How to "Make it" in the Music Industry (Part 2)

In 'Part 1' of this blog I started out by posing a few important questions that I think every prospective 'full-time' musician needs to ask before attempting a career in music. I believe these questions can help anyone who wants to pursue music as a career to start building a realistic picture of what they can expect and should prepare for in 'the industry'. I also shared parts of my own story in the previous blog with the idea of using it as a bit of a case study to identify some key principles, ideas, and tips for how I have navigated my own way through the music industry thus far. If you haven't read the first part of this 3-part blog then I would recommend you do that before continuing with this one ;-)~

 

Here's the link: How to "Make it" in the Music Industry (Part 1)

 

 

THE BUSINESS 

 

When we look at the musicians that inspire us to do what we do, most of the time we see them while they're busy performing or making public appearances (like interviews or clinics), but we rarely see all the work that goes on "behind the scenes". In a very big sense, we only ever see the "end result" in the lives of our music idols where in actual fact there are a lot of boring business activities that have helped to open up the doors for those guys to continuously be doing what they do and keep it sustainable. Sure, you have to invest a lot of hours developing your skill level on your instrument before you reach a level where you can comfortably negotiate the musical challenges presented to you while you're on the job, but unless you approach your music career from a business point of view you will probably have a hard time making a sustainable living from it.

 

Any business has multiple aspects that you need to be aware of and manage effectively to optimise your profit (get the most out of it), for example:

 

Managing Finances - How much are your "services" worth (ie. what fee can you charge)? What are your costs of doing business (travel costs, maintenance of your instruments, things like printing & stationery, renting facilities, etc.)?

Having good Marketing Strategies - Who is your target audience (ie. the people that should know about you and your business)? How will you get the word out to those people about what you do?

Maintaining healthy Public Relations - In other words, maintaining a good reputation. What are the stories that people hear about you? Will those stories encourage them to want to work with you in future?

Having good Customer Relations - Are the people that you do "business" with happy with what you contribute every time they work with you? Do they want to carry on working with you, or rather find a better alternative?

Factoring Return on Investments - This sounds like a big corporate term but it boils down to finding the right stuff to spend your time and money on. You want to spend time and money on things that will result in some kind of benefit for you as a business. Sometimes the benefit is actual money that you earn, and other times the benefit might be something else that helps you achieve a bigger goal in future.

Managing Equipment - This seems quite basic, but you do need to take care of your equipment and try to get the most amount of "mileage" out of each item. If you are constantly losing or breaking pieces of equipment that you need in order to do your job then replacing them can poke serious holes in your budget.

Maintaining a good Cash Flow - This is probably one of the MOST crucial things to learn to manage if you want to stay afloat in a volatile music industry. You will experience a few months where you earn a fair amount of money, but then there are always months where it just feels like nothing is happening. It's crucial to learn the discipline of saving up during the "peak seasons" so that you have reserves to carry you through the slum months.

 

 

CONNECTIONS

 

Any business is grown and built on making the right connections in their industry. As a musician, this is arguably the most important factor that can help you maintain a consistent presence in the music industry. A big part of your career's 'survival' will depend on your connections ("...who you know") but these connections don't just happen overnight. You have to constantly work at maintaining the current industry relationships that you have while trying at the same time to broaden your circle of connections to include more and more new acquaintances.

 

Although I won't be able to tell you exactly which connections you will need in your current situation to help you kickstart your career, I can give you some ideas as to where you can start "fishing" for the right contacts.

For me personally, a lot of my industry connections were formed as a result of my time in 'C-Kruis'/13th Floor. Although the company doesn't exist any more, they used to attract a lot of artistic personalities who toured with them for a year or two before launching into a career of their own... many of them into the music industry. For me, this meant that a lot of people I toured with, connected with, and made friends with via 'C-Kruis' are people that I still encounter and work alongside in the music industry today.

My drum teacher (Bruce Wallace) made some really valuable connections in the years that he spent studying his degree in music at the university he graduated from. In a sense, he was studying and playing with the "musicians of tomorrow", so by the time he graduated and started moving into a full-time music career he already had friends and colleagues that knew him and wanted to work with him as a result of their time together as music students.

Another platform that is often connecting me with more and more fellow musicians is the 'church bands' where I serve and help out occasionally. A lot of full-time musicians spend some time early on in their lives and careers being involved in a church's worship ministry somewhere.

 

When thinking about how and where to make connections I always recommend that prospective musicians keep two important factors in mind: Firstly, you want to get involved with a group or an institution where you not only get to meet and befriend the "musicians of tomorrow", but also get the chance to actually make music with them. It's not enough for people to get to know your face. Often they need to experience your vibe in a musical context before they decide whether or not they want to make music with you again at some point in the future.

The second thing I recommend it to not try and force yourself into a gig that actually belongs to someone else. When I was still young I always used to look up to the gigs that my drum teacher played and, eventually, I started dreaming of the possibility of playing those gigs in his place. It didn't take long for me to realise that this would probably never happen, for the simple reason that he is playing "those gigs" because he is friends with "those people" and "those people" don't want to use anyone else. The obvious next step was for me to start making my own friends in the industry who want to use me when they have shows or projects or music recordings where they need a drummer.

 

*Image courtesy of  www.SONOR.com
*Image courtesy of www.SONOR.com

 

OPTIONS

 

I think it's very important to keep an open mind about the various possibilities available to you in the music industry. When I started dreaming about one day becoming a professional drummer I only had one goal in sight: to become the best studio drummer in the country! Back then the drummers I had the most respect for were the guys that got booked to play session after session at all the big recording studios where most of the albums from that time were recorded. At that stage, my perspective was that "live" drummers were a dime a dozen but the studio cats were a special breed.

As time went on, however, the industry underwent quite a few significant changes. Album sales started to take a dive, which lead to more budget constraints on recording fees. More and more artists started to decentralise the recording process, meaning that a lot of the recording time that used to be spent at a big studio was now spent in someone's home studio with a little mobile recording interface. Part of the problem was that many artists started to gravitate back towards recording EP's and singles, making it hard to justify booking a big studio, an engineer, and a drummer just to track drums for one song, leading to a revolution in the drum sample & drum programming game. Some of the top recording drummers tried to counter this by setting up their own personal recording rooms which worked out cheaper and more time efficient for most clients who wanted to book them.

The moral of this short saga is simply this: when I was a kid, that which seemed to be the "ultimate" place to be for a professional drummer is no longer really a sustainable option in our industry. Sure, drummers still get booked to go and record a few songs now and then at big studios together with a rhythm section or a full band, but right now this seems to be more of an exception than a rule. So with the way the music industry has changed these past years, being an in-demand touring drummer currently seems to be a much more lucrative option.

 

For you, the aspiring full-time musician, it's important to realise that there are a vast number of different options available to pursue within the music industry. Some of them may be stepping stones into another part of the industry that you want to infiltrate. Some of them may help you to discover hidden talents or passions that you never realised you had. Some of them may not resonate with you at all... so then you move along and find another option that works for you.

Keep in mind that even the most 'perfect fit' for you as a person won't just be a walk in the park. You still need to invest time and effort in order to reap the full benefits of any option you pursue.

 

Here are just some of the options I could think of:

 

= Education - There are even a few sub-categories within this category that you should explore, like whether you want to just teach casually or whether you want to maybe be a teacher for a tertiary institution. You could, for instance, look at combining music education with therapy, or move toward a more corporate 'team building' scenario. You could teach one-on-one, group classes, or even online courses. You could focus on teaching beginner basics, or choose to specialise in a specific advanced field of your craft or instrument. In my opinion, education is such a broad field I am confident that any person can find something in the line of education that they would enjoy doing while making enough money to fill a few gaps in their budget.

= Live Shows - You could decide to stick with one specific band/artist and tour with them, or you could be a "musician for hire" who plays for multiple artists. You could even be the organiser that books other musicians to perform for specific functions or events. You could do arrangements for instrument groups or scores for an entire show. You could become a conductor in the classical field or a music director for more commercial performances... Again, there are a vast number of options within the "live music" field.

= Theatre Work - While this technically falls under the "live music" category, I thought I'd mention it as quite a few of my friends have found it to be a very lucrative and fairly stable source of income, at least for a season in their careers. I think it is quite a unique category in the music industry and definitely worth exploring as an option.

= Recording - Although the recording industry has changed significantly in the last few years there are still a lot of opportunities for recording live instruments. You could explore the more corporate options like recording music for advertisement jingles, or just do session work for people looking to record songs for albums, or perhaps even have a look at recording samples for programming software. You may need a massive capital investment if you want to set up your own personal recording space, or you could strike up a partnership with an existing studio somewhere. Either way, the recording industry is still very much alive if you know where to look for opportunities.

= Building, Crafting, and Manufacturing - Many of my friends in the industry have discovered that they have a love for the crafting of instruments. For some of them it starts out as an attempt to achieve something with their instrument which they are struggling to find amongst the conventional options that are available, and for others, it might start as a way to try and save money in the process of expanding or maintaining their collection of instruments. It may be a tedious process to manufacture an instrument from scratch, but some people are so passionate about their handiwork that they actually start generating a demand for their hand-crafted instruments and end up making some money in the process.

Another option would be to simply find employment with a bigger company that is already manufacturing instruments and learn about the craft under the guidance of an established artisan or a luthier, perhaps with the option of becoming one yourself.

= Servicing & Repairs - Some people may not have the passion or the patience to craft an instrument from scratch but they are really good at servicing and maintaining instruments. Any place where you find music instruments for sale you will also find a big market for the repair and maintenance of those instruments, and if you have the skill to repair and maintain them properly then you will constantly find musicians knocking at your door for help with maintaining theirs.

= Sales - A great many of the musicians I know in have spent some time at the start of their careers working in a music instrument retail store. Most of them don't hang around very long, but some of them actually carry on to make a decent living in the sales music instrument sales industry. Some end up being managers or even store owners further down the line, and some become sales reps for a company or a brand that they love. The sales & retail side obviously plays a big role in any music industry, but although it can be a great platform for some, making a living out of it is definitely not for everyone.

 

 

In the next issue of this 3-part blog series, I will wrap up with a few principles that I've applied over the years to help safeguard and establish my music career, as well as looking at one or two concepts that I believe are essential to almost any career path in the music industry.