I’m assuming if you’re asking that question, that you want to get into the music business as a successful musical act. I’ll put it to you straight. The music industry is one of the toughest and most competitive careers to break into, because the rewards are so great. You go to any of the major music capitals (L.A., Nashville, New York City and Austin, for example) and you’ll find 10,000 bands and musical artists looking for their break.
So if you want to get into the music business, you’ll have to have determination, perseverance, the ability to shake off criticism (while learning from positive criticism) and have a passion for music which sustains you through the hard times. You are working towards a hard-to-attain goal and most people are going to fail to achieve their goals. That’s the plain and simple truth.
Getting Into The Music Business
Some would say that getting into the music business and becoming a star is a matter of luck. While a good break or two is going to be needed at some point, that diminishes the hard work and the “dues” which most musicians have to pay before getting noticed. Not everybody’s story is the same, of course, but here are some common elements that many successful music acts share.
- Bring Something Fresh – While there are plenty of acts who get signed copying other acts, it helps to have something a little different to stand out from the crowd. Maybe that’s otherworldly singing skills or technical proficiency. Maybe that’s a rare talent for writing hooks or melodies, or a skill for writing catchy lyrics. Maybe you put on a phenomenal live show, a devoted and boisterous local following or a natural charisma that transcends the stage. Or maybe your band has an outrageous stage persona the likes of which has never been seen.
The point is, you should have something to hang your hat on. Think outside the box and don’t be content to just copy others. That’s a sure way to become a cover band. Certainly, have your influences and a solid foundation to build on. But dare to be different, because that will get you noticed by music managers, talent agents and record label executives alike.
- Know the Business – You don’t have to be a businessman in a three-piece suit and a brief case, but try to learn the business side of things a little bit. Understand what makes your music industry work. Don’t be afraid to be a bit of a self-marketer and a shrewd business person. Professionalism never hurts, and being able to sit down over a table with an executive or manager and talking intelligently definitely will not hurt. In the end, these people have to trust you and believe in you and your talent, so exhibiting a grasp of the business is a very good thing to them.
- Get To Know People – Another part of the business is connecting to other people in the music industry. Never turn down an acquaintance in the business. If you’re invited to an industry event, from a birthday party to a listening party, make sure you go. Always return a phone call. You never know which person you meet is going to be the one who can help your career, so you need to treat every person you meet as if they are important to your music.
- Don’t Be Afraid to Self-Promote – I’ve mentioned this once before, but it bears repeating. Music is a business and you are trying to sell yourself, your act and your art. Keep a demo tape with you at all times and be ready to hand it out to any business exec you meet. When I say “at all times”, I mean it. Keep a demo in your car, so if you meet someone at the fast-food restaurant, a car wash or a club, you’ll have the demo ready to hand out. You just never know where your big break will come.
Also, be prepared to talk about yourself intelligently. Don’t shy away from talking about every aspect of your career. Be truthful. Be straightforward. Talk about where your band is at, though do so in an upbeat fashion. Project confidence, but project genuineness. People will respond to this, because those two traits do not always go hand-in-hand.
- Try To Improve – Always try to improve your music act. This might mean hiring a voice coach. Maybe it simply means practicing twice as much every day, or rehearsing harder than the band previously did. Maybe it means improving your writing skills or getting inspiration through reading books on writing technique. Maybe it means exposing yourself to new musical influences to get your creative juices flowing.
- Listen To a Lot of Music – On that subject, listen to a lot of music. Know the business and the charts of your particular music genre. You need to know who is doing what and why other bands in your scene are successful. But it goes beyond that.
As much as you listen to music in your industry — and you should spend most of your time immersing yourself in your music scene — also expose yourself to other musical influences. Don’t overdo this, but occasionally listen to music to get you out of your music scene. This might inspire you or give you a creative idea that nobody else in the area has had. I’m not talking about a country artist listening only to pop or rock, either. I’m talking about music that is way outside the box — maybe something from over the oceans. Don’t overdo this, of course, but just think outside the box occasionally and see if it inspires you.
- Be Prepared For the Grind – It may take years to get signed. They also say that a band waits on average five years to see real money after signing a record contract. So keep that in mind. You’re in this for a marathon. Very seldom will a band form, get signed within a year or two and become a major hit on their first try. Don’t plan on being the exception. That’s great if it happens, but plan on being the average successful band.
You’ll have your ups and downs, you advances and setbacks. You’ll have plenty of detractors, perhaps even among your most trusted friends and family. Listen to feedback and what people have to say, but don’t lose faith in your talent. Don’t turn a blind eye to reality if your career is going nowhere and talent scouts tell you that you have no talent, but if you’re having some success and you can see a path to success in your music career, maintain faith in yourself and your art.
- Maintain Your Passion – Also, maintain your passion for the business. If you’re asking “how do I get into the music business”, I presume you have some music talent and you feel passionate about your music. If so, then being in the music business on any level is going to be a dream-come-true for you. Understand how lucky you are to be living out your being of being in the music business and revel in that good fortune.
Sometimes, your passion for the music business is going to be all that’s sustaining you. This is a lifetime decision, so you need to keep a lifetime commitment. You should be passionate about something in life, so you might as well make it the music business.
- Music is Expansive – Maybe you’ve already decided you want to be in the music industry, but you don’t think that career is on the performance side of the business. Maybe you asked “How do I get into the music business” because you wanted to pursue something in music management or music production. If so, read our articles titled “How do you start a music management company”, “How do I get a job in radio sales“, “What is music technology” or “How do I become a rap music producer“. These might give you other ideas for getting into the music industry. Good luck.