One Simple Secret of Success

The secret to success in the music business? Work at it. Every day. Practice, write, network, repeat. Every day.

Read on.

Make Your Music Business

simple Every feel like there’s no traction? Like your client growth, your services, and your music business as a whole just isn’t getting anywhere?

You start things, but life happens and you just never get this music career flowing?

I believe there is one answer to this: there’s a problem with your consistency.

Now, for bakers, consistency is a problem solved by adding more sugar or flour (I guess, I’m more of a chef than a baker). For basketball players, consistency means hitting shots at a good percentage and practicing strong fundamentals every practice and game.

But for you, it’s really a bit easier…or harder. You just have to DO your thing, every day, every week, and every month.

I truly believe some music business people succeed over others because they simply do it more. They wake up every day, even when they don’t feel like it and they…

  • Work on their demo…

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10 tips to help musicians get into the industry

Print this article and read it daily. It’s the best advice about how to succeed as a musician. Perhaps numbers 3 and 10 are the most important: support your local music scene and don’t ignore your network. If you never go out to shows, don’t expect other musicians to come to yours. And if you don’t return favors or phone calls, people will assume you’re just selfish.

Oh, yeah. Listen. Listening is good.

My Creative Biz

Working in the music industry can be a dream for many that is never fulfilled. Here are 10 ways an emerging musician can get into the industry.

1. Network, especially in your local industry. Go out to local gigs, follow local blogs, newsletters and street papers, listen to local radio stations. Meet as many people as you can. You never know you might meet the perfect band mate or songwriting partner.

2. Once you have a band together practice lots. Practice your instrument, your live performance and your songwriting. Organise some opportunities to perform in front of friends and ask them for real constructive criticism. You want to be as professional as you can be for your first booked show.

3. Attend local venues.  Go out and support your local venues, and make sure you go to shows by local bands, not just touring bands. Make a note of how the…

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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 –

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.

(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.

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.