For every amateur musician there will come a time in your life when you consider making music your career. The dream of making a viable living in this profession is one that so many people have and it may be closer in reach than you think.
Although working in the music industry involves a lot more than just playing music, with the right attitude and proper mindset, anyone can do it. However, just because anybody can have a music career doesn’t mean they’ll enjoy it.
The tips in this article aim to give a clearer picture of what to expect if you want to make music your career. If you decide to give it a shot, this guide serves as a roadmap of what’s required to take your music from amateur to pro.
1. Have a Passion
Making a career out of your music takes a lot of hard work. So, it can be more tiring than other industries out there. This leads a lot of indie artists to give up in the early stages.
If you don’t have a strong passion for music, it’s going to be difficult to keep a positive outlook when things get tough and you’ll probably succumb to a similar fate.
Because of this, you need to give some serious consideration as to whether music is the right choice for a primary career. If there’s something else you could be equally happy doing, go that route.
There’s plenty of people who have another job as their primary source of income and keep music as a side project. Nothing’s wrong with this and you can definitely still find success taking this path.
However, if you can’t imagine spending time on anything other than music, you’re in the right business. People who have a passion and a drive will find happiness in what they do, regardless of their level of success.
There’s nothing more important than this when you set out to form a music career for yourself.
2. Don’t Quit Your Day Job Just Yet
Even if you decide you want to make music your career, don’t be too eager to quit your other jobs. Like any business start up, it takes time to begin making a substantial income. So, having a small steady income from somewhere else makes the early stages easier.
If you’re in the process of searching for another job to make ends meet, look for something that has a bit of flexibility to its hours. If you’re serious about music as a career you don’t want to be turning down gigs because you can’t get anyone to cover your shift.
A flexible job keeps you open to what comes your way, well still being able to eat and pay rent until things take off.
The video below talks about skills you can take away from your day job and apply to your music career.
3. Treat Yourself Like a Business
As an artist working in the industry you are a business and it’s important not to forget that. Just like someone opening a restaurant or any other physical business, you need an entrepreneurial mind.
Once you begin to approach your music with a business mindset you’ll start to see opportunities you never noticed when you were merely “an artist”.
This includes everything from properly marketing yourself, building a team and above all valuing the work you create. More to come on all of this in our next few tips.
4. Hire For Your Weaknesses
In the beginning of your music career you’ll have to do a little bit of everything from booking shows to marketing your music. However, as time goes on and things pick up this can quickly wear you out.
The quicker you can form a team to assist you in certain areas, the better. Start by hiring people to work on the things that you don’t enjoy or don’t think are your biggest strengths.
Dear young artist,
Build a team.
You’d be shocked how many people love your music and are just waiting for the opportunity to give a hand.
— Doug Kazé (@dougkaze) September 15, 2019
Although this comes with a financial toll, the impact will end up making you money in the long run.
For example, bringing on an expert to help with booking shows or recording your music may cost you, but it can push your career forward way quicker than if you did everything yourself.
Not only this, but it lets you focus on what you enjoy doing, while giving your music a professional edge over any competition.
5. Value Yourself
You have to place value on your art if you expect others to do the same. Unfortunately, indie artists are often taken advantage of by venues or clients underpaying them.
When you have a love for music, it’s easy to justify taking low amounts of payment for gigs but this only hurts your career. The more gigs you do for cheap, the more others will expect the same when they hire you.
Establish early on what you’d like to be paid for your work and stick to it. If an opportunity comes along that doesn’t align with this, ask yourself if it’s a chance for growth in other ways.
If so, it may still be worth taking it on. However, if it’s not going to push your music career forward and doesn’t pay much, it’s probably best to turn it down. If the client really values you and your music, they’ll often negotiate and find a more suitable rate.
6. Have a Broad Skill Set
If you want to make music your career you’ll have to do more than just perform. Having a broad skill set that can make you money in other areas of the industry is a huge asset.
Once you know what your strengths are, approach other bands and businesses about helping them in the same area. This could be anything from running social media to doing another artist’s taxes.
A popular option by many musicians is teaching music lessons. It’s a rewarding way to stay active in the industry while still making a sustainable income.
7. Learn The Law
If you want to avoid being taken advantage, spend time studying basic music industry law. You don’t have to be an expert in any capacity. However, understanding simple concepts like copyright will make sure you properly protect your music and are fairly compensated for your work.
Additionally, if you receive any big contracts or agreements, always hire an entertainment lawyer to look them over before signing them. Contracts are filled with jargon and terminology that’s far beyond an average person’s understanding.
Hiring a lawyer to look things over may cost you a few hundred dollars but it can save you thousands in the case of an unfair deal.
One of the biggest secrets to making a successful career for yourself in music is networking. Learning how to meet industry professionals and build strong relationships can open a world of opportunities.
Go to as many concerts, conferences and other industry events as possible. While you’re there, don’t be afraid to approach people involved and get to know them.
You don’t have to talk business at this point, in fact, this can actually have a negative effect. Instead, spend time on getting to know them and making a good impression.
Don’t forget to ask for their contact information, so you can follow up with them down the road. The video below has some great tips on how to build and maintain relationships through networking.
9. Don’t Be Afraid of Email or Phone Calls
Continuing with the point on networking, an important aspect to pushing your music career forward is keeping up with emails and phone calls. This could be situations where you’re approaching people for the first time or just replying to those who’ve reached out to you.
Unfortunately, a lot of artists have a hard time keeping up with this aspect and the effects can be detrimental. The music industry moves fast and if you don’t stay on top of communications people can move on.
This is one of the reasons phone calls are such a powerful tool. You can quickly get the information you need in what would usually take several emails.
Like anything, it’s a skill that needs to be developed. It can be intimidating at first but emails and phone calls only get easier the more you do it.
10. Have Designated Admin Hours
Emails are just the start when it comes to administrative work you need to keep up with. If you want to make a successful career for yourself you need to stay on top of things like taxes, researching venues, copyrighting your music and more.
Unfortunately, many artists get so caught up in the creative side of things that they forget about everything else.
The best way to avoid falling behind is to designate “office hours” for yourself and stick to them. This could be just an hour or two in the morning or a specific day of the week when you focus on the “business” aspects of your career.
If you manage to stay committed, you’ll be able to keep your career moving forward without sacrificing creative time.
11. Take Time Off
Many artists burn out very quickly when trying to make a career for themselves. This is usually because music starts out as something you do to relax in your spare time, but once it becomes your “job” it can get exhausting.
Therefore, it’s important to take time off in the same way you would with any career. Make time to read, watch TV or go out with friends.
Music is supposed to be an artists reflection on life around them. However, if the only thing you ever do is work on music, you’ll soon be at a loss of things to write about.
12. Be Patient
No successful artist got where they are overnight. It’s always a slow climb but it’s no different than any other industry out there.
When you’re forming a career for yourself in the music industry you’re starting a business from scratch and this takes time. If you compare it to someone starting a physical store, the amount of time it takes to build customers and turn a profit takes years.
In the same way, it takes years and a lot of hard work to make a viable career for yourself as an artist. Once you finally do though, the reward is well worth the wait.
13. Don’t Be Discouraged
Given how much time and hard work it takes to build a music career, there’ll be plenty of moments when you question whether or not it’s worth all the work.
However, it’s important to keep pushing forward and not get disheartened. Difficult moments are often learning opportunities and if you can make it through them, something really great usually follows.
At the end of the day, you’re doing what you love and that’s reason enough to maintain positive outlook.
14. Serve The Song
Every aspect of this industry is pointless without good music and it’s important to remember this throughout your career.
You can get pretty far on business smarts alone but without good songs, people won’t be invested in what you have to say.
So, don’t brush over things in the songwriting phase. Take time to make every composition as good as it can be. On top of that, be sure that every choice you make in your career serves the music.
15. Be a Nice Person
This may sound like a joke but it’s actually one of the biggest secrets to those who’ve made a career in the music industry.
There’s always going to be someone who’s a better songwriter, more talented musician or smarter marketer than you, and that’s okay. The industry is full of talented artists, however personality is where many of them fall short.
You could be the most skilled guitar player in the world but if you’re hard to be around nobody’s going work with you. On the other hand, someone who’s pleasant to talk to, kind-hearted and hard working will have countless opportunities sent their way.
It’s really as simple as that. Be the type of person people want to spend time with, regardless of your music, and success will soon follow.
Conclusion: How Do You Make a Career In Music?
If you want to make a career in music, the first thing you need is a passion for what you do. However, don’t let this passion make you forget to approach everything from a business perspective.
Always value your work and try to build a broad set of skills because you’re going to have to do more than just perform. Once you start to see some growth, hire on a team of people so you can focus on your strengths. Also, learning basic music law and hiring an entertainment lawyer is integral if you want to avoid being taken advantage of
Never underestimate the power of networking and don’t forget to stay on top of your emails and phone calls. One of the best ways to do this, well also keeping up with all other admin work, is to set aside dedicated “office hours” for yourself.
Finally, don’t forget to take time off, be patient and keep a positive outlook on everything. Nobody achieved success overnight, but if you have a good attitude and great music you’ll be well on your way to making a viable career in the music industry.
If you enjoyed the tips in this guide and think they’d be useful to others, be sure to share the article with your friends. Also, don’t forget to check out the rest of the Sundown Sessions Blog for tips on everything from songwriting to home recording.