Music Business

First: never, ever play “Stairway to Heaven” in a music store. You’ll piss off the staff and announce you’re an idiot. Expect to pay more for your gear. I mean this seriously. By the way, that “bottom line” price almost never is. Even at the big chain stores! If you can, make a friend with someone that works there that will show you dealer’s cost and charge you a fair mark up on that. Also, that new friend is probably another player and a good contact to other musicians. Also, your new friend probably can give you a heads up on upcoming sales, also, they can tell you about new products that are cool and most importantly new products that are NOT! (In Yoda voice: “Save you money they will”) Also, that’s a lot of “Also’s”, so this is probably a good tip…

Your booking agent, record company, lawyer, and manager (excepting the lifelong friend types) will love you only as long as you feed them. Their best interests will not always be yours. Don’t be paranoid but keep your eyes open. Don’t look for or expect to make friends with these people. They’re business partners. If it happens that Clive Davis becomes your lifelong friend that’s awesome, write me from the top. Their best interests will not always be yours. This is not because they’re evil. This is the way of the world.

GIVE UP YOUR DREAMS OF PLAYING MUSIC FOR A LIVING. You’ll never make it. If at any point while reading the last sentence you felt anything inside agree, you might not have what it takes to make it in the music business. If you stick with it you’re going to hear “No” more often than “Yes”, have a lot a “we’re gonna be rock stars” moments immediately followed by “we’re not gonna be rock star moments”, you will rehearse and practice your ass off only to have bands fall apart just after you’ve finished recording (and paying for) your first cd, you’ll have record execs, DJ, and other industry types say they’ll come to see your band play because they’re so interested and cancel at the last moment, etc, etc…in short this is no place for any lack of confidence. If you fall into the “lacking confidence” category, grab some friends, jam with some beers on the front porch or in a local bar. That’s what music’s really about anyway.

Don’t Fire the Drummer (yet!) It is ridiculously common for bands to fire their drummer at the first bump in the road professionally speaking. Everyone blames the drummer when the band doesn’t sell 100,000 copies of their first album, or they have a bad gig at a big show, etc. The drummer is the engine and incredibly important to the groove of the band, so you have to choose carefully, but the guy that has helped get your band out of the garage and on the road may not be the problem! Drummers are a different breed (at some point they sat in a small room hitting loud things for hours and hours and hours) but many are lovable and cuddly and at the very least shouldn’t be dropped like a hot rock every time something goes wrong. Also, more often than not the band never recovers. Seems that guy (or girl) had something important to add to the chemistry after all.

Your funk or hippie band will get your friends dancing and kill in your hometown. If you’re good you’ll pack out local venues for a while. Every town has (or should have) one of each. Probably won’t get far on the road though unless you perform naked except for a sock on your penis like the Red Hot Chili Peppers

When auditioning a new musician either as a replacement or new position test them with your most diverse stuff. The new person might really nail one thing but not have any clue what to do with the rest of it, so don’t spend all rehearsal trying to perfect one or two songs. Try songs with different rhythms and styles, ballads and rockers. Give them music to learn beforehand. Just 2 or 3 songs are enough. Yours probably isn’t their only full time gig (yet!). You’ll find out a lot about their work ethic by how well prepared they are on those songs. If the musician is great, but you really don’t have any personal chemistry after one or two rehearsals think again. In a band, your ability to communicate in a common way and not kill each other after a 6 week to 6 month tour in a van and trailer is crucial to your growth creatively and professionally. Everybody’s beautiful in their own way, but if you just can’t see yourself hanging with that guy(girl), ever, you’re going to have a tough time communicating creatively with them...

Practice. Really practice. I don’t mean run the scales you already know over and over. Push yourself. Guitar players…learn the entire neck not just the first position chords. Yes I know about Bob Dylan, you are not Bob Dylan (most likely). Learn your instrument and it will pay dividends to you. Singers same deal. Learn some music theory, keys, chord progressions, rhythmic notation. The more you learn the more doors will open up to you. Other musicians are being groomed earlier and earlier for their music careers. You are competing with children from well to do and connected families that are getting private lessons in singing, stagecraft, mix technique and more at early ages. Families with money and connections are paying for expensive studio time, first rate instruments and gear, flying their kids to do radio shows at age 15 (I’ve seen it). Look at how many former Disney shows kids are on the charts for better or for worse. Like it or not they are your competition. “I don’t play that cheesy music you might say, I’m a ‘real’ artist”, great! be a real artist like the guys in Radiohead. Those guys can really play. They know some theory and have clearly done their homework! Be a great indie artist if that’s your calling. Don’t use your indie ethos as an excuse to be a poor performer and writer. Get as many tools in your toolkit as you can. Be great at what you do. Remember the 10,000 hour rule to greatness. Somewhere along the line you must put in the effort or you will most likely end up wrapping burritos (not that there us anything wrong with that) so if that’s not where you want to end up, recognize how much talent there is in the music business, how many people want to make a career playing music and prepare yourself.