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There are many viable business models for music entrepreneurs.
Besides taking an entrepreneurial approach to your music career, which is basically the baseline minimum, there are so many opportunities you can pursue.
The challenge, of course, is coming up with the right idea.
That’s what this post is for.
What follows are some opportunities I’ve uncovered, and you’re more than welcome to pursue them – really.
This post should not be considered comprehensive at the time of posting, but I will be adding to it as I come across more possibilities.
Website, Content & Social Media Services for Well-Known Music Gear Brands
I’ve come across several well-known manufacturers selling musical equipment that are still stuck in the Stone Age as far as their web presence is concerned.
To be fair, some may not have any intention of updating their websites because what they have right now is working for them just fine.
But a little digging should give you an idea of which sites to target – you could build a bit of a list and contact them one by one.
My inclination would be to call up the marketing department, get a sense of whether they’re satisfied with their current sales, and if they aren’t, offer to help them enter the Information Age in full force and elevate their brand as well as sales.
This would be achieved through an up-to-date WordPress site built on the Divi Theme (it’s so easy to use, even my clients who were mostly tech-illiterate figured it out).
You could maximize your earnings through ongoing maintenance fees, offering social media support and even the continual creation of content, whether it’s blog posts, podcast episodes, videos or even all the above.
This could be a seriously lucrative proposition if handled well.
Perfect for the ambitious millennial.
- WordPress (intermediate). You should probably know your way around WordPress if you’re going to offer to build websites on the platform.
- Web design (intermediate). If you have a good sense of what modern designs look like and how to achieve them, you’re well on your way.
- Graphic design (advanced). Although I say “advanced”, honestly you could outsource the creation of necessary graphics to a qualified and skilled individual or team, and it doesn’t even need to cost an arm and a leg. You could use 99designs, for example.
- Content marketing (intermediate). It shouldn’t take a huge amount of effort to help aged domains rank for pertinent long-tail keywords and you could even outsource content creation. This, of course, is contingent on whether you even choose to offer content marketing services.
- Social media (intermediate). If you know your way around Facebook, Instagram, Twitter and YouTube, you should be good to go. This, of course, is dependent on whether you even choose to offer social media services.
More business models to follow.
Have you come across any viable opportunities?
Let us know in the comments below.
While the foundations of DIY music may have been laid by bands like Fugazi back in the 1990s, the music industry landscape in 2019 has changed so much that, rather than a radical decision, choosing to be independent is often the most profitable, sustainable way of earning a living from music.
The internet has given artists direct access to their fans, and has toppled record labels and distribution companies as the industry gatekeepers that they were 15 years ago.
However, while releasing your music independently has never been easier, there are still a number of essential skills you need to hone if you’re going to give your music the platform it deserves and make sure it reaches your fans.
They Know the Value of Their Music
If you’re going the independent route, you need to become a businessperson as well as an artist. It’s important to recontextualise your music and think of it as a product, just like any other business does.
This is where the music industry has traditionally differed from other industries. When they sign to a record label, artists sign away the licences to their masters (and often publishing rights) in return for an advance and a smaller share of royalties, as well as the reach, connections and platform that a label provides.
However, since traditional distribution channels have declined, the function of labels has shifted to a being more of a marketing and promotion role. Despite the role of labels changing, the deal structures remain the same—something that doesn’t make a lot of sense for most musicians in 2019.
In no other industry would a business sign away the rights to its product to a media or marketing agency in return for 20% of net profits. It’s unthinkable that Nike would give away the copyrights to Air Jordans to a media company in return for exposure, yet this is what most artists do.
Going independent means that, while you don’t get the support and industry connections of a label, you get to exclusively profit from your music, keep the rights to your masters and control your own sales channels.
Once you begin to build a dedicated fanbase, this is a very powerful asset and is often a more sustainable, long term source of income than going with a label.
They Know How to Run Successful PR Campaigns
Without the backing of a label, getting your music in front of your target audience becomes much more important.
However, you don’t need large budgets to run successful PR campaigns, with a little skill and effort you can get your music in front of the right people using just an email account and some tenacity.
Knowing how to put together a good press release that looks professional and captures the attention of industry figures is paramount. You need to not only sell your music but also give compelling reasons for them to feature you.
Make sure that you target only the bloggers and journalists that really care about your genre. One good way to get ideas is to look at the coverage similar bands in your genre have got.
Often, hyper-targeted niche specific blogs will have more of an impact than larger, more generic blogs and magazines, so don’t neglect them.
Take the time to personalize your outreach to each writer. This not only differentiates you, but also demonstrates that you and your music is relevant to what they write about.
Be patient. Media will always dedicate more coverage to bands that already have followings, as that brings more readers and clicks. For that reason, getting coverage early on can be difficult, but good PR is about more than just coverage—you’re building relationships and recognition with important tastemakers that will be useful in the future.
They Control Their Distribution Channels
While the majority of music is consumed digitally, there’s still an important place for physical releases and for many artists this can be the most profitable revenue stream. Vinyl sales have been on the increase, while CDs still represent a small but vital slice of revenue for many artists.
Therefore, knowing how to best distribute your physical music is hugely important for DIY musicians.
While distribution networks such as Plastic Head can get your releases into record shops, this massively cuts down on your profit margin. In addition, less people are buying their music from brick and mortar shops than ever before, which often makes traditional distribution channels costly and ineffective for independent artists.
For most DIY musicians, direct to consumer sales from the internet represent the bulk of sales, and for this reason it is essential that you make sure your distribution channels are set up and accessible before you begin releasing music.
Options like Bandcamp and BigCartel make selling physical releases online very easy, with no knowledge of websites or eCommerce needed. In addition, such platforms tend to be very SEO friendly, so that your fans can find and buy your music when searching for it online.
However, as your sales and profile grow, most artists invest in their own websites and eCommerce platforms, as this gives them much more control in terms of paid social media advertising and data collection.
They Have a Fulfillment Process in Place
Once you begin selling merch and physical copies, this presents a new challenge—fulfillment.
The internet has globalized your reach, which means that you’ll have fans all over the world wanting to buy from you. Therefore, you’ll need a network in place that allows you to ship product internationally with rates that your fans can afford.
At the beginning of your career, you might not be selling large enough volumes to justify bringing a fulfillment partner on board, which means you will be handling postage and packaging yourself.
Research the best international postage options before releasing pre-orders. Speaking from experience, I’ve undercharged vinyl delivery in the past, resulting in losing £1000s in international delivery costs.
As you grow, the volume of sales and international orders will make a fulfillment partner necessary. When choosing a fulfillment partner, research all aspects of pricing as you’ll not only need to pay for packaging, postage and handling costs, but also inventory checks and warehousing. These “hidden costs” add up quickly and can seriously eat into your profit margins.
Don’t solely look into music fulfillment companies, as often they charge more than generic eCommerce fulfillment.
If you have a very international audience, look into fulfillment companies with global networks, as this tends to be much easier to manage than various different companies based in different regions.
Know When to Get Industry Support
Just because you’re an independent artist, it doesn’t mean that you can’t work with industry figures as well.
By investing in experienced professionals, you can build a platform similar to what a label provides, but on your own terms.
At a certain stage, you’ll need the clout and contacts that come with an experienced, well known press and publicity firm. While good music PR companies can be expensive, it often more than pays for itself in the long term, as they’ll be able to secure you better exposure than you could yourself.
An important caveat is that you should already have some existing profile, earned with your own DIY PR efforts. Even the best PR company will struggle to get you significant exposure if you don’t already have a good foundation of coverage and an active fanbase.
Booking agents are another important partner for many DIY musicians. While you can have great success by booking your own tours and shows, booking agents can help secure you better support slots and festival appearances. Most booking agents will take between 10 and 15% of the fees from gigs they secure you, which is a very good trade off for the exposure it can bring.
By choosing to work strategically with music industry partners, you can raise your profile and get bigger opportunities, while still retaining control of your music.
They were admired and worshipped, not afraid of taking risks and, of course, ahead of their time. They left an indelible mark in the hearts and minds of people all over the world. Their success stories became the stuff of legend and were made into multiple movies. They were an inspiration for famous writers who dedicated voluminous manuscripts to them (in fact, the essay you’re writing now may well be about one of them).
They are the 6 women who changed the world of music.
1. Maria Callas
Maria Callas rose from humble beginnings to become the greatest opera singer of the 20th century. After she passed away in 1977, Pierre-Jean Remy, a Parisian opera critic, noted in his diary, “After Callas, opera will never be the same.”
Lord Harwood, a London-based musical critic, described her as “the greatest performer of our time.” Even opponents of Callas were forced to recognize her genius and the significant impact she made on the world of opera. One of them was Rudolph Bing, General Manager of the New York Metropolitan Opera, who Callas constantly clashed with over the course of her professional career. After her death, he wrote, “We will not see anything like her anymore.”
Maria Callas was both revered and hated but her professional skills left no one indifferent. She influenced the world of opera like no other person in the twentieth century. Callas owed her success to hard work, high moral qualities, and constant strive for perfection. It was her childhood dreams and the crises she went through that hardened her character and turned her into an overachiever.
And she remained one for the rest of her life…
2. Billie Holiday
No matter how hard she tried, Billie Holiday could never climb to the very top of DownBeat, Melody Maker, and Metronome charts. For the general public, she’d always remained the second or third best. She kept being pushed aside by Ella Fitzgerald, Helen O’Connell, Sarah Vaughan, and Joe Stafford who’d always had the support of popular bands. They were also more vocally gifted, and thus enjoyed far greater popularity than Billie.
With jazz critics, things were a little different. In all their articles, they emphasized Billie Holiday’s charm, her perfect sense of style and, of course, her unique voice. When it came to the charts, something incomprehensible began to happen. Holiday never made it to the top of the reviewers poll published by the DownBeat magazine in 1953. Almost all critics gave their votes to Ella Fitzgerald.
Billie Holiday was called the Queen of Jazz and Blues. Her unique voice helped her turn simple songs into genuine masterpieces. She did not try to imitate other jazz vocalists because it was simply impossible. She was never fully understood and sought solace in drugs. Billy was only 44 when she passed away of a heroin overdose.
Even though it happened four decades ago, her fans continue to listen to her songs and her albums keep selling to this day.
3. Nina Simone
Being a singer, pianist, composer, and arranger, Nina Simone experimented with different music styles, including jazz, soul, pop, gospel music, and blues.
Born in North Carolina, she went to New York’s prestigious Juilliard School of Music. Her pianist career started in 1953 when she began to perform at nightclubs in Atlantic City. To prevent her religious mother from finding out about her nighttime exploits, she adopted the pseudonym Nina Simone (in homage of her favorite French actress Simone Signoret).
By the end of the 1950s, she had already recorded 10 albums. In the early ’60s, she came up with a collection of Duke Ellington compositions, as well as blues ballads from Broadway musicals. Simon performed at concerts not only as a singer with a surprisingly rich and flexible voice but also as a pianist, dancer, and actress.
In 1965, Nina Simone released her most successful album, I Put a Spell on You, which included three all-time hits: “I Put a Spell on You” (by Jay Hawkins), “Feeling Good” and “Ne Me Quitte Pas”.
Nina Simon was personally acquainted with Martin Luther King. After his murder, she recorded “Mississippi Goddam” in which she poured out her personal feeling of outrage. It was followed by “Pirate Jenny”, and an adaptation of Jacques Brel’s song “Ne Me Quitte Pas”, both of which assumed classic status.
4. Ella Fitzgerald
Ella Fitzgerald’s whole life is a testimony to the fact that any person with enough persistence can make it big, even if the odds are against them. The cult singer managed to conquer audiences worldwide with her musical genius, which she was fortunate to be born with. However, without due persistence, her fate could have been completely different.
Ever since she was a kid, Ella had been passionate about many things, including dancing, music, and sports. However, it was singing that helped her become the greatest jazz legend of the 20th century.
The turning point in her life came when she met Charlie Linton, a lead singer for the Chick Webb band, at the Harlem’s Apollo Theater. The band’s leader – Chick Webb – signed her up by paying her a fee from his own funds. It didn’t take long for Ella to become a star. She then recorded her albums with Teddy Wilson, Ink Spots, and Benny Goodman.
5. Patti Smith
Patti Smith, a famous American singer, and songwriter, is often called the godmother of punk rock. She earned the title after releasing Horses in 1975. It played a huge role in the development of the punk genre. Her song “Because the Night”, which she wrote with Bruce Springsteen, was a big hit with international audiences. In 2007, she was inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame.
Pati Smith’s latest album Banga was released in 2012 and instantly got an unholy thrashing from critics.
Smith is a very active and prominent member of the US Green Party. She is the author of many anti-war songs and a critic of any hostilities.
Patti Smith remains a punk-style icon for many contemporary musicians, many of whom drew their inspiration from her first album Horses.
She painstakingly nurtured her image by changing her name, hair color, face, and even figure. Thus, Louise Ciccone became Madonna whose scandalous repertoire focused heavily on female sensuality and sinfulness.
Her raven-black hair turned glitzy gold (just like that of Marilyn Monroe), while her far-from-perfect figure (which led some people to believe she was a bit overweight) became almost model-like (thanks to a gruelling diet, daily workouts, and jogging).
She arrived in New York when she was 23. Many believed (and still do) that she was too old to begin a career in showbiz. Perhaps, for some that was true, but not for Madonna. After all, her life’s motto is: Each success must be consolidated, otherwise your competitors will “eat you up”. And it seems like she’s truly lived up to it – at least, no one has managed to do it to her yet.
Today I’ve got something a little different for you via past contributor Victoria Greene, who explores the impact of grunge on Seattle. This seems timely based on recent events.
By the way, if you think you’ve got something worth sharing with our community, you can always check out our submission guidelines.
With that, here’s Victoria!
Very few artists are completely original; even great artists build upon what has occurred before, and add their personality and talent to create their own original expression. – Stephen Tow, The Strangest Tribe: How a Group of Seattle Rock Bands Invented Grunge.
When people say Seattle punk one word comes to mind: grunge. Below I’ve given you a brief history of grunge and what the impact of this punk movement has been on Seattle.
“I hate Mr. Epp and the Calculations… ”
“… Pure grunge! Pure noise! Pure shit.” So said Mark Arm, of his own band (Mr. Epp and the Calculations), in a 1981 letter to the Seattle zine Desperate Times.
Arm wasn’t just some snot-nosed punk-spit with a fancy for self-deprecation. He would later go on to form Mudhoney, the band who grunge artists themselves considered the scene’s watermark. As Pearl Jam’s Eddie Vedder said:
When it comes to grunge or even just Seattle, I think there was one band that made the definitive music of the time. It wasn’t us or Nirvana, but Mudhoney. Nirvana delivered it to the world, but Mudhoney were the band of that time and sound.
But it wasn’t until 1988 when Arm formed Mudhoney. In between plenty happened to fire Seattle’s punk scene.
“Ultra-loose GRUNGE… ”
“… that destroyed the morals of a generation.” That was the tagline used by Sub Pop (more on them shortly) when promoting Dry As a Bone, the second EP releases by Arm’s band, Green River. Formed in 1984, Green River were early punk pioneers.
The group released two EPs – Come On Down (1985), and Dry As a Bone (1987) – and one album – Rehab Doll (1988) – before disbanding in 1988. However, Green River’s influence was felt strongest in the bands that formed from the group’s ashes – Mudhoney and Pearl Jam.
Mudhoney formed the year Green River broke up, while Pearl Jam started in 1990. By the time Pearl Jam got together, grunge was swollen with bands. But before we get there, a quick wind back…
“This isn’t metal, it’s not punk… ”
“… What is it?” Sub Pop is now one of Seattle’s most successful punk exports. That’s all down to grunge. In 1987 the record label released Sub Pop 100. Sub Pop would put out many records crucial to the pre-commercial explosion of grunge, with Jack Endino producing.
Endino’s quick, gritty, and cheap approach to recording meant that the records put out by Sub Pop had a shared sound – sludgy, sloppy, and screwy. Among these records were Mudhoney’s self-titled first LP (1989), Nirvana’s maiden album, Bleach (1989), and Soundgarden’s debut EP, Screaming Life (1987).
Soundgarden were predicted to be grunge’s breakthrough act. In Chris Cornell they had a frontman with fearsome lungs and cheekbone charisma, while his bandmates provided a rock sound that locked both forwards and backwards. But it was Pearl Jam, just a year after forming, who cracked the mainstream with 1991’s Ten.
“I don’t have a TV in the car I live in.”
Pearl Jam eased open the doors to the mainstream for grunge but Nirvana ripped them off the hinges, poured gasoline on them, and tossed in the match. This caused pop to explode, with Seattle emerging from the flames.
Kurt Cobain may have been living in his car when Nirvana released their game-changing sophomore LP, but it wouldn’t last long. Nevermind hit record stands on September 24, 1991 and knocked Michael Jackson from the top of the Billboard 200 less than four months later. The impact was seismic.
Seattle couldn’t have been hotter.
Its bands ruled the charts, airwaves, and music channels – with Nirvana, Alice In Chains, Soundgarden, Pearl Jam, and their peers’ fusion of punk, metal, pop, hard-rock, and lo-fi, scorching the earth.
Its style became the fashion of the day, with ripped jeans, flannel shirts, long-hair, and battered baseball shoes filling the streets.
Its stars filled the newspaper columns – Cobain in particular, who was both a menace to America and the future of its music.
But Seattle punk’s time in the sun was to be brief. Less than three years after the release of Nevermind, Cobain was dead. Soundgarden, Alice In Chains, Pearl Jam, and many of their peers remained, but the commercial impact was drained. By the mid 90s pop-punk had swamped the chart, and California had claimed Seattle’s flame.
Grunge is (Not) Dead
It may be nearly 30 years since grunge’s heady days, but the punk movements impact on Seattle lasts to this day. What did Arm, Cobain, Cornell, Staley, and Vedder bring to their town?
The spirit of DIY, of doing things your own way. Not decidedly to be different (though, being different is no obstruction) but because it’s the best way.
- It can be seen in its folk schools. Started as an alternative to the established academic methods of education, these institutions let people unpick themselves from the fabric of modern, tech-driven, society.
- It can be seen in its businesses. Seattle is one of the most febrile areas in the US for startups. The current Seattle business listings are full of companies started by creatives in their spare time, for love (not money, which have come to global attention – just like grunge).
- It can be seen in its alcohol, its arts, its politics, its theater, and, of course, its music. If you are a musician seeking inspiration for how to make your way as an entrepreneur, there are some excellent places you can turn to help you make your way in business on your own terms.
Kurt Cobain might be gone but grunge is not dead. Grunge was founded on a spirit of integrity, liberalism, and equality. Most of all it was about doing things your own way and succeeding as a result.
Grunge didn’t make Seattle independently minded but it showed the world it thought and fought for itself. Today Seattle continues to show those DIY qualities to the world.
Hey, music entrepreneur!Guest contributor Avery Phillips is back with another great post on the topic of trends in musicpreneurship.
If you think you’ve got something of value to share with our readers, you can find our guest post guidelines here.
With that, here’s Avery to fill us in on the latest!
The music industry is an odd, ever changing world with a million different pockets. Technology has changed the entire business by eliminating the prevalence of physical CD sales, and streaming services have even challenged the giant that is file sharing.
This has led to companies like Spotify making a giant name for themselves, a revolutionary but out of reach idea in years past.
It has also led to independent artists making their primary income through live performances and merchandise sales, as opposed to music sales in stores or online. We’re not at the end though — entrepreneurship is the backbone of the world we live in, and no matter what happens, innovation has even more in store for us.
If you look at Music Entrepreneur HQ’s Essential Guide to Musicpreneurship, you’ll quickly discover that musicpreneurs are not only artists, but anyone who chooses to innovate within the music industry. It simply requires you to find a need to be met and a good idea on how to meet it.
So, what will happen in the world of music? There are some needs aching to be met, and while nobody for sure knows how, here are what may be some reasonable predictions!
Ethics Will be King
Being an entrepreneur in any industry requires a lot of research, and is the cross section of creativity, legal knowledge, and having an understanding of what will sell.
But in this day and age, there’s a new factor emerging — ethics. With the world becoming politically and ethically polarized, people are looking to music for a place to make a stand again.
Artists and fans alike are going to become more aware of how they source their merchandise, the companies they support, and corporate giants that push their tunes to the world.
Musicpreneurs will be testing their ideas against a rigorous code of ethics determined by their audience as well as the general public. There will be less room for misuse of labor, affiliation with bigoted people or organizations, and cheating of artists.
Convenience will still be important, and it will still sell, as it always does. But ethics will be there with a notepad and pencil as well.
Independent Artists Will Have to Utilize Technology
Independent artists are competing with technology at this point, which typically dictates the reach of their music. Even if they blow up on Bandcamp, the number of tracks and albums an independent artist will sell are nothing compared to what they were before the file sharing and streaming eras.
In the book Your Band Sucks by Jon Fine, the author speaks of selling mere thousands of copies in the post-millenium era, where artists selling twenties of thousands of records was considered low. A young artist would be lucky to have 20,000 song plays, and even then, they’re only paid about a sixth of a cent per play.
Since technology is primarily how people find music nowadays, artists are commonly roaming social media and doing what they can to get their music listened to on streaming services and the like.
Additionally, they’re using it to make their live set cooler (for instance, controlling stage lights with remote controls) or easier (think of self-tuning guitars).
But it’s possible that the next entrepreneurial feat in music will be streamlining the grassroots processes artists face while starting up.
For instance, travel prices. There’s a small handful of bands performing maintenance on their vehicles to run on grease as opposed to gas, which saves money and is eco-friendly (ethics, remember?).
Additionally, there are companies renting vans out to artists who cannot afford them, and they can be booked online.
And, how many artists do you know that record at home? Utilizing technology is a must, and a smart entrepreneur will look at what artists and listeners need and use technology to streamline it for them.
Nostalgia Will Keep Making a Scene
While there are several ways to make money from music, the payoff is dependent on careful and calculated decisions. How you market something will change from product to product, but one thing to keep in mind is whether or not people need something new or whether they’re looking for something old. Nostalgia gets people jazzed.
If you want to be a smart entrepreneur in entertainment, you will learn how to capitalize on nostalgia and familiarity. This has become apparent with the vinyl boom, endless slews of reunion tours and records, and every musical comparison you see for a new artist (Artist Name, recommended if you like: artists you already made up your mind about).
Take record labels for instance. Anybody who chooses to start and run a record label has to adapt with the changing technology, and anybody who’s done it for a number of years knows that.
From streaming to the production of physical copies and the new vinyl resurgence, to including download codes with each copy sold, navigating technological changes and the consumer’s tendencies toward nostalgia is an art form that requires a lot of practice — and nobody is perfect at it.
This is just how humans are, and it’s what will sell. People are always talking about the good ol’ days, or becoming disenfranchised with new things once they becomes overdone or too trendy. Ideally, you can adapt a sound, technology, or musical trend from older times to modern day technology. You can reinvent the wheel, and that’s how society progresses.
When the times keep changing, the world of music reflects and reacts to it. What trends do you see in the future for musical entrepreneurs? Feel free to share your ideas in the comments below.
It’s no secret that music’s biggest stars rake in the dough. Between selling out stadiums and getting billions of Spotify streams, the Biebers and the Beyonces of the world make millions, perhaps deservedly so.
However, the gap between music’s biggest stars and their fans – people in average jobs – remains vast. What takes a nurse or an engineer an entire year to make can be earned by a top musician in a matter of hours.
In light of Oxfam’s recent inequality report, we felt that this massive income gap was worth studying.
To do this, we made a list of of 2017’s top earning musicians according to Forbes. The list was filled with names most of you will recognize – Diddy, Beyonce, Taylor Swift, Calvin Harris, Justin Bieber, etc.
Next, we made a list of some of the most common professions in the US along with their median wages according to the BLS.
We then calculated how long it would take a top musician to make the same annual income as it would in a common profession.
The results were surprising and highlighted two things:
- The immense financial rewards of being a successful musician.
- The incredible income gap between average professions and music celebrities.
For example, at $105M in total 2017 earnings, Beyonce would take just 75 minutes to make the average annual median wage ($15,080).
The data is both inspiring and sobering.
We compiled our findings into an easy to read infographic:
What do you think? Are the incomes made by top musicians justified? How long does it take for your favorite musician to make your salary?