“Making it” to me just means making a living playing, writing and recording music. Obviously everything below take time but let’s face it – usually music is someone’s second or third job – none of this is easy!
Top 5 Behaviors that will help you make it in the music business:
#1 PRACTICE & LEARN: It is ALWAYS about the music. Practice your craft daily. Learn everything you can about music theory and writing and reading music- this will make you much more employable than the dozens of hobbyists out there. Never stop learning and finding people to learn from. This should be your number one priority no matter what happens. You have to keep finding new ways of challenging yourself because just keeping callouses on your fingers is not enough. If you really hit a wall with your instrument – pick up another instrument or get better at home recording techniques. Sometimes taking a break from your primary instrument can help but there is no reason to stop learning all together. Even the most established pros do this. Check our our interview with Rudy Sarzo the bass player for Ozzy Osborne, Blue Oyster Cult and dozens of others.
#2 NETWORK – seek out and befriend people who make a living making music be they session players, band members, music executives (at labels, publishers, management companies or booking agents) or producer / engineers. The music business is all about your talent and who you know. In many cases people can get away with less talent if they know the right people and can convince them to participate in their projects. Find conversation currency with these people and a way you can collaborate with as many people as possible even if it is just throwing networking events. Be sure to listen more or at least as much as you talk.
#3 PLAY AND RECORD OFTEN. Play live and get basic home recording gear so you can preserve your ideas and share them with other people. Join a band or two – co-write with anyone and everyone who will let you. Start simple with open mic nights and work your way up. Meet and keep in contact with everyone who is doing what you want to do. Your songs and recordings are like viruses – make sure you have lots of them out there and have the help of people with a vested interest in making them get heard. The best way to do this is to collaborate.
#4 BE PROFESSIONAL. Do you know why Spinal Tap is so F*cking hysterical? Because it’s based on too much truth. Start by being punctual. More than just punctual make sure you are paying attention – it’s your career! Ask questions rather than nodding your head as if you already know and remember the people you are dealing with when booking shows or making records or whatever are making a living in music too so be considerate of them and their time. Your “office” is in the studio, at a club or in rehearsals. Behave accordingly.
#5 LEARN ABOUT BUSINESS. Look at and learn all of the ways that money is made in the music business. A good starting point is Donald Passman’s “all you need to know about the music business“. If you understand where the money comes from in the music business it will be much harder for people to take advantage of you and it’s not uncommon for people to try. To this end- find knowledgeable people you trust and surround yourself with them. Nothing is more scary than things we are vague about.
This last one doesn’t need to be advanced accounting to be helpful. Take control of your financial life. Keep receipts for everything and make a spreadsheet of everything you spend. Most people find they are spending too much in some areas and not enough in others. I once advised someone to do this who realized after three months of record keeping that he spent more on beer than he did on his career. Perhaps an extreme example but it was true in this case. Needless to say he is much farther along in his career after this realization.