Learning the Music ‘Biz

I’ve been doing a ton a reading on the business side of music. Maybe I should have done this before recording the album? Yeah, well, that and buck will get me a cup of coffee…

Anyhow, the business side of the music industry is always depressing to me. And I’m your classic rational left-brain kind of guy who “Spoks” to every situation. I imagine right-brained artists find it positively oppressing. That being said, it is necessary unless you want to play nothing but your basement for the rest of your life. Here’s a few of the better resources I’ve run across:

Good Resources

  • CDBaby’s DIY Podcast – Absolutely required for any do-it-yourself indie artist. Go subscribe to the podcast and listen to every single one of the past episodes. Great content and highly entertaining!
  • How to Promote Your Music Successfully on the Internet by David Nevue – A good book with lots of useful ideas. It repeats itself a bit and probably could have been a pamphlet rather than a book, but still worth your time.
  • CDBaby DIY Blog – I don’t find it as useful as the podcast, but still, a wealth of information.
  • Former CDBaby owner Derek Siver’s archive – A bit disjointed but chock full of useful nuggets. Dig in.
  • The Future of Music: Manifesto for the Digital Music Revolution by David Kusek, Gerd Leonhard – This isn’t a “how to” as much as a measured study of the current state of the music industry and considered projection of where it’s headed. I’ve no idea if it’s prognostications are accurate but it’s a solid read with the takeaway lesson of: “Things are changing rapidly. Pay attention and adapt! Don’t get mired in the romance of what the industry was.

Other General Business Books

These books aren’t about the music business per se, but have a lot of salient information.

  • Rework – Cut out the BS, manage your business organically. Grow your business because you need to, not for vanity’s sake. Minimum effort for maximum return – overwork is an excuse for intellectual laziness.
  • The Four Hour Work Week – What busywork are you doing to avoid doing the important things? Learn how to use the internet to test ideas before throwing a lot of time and money at them. Realize you don’t need millions to live a dream lifestyle.
  • The E-Myth Revisited: Why Most Small Businesses Don’t Work and What to Do About It by Michael E. Gerber – Learn to think of your business as a self-sustaining system instead of a person-specific operation. This book probably has the least applicability to the music business which is intrinsically person-specific, but is still a very informative read and may help you identify some areas that can be automated.
  • Made to Stick: Why Some Ideas Survive and Others Die – Dan and Chip Heath – a solid book detailing the components of “sticky” ideas – those that ignite the public’s interest.


My General Synthesis of All This

Having poured thru all of this I can say there are a few core concepts that keep coming up again and again:

  • Define your target – Before you play a single note have a very clear idea of who you want to sell music to and a general idea of how you plan to reach them.
  • Test BEFORE you implement – If at all possible test ideas before throwing lots of time and money at them.
  • Formulate a STRATEGY – Know the difference between strategy and tactics and make sure you have the former BEFORE you implement the latter.
  • Learn to work SMART not hard – It’s SO tempting (especially for us type-A personalities) to throw tons of hours and effort at a problem (Up at 5! 16 hours of work plus the gym!). And though that can work, the danger is that in all the sound and fury you’ll bypass the core simple things that are most effective.  I learned this lesson years ago in martial arts. When I was young I was fast and tireless. I attacked my opponents aggressively and threw everything I had at them. Now I’m older, a bit slower, and a bit less tireless – but I could totally kick my younger self’s ass. When I square off against younger men it’s always the same. I let them go crazy and then look for the simple thing I can do to take them out. A well placed punch or foot sweep is usually all it takes. Business is exactly the same. It’s not about effort or force, it’s about simplicity and opportunity.  Be ever vigilant against busy work and doing things to make you feel like you’re getting stuff done. It’s one of the most important life lessons you’ll ever learn.

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