Ben Allison’s Open Letter to Musicians

In his thoughtful open letter to musicians, Ben Allison tells us that it’s important for us to become “as informed as possible about issues that impact our livelihoods.” We should take seriously the proposal by Pandora to pay even lower royalties to musicians than it does now, and we should also understand the threat posed by well-meaning fans when they tell us that music should be free. But we can’t stop at educating just ourselves – we must also educate others. Members of Congress, our fellow musicians, and our fans must be educated so that all understand that our songs – our ideas – have value not only to those groups but to us as well.

Brubeck Institute

Dave Brubeck’s career went well beyond just being about music. Whether it was the U.S. State Department Tours of 1958 as a cultural ambassador of peace or his jazz musical “The Real Ambassadors”, that addressed civil rights, the Cold War, God, and the music industry, Dave’s music was always more than just the notes on the page. “More Than Just the Music” is a new series on the BI Blog that will feature a wide variety of musicians that are making their mark on the scene today and that are making their careers “More Than Just the Music”.

This month the BI Blog will feature New York bassist and composer Ben Allison.

Over the past two decades, Ben Allison has solidified his reputation as a strong voice for artist empowerment and musician’s rights. In 2001 he served as an advisor to the Doris Duke Foundation, helping to establish Chamber…

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The Digest, Volume 8

The Digest is a weekly feature of the Sketchbook blog that provides an annotated listing of links to relevant articles about events, trends, people, and things that have a direct impact on us as musicians. If you find The Digest useful, or if you want to suggest improvements, please let me know. Also, if you have content you’d like to see included, please send a message via Twitter or Facebook. And share the love by passing The Digest on via email or social media.

Advice, by Bob Lefsetz on The Lefsetz Letter.

Bob Lefsetz, music business attorney and all-around music biz guru, publishes a great newsletter, and I urge all who are even remotely interested in music as a career to subscribe to it. “Advice” contains pearls of wisdom like focus on your fans, engage them on social media, post your shows on YouTube, and form good relationships. You’ll find no career shortcuts here, because there are none.

Songwriters’ Groups Speak Out on Internet Radio Bill, on

A joint letter to Congress from performing rights organizations ASCAP, BMI, SESAC, and the NSAI claims the Internet Radio Fairness Act (the “Pandora Bill”) will harm songwriters by legitimizing the “gross inequities that have developed … as a result of opposing rate setting systems applied to the amounts paid to songwriters, composers and publishers versus those paid to record labels and recording artists.”

The Upside of Music Piracy, on Live Unsigned Blog.

If you can’t beat ’em, should you join ’em? Perhaps, according to some bands who have made new fans out of people who first heard their music from a burned CD or a bit torrent site. You can embrace Neil Young’s “new radio” and get more fans to your shows who will buy more merchandise. Is it more important to lose sales or gain fans?

Get Your Band Noticed On Music Blogs, by Clyde Smith on Hypebot.

Most bands only think about Twitter or Facebook when they hear the words “social media.” But music blogs are also excellent ways to cultivate new fans and retain the ones you’ve won over. Clyde Smith gives a few suggestions regarding how to connect with music bloggers and get them to write about you.

Planning the Perfect CD Release Gig, on Live Unsigned Blog.

The release party needs to be as good as the CD, and it should certainly reflect the time and energy you put into your creation. Consider booking a venue that will sell out – pictures taken there will look better than those of a dozen people standing around in a hall that will hold 300. Work the social media, and send out press releases in time. Read on for more great suggestions.

Tunecore, Artists Release CD; Hurricane Sandy Victims Benefit, on Tunecore.

After the Storm includes tracks by Andrew Belle, jackopierce, The Red Jumpsuit Apparatus, Thousand Foot Krutch, The Parlotones and Rosie Thomas, as well as submissions from bands in Ireland, Russia, and Germany. One hundred percent of the album’s net proceeds will benefit the victims of Hurricane Sandy.

An Interview With Classical Pianist Nick van Bloss, by Melanie Spanswick on Classical Mel’s Piano and Music Education Blog.

Pianist and music educator Melanie Spanswick recently interviewed British concert pianist Nick van Bloss. In recent years van Bloss has come out of retirement from the concert stage, and he has released recordings of Bach’s Goldberg Variations and Keyboard Concertos on Nimbus Records.

Musician Business Cards, by David J. Hahn on Musician Wages.

Success in the music business hinges on the quality of one’s contacts, and a business card is a great way to start that relationship. Serving as inexpensive, pocket-size billboards, business cards announce who you are, what you do, and how someone can get in touch with you. You know what should go on one, but Hahn goes one better with some stunning examples.

Ten Reasons Why Your Facebook Fans Hate You, by Chris Robley on DIY Musician Blog.

Hint: it ain’t because of a lack of Facebook users. Odds are your content isn’t reaching out and grabbing anyone. Or you may be live tweeting your life with updates every 20 seconds with stuff folks just don’t want to know. Or you’re too negative. Or you’re doing any of the other annoying things on Robley’s list. Stop it. Just stop it. Now.

Home Recording Studio Success, by David Cutler on The Savvy Musician Blog.

There are many benefits to a good home studio, guest blogger Barry Gardner writes. It’s cheaper than studio time (if you know what you’re doing), you have the flexibility to try things you’d never have time for otherwise, and you pick up some new skills along the way. The article is a good introduction to recording for those who are considering the investment, and it addresses key considerations for equipping a studio.


Photo credits: Treble Clef –; Captain Jack Sparrow –; Hurricane Sandy damage –; home studio – Robert W. Oliver

How to Replace a Musician In Your Band

Replacing a band member is as inevitable as the sunset. No matter how long a band has been together, someone will need to be replaced at some point. Whether the loss is because of poor health, a job transfer, bad attitude, or a change of interest, the main thing is that the band leader prepare now to deal with it when it happens.

Plan Ahead

The best way to plan for a musician leaving the band is to identify good substitute players, usually from other bands. This is just good business. Losing  any band member is naturally upsetting to those who remain, whether or not they cared for the departing musician. But their immediate focus will almost certainly be on getting paid for gigs that are already booked. The band leader should reassure the remaining members that the loss does not mean the end of the band, the show will go on, and that substitutes will fill the vacancy for now.

Organizations such as large symphony orchestras and major national tours have already planned for replacements, and usually a call to the American Federation of Musicians (the musicians’ union) will solve the problem. But for smaller, local bands, the absence of a good substitute roster creates a tougher situation. If such is the case, the band has only two options. The remaining members can try to stay the course and play the gigs, but if the former member was the drummer or the only guitar player, going forward may be neither possible nor wise. If a substitute cannot be found and brought up to speed in time, the band has no other option but to cancel the gigs.

Set Goals

If your band has a substitute that can step in for the time it takes to find a replacement, then you’re free to focus on the search. But remember: resist the temptation to rush, no matter how badly you need a new musician. Being in a hurry and settling too soon is never a good thing, as you could well wind up back in the search process again just six months down the road.

Before you take out that classified ad, take some time to consider what you are looking for. Get the band together and have a good discussion about goals. (The best place for this conversation is over a meal at a restaurant, so that everyone can relax and focus; never do it at a rehearsal.) Talk about the direction of the band, where it should be going, and how it should get there. You can only conduct an effective search if everyone is on board with these goals. If everyone has the same mindset when evaluating the candidates, it will be easier to select the best person to help the band reach those goals.

Know What You Want

After all of the band members have focused (or refocused) on the big picture, it’s time to figure out the sort of person you are looking for. This saves time for all concerned. You could put an ad on Craigslist that says “Guitar player wanted,” but be prepared to field a lot of calls from people who don’t even come close to what you need. Take some time to consider the musical qualities you’re really looking for. Below are some characteristics to think about while planning. (Note that these are not in a specific order.)

  • Ability to read music (notation and charts)
  • Good sense of rhythm and pitch
  • Ability to play by ear
  • Listens to other musicians
  • Owns and cares for professional gear
  • Plays well and in the pocket
  • Knows the gear (especially important for keyboard players)
  • Ability to sing (lead or harmony vocals)
  • Ability to transpose quickly
  • Ability to learn material quickly
  • Style fits in with the band

Other, more social characteristics to consider may include the following:

  • Team player
  • Sense of humor
  • Personality
  • Entertainment factor (can the person engage with the audience?)
  • Similar musical tastes
  • Looks the part
  • Age
  • Has reliable transportation
  • Willingness to help with business matters (bookings, etc.)

Bands should use the same song list for all who audition so that it’s easier to compare strengths and weaknesses, and I strongly encourage bands to make their replacement choice a unanimous one. This sidesteps the potential I-told-you-so issue.

What Goes Around

Note that much of what goes for replacing a musician also applies for musicians seeking bands, whether for a job as a regular player or as a substitute. You can learn a lot about a band from the help wanted ad it posts. If the ad has a picture, you’ll know quickly if you are a good visual fit, and any links to MP3s or videos will tell you if your styles are comparable. And if you want regular gigs, pass on by the ad that says “plays out once and awhile.”

Finally, if you have to leave a band, do so with grace. It will be much easier to get hired by another band if you haven’t burned any bridges. Likewise, band leaders should be professional when letting someone go. Tell the person exactly why he or she is being terminated, and do so without anger or getting into non-related issues. Keep in mind that this is a business with a very tight community, and the person you fire with a vengeance today may be the person you need to help you tomorrow.

The Digest, Volume 7

The Digest is a weekly feature of the Sketchbook blog that provides an annotated listing of links to relevant articles about events, trends, people, and things that have a direct impact on us as musicians. If you find The Digest useful, or if you want to suggest improvements, please let me know. Also, if you have content you’d like to see included, please send a message via Twitter or Facebook. And share the love by passing The Digest on via email or social media.

MusiCares Offers Relief for Musicians Victimized by Hurricane Sandy, by Katie Reilly, Intern Like a Rockstar.

MusicCares, an organization benefiting musicians since 1989, works year round to provide “a safety net of critical assistance for music people in times of need.” Recently they announced a new fund aimed at helping musicians who were affected by Hurricane Sandy. The fund provides the for basics, such as clothing and shelter, and for musical instrument and recording equipment replacement. Katie’s post has links for assistance application and for fund donations.

Lars Ulrich: Meet The New Boss, Worse Than The Old Boss, The Trichordist.

Charlie Rose featured guests Lars Ulrich of Metallica and Chuck D from Public Enemy in 2000 to discuss Napster, the internet and the future of the music industry. Chuck D saw a bright, sunny future for music sales. Lars saw the darker side of the then fledgling medium, one in which millions of artists, musicians, photographers, authors, writers and other creators would have their living illegally appropriated by internet robber barons.

New MySpace Too Good to be True? by Jennifer Van Grove, The Washington Post.

Designed for artists and their fans, the new MySpace, is not a redesign. It’s a new product with a new purpose and a design meant to evoke emotion. MySpace wants to draw people away from a “boring internet” and into relationships with creatives and the content they produce.

Unpaid DIY Music “Competitive Advantage” For New MySpace, by Bruce Houghton, Hypebot.

Over five million artists, most of them unsigned, have uploaded 27 million songs to the social media site, accounting for half of the music played there. MySpace hopes to use this advantage to help them offset a projected revenue shortfall, or in other words, balance the books on the backs of the unsigned artists. Predictably, MySpace doesn’t see it that way, suggesting instead that they’re helping “artists … foster … unique relationships with their fans.”

Music Career Killers: Sure Ways to Ruin Your Chances For Success, by The DIY Musician.

Feel like you don’t have time to work on your music because you’re spending all your time marketing it? That’s an excellent way to ruin the career you’re trying so hard to start. Boring your fans and taking crap gigs on the offhand chance that they’ll yield one more fan are career killers, too.

Why Piracy Isn’t the Music Industry’s Biggest Threat, by Mike Doughty, Immutable/Inscrutable.

“Dear music industry,” writes musician Mike Doughty, “there are some amazing middle-aged artists. There’s loads of genuinely NEW artists who are in their 40s, and they would be loved by people with money to spend. Oh, PS, you guys really, really need money right now.” He goes on to suggest some great ways to widen one’s audience with older listeners who really want to go to the shows.

Pianos Aren’t a Center of Attention Anymore, by William Loeffler, TribLive.

It’s a pity the pro-life movement doesn’t extend to pianos. The Great Recession and associated economic downturn forced cuts in music education programs nationwide, thus cutting into sales of new pianos. Add to that the surge of interest in less expensive digital pianos, and it’s no surprise that some older acoustics find their way into landfills. Fortunately, there’s

How to Help Protect Your Health as a Musician, by Barry Gardner, Musician Wages.

Whether you’re on tour or in the studio, your life as a musician definitely comes with physical stresses that can affect your health. Gardner offers a few suggestions that can help keep you healthy and in front of the crowds.

Doing a Holiday CD? Know Who Owns the Copyright, by Music Clout.

It’s tough to go wrong with a CD of Christmas tunes. They only have a limited, seasonal appeal, but once everyone’s in the mood for decking the halls, they’ll be in demand. Most classics are in the public domain, but you’ll want to do your homework to make sure you’re not stepping on some toes.

Why You Should Think Twice Before Saying Yes to a Gig, by Geraldine Boyer-Cussac, The Successful Musician.

It may be difficult for a lot of musicians to turn down a gig, especially those who are just starting out and need the exposure. Yet Dr. Boyer-Cussac reviews four situations when you should just say no, the main one being if you don’t know exactly how much you’ll get paid.

(Mis)Steps to Music Career Success

plane_crash_redux_01Air Crash Investigation is a series on National Geographic TV I’ve become addicted to recently. It’s not because of an excess of Schadenfreude, mind you; rather it’s because I want to figure out what made the plane crash before the show reveals the answer. And I’ve watched so much that I’ve actually gotten pretty good at figuring it out.

I bring this up because one of the investigators on the show said something that really impressed me. It was something like this: every air crash makes flying safer. While it sounds counter intuitive, the meaning is that each accident investigation leads those involved in the air travel industry to make improvements and modifications that will reduce the odds of such an accident ever happening again. Likewise, we as professional musicians can take a look at musicians whose careers never got off the ground (or crashed and burned) and take steps to avoid those same mistakes. The following list is a sampling from an excellent career postmortem article by Vinny Ribas.

  1. Lack of knowledge. Plenty of musicians find out about how to achieve success in much the same way they found out about sex: through the grapevine. And while statistics show that 60% of grapevine information is true, common sense should tell us that such a low number is not reliable. Lesson: read and study as much as you can about the music industry. Finding a mentor would be even better.
  2. Failure to build relationships. If fans feel like you don’t care a whit about them, they’ll stop coming to your shows. Likewise, if the people you meet in the industry only hear from you when you want a favor, they’ll start turning you down. Lesson: build strong relationships with everyone you come in contact with as a musician, from the fans to the salesman at the music store, to the agent you’d like to see booking your gigs one day.
  3. mozartOver-reliance on talent. One of my earlier posts dealt with the mythology surrounding talent, and many musicians have counted on being vaulted to success on talent alone. Lesson: never stop improving. Continue to write better music, stretch your lyric writing skills, or make your performance even more entertaining.
  4. Failure to develop an image. To me, this is the one sign that a musician doesn’t take himself seriously. Other evidence includes the lack of a professionally developed website (or simply a Facebook page), no business cards, unimaginative band pictures, and poor dress. Lesson: spend some serious time and money developing promotional materials that show your professionalism. Invest in a good wardrobe, and never be without professionally printed business cards.
  5. Failure to communicate. Face it: the club wants you to bring fans with you, but you can’t do that if they don’t know where you’re playing (or even if you still are). Lesson: keep up with your social media outlets (note the plural – don’t put all of your eggs in the Facebook basket). Write a blog, and do it regularly. Send email newsletters to your fans. They want you to do this.

There are more thou shalt nots in Vinny’s article, and he adds that there are probably far more ways to fail than he came up with. However, you’ll improve your odds of success by simply doing two things: keep an open mind (this is an evolving industry), and learn all you can about the career path you’ve chosen for yourself.

The Digest, Volume 6

The Digest is a weekly feature of the Sketchbook blog that provides an annotated listing of links to relevant articles about events, trends, people, and things that have a direct impact on us as musicians. If you find The Digest useful, or if you want to suggest improvements, please let me know. Also, if you have content you’d like to see included, please send a message via Twitter or Facebook. And share the love by passing The Digest on via email or social media.

71 Percent of Indie Artist Still Want a Label Deal, by Paul on Digital Music News.

There’s a lot of romance involved in being an independent artist, but that may be easy to forget while the indie artist plans tours, designs and orders merchandise, pays for CD duplication, and handles publicity. Oh, and some new songs need to be written, too. Yes, most of us long for a major label to come along and save the day.

Five Things All Musicians Need Before Starting a Digital PR Campaign, by John Ostrow on Music Think Tank.

If you want to have a successful PR campaign (such as one for Kickstarter), make sure you have music ready to release, a professional bio and photo, a niche, and a strong social media presence.

Entertain or Go Home: Is The Music Enough? by Eric Bruckbauer on How to Run a Band.

Eric states what should be an obvious truth: “People go to shows to have a good time and to be entertained. It’s that simple.” Yet some bands don’t understand that they’re in the entertainment business. In order to succeed, you have to do what KISS did so well: engage the audience while setting the band apart from the rest.

What To Know About Management Contracts, by Francis McEntegart on Music Think Tank.

Make sure to choose a manager that understands the music business and how it works, and make sure that he couples that knowledge with plenty of good contacts that respect him. Be clear on what his twenty percent will buy, and get your own attorney to review the agreement before you sign.

Four Things To Be Aware Of Before Signing With a Music Manager on Music Clout.

Know what you’ll pay this person. Expect to pay a percentage of your earnings, but beware the manager who asks you to pay up front for his or her representation. Also check out his history and reputation. A little due diligence goes a long way.

The Next Music Revolution by Alex Hoffman on Hypebot.

Sensory information already gathered about us by our smartphones can be paired with third-party data, creating a new culture driven by context, wherein experiences and recommendations can be automatically catered to us. Instead of manually tapping to set our Android’s alarm at bedtime, it be will able to infer from our Google Calendar appointments and Google Maps traffic data just how long we need to commute to make our first meeting on time and wake us accordingly. Will this revolution be televised? If our smartphones think it should be.

Ten Tips to Improve Your Recordings, on Music Clout.

Practice, practice, practice. You might get lucky on the first take, but don’t count on it. Get plenty of rest the night before. Bring spares – cables, strings, picks, drum heads, whatever. Take frequent breaks to avoid ear fatigue – this can be costly in terms of studio time. And remember, you can never fix it in the mix.

Less Is More, by Janet Horvath on Playing Less Hurt

The Summer Olympics gave musician, author, and speaker Janet Horvath an opportunity to reflect on how athletes prepare themselves for the highly competitive games, and in what ways musicians are kindred spirits to them. Many musicians are guilty of, at one time or another, driving themselves to the point of exhaustion. “We too need to be reminded that our bodies must be recharged,” she writes, “in order for us to be able to execute intricate, complex maneuvers day after day.”

Music Industry Careers for Shy People, by Katie Reilly on Intern Like a Rock Star.

So belting out a ballad in front of a stadium full of people isn’t your idea of a music career? Fear not – Katie Reilly has a solution. Marketing, finance, accounting, law, and sound are all areas that are in heavy demand within the music industry, but these don’t make heavy demands on you to put yourself in front of thousands of strangers week after week.

Book Review: The Savvy Musician, by David J. Hahn on Musician Wages.

Hahn notes that Dr. David Cutler’s The Savvy Musician is a book for the modern musician, offering a detailed, thoughtful map to a meaningful career in the business, all the while stressing that a musician can build a career for himself anywhere. This book is a must-read for any working musician, or anyone serious about becoming one.

The Digest: Volume 5

The Digest is a weekly feature of the Sketchbook blog that provides an annotated listing of links to relevant articles about events, trends, people, and things that have a direct impact on us as musicians. If you find The Digest useful, or if you want to suggest improvements, please let me know. Also, if you have content you’d like to see included, please send a message via Twitter or Facebook and let me know that as well. And share the love by passing The Digest on via email or social media.

Elliott Carter, Modernist Composer, Dies At 103, by Tom Huizenga on NPR Music.

Carter’s music, write Huizenga, was championed by many of the world’s great orchestras and conductors. Not limited to classical music, the composer also penned songs, opera and chamber music, the latter earning him Pulitzer Prizes for his string quartets in 1960 and 1973.

What’s the Real Cost of Signing a Major Record Deal? on Music Clout.

Willing to exchange a bigger cut of your future royalties for getting your music “out there”? You’d be surprised how many new artists are willing to sign a Faustian contract with a major label for just that reason. It’s not that the majors are to be avoided, but keep in mind that most new artists make absolutely no money from royalties until they’ve recouped their promo budget.

Johnny Cash Box Set Honors the Man In Black, by Steve Jones on USA Today.

Just in time for holiday giving – a new, 63 CD box set of Johnny Cash’s recordings. Johnny Cash: The Complete Columbia Album Collection will set you back $230, but it includes 35 albums on CD for the first time and original LP artwork.

How I Made $13,544 In A Month (on Kickstarter), by Ari Herstand on TuneCore Blog.

Kickstarter? Oh, sure, everyone’s heard of that. Sign up, launch your campaign, and make tons of money Amanda Palmer style – right? Not exactly. That’s the theory, but as Ari Herstand explains, it’s much more involved if you want to do it right and have a successful campaign. Don’t neglect the video or do a bad one, and do keep your fans engaged on social media before, during, and after the drive. Most importantly, remember that careful planning pays off. This one’s a must read.

Improving Your Live Show, by Rick Goetz on Musician Coaching.

Rick’s interview with Amy Wolter reveals some pretty easy things we can do to make our live shows better and more engaging. First, says Wolter, don’t feel like your songs need to sound exactly like the record. After you get into that mindset, you need to plan what you’re going to do during the show after you’ve rehearsed the songs.

Forbes Names Top Six Grossing Dead Musicians, by Bruce Houghton on Hypebot.

Here’s a hint as to number 1: his initials are MJ. The King is probably annoyed at that.

Get Your Music Used in Film, TV, & Ads, by George Howard on TuneCore Blog.

The video goes into greater detail, but highlights include getting to know music supervisors. Visit universities where budding filmmakers are getting started and offer a free score. Also, create something to show & post it to YouTube. Work at getting a buzz going around it. Then find out who the players are.

Musicians, 77 Percent of Your Fans Prefer Email Marketing, by Chris Robley on DIY Musician Blog.

Not only does e-mail beat all comers as the preferred channel for getting marketing messages, it also drives more consumer purchasing than any other channel. This finding by ExactTarget suggests that you start sending out those old-fashioned emails if you want more album sales and folks at your shows.

Start Your Teaching Business in 30 Days, by Greg Arney on Musicians Wages.

Ever wonder what it would be like to teach music lessons from your home? Maybe you want to do it but don’t know how to set up a studio. Fear not – Greg Arney outlines a 30-day, comprehensive blueprint on getting up and running as a private music instructor. From deciding where and how much, to writing your policy, to setting up a website, just about every detail you’ll need to address is covered.

Marketing for Musicians: Sell What You Love, by Marcome on Marcome Blog & News.

Canadian new age artist Marcome wears many hats: composer, keyboardist, vocalist, arranger, recording engineer, and producer. And when she’s not doing that, she’s busy marketing her albums. In this article Marcome pauses to share some  things that have helped her get the word out about her music, such as creating great music, developing a mailing list, selling the music, and not giving up.

How Much Will You Pay For Music in 2013 (Infographic)? on D Wave.

There are over 500 music services on the internet and over 600 million people worldwide using those services. Still, the amount you’ll likely pay to hear music from your favorite artist may surprise you.

How To Establish Yourself as a Jerk in the Indie Music Scene, by Normandie Wilson on Music Clout.

Being a complete jerk isn’t a skill one picks up automatically after attaining the national spotlight. No, these skills are learned and practiced on the hard climb up. We’ve all known bands that run way over their time limit on a twin or triple bill, and we’ve probably seen a few who have disrespected the audience at one time or another. Here’s what not to do if you want to keep playing in the sandbox.

Music Career Advice From Tom Hess

My father was thrilled when I announced that I had changed my mind about college, and that I planned on enrolling in the upcoming Spring semester. But he was less than thrilled when I told him I wanted to major in Piano Performance.

“That’s well and good,” he replied, “but don’t you think you should get a degree in something you can fall back on?”

I can’t blame Dad for thinking this way. He grew up during the Great Depression and had to drop out of school so that he could work to help support the family, so practicality and security were his watchwords. The problem is that a lot of musicians today hear that same advice, and not necessarily from parents who have the same background as mine.  “It’s 100 percent backwards,” says Tom Hess in an interview with Ryan Buckner on Music Think Tank. Below is a brief discussion of the “college-first” myth, plus a couple of others musicians often hear.

  1. You need to get a degree in something so you’ll have something to fall back on. Nothing could be further from the truth. Most people offer this advice on the assumption that the music business is full of risk and uncertainty. In fact, the opposite is true. Most working musicians have stable incomes because they’re able to work in different contexts almost simultaneously, such as lessons, production, recording, touring, and film. Besides, how good of a life can it be if you live it doing what other people want you to do?
  2. You need to write pop music in order to get radio airplay. It’s understandable that most people would think this way, given that their exposure to the music business is often limited to what they hear on the radio or the internet. But the fact is that airplay alone will not make most professional musicians a lot of money. Again, successful professionals know that the key to financial security is having income from multiple streams, of which royalties are just one.
  3. You have to be in the right place at the right time. If this was always the case, there wouldn’t be too many professional musicians out there. Those who are at the top got there by spending years cultivating good relationships with other music professionals. Moreover, they spent that time working on their craft, learning new skill sets, and developing some business chops as well. Good careers in anything don’t just happen. They take work.

Of course, you could make it to the top by getting a degree in something safe and being in the right place at the right time with the one pop song you’ve written, but the point here is that you don’t have to do it that way, nor should you feel like you have to do it that way. A career in music – or anything else you want to do – will always have some risk, but if the passion is there, nothing can stop you.

The Digest, Volume 4

The Digest is a new weekly feature to the Sketchbook blog, providing an annotated listing of links to relevant articles about events, trends, people, and things that have a direct impact on us as musicians. If you find The Digest useful, or if you want to suggest improvements, please let me know. Also, if you have content you’d like to see included, please send a message via Twitter or Facebook and let me know that as well. And share the love by passing The Digest on via email or social media.

What Are The Essential Features of a Hit Record? on Music Clout.

While there’s no such thing as a sure-fire, can’t-miss formula, there are a few things that are common to most songs that make it to the top of the charts. The obvious element is that it must be a great song, but plenty of great songs have been consigned to the trash bin because they lacked a strong vocal, solid performance, and a well produced track, among other things.

So You Have a Great Song – Now What? Infographic by Hisham Dahud on Hypebot.

All you have to do is record the great song, upload it onto Reverb Nation, and wait for the labels to start calling – right? There’s more, lots more, as Dahud’s infographic explains, but it all comes down to dedication.

Taylor Swift Hits a Million Sales of Red – Without Tricks, by Steve Knopper on Rolling Stone.

No 99 cent fire sale, like Lady Gaga; no name-your-own-price; just 1.208 million sales of Taylor Swift’s Red. Unfortunately, only she and Adele can sell millions of albums at a time.

Fifteen Tips On How to Give an Interview, by David Lowry on The Lowry Agency Blog.

It’s the moment you’ve been waiting for: newspapers, magazines, and blogs are calling and emailing with requests for interviews. How do you handle it? If you’re like some musicians, Lowry says, not too well. Being a jerk to the Fourth Estate is a mistake that can torpedo a music career before it gets off the ground. “Remember,” he says, “they never have to interview you or cover your band, regardless of how good your band is or how big you think you are.” Be sure and read up on the don’ts and do’s before the big moment arrives.

Good News! Ten Commandments Reduced to Only Nine! by John Mellencamp on The Huffington Post.

Musician and activist John Mellencamp writes about people today “who have participated in music-related successes and are now witnessing the demise of the entertainment business as it has existed since the beginning of recorded sound.” Not too long ago, BMI and ASCAP were formed to protect artists’ interests, but now they stand by while internet pirates take off with a songwriter’s royalties. We don’t need to keep up with the internet; the internet needs to be reigned in by its creators, who are morally obligated to do the right thing.

How Music Royalties and Performing Rights Organizations Work, by on Music Clout.

Simply put, they’re your collection agents who collect royalties from restaurants, bars, and radio stations on your behalf. Usually the PRO bases its payments on data samples, as it would be impossible to number every song played at every bar by every band. Yet as logical as sampling sounds, some non-mainstream musicians may get overlooked because of it – and have a harder time collecting their money. Soundreef concludes that “sampling as a means of royalty distribution calculation is not purposefully evil, it’s just outdated.”

Five Important Copyright Misconceptions That Linger, by Jonathan Bailey on Plagiarism Today.

Everything can be copyrighted, right? Not so fast, says Jonathan Bailey. You can copyright the song but not the title to it. Nor does “fair use” mean whatever you want it to mean, either. Musicians, educate yourselves!

Can You Survive In a World Without Musicians? by Clyde Smith on Hypebot.

Forget the orchestra. Forget the jazz combo, the rock band, the solo pianist. Music is now composed by Twitter messages that are translated into music by computer algorithms, or by a computer that translates the heart and brain waves of an individual into MIDI signals.

New Beethoven Work Is Premiered, by Melanie Spanswick on Classical Mel’s Piano and Music Education Blog.

Beethoven wrote some sketches for a string quartet in 1799, but was apparently dissatisfied with them, as he never followed through with his ideas. But the maestro’s trash is our treasure: recently, Professor Barry Cooper finished reconstructing the work, which is believed to be very close to what the composer had in mind. Visit Melanie’s blog to read more and listen to the performance of Beethoven’s String Quartet in G, Opus 18, Number 2.

Rules, by Bob Lefsetz on The Lefsetz Letter

Not one to beat about the bush, Lefsetz gives some sage advice to seasoned music vets as well as those who want to be seasoned music vets. To wit: don’t worry about your genre, just worry if it’s good. The money is in live performance; work on getting people to keep showing up. Don’t try to drive album sales on Twitter. And remember: no one is waiting for your album.