” everyone in the band will get distracted sooner or later. We humans have an inherent need for direction, and it’s up to the bandleader to provide it, or everyone else will find his own way.
  2. Learn how to sell. It isn’t hard, but it is necessary if you’re going to get out of the garage. If you’re not comfortable asking for gigs, find someone in your band who is. And if no one in the band is willing to step up, or if you’re considering working solo, then take on the job and educate yourself. Read books, watch videos (YouTube is our friend here), and listen to CDs. And learn how to network. It’s an essential skill for anyone who wants success.
  3. Sell what your customer wants to buy. Sounds obvious, right? Don’t book a metal band in a jazz club. But it goes beyond that – you have to really listen to your customer to find out what his needs are. You’re a classic rock band? The club owner has dozens of classic rock bands that want to play. What he needs is more people in his club. If you have a mailing list of 500 people, some positive press, and you regularly pack clubs, tell him that. Better yet, hand him a press kit that has pictures of happy, dancing fans and testimonials from other club owners.
  4. Get the cash flowing in. Everybody knows that you can’t start at the top, yet some of those same folks try to do it anyway. Your band may be worth $1,000 a night, but if you’re starting out, those gigs probably won’t be waiting for you on your first outing. Build the business. Play for $400 or $500 a night to get the cash flowing in and your name established. Collect email addresses, hand out business cards, and get a buzz going. You can ask for more later when you’re in demand. But get the cash flowing in. Profits will come later.
  5. Just do it. That you want to do it is reason enough, and there are plenty of people out there who will tell you that you shouldn’t or that you can’t. Do it anyway.

And remember – there are no magic bullets, no shortcuts. Stick to the proven principles that all businesses have had to master, and you’ll find your rewards much faster.


Brad Sugars is the founder and chairman of ActionCOACH. As an entrepreneur, author and business coach, he has owned and operated more than two dozen companies including his main company, ActionCOACH, which has more than 1,000 offices in 34 countries.

Getting Endorsements

All musicians dream about it. Ever since our early days of learning to play we saw ads in Guitar Player and Keyboard and wanted to be like Them. You know. The guys in the ads. The Musicians Who Get Their Stuff for Free. Or, in industry parlance, those with endorsements.

As Chris Gallant points out in his two-part series, endorsements are not easy things to get, and with good reason: they would lose their effectiveness if everyone could get one. If you want one, have something to offer a company when you make your endorsement pitch. They, like you, are in business to make money. If you’re playing to crowds of a few thousand people a month and are working on a second CD, for example, that’s something a company might want to get behind. On the other hand, Fender or Korg might figure few sales are in the offing if you’re just getting a few locals into a local club once every 6 weeks or so.

That being said, a company also doesn’t want to appear a Johnny-come-lately and try to court the artist after he or she has achieved international recognition. As Terry Ryan of SABIAN puts it, “Artists tend to need you more when they have no money. You hope they elevate their career.”

However, if you’ve recorded something, you play out regularly, and [especially] if you’re reading about the music business, then you might be ready for first contact. But make sure you do the legwork first before you make that first contact. Gallant advises the following:

  1. Do your research. Make sure the product endorsement you seek fits your lifestyle.
  2. Read the fine print. Know what you’re agreeing to do – the product manufacturer does.
  3. Don’t take just anything. Make sure it’s something you’d actually use made by a company you can stand behind.
  4. You are what you use. Over time, people will associate a brand with you.

Yet even as you’re pitching the company, it’s important to keep in mind that endorsements aren’t the be-all and end-all of a musician’s career. As Gallant says,

As cool as it could be, the sponsorship should be nothing more than another tool in your business plan. The last thing you want to do is start measuring your success by how many brands are backing you up. You’re an artist, not a stock car.