How to Advance Your Music Career

train+tracksBlogger Hisham Dahud maintains that it’s important keep revisiting the basics to keep your music career on track. Doing so allows you to think like a beginner again, back to when you could see clearly what you wanted. Unsuprisingly, the first tip regards revisiting and restating your original goals. Others include:

  • It’s all about sales. Make sure you’re fairly compensated for your entertainment value.
  • Network. Meet people that you can help, not just those who can help you.
  • Avoid people who bring you down. This would include so-called friends who try to dissuade you from a music career.
  • Keep learning about the business. Consider how music has changed within 20 years: home recording, internet distribution, the decline of the major labels. You can’t afford to stop learning.
  • Don’t be afraid of risks.

These suggestions will help you move your career in the music business forward – however far along you may be now.

The Digest, Volume 10

112112-Fiona-Apple-400The Fifty Best Songs of 2012, by Jon Dolan and David Fricke, et. al. on Rolling Stone.

Some list! Predictable: Taylor Swift (number 2), Bob Dylan, and Bruce Springsteen, who is behind Seoul brother PSY. Questionable: Carly Rae “Call Me Maybe” Jepsen (at number 50). And Fiona Apple – my favorite ever since “Criminal” – comes in at number 12 with “Hot Knife.”

Recordings Not Live, by Bob Lefsetz on The Lefsetz Letter.

The paradigm has shifted, Bob tells us in his latest letter. It wasn’t too long ago that bands practiced, got good, played out, got a following, then recorded an album. Today, that order has reversed itself: now you have to record so that venues can hear what you sound like before they book you. And, of course, you need a following before you can get booked. So what’s a new band to do? Simple – just be like PSY and have one killer song.

Does South Korean Rapper PSY Hate America? by Annie Reuter on 92.3 NOW.

gangnamstyle_wp“Gangnam Style” rapper PSY is scheduled to perform for President Obama during an upcoming Christmas in Washington special, but apparently there are some anti-American skeletons in his closet that have preceded his visit. His 2002 song “Dear America” contains some forceful language about US armed forces in Iraq.

A Simple Reason Why Audiences Are So Small For New Music Concerts, by Elissa Milne on

A resident of Sidney, Australia, Elissa has no patience with musicians who attribute a poor showing to their claim that “Australia is so backward.” It’s closer to the truth, she argues, that indie musicians have a small turnout because the music has no fans. Written with an elegant bluntness, her article should be read by musicians in all countries and of all genres.

Ten Truths About the Modern Music Business, by Jason Feinberg on

The definition of Y in DIY needs to be stretched to include a team if artists intend on being successful by going it alone. There’s simply too much to be done. Other truths: keep an eye on your metrics at all times. Facebook is gaining on email as a band’s preferred communication tool. And someone in the band really needs to understand marketing.

Dream Big: How to Succeed in Today’s Volatile Music Biz, by Mike King on Berklee Music Blogs.

In an interview with American Songwriter’s Adam Gold, Mike King learns about the tricky business of developing a content release plan (hint: it’s not just about Facebook), the value of giving music away for free, digital royalties, and pitching to the industry.

How Do Musicians Really Earn a Living? on Live Unsigned Blog.

merch-tablesIt might be surprising, but for many musicians music is not the primary means of making money. Small wonder, then, why labels want in on merchandise sales. Making a living in the music business is tough, which is why most musicians rely on additional income streams, such as teaching music, playing in multiple bands, or running sound for other bands during gig downtime.

Playing Profitable Shows as a Band: The 25 Percent Rule, by David Roberts on Music Think Tank.

Roberts provides a good template for planning a profitable tour, suggesting budget guidelines for fuel and a (very austere) food budget. Most importantly, however, the band needs to budget for a 25 percent profit – no matter what.

Live Streaming’s Long Tail, by Cortney Harding on Hypebot.

Face it: tours are expensive, taking their toll both physically and fiscally. Live streaming a show is an option, although a slow-growing one. However, as Harding explains, live streams of shows can be profitable ventures when they target specific fan bases: cult followers, shut-ins (think thirtysomethings with kids), and casual fans who may not be willing to commit. (Note: check out, a cool way to stream a show, collect a cover charge, and virtual tips, all on one website.)

Will An Internship Help Get a Job? by Katie Reilly on Intern Like a Rock Star.

Don’t count on it, says interning guru Katie Reilly. Better to use experience from an internship to get leads, to gain valuable experience, and to prove to others that you’re serious about working in the music industry.

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.


Image credits: Fiona Apple –; PSY –; Noisecreep merch table –

The Digest, Volume 9


Remembering Dave Brubeck, by Jack Zahora on NPR.

The well-known jazz pianist, composer, band leader, and frequent flyer passed away  a day shy of his 92nd birthday. The man who taught the world that odd time signatures were a good thing was also a progressive when it came to civil rights: he refused to play in clubs that would not allow his African-American bass player inside. Click here for the 1999 Fresh Air interview with Terry Gross.

Why Do People Go to Gigs With Obscure Bands? on Live Unsigned Blog.

This article could be a primer on developing a following from the inside out. Work on growing yours by focusing on friends and family first, then have them help develop your fan base online. You’ll know you’ve made it when the bloggers and the press start showing up.

The Future of Digital, by Bob Lefsetz on The Lefsetz Letter.

Microsoft-unveils-Surface-tablets-611MSLFJ-x-largeBob Lefsetz found a cool slide deck from the folks at Business Insider. It’s a bit lengthy, but it does have some implications for those of us who put our music and music marketing online. Make sure your website looks good on a mobile device, because fewer and fewer of us will see it on an actual PC. According to BI, the bottom line is that as habits change, the money follows.

Eight Ways to Build Sustainable Music Careers, by Gerald Klickstein on The Musician’s Way.

Klickstein offers solid career advice in this short blog post, but it’s all gold and should be treated as such. Learn all you can about the music business, as it’s part of your career. Don’t put all of your money-making eggs in one basket – have multiple income streams. As Robert Sirota put it, “The most difficult thing about being a musician these days is not talent. It’s sustainability.” While you’re on his blog, spend some time checking out Klickstein’s Entrepreneurship category as well.

Ten Tips From the Gene Simmons School of Marketing, by Michael Brandvold on Michael Brandvold Marketing.

Put your name on everything. (KISS branded everything from toilet seats to caskets to diapers.) Look for opportunities. Get over your fear. And read the rest of Brandvold’s take on Gene’s entrepreneurship on the blog.

The Importance of Being a Frontman, by Jack Ryan on Music Clout.

Aerosmith-frontman-done-with-book“The depreciated value of being a frontman is clear to see in the hundreds of unsigned bands playing shy and reserved sets in little sheds across the country. The bands that are picked up by record labels are the ones that have a cult following, which can only be picked up by grabbing the audience by the throat, and letting them know they’ve been to a gig.”

Five Easy Ways To Get Last Minute Shows, on Grassrootsy.

If you’re on tour and trying to fill a gap that just won’t go away, try some of the suggestions offered by the folks at Grassrootsy. You could host an open mic, put out a Facebook question, or just busk on a corner. The post also has a good link to house concerts.

Musicians and Bands: Follow the Compass In Your Gut, by Derek Sivers on DIY Musician.

Do what excites you. Don’t do what drains you. The advice is simple, yet we let people talk us out of the former and into the latter all the time. When you start doing what makes you excited, you’ll be doing what you were meant to do.

The Importance of Album Track Order in the Digital Age, by Gary Trust on

Album track order has long been the domain of artists, who usually decided track order on personal feelings about the songs. Now, with digital distribution and associated payouts taking center stage, artists and labels are beginning to realize that the earlier a song appears on an album, the more likely a listener is to stream it. At the same time, a listener’s attention span may be even shorter than any artist wants to believe.

Trifonov’s Triumph: Tchaikovsky, Twice Over, by Anastasia Tsioulcas on NPR.

Trifonov_011Oddly enough, Daniil Trifonov began learning the piano because he wanted to be a composer, and he figured that knowing the keyboard would be useful in writing down the notes. Now, after taking top honors at both the Rubinstein and Tchaikovsky Competitions, he’s busy recording the notes that others have set down before him. Click here for a review by Melanie Spanswick of Trifonov’s ambitious and well-received recital at the Queen’s Hall as part of this year’s Edinburgh International Festival.

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.


Images: Dave Brubeck – Microsoft Surface – Steven Tyler – Daniil Trifonov –

Ethics for Musicians: Case Study

choiceNote: the following scenario has been fictionalized, but it is based on an actual event told to me by another musician. All names are completely fictitious and are not meant to resemble any individual or organization.

Bad Whiskey is a four-piece classic rock band that gigs in and around a major metropolitan area of the United States. They’ve been together for a little over 18 months, and they’ve attracted a small following. They’re doing a lot of the things bands are supposed to do: interact with fans on social media, send out email reminders of shows, and post flyers advertising their gigs. Still, they’re frustrated that they haven’t started making better money at the clubs. Most of the time they earn between $300 to $400 a night, but they’re hoping that their third appearance at The Drunken Dromedary, an $800 New Year’s Eve gig, marks a turning point for their fortunes.

It’s Black Friday, and the band’s leader and rhythm guitarist Ian McDarth is out Christmas shopping when he gets a call from the owner of The Four Polo Ponies of the Apocalypse, a club they’ve been trying to get into for the last six months. The owner tells McDarth that he has an opening for their New Year’s Eve bash. About 600 couples will be there, there’s an in-house PA and engineer, and the gig pays $2,000. “Are you interested?” the owner asks McDarth.

times squareMcDarth assures him that he is interested but tells the owner that he wants to verify the availability of his band members before he commits, and that he’ll call the owner back at seven that night. After he hangs up he calls the other members of Bad Whiskey and tells them to hurry to his house for an emergency band meeting. When the others arrive, McDarth tells them the news. Everyone is excited about the opportunity, but they realize they’d have to cancel their gig at The Drunken Dromedary to take it.

“I don’t feel right about canceling,” says drummer Billy “Crash” Stokes.

“It’s another $300 per man, Crash,” replies lead guitarist Mike Portman. “Besides, we’ve been canceled on before by clubs.”

“Not by The Drunken Dromedary, though,” McDarth says. “What do you say, Jack?”

Bassist Jack Pastor is quiet for a while, then replies, “Guys, you know me and Amy got a baby commin’ in February. I could pay off my car note with the extra money.”

McDarth looks at his watch. “It’s almost 7,” he says to the others, ” and I need to call the owner back. What do I tell him?”

Please vote, and feel free to add your comments. (Note – all comments are moderated.)


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