How to Break Into the Music Industry
Woodwind & Brasswind Contributing Writer - Keith Everette Smith
I wish that I could tell you that all it takes to be successful in the music industry is talent. Believe me, I would LOVE to tell you this... but I can't. If talent were the only factor for finding success in the music, industry then there would be no guitar playing doctors, drummers turning lawyers or saxophone playing politicians. The fact is, there is a threshold of talent that exists in the music business. At some level, there are so many musicians who are good enough to be successful, but there are many other factors that allow people to thrive in the business of music. So, in this article I want to give you some advice that will help you break into this competitive industry.
Be aggressive and develop a thick skin - If you want to break into the music industry it is going to take an aggressive attitude. I'm not talking about your demeanor. I'm talking about the hustle. You're going to have to go after your dream. No one else is going to make it happen for you. You're going to have to work hard and aggressively pursue your dreams.
Part of this aggressive attitude must be your ability to press on through adversity. As you search for opportunities you'll inevitably find those who do not like what you do and feel the need to share their opinion with you. Remember, music is subjective. Not everyone is going to love your work. The trick is to brush it off, press on, and find those that you resonate with creatively. These are the people you want to work with.
Strive to be an innovator of your craft - Push yourself not only to play skillfully, but to develop a sound all your own on your instrument. A musician must find his (or her) voice. The imitator's life span in the industry is short compared to those who find something unique to offer. As a producer, I am constantly hiring musicians for records I am working on and I am first and foremost looking for the right musician for the job. I need someone who can offer a unique approach to the song I am producing. This is how great records and made and this is what you'll need to succeed.
Build Friendships, not just connections - The thing I love most about the music industry is the collaborative environment and the ability to make music with people that I enjoy being around. Music is made with friends, so go make friends! If you're meeting other musicians in hopes of using them for their connections or clout in the industry you will not get far. Approach your connections first and foremost as a way to make friends who share an obvious common interest. If you are young, bind together with musicians your age. These people will be there, rising to the top with you and you'll find success together!
Use Social Networking - Social networking seems to be here to stay, if you're not an active user of facebook and twitter, you should be. These resources keep your name in front of others in the industry and also allow others to easy reach you if an opportunity arises. Receiving an email definitely feels more professional than receiving a facebook message, but a gig is a gig. If someone does not have my email address, I don't mind receiving a private message.
I would advise that you DO NOT collect powerful industry "facebook friends" that you've never met. Nothing seems more embarrassing than meeting your hero for the first time and saying, "Yeah, we're already friends on facebook." Use facebook as a way to connect with people you meet in person. This will help keep social media from becoming superficial and impersonal.
Move to a music city - If you want to play ball in the pros, you have to be near other pros. Yes, the internet has changed the game. Very much so. Recording sessions can be done across the globe with no issues at all. However, the majority of music is still made in cities like Nashville, LA, New York, Atlanta, Austin and Orlando. You can make music from anywhere, but I tend to think that bigger music cities offer more opportunities and better resources for making great albums.
Find an internship - Sometimes the best way to get into the industry is by offering your services to local producers or studios. I've had a few great interns who really helped me out by editing tracks, prepping mix sessions, tuning vocals, setting up microphones, cleaning the studio, and making coffee. Good interns are hard to come by, so do the best job you can and you'll have a good shot at moving up the ranks. Soak up knowledge and get to know the work habits of those you are working for. If you can save others time and money, you'll find great success with this approach.
Be a learner - Articles like the one you are reading, blogs, and video tutorials are great. Use them often and learn as much as you can. This kind of goes without saying. I want to suggest something else from you. Offer to take those you look up to in the industry to coffee. But do this to LEARN SOMETHING, not just to get an "in" in the industry. As I've mentioned, trying to use people seems kind of obnoxious. Some of these musicians and producers absolutely love to teach the next generation. By offering to buy them a cup of coffee, you'll gain insight into the industry that no article or blog could ever teach you. A kind email goes a long way. You may be surprised who is willing to sit down with you.
Develop your business skills - This is a big one. You will not get far if you don't know how to manage your money, pay your taxes, and manage your CALENDAR. Start now. Learn to organize your address book, keep a calendar and to do list. Also, learn business etiquette. Learn how to show up early to sessions, come prepared, and go the extra mile. Be sure that you are never a liability for those you work with. Be someone who can be counted on and trusted with anything they throw your way. Oh, and return emails promptly.
Create your own opportunities - The age of the label is dead, or at least sleeping. 90% of the work I do is independent work, and of that work, probably 60% of that is projects that I courted. If you wait around for others to offer you work, you are sadly mistaken about the way the industry works. Instead, take matters into your own hands. Find talented artists who may want to make some music and offer to record them. Find local bands that may want your instrumental services and offer to play on their record. Sometimes you need to build your musical portfolio more than you need to make money. Do whatever it takes to work and don't rely on other for your success.
Develop a balanced life - This is personally important to me and the principle comes from living a life very out of balance for far too long. I'll say this, as great as music is, never trade music for your sanity, your relationships, your faith and even your sleep. There is truly no pot of gold at the end of the rainbow, so you'd better enjoy the journey. When you are working, work your butt off, but give yourself some room to live a life beyond the studio doors. This is also good for your business. Studies have shown that after 50 hours of work per week, we become unproductive and we are not performing at our best. I believe that your work will be better, and you will go farther if you build into your life a healthy balance of work and play.
As you can see, there really is a lot more to breaking into the industry than simply being good at your craft. If I had to sum everything up... work hard, build connections, and be a great hang. Enjoy the process and be a lover of music. These values will bring great success and a full life. Best of luck!