How To Make It In The Music Industry (17 Tips)

How To Make It In The Music Industry Banner

 

Trying to make it in the music industry can be discouraging and may seem like a lost cause at times. But there are plenty of artists out there who have done just that. So, what’s their secret?

 

In this guide, we’re going to look at the following tips on how to form a sustainable career as an indie artist:

  1. Define What “Making It In The Music Industry” Means For You
  2. Recognize That The Industry Is More Than Just The Music
  3. Set Realistic Goals
  4. Treat Your Career Like Starting a Business
  5. Write and Record Great Songs
  6. Discover What Makes You Unique
  7. Create a Brand Around Your Music
  8. Don’t Quit Your Day Job
  9. Find a Music-Related Side-Hustle(s)
  10. Network With Others In The Music Industry
  11. Find a Mentor
  12. Build a Team
  13. Make Time For Other Passions
  14. Sacrifice Certain Areas of Your Life
  15. Promote Your Music and Build a Fanbase
  16. Create a Revenue
  17. Don’t Give Up

 

1. Define What “Making It In The Music Industry” Means For You

 

Do Something Great Neon Sign

Success means a lot of different things for different people. There’s a lot of people who look at the few major label artists at the top of the music industry and think that is the only definition of “making it”.

 

However, you actually don’t have to be the next Taylor Swift, The Weeknd or Post Malone to have a successful and fulfilling career.

 

There are plenty of artists out there who are content just being able to pay their bills with their art. This idea of forming a living around what you love is often what sets indie artists apart from major label artists.

 

So, by defining what level of success you’d like to achieve in the music industry, it’ll be much easier for you to layout a gameplan to achieve that. Be realistic and spend some time reflecting on what happiness in the music industry means to you.

 

This isn’t to say that you can’t go out and form a career for yourself as a major label artist. If that’s what success means to you then you should do everything in your power to achieve that. But my recommendation is to set less ambitious milestones that you can reach along the way, to keep you from getting discouraged in what could be a long journey.

 

2. Recognize That The Industry Is More Than Just The Music

 

As much as artists may wish to believe that having great music is enough to sustain a career, there are other factors at play.

 

People Working at Desk
There will be plenty to worry about beyond the music if you want to make it in the music industry.

Sure, it’s important that your songs are well crafted and that you remain true to the art you create. The odd artists may even get lucky and have a career find them based solely on their music.

 

However, if you want to be able to approach your career logically and with a level of control over your success, you have to consider the other factors at play. These areas may not seem apparent at first. However, we’re going to spend a good portion of this article discussing them.

 

3. Set Realistic Goals

 

Once you have an idea of what “making it in the music industry” means for you, you can begin to form a plan of action in order to achieve that goal.

 

Goals Notebook

There are plenty of milestones on the path to success, many of which you may not even be aware of yet. So, it’s important to spend time reflecting on what these may be and identifying as much you can.

 

Once you do, write them down and break each of those milestones into further tasks you need to achieve and so on. By doing this, you’re essentially creating your own custom roadmap to success.

 

Remember that some of the goals may need to be achieved chronologically. However, a lot of them won’t happen in any particular order.

 

The important thing is that you’ll now have a point of reference so that whenever you’re presented with an opportunity in the industry, you can ask yourself if it’s bringing you closer to achieving one of your milestones or not.

 

4. Treat Your Career Like Starting a Business

 

Man In Suit

One of the main reasons indie artists get discouraged as they try to make it is because they think having a career in the music industry will be similar to working a salary job. Unfortunately, this is rarely the case and it is far more similar to starting a business from scratch.

 

This is often where the misconception comes in that there’s no money to be made in the music business. If you’re starting a business such as a restaurant, it could take years before start making a substantial income. The same goes for forming a music career.

 

It won’t be easy and there will be a lot of ups and downs at first. However, if you’re business savvy and approach things with the proper mindset you’ll eventually see a return on your efforts.

 

5. Write and Record Great Songs

 

“Steps to Writing a Song” post

Just because it takes more than the music to make it in the industry, doesn’t mean you can get by with sub-par songs.

 

A great song is still the most important asset to a successful career. So, make sure you learn how to write a proper song and spend time finessing it to make it as good as it can be.

 

Once you have well-written music, you’ll want to make sure that you record it in a way that’s as good as everything else out there. So, it will be well worth it to invest in high-quality studio recordings that can show your songs in their best light.

 

Many indie artists fear that recording their music in a studio is an expensive endeavour, settling for a DIY approach. Unfortunately, this can end up having a negative effect on their career that can end up losing them money in the long run.

 

Thankfully, there are plenty of budget-friendly options out there that allow indie artists to have commercial-grade recordings at an affordable rate.

 

Sundown Sessions online recording studio does just this by pairing up artists with award-winning engineers and songwriters from around the world.

 

Click here to learn how Sundown Sessions Studio can help your music reach its full potential!

 

6. Discover What Makes You Unique

 

Originality is hard to come by in the music industry these days, but it can really help when it comes to building a fanbase around your art.

 

In tip number two we recognized that the music business isn’t entirely about the music. In the same way, what makes you unique doesn’t necessarily have to be in the music you create.

 

It could be part of your image, something unique in your live shows, your business smarts, the sky’s the limit. Most likely, what makes you unique will be a reflection of who you are as a person or the overall message your music conveys.

 

Figuring this out doesn’t come easy. Some artists may spend years before fully realizing what it is that sets them apart from other acts. However, once you do, making decisions in every other area of your career will become much easier.

 

7. Create a Brand Around Your Music

 

Rolling Stones Logo

Once you have an idea of what makes you unique as an artist, you can start to build a brand for yourself based on that.

 

As already mentioned, making it in the industry involves a lot of areas other than the music. Whatever your brand is will have a big influence on these aspects and help to create a culture around your music.

 

This will play the biggest role when it comes to developing merchandise. You’ll want to create merch that your fans will want to wear for reasons beyond the name of the artist on it. This requires a solid branding that your followers will be able to identify with and feel compelled to show off.

 

We talk more about creating a brand and developing merch in our guide, 14 Band Merch Ideas and Tips To Increase Your Income.

 

8. Don’t Quit Your Day Job

 

Man With Briefcase

Trying to form a music career for yourself takes a lot of time. That’s why it’s important that you still have some way to make ends meet as you try to make it in the music industry.

 

My suggestion is to find a job that allows you a certain amount of flexibility. This is because your “work week” on the music side of things will vary from week to week.

 

When an opportunity comes your way, you don’t want to wait until you know you can get work off before saying yes. Having a job that is flexible will allow you to say yes to everything, while still being able to stay financially stable until your career takes off.

 

9. Find a Music-Related Side-Hustle(s)

 

DJ Equipment

Going off of the last tip, another way to support yourself financially before you make a career as an artist is to find other areas in the industry to make money.

 

Even though making a living as a performer may be difficult, there is still plenty of money in the music business. For starters, think of all the money that goes into the educational side of things. On top of that, there is a slew of jobs available to those running music events or helping other bands in their careers.

 

We have an entire guide dedicated to music-related jobs, so check it out to get some ideas. Oftentimes you may find yourself with more than one music-related side-hustle and that’s okay. The more you have, the more you’ll be connected to the industry, whether you’re working on your career or someone else’s.

 

10. Network With Others In The Music Industry

 

Handshake

Having strong connections can take you a long way in any career and making it in the music industry isn’t any different.

 

That’s why it’s super important to get out and network with industry professionals as much as possible. Go to concerts, workshops, lectures and other industry events. Afterwards, try to build some meaningful connections with the other people in attendance.

 

At this point, your conversations shouldn’t be to drum up business or push what you do. The biggest mistake indie artists run into when networking is making the conversation all about themselves. Not only does this come across as a little sleazy, but it also sends the message that you really don’t care about the person you’re talking to.

 

Instead, get to know people in the industry the same way you would anywhere else. Ask about them as much as possible and only talk about yourself when they ask you.

 

You can still mention what you do and you should definitely exchange contact information. However, at this point, it’s more about forming a relationship with someone, regardless of the business side of things

 

11. Find a Mentor

 

Knowing someone who’s had industry success that you can look up to makes a huge difference when you’re trying to find success.

 

By offering guidance based on their years of experience, mentors can help you avoid making countless mistakes and give you advice that will push your career forward quickly.

 

If you don’t know anyone like this at the moment, the best place to start is our last tip. Once you’ve networked with a bunch of industry professionals, there will be certain people you relate to more than others.

 

People Getting Coffee

If you form a connection with someone you could learn a lot from, send them a quick email. In it, express your respect for their work and offer to take them out for lunch or coffee to pick their brain.

 

The worst that could happen is that they say no, but this usually isn’t the case. Most people will be flattered and very few would turn down the chance for a free lunch! You’ll be surprised by the amount of information and advice you can get from this situation.

 

If things go well, don’t let your relationship end there. Continue to reach out to them for guidance and ask them questions whenever you hit a dead-end.

 

The more mentors you have in the music industry, the more help you can receive as you try to make it. So, don’t stop searching once you’ve found a few and never be afraid to ask for help.

 

12. Build a Team

 

At the beginning of your career, your team may solely consist of the people who perform with you. However, as things begin to grow, consider what areas you could use extra help in managing.

 

Team of People Working on A Project
Assembling a team to help you reach your goals can push your career forward quickly.

Just like in any business, it’s a good practice to hire for your weaknesses. Although this can cost you money at first, it can end up making you more in the long run, as you’ll be able to focus on the areas you excel in.

 

Some of the early areas you may seek help with include booking shows, recording your music, creating merchandise or graphics and handling promotions.

 

Having people who are more knowledgeable handling certain areas of your career can result in a much stronger end product. So, try to be aware of where you need help the most and start building a team around that.

 

13. Make Time For Other Passions

 

For every artist, long before they make it in the industry, music was just a hobby, one of many passions. Unfortunately, as we start to form a career around our music, it can begin to feel like work.

 

People Spending Time Outside

This leaves a lot of indie artists burnt out because, although music is still an enjoyable part of their life, it doesn’t offer the same relief as it did when it was a hobby.

 

Too much of anything is a bad thing. So, it’s important to make time for other passions in your life. This could include other hobbies, spending time with loved ones or just unwinding with a book every now and then.

 

It can be difficult to step away from working on music for a bit. However, taking breaks will actually improve your quality of work when you come back to it.

 

14. Sacrifice Certain Areas of Your Life

 

Somewhat contrary to the tip above, it’s equally important to recognize that you’ll need to make some sacrifices as you form your career in the music industry.

 

As with starting any business, there are tons of things to think about. So, it can end up taking a lot of time out of your daily life.

 

Because of this, your social life may suffer and you won’t have nearly as much time for leisurely activity.

 

 

Obviously it’s important to strike a balance between your music career and the other areas of your life. However, in the first few years, you’ll find that your time is weighted heavily on the music side of things.

 

During the early days of your career, don’t get discouraged by thinking that it will always be that way. If you put in the hard work early on, eventually it will pay off and when you finally do make it, you won’t have to work nearly as hard on the music industry side of things.

 

15. Promote Your Music and Build a Fanbase

 

Fans at Concert

All of this hard work will be of no use if there’s no one who knows about your music. So, building a supportive fan base is huge if you ever want to make it in the music industry.

 

Note that I said a “supportive” fan base, not “large” one. When you’re an indie artist having true fans that are willing to invest in your music is much more important than a ton of fans who aren’t too interested in what you have to say.

 

This is why it’s so important to make sure you properly promote your music and build meaningful connections with your followers.

 

We recently published a guide on music promotion and recommend giving a read to learn more about this topic.

 

16. Create a Revenue

 

Splitting Money

Obviously, if you really want to have a viable career in the music industry, you have to start making some money from your craft.

 

Creating revenue from your music may seem tricky at first, but success in this area all comes back to that business mindset we spoke about earlier.

 

There are plenty of areas that may first come to mind such as streaming revenue, merchandise sales and playing live shows.

 

However, there are lots of other places you can make money as an artist if you’re open to discovering them.

 

Film

One of the biggest sources of revenue for songwriters trying to make a living is by getting their songs licensed into TV shows and films. The licensing fees which they are paid for can often be hundreds or thousands of dollars!

 

With the rise in platforms like Netflix and Hulu, there is a growing number of productions, looking for indie music to feature.

 

The process of approaching these productions so that they will consider your music for use is straightforward, but must be done in a calculated fashion. Our sister site Sync Songwriter is dedicated to teaching indie artists to learn how to get their music into TV and film.

 

Click here to learn about how you can start making a viable income from your music by licensing it to TV and Film.

 

17. Don’t Give Up

 

Sign That Says Passion Led Us Here

You can’t expect to make it in the music industry overnight. Building a viable career for yourself will take a lot of time and effort.

 

So, it’s important that you’re patient, don’t get discouraged and most importantly, don’t give up.

 

If you’re dedicated, passionate and enjoy what you’re doing, the hard work will pay off in the long run. Eventually, you’ll be able to make a living doing what you love and you’ll wonder why it ever seemed so hard in the first place.

 

Conclusion: How To Make It In The Music Industry

 

Despite popular misconceptions, it’s entirely possible to “make it” in the music industry. Of course, you first have to define what that means to you. Then, it just takes business smarts, a powerful brand, perseverance and of course, great music!

 

To recap, in this guide we discussed the following tips to keep in mind when trying to make it in the music industry:

  1. Define What “Making It In The Music Industry” Means For You
  2. Recognize That The Industry Is More Than Just The Music
  3. Set Realistic Goals
  4. Treat Your Career Like Starting a Business
  5. Write and Record Great Songs
  6. Discover What Makes You Unique
  7. Create a Brand Around Your Music
  8. Don’t Quit Your Day Job
  9. Find a Music-Related Side-Hustle(s)
  10. Network With Others In The Music Industry
  11. Find a Mentor
  12. Build a Team
  13. Make Time For Other Passions
  14. Sacrifice Certain Areas of Your Life
  15. Promote Your Music and Build a Fanbase
  16. Create a Revenue
  17. Don’t Give Up

 

If you enjoyed this guide, remember to share it with your friends and sign up for our email list for more articles like this one. Be sure to check out the rest of the Sundown Sessions Studio Blog for more tips on songwriting, music business and home recording.

 

Click here to check out everything else Sundown Sessions Studio has to offer and find out how we can help your songs reach their full potential.