Thursday, March 25, 2010

If You Don't Know The Rules, How Can You Play The Game?

I want you to do a simple exercise.

After you finish reading this, go over to your record collection and look at all the CDs and records you’ve collected over the years, and that includes looking at your digital library of music you downloaded to your hard drive. Go through your collection.

As you look at the music that means so much to you, say the following words to yourself: “I would never have known about or heard all this music I love, if there hadn’t been a carefully planned and successfully implemented promotion and marketing campaign for all my favorite bands and artists.”

That’s the plain and simple truth of it. In a capitalist, consumer society like ours, every popular music star is either backed by a record label, manager, publishing company, booking agency, attorney and countless others who worked with that artist to help them achieve their hard earned success. Or, in a growing numberr of cases, an artist or band has acted as a label and accomplished some success on their own.

This is true for the mega superstars as well as the local and regional artists who found a way through their own efforts to marry the business of music with the art of music making.

When you go into a record store or search for music online, remember this exercise. Say to yourself while searching: “If these artists or their record labels had not dealt with the business side of music, these musicians would not have their CDs for sale here.”

The articles you read in music publications, the songs you hear on the radio, the videos you watch on television and places like YouTube, plus the concerts you attend, could not have happened for those artists unless someone had successfully dealt with the business of artist and product development

See what I am driving at? Catch my meaning? Get my drift? Music and the marketplace go hand in hand. There’s no other path to success. Someone—you, in the beginning—has to take responsibility for making peace with the eternal struggle between art and commerce.

Musicians struggle with this dilemma as much as authors, painters, sculptors, or poets do. It’s like a virus that infects many musicians with the notion that money making and music making are enemies. Contracts, marketing plans, budgets and image development issues can be alien to the creative process, but are necessary for the business side of the music world in order to get your music heard, desired, and purchased.

So, it’s necessary to make peace with that side of yourself.

There's a funny thing about creativity. On one hand, it wants to be left alone to create. Yet it demands recognition, and rages when society refuses to acknowledge the art that has been created. The creative side feels robbed when it isn’t rewarded with enough money to make a living.

This conflict tortures many musicians, beginners as well as experienced players. I’ve observed many frustrated musicians over the last twenty-five years, and I’ve seen a pattern of ignorance and naivete concerning the rules of the music marketplace.

I’m not saying there aren’t examples of exploitation throughout the history of popular music; that there haven't been outrageous tales of gross mismanagement and outright thievery in recorded music’s legacy that fowled-up the success of artists, but the following observation is also quite true.

Along with a musician’s wish for stardom and recognition comes a feeling of 'deserving' success because you have struggled so much to become successful.

But what if you never really studied the business and marketing side of the business you are in? What if you are ignorant of the rules of the game? Who's fault is that?

Only you can be the master of your ship. So, ask any sailor...if you don't know how to use a compass out at sea, what are your chances of reaching the shore safely?

Its the same in the music business. I have written repeatedly about how stubborn so many musicians are about learning something about the business they are in...the music BUSINESS!

I’ve never bought into the common belief that a recording contract(for example)is indentured servitude or slavery. Nonsense.

These days, musicians who have been exploited left an opening in their defenses by refusing to take responsibility to educate themselves.

That’s the cold fact of it. You cannot be exploited unless you’ve leave yourself open to be exploited.

The age of enlightenment has not just recently arrived. The secrets behind the business of music started being revealed almost twenty years ago. In the late 1970s, pioneering music business educator Diane Rapaport came out with her landmark book, How To Make and Sell Your Own Recording.
That book single-handedly led the way for musicians to learn about the business of music.

Today there are countless books and articles available on the many different aspects of the music business. I suggest you go to some time and type in “music business books” to search what’s out there. And don't forget that today there hundreds of colleges and universities that offer degrees in music business.

Also, there are dozens of music business conferences, organizations, clubs, and Internet sites devoted to helping musicians understand the business of music.

The future belongs to enterprising musicians who control their own destiny.

The downloadable music frontier is here, and never in the history of recorded music has so much potential rested in your hands.

Let’s hear the rallying cry by musicians, loud and clear—Educate Thyself! Promote and Market Thyself!

Your music IS your business.


  1. Thanks for the insight. I wish they had taught a course on the Music Business when I studied at the New England Conservatory of Music in Boston. I'm told they have such a course now, but I had to learn on my own, from my own experiences and from those artists I've worked for.

    Here's a link to a page with a couple free song downloads from my two new cds, "The Seduction Serenades" and "Everything Fell Silent".

    *Link to Free songs (No email or signup required):

    All the best,


  2. Wow…this post tingled my toes. I’m so full of admiration and respect for firefighters in general and now you in particular Stewart. Thank you for sharing.
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