MIMO - When Music is Your Fix

Why You Need to Learn the Music Biz

Here’s another nugget adapted from my blog The Developing Artist. It talks about why DIY musicians can’t afford to be ignorant about the music business, especially if they are serious about trying to make a living at it. Enjoy!

To be honest, I don’t know that many professional musicians who actually enjoy the business side of music.  They’d rather just write, play and perform, and not worry about dollars and cents, contractual agreements, or anything else having to do with the music biz. They’d rather have someone else take care of these details–and frankly, DIY musicians don’t always have “someone else” to do that sort of thing.

But ignorance is not bliss; ignorance is ignorance. And ignorance will cost you dearly in the long term. If you want to play for anyone else besides the walls of your garage, you need to educate yourself about the music business, if for no other reason than your own protection.

I think one reason why we musicians have an aversion to the business side of things is that business is largely a left-brained function, while musicians tend to be right-brained people.  Like other art forms, music comes from a place of inspiration and intuition and emotion, while business leans more toward the logical/rational/analytical side of things. One reason why we prefer to hire managers is that we don’t want to get bogged down in the details, and that’s a legitimate thing. Unfortunately, for DIY musicians, especially, hiring a manager isn’t in the budget–and besides, most managers really can’t afford to take on unproven bands these days, anyhow.  Self-managing is a necessity for most musicians in our current musical climate, but even if you can afford a manager, you should still be as business savvy as possible.  (A manager can screw you over just as easily as anyone else. Sad, but true.)

The point is, the music business is (for lack of a better term) a necessary evil. As much as you might want to avoid it, it’s something you need to work with at just about any level of music, from the indies to the majors, if you want to get your music out to the public. If you do not have a working knowledge of the biz, you will be at the mercy of other people who do. And while there are certainly plenty of good people in the music business, there are also sharks–people whose primary interest is the money, and who are not above exploiting your talent in order to get that money. We’ve heard too many horror stories of bands and artists who made other people rich and wound up with nothing for themselves. Most of those bad business deals were struck because the musicians didn’t know any better.  This is why ignorance is not bliss.  Your talent is an asset in the business world, and if you don’t know enough about how things work, you will be ill-equipped to protect that asset from people who want to take unfair advantage of it. Your ignorance will be your undoing–so don’t be ignorant.

Educating yourself about the music business won’t happen in a day; it’s an ongoing process–and just like other professions that require continuing education, you will always have something new to learn about the business, because things are always changing. Here are some tips to get you thinking in the right direction about this.

  1. Take advantage of available resources. In this age of information, there’s really no excuse not to educate yourself. Lots of books are available about different aspects of the biz, and you can find them in the bookstores or the local library.  There’s also plenty of free information online, from articles to podcasts.  We try to provide good information here on this blog, obviously, but I’ve provided some links to other resources below.  You can even take college courses on the music business. Make yourself aware of what’s available, and start learning.
  2. Devote time in your schedule to learning. Even if you spend an hour a day reading up on the business, you’ll be heading in the right direction.
  3. Talk to people in the know. Some of the best advice you’ll get will come from people who have experience in the business.  Talk to other musicians who have been doing this longer than you have; find out what they’ve learned.  You may also find out specific things, like who in your town is trustworthy, and who you need to avoid.
  4. Take a default position of defense. This might sound negative or even jaded, but start with the assumption that someone is going to try and take unfair advantage of you. Not to say that everyone will try to take advantage–just to say that the best way to prevent it is to be on the lookout for it. Make people earn your trust before you hand it to them, and automatically distrust anyone who starts promising you the moon on a platter.
  5. Never sign a significant contract without the advice of a lawyer skilled in entertainment law. By “significant” contract, I mean a contract that may have a lasting effect on your career. You can probably handle signing contracts with local venues and stuff like that (just read it before you sign it!); but for record deals, distribution deals, and anything dealing with your finances or your exposure in a significant way, you should have a lawyer looking out for your interests so you don’t get ensnared.  If you have any doubt, or any trouble understanding what you’re signing–get an entertainment  or music business lawyer to look at it first.

I’ll say it one more time: ignorance is not bliss.  You might not avoid every pitfall by learning the music business, but you’ll certainly save a lot of heartache in the long run if you do.

As promised–here are just a few other resources to help further your education. There are lots more, but this will get you started:

  • Music Biz Academy. Lots of great information here, much of it offered free.  Also some online courses available.
  • ArtistHouse Music. Again, great informational articles and videos.
  • CD Baby DIY Musician Podcast. Of course, CD Baby is a platform for marketing your music, but they do a free audio podcast that gives plenty of useful information for DIY musicians.
  • Hypebot. A music business blog that provides lots of current and useful information about what’s happening in the biz.

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About the Author


Jeff McQ is a songwriter/composer/musician with a diverse resume that includes everything from directing music in church to scoring short films. In addition to his role as chief editor for Music Is My Oxygen (and writing our DIY Musician Channel), Jeff also covers the local music scene for Examiner.com in his hometown of Denver, Colorado, and maintains The Developing Artist [http://artistdevelopmentblog.com], a blog dedicated to offering advice and encouragement to indie musicians.

When he's not tinkering in his home studio or blogging for hours on his laptop at the local coffee shop (to the annoyance of the baristas), Jeff McQ enjoys taking in local shows, going on road trips, wandering aimlessly, and talking to himself.

Posted in: DIY Music


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