Judging by the countless number of young bedroom producers that establish worldwide fame, the music industry seems accessible. Yet in reality, it’s fiercely competitive. The barriers to entry are low and every teen today wants to be a DJ instead of a skateboarder or athlete.
Succeeding requires a combination of great music and branding, an excellent team, impactful relationships, perspiration, timing and a dash of luck.
We stress combination because independently, neither of these factors will carry your career. Even if you’re a great artist, you – or your manager – will still need to work on getting these other requirements in order. Knowing and befriending the right people, learning to ride trends, positioning a brand and deal-making are skills that need to be developed within an artist’s team for the act to have a shot at making it.
When we started out, we knew nothing about the industry. Budi was lucky enough to find mentors in The Netherlands who had been tour-managing and booking acts, whereas Jeff began contributing to the electronic music publication Your EDM. Through practical experience (‘winging it’) and reading industry publications and related books, we developed expertise.
We share our opinions, insights, and experiences in the industry to make it more accessible for outsiders. However, you should be looking for the 360* view.
A smart artist or industry professional will cultivate the habit of ‘studying the music industry’; apprenticing, reading books and websites, listening to podcasts, deconstructing others’ success.
If you want to fast-track your development, do the following:
- Get your hands dirty: find a way to work in the industry. As an artist, this is best done by reaching out to labels and managers (agents will reach out to you when you’re generating enough traction). Develop your musical prowess while getting acquainted with licensing one-off releases to labels. For industry professionals, this means looking for internships with labels, promoters, PR agencies, management and booking agencies. Anything goes. If you’re unsure of where to start, reach out with a formal email to people already in the industry and offer to buy them coffee – then ask them tons of questions about their job, why they like or hate it, and their personal ambitions in the industry.
- Cultivate a curious attitude: maintain an attitude where you take every interaction with an artist or professional in the industry as a learning experience. Most people are doing something right from which you can learn, and even if their choices might not have been yours, strive to understand why they made them. Practice deconstructing every industry event that grabs your attention, whether it’s a release campaign (think Justin Bieber – Purpose (great campaign… read up on the Spotify trajectory)), choice of agencies, routing of a tour or decision to remix specific records. Try to understand people’s drivers – over time you’ll see patterns, like when actions are driven by money, the ‘look’, artistry or a grand plan.
- Study the fundamentals: to operate effectively in the industry, one needs to know the fundamentals. This is truer for industry professionals than artists, but any artist with this knowledge has a significant advantage over those that don’t because they’re better equipped to build and coordinate their team. Fundamentals include; an understanding of the industry roles (managers, booking agents, publicists, synch agents, performance rights organizations and so forth); basic copyright law for masters and songs/publishing respectively. You can study up on these skills via the other articles on our site, and we’ll also provide a number of book recommendations below.
- Read a limited number of trusted industry publications regularly: the business changes rapidly and comprises a small number of power-players. By monitoring a few good publications, you can stay up-to-date about the business’ numbers, DSP changes, up-and-comers, success stories and other important trends. It’ll help you be the first to capitalize on new opportunities, but will also help improve your network – as you’ll be introduced to many interesting people you haven’t heard of before. There have been countless times where we reached out to a manager, DSP representative or CEO based on a news article – leading to new business partnerships.
Books are a very important resource for just about anything and music is no different. Budi’s written in the past about several books that really helped him as an entrepreneur but here are several others that will break down the basics of the music industry for you.
- All You Need To Know About The Music Industry – Donald S. Passman
Terrific resource by the lawyer of artists like Janet Jackson, Green Day, Stevie Wonder, and more. A bit old school, but will teach you the key roles, copyright, and deals that drive the industry. Royalty rates are discussed mostly in respect to physical sales, however, the same principles generally apply to digital sales and streams. Mandatory reading.
- The Plain and Simple Guide to Music Publishing – Randall D. Wixen
Digestible overview of copyright and publishing. Will teach you the difference between master and song rights, songwriter splits, administration, sub-publishing, and synchronization. Mandatory reading as well.
- The SoundCloud Bible – Budi Voogt
Shameless self-plug. But, if you want to learn both the basics of music marketing, business and copyright, as well as marketing, then this is a great place to get started. The Third Edition just launched and includes 440 pages of current industry knowledge; social media, branding, digital distribution, Hypem, YouTube and SoundCloud marketing and more.
We’ve selected our favorite industry publications for you to read. Find which work best for you and subscribe to their newsletters. We’ll explain how to centralize these into one digestible feed later in the article.
- Digital Music News: DMN is another leading industry publication but has more of an editorial inclination. They write about industry trends, tech, and financials, but also have a large number of ‘buzz’ – more excitement driven – content, such as artist’s misbehaviors and so forth. Here’s what Paul Reshnikoff, founder of Digital Music News had to say about the industry: “The music industry is changing every single day, and new players and platforms are constantly coming up. I’d say the most successful artists are those that are creative on both the musical and promotional fronts. And, aren’t afraid to constantly experiment, come what may.”
- Music Business Worldwide: MBW is considered by most as the leading industry publication on the web, renowned for their professional editorial and their informedness. Their editorial covers industry trends, major hires, tech innovations, legal arguments, financial analysis and opinion pieces. There’s also a podcast (doesn’t update too often, but the guests are interesting) and a job board (hosting most of the interesting vacancies in the industry).
- Hypebot: Hypebot has been covering the industry for a long time and hosts primarily guest posts ranging from topics such as industry trends, financials, big hires, but also marketing and business advice. One of our most popular articles, a guide to digital distribution, was first shared by Hypebot.
- Lefsetz newsletter: The Lefsetz newsletter is a renowned plain text email newsletter written by Bob Lefsetz, a music industry analyst, and critic. We recommend you subscribe as you’ll get to know Bob’s personality over time and he has sharp opinions about the industry, trends, hits and the consumer’s role in all of it. It’ll give you a good narrative to go along with the drier articles about tech changes or yearly financials that you’ll read on MBW or elsewhere.
- Billboard Biz: Billboard Biz is the online news and business division of Billboard magazine which is currently still in beta. In addition to tracking the Billboard Charts, Billboard Biz provides music industry news and analysis such as their influential lists like their ‘40 Under 40’ list or ‘Digital Power Players List.’ The regular Billboard website also remains a good source of news and analysis, but it seems that the Billboard Biz department is geared towards more to those interested in the business of the industry.
The music business is driven by data. Having an understanding of the demographics of countries, penetration of streaming, the popularity of downloading versus streaming and the financials of the respective markets will help you better make decisions when marketing your music and negotiating deals.
The following sites are a terrific resource for this information. Set aside an hour every week to go through one of their reports in order to get a better feel for the world we’re operating in.
- IFPI Global Music Report: The IFPI publishes informative music reports like their annual flagship Global Music Report, formerly Digital Music Report, which paints a precise picture of consumer behavior with analysis of markets, streaming vs download numbers, charts of the top artists/songs of the year, case studies, and much more.
- Nielsen SoundScan: Nielsen SoundScan is primarily responsible for tracking music consumption in the USA. This data is used to shape the Billboard charts, among others. They publish amazing reports on topics such as ‘Total Audience Report’, ‘Media Trends’, and ‘Digital Consumer Report’, many of which are even tailored to specific regions. Some of these are accessible for free.
- Statista: Statista in particular acts as a ‘search engine’ for stats and facts drawing from over 18,000 reports and studies to give you information. Searching for ‘music streaming’ for example will yield results such as detailed graphs with analytics and reports like ‘Number of music tracks available on selected streaming services worldwide as of June 2015.‘ Some of these graphs are freely available, but more detailed graphics such as the graph for ‘Music streaming revenue worldwide from 2010 to 2015, by type (in billion U.S. dollars)‘ require premium accounts.
Podcasts are another great source of information and commentary and unlike books and online news, they can be digested while on the move.
- Renman – Music & Business: Renman – Music & Business is run by Steve Rennie the former manager of Incubus. Rennie interviews some of the most experienced and knowledgeable insiders from within the industry in addition. He also runs his own video courses for people looking to make it into the music industry.
- Music Business Worldwide: MBW also has their own podcast which they’ve recently relaunched. Their new format features will feature interviews with leading industry figures starting with their first interview with Mike Caren
Creative Officer of Warner Music Group and founder of the Artist Publishing Group.
With all of the new sites and podcasts to crawl through you’re probably wondering what the most efficient way of digesting all that content is – the answer is feedly.
Feedly is a web RSS aggregator that allows you to consume content in a streamlined environment that allows you to separate different publications or content sources based on content type such as “Sports” or “Tech” for example.
Signing up and getting started is easy. Registration is free and all you need is either a Google account or a Facebook account. You can also connect Twitter or Evernote as well. Connecting with Twitter allows you to centralize all your feedly feed into a single digestible Twitter list, so if you actively use that function that could work for you too.
Once you’re registered it’ll take you to a landing page where you can start to search via website names or topics. You’ll need to start a collection which is where you’ll separate each source of traffic by content type to keep your feed as ‘music business’ as possible.
As you click the “Follow” button there will be a prompt asking you to first create a collection, this is where you’ll be able to create appropriate categories for you to keep your feed clean and organized.
Once you do that you can start to search for blogs and publications via keyword, publication name, or just by dropping the URL. Any website with an RSS feed can be tracked making feedly a good place to aggregate any information or keep up with multiple websites at once for whatever topic. This is what Jeffrey’s feedly looks like for example.
Another cool trick with feedly is the “All” function. Clicking on “All” will draw all of the content across your different categories into a simple email inbox style format for easy reading.
Knowledge in action
This information will only be useful if you can put yourself in a context where it has practical value. Beware studying endlessly and not getting anything done.
Read these books and cherry-pick the websites, newsletters, and podcasts that resonate with you the most. Then cultivate the habit of studying them daily or weekly (for podcasts). But make sure to do that while getting your hands dirty.
If you’re an artist, that means you study while you put out music and talk to managers and labels. For industry professionals, it means finding apprenticing somewhere, finding artists to work with or promoting shows.
You’ll find that the boring stuff; the company financials, big hires, major label politics; will become more interesting as you develop a feeling for the bigger picture.
Now that you’ve heard our suggestions, let’s turn it around. What are your favorite ways to stay up-to-date about the industry? Any good sites or podcasts that we’ve missed? Let us know in the comments below.