In this essay, I will explain how I’m going to succeed in the music business; my ultimate goal is to become a music producer and composer. By taking a historical look at the music business and the economic climate it is currently struggling in, I will explain what I think is going to make the road to success easier. There are many paths to cross to becoming a successful music producer. You have to build relations to people that may become useful to you[i]. Do favours, a lot of free work and market yourself in any way possible. Understanding the importance of having the right equipment. Are you going to build a studio, home studio?
The changing industry
The music business is changing. The cd format is dying, and the public shares and streams music online more then ever before. Physical formats are becoming ghosts of the past and the music business is struggling to keep up with the changes in the economic market[ii]. Because of this there are many different views on the development the industry is to take the next ten years. The music industry is therefore facing a difficult time ahead and is struggling to adjust[iii], huge risks have to be taken and a change of practice is required[iv]. Because of all the economic turmoil, it might not be harder to succeed in the music business, but it’s much more competitive. More people than ever are chewing on the ”money-bone”. You would have to have a huge amount of guts and perspiration, in addition to this a good amount of cheer luck. But there are ways; this is me explaining which actions I think are the road to succeeding in this harsh economic climate. First you have to start with the question, why the music industry started struggling in the first place?
One of the main and obvious reasons for the industries economic decline is the illegal sharing and downloading of music online. When Shawn Fanning developed Napster in 1999 he sparked a revolution[v], the revolution of online piracy. According to an article in the observer, this was ”The year music was set free”[vi]. Music became incredibly obtainable for everyone with a computer and an uncontrollable thirst for music. Which basically meant that over 300 million Internet users[vii], had instant access to waste amounts of music for the nice sum of absolutely nothing. Shortly after other peer-to-peer programs started to emerge online[viii]. This forced the leading record companies to take a stand, they were loosing money and they were loosing it fast. The record companies responded to the online piracy by suing the creators of these peer-to-peer programs. This led to the loss of even more money, in retrospect, taking legal actions turned out to be a bad move. The barons in music industry were highly unsuccessful in stopping illegal downloading of music. They completely underestimated the phenomenon’s popularity4. It might be easy to sue a few creators, but it is quite the accomplishment to incarcerate or fine millions of people. Therefore they made examples out of a select few. One of those people was a woman by the name Jamme Thomas Rasset that in 2007 was sued by the music industries trade group for sharing 24 songs on the Internet[ix]. But even this wasn’t deterring the people from downloading music online and during the 2000’s; several of the big record companies went bankrupt. The big five (Emi, Sony Music, Warner Group, Universal Music Entertainment and BMG) has become the big three (Universal Music, Warner group and Sony music Entertainment)[x][xi].
Music industry economics is still suffering greatly from illegal downloading. Times are changing and the music industry is finding new ways to earn money. Streaming and online sale are two new ways to make money in the music industry. Though these methods are no guarantee for making the music industry thrive economically again.
Why is this relevant? To find the best paths to success you have to understand the history of the field you’re seeking success in. Economy is vital to understand, though it’s possible to be successful in the music industry without being a cash cow, it is virtually impossible for anyone to live on just their reputation. I think the future, regardless if it’s music industry or other industries are in online marketing and sales. This is where I’m going to start my road to success.
The possibilities that lie within the Internet are endless. You have the potential possibility to become extremely successful over night. Internet is good for several things. You can effortlessly market yourself through social channels like Facebook and Twitter, you can start a website, start a blog and you can market your music on websites such as Myspace, Soundcloud and Youtube. You have the possibilities to sell your music through services like Itunes and streaming-software like Spotify. Though having your music on Spotify isn’t a gold mine, it has the potential to be profitable in the long run[xii]. I recognise these sites as extremely useful to reach my goals. By publishing my music on these sites, I’m creating a bigger network. I can reach more people and potential clients. Marketing yourself and selling your music on the Internet is becoming increasingly common in the music business[xiii].
Going for modesty or million dollar studios?
You might think that a music producer would need a studio, though that would be natural, using a lot of money on building a professional studio could be a very risky business. Studios around world are going bankrupt at an alarming rate and if you decide to build a million dollar studio, the prospects of getting those money back are pretty grim[xiv]. You might be out of business before you’ve started. In this day of age it might be more profitable to build a modest home studio[xv]. Buy a desk, a mixer, some good microphones, some preamps, a good soundcard, a mac pro computer, midi-keyboard, headphones and some music software. Even this is very expensive, but I think it’s better to have good equipment than a floating studio room that costs 200 000 pounds to build. If you have a duvet and some isolation plates you can make a perfectly working vocal booth. If you would need to use a professional million-dollar studio, you always have the option to rent one. Nowadays this isn’t all that expensive, and might be more profitable than building one of your own. I think this is the best path for me to start out with, a nice home studio with nice and good equipment.
During my time at the Norwegian school of creative studies I learned to work with little resources. In our time, I think that is a highly sought after ability. If you’re creative enough, you can make music with coconuts and the Macintosh microphone. The quality might be a little bit worse supposed to recording in abbey road studios, but the production costs drops a great deal. If you think about it, the quality of the recordings really isn’t that noticeable for the common man. Though it has to uphold some standards, the bare minimum for a professional made musical piece is often enough, as long as it’s mixed well and the composition is good. That said; you should always do your best.
The importance of contacts
One of the most important things in the music business is getting contacts. Without contacts you’re basically going nowhere[xvi]. Knowing the right people is the key to succeeding. But do not misunderstand me, I’m not saying you have to seek out Simon Cowell and try to build a business relationship with him. That might be a little difficult, but for me I found advantages by doing a lot of free work for some of the motion designers at the (NSCS). These motion designers are now working for advertising agencies, TV and radio and they still might want me to do music for them. It’s all about connections, If you are a fresh music producer, get to know everyone and work for anyone that is taking career paths in the entertainment business. They will call you when they’re starting to get successful with what they are doing.
The big word within music business is ”YES”, you can’t pick and choose jobs[xvii]. Realize that even if you think you are a big shot film scorer, others might not see it that way. They can always find other producers. Arrogance is the quickest way to music industry-suicide. By saying yes to almost every job during my time at the (NSCS), I now have a doorway into the advertising, TV and radio business. I’m now in the process of making new and important contacts. When my time here at Southampton Solent University comes to an end, these are the contacts I’m going to seek out. I find it to be a reasonable plan to try to get a foothold in the business, even before you’re graduated.
Finding the Funds
Then there is the issue of money. You have to figure out how to finance your business. This might be difficult considering you might be young and aren’t built of money. If you are thinking about loaning money, this might also be a challenging affair. If a 22 year old man entered my bank and asked to loan 50 000 pounds to start a career within the music business, I would most definitely show him the way out. As a producer you have to be very realistic, it is important to understand that succeeding in this business is extremely hard. You might live on bread and water the first 5 years of your career. That’s just the price you have to pay.
For me, the secret is to start small. Don’t borrow waste amounts of money the second you leave the university. You have to understand that the money you can expect to make is highly disproportionate to the equipment you think you might need. Take the equipment out of the equation. When you start as a fresh producer I can almost guarantee that you won’t be directing large symphonies for the next star wars movie anytime soon. Equipment might be more important later in your career, but when you’re fresh out of the university press, the jobs you get in almost every case aren’t high profile jobs. I think that a simple DAW at home in your bedroom or garage will suffice, early in the career. The key to becoming successful is to earn your way up. Gradually put new preamps into your rack. Gradually taking on bigger and bigger jobs.
Finding your niche and dealing with business partners
You have to specialize and you have to be good. There’s no point in starting a music business if you’re horrible at what your doing[xviii]. Make sure you actually can deliver a viable product and at the same time know your limitations. If an advertising company wants you to make a jingle with an African feel, you better be quite sure what that means. Do research, explore other musical styles, go out of your comfort zone instead of making music on the basis that you think you know what it means. There’s nothing the entertainment business like more than people that are highly adaptable. Getting a brief from TV producers can sometimes feel like you need an enigma machine just understand what they actually mean. Be aware that TV producers and advertising companies have absolutely no idea of what implications their wishes might pose for you the music producer. In most cases they have no knowledge of music or how to make it, that is your job. So when you do take a job for a TV production company, expect ambiguous briefs, but always deliver good solid work. If it’s wrong they will tell you. You also have to show what you’re really good at, you have to stand out in a certain field; Find your niche[xix]. One of the things I found the most difficult was finding what I was really outstanding in. I consider myself good at a wide variety of styles and music production, but without that one field were you really knock the ball out of the ballpark, you won’t get noticed. I later found my main niche and that is simply producing songs.
To sum up, you have to have a strong stomach to last in music business, when you think you’ve worked enough you have to work even more. It is important to know your limitations, never take no for and answer and never say no. Being a producer is extremely hard work and personally I’m prepared to work hard for what I want to accomplish. Identify what you’re good at and use it. Remember that music production is a pretty wide field. Don’t say no to advertising, TV or radio, because working with other mediums really are great ways to make money. Use your contacts and build networks, you never know when someone you are associated with gets a huge job and recommend you. Being active on social networks, websites to distribute your music is a great way to make yourself noticed. Becoming a successful producer demands hard work and crazy hours, but if you have the discipline to work through the long hours with little or no profit, success will perhaps wait on the other side.