Career Advice for Musicians? Start with Artists House Music

The web is full of lame career advice for musicians. It can be hard to cut through the noise and find any useful guidance. Do we really need another “10 tips for branding your band on social networks”? We know how to post to Facebook.

Most musicians have only a vague idea of how to make money from our music. We spend the day as graphic designers, contractors, teachers and telemarketers. We are professional in our craft, but our bank accounts have little to show for it.

We’re not in it for the money, we play music because we have to. We have to express ourselves and connect people together.

Yet most of us are in the dark when it comes to earning a career from our musical pursuits. Let’s be honest with ourselves. For decades we’ve been told to focus our energy on making great music and being in the right place at the right time to be “discovered”. Just be special, they said. If you build the hits, the fans will come.

No wonder ours is a generation full of failed and exploited professional musicians. No one ever taught us how to do business.

There are millions of people playing music across the world at this very moment. Hundreds of millions more are listening to music. And billions of dollars are being made.

The ones making the money are treating their music as a business.

It begins by realizing you’re not just a musician, you’re an entrepreneur managing a small business. It’s really uncool to say, but the consolation prize is getting to do what you love for the rest of your life.

John Snyder, founder of Artists House Music.

This is where Artists House Music comes in. The Louisiana-based non-profit is spearheaded by Grammy-winning music and media polymath John Snyder. He states his purpose with great clarity:

“Our mission is to help musicians, artists, and arts entrepreneurs create sustainable careers… We are challenging the lingering view that there is something inherently distasteful about the co-joining of art and commerce.”

These walls are already coming down thanks to the ways the web enables direct fan patronage on crowd funding platforms like Kickstarter, but they’re coming down too slowly. We need organizations like Artists House Music to push musician entrepreneurship forward, to provide expert knowledge and wisdom as a public service. We need a culture of entrepreneurship in music, and it won’t happen without the kind of leadership groups like Artists House Music provide.

The organization fulfills its charter first and foremost by providing a very active Livestream channel full of music conferences, concerts and other events, which are archived along with tons of other great videos on their YouTube channel.

Any musician that happens across this encyclopedic treasure trove of industry wisdom is sure to click subscribe and suddenly lose hours or days within its archives. For example, just the other day I started by demystifying publishing and licensing and got re-introduced to how musicians earn money by selling rights to use their music. Then I got a second and third opinion. I’ll be going back for a fourth and fifth because every topic is covered in exhaustive detail. It’s easy to emerge with a comprehension of complicated music business basics before you even realize it.

When you’re done with the beginner stuff, you can dig in to controversial industry topics like the termination of sound recording copyrights or go behind the scenes at a modern-day artist management company. And these videos only scratch the surface of the massive Artists House Music website which features everything from musician strategy to legal guidance. The sheer amount of resources for the musician/entrepreneur is staggering.

Regrettably, I am not only writing this on occasion of the non-profit’s demonstrated utility to musicians at large. if you’ve been clicking through to the amazing links, you’ve probably noticed Artists House Music’s grant funding has run out. They need our support to continue to provide this invaluable content. I wouldn’t be doing my part if I didn’t urge you to drop some coin their bucket to keep the good work moving forward.

We are clearly moving toward a new business model for music. It’s more sustainable and equitable than ever before. Now anyone can start a band, record and release a hit album in their basement overnight. It’s happening more and more. There are more opportunities — and more competition — than ever before. You don’t just have to work harder, you have to work smarter. Often success is as simple as setting your mind to achieving it.

If you’re motivated to learn about the opportunities for you to make money playing music, start at Artists House Music.

Albums as Tiered Merchandise Packages Could Become the Norm for Physical Releases

There is a simple principle at work behind the thousands of musicians successfully crowdfunding their own album releases on Kickstarter and IndieGoGo each year. Different bands have different value to different listeners. This has always been true, but the physical media of the old music industry forced us into a relatively one-size-fits-all album format. In retrospect, the standard of twelve or so songs making an album was just an economic and technological compromise.

I believe physical media is in the early throes of a new renaissance in the music industry. With listeners becoming more and more accepting of music as a utility one is billed for monthly, there is a developing thirst for the tangible. But we have to expand our definition of “physical media” beyond mere sonic product, or music-bearing media. Gone are the cheap discs, cassettes and other wastes of space, and in their place are artfully crafted original books, movies, artwork, apparel and all manner of novelty to compliment and even enhance the music.

As is the norm with modern-day video game releases, bands are now releasing albums in tiered collectors’ editions. The upper-tier packages usually feature vinyl and some sort of premium perk, for example Silversun Pickups’ sold-out “Ultimate Collector’s Edition” with a hardcover book to go along with their new album Neck of the Woods. It’s nothing entirely new, pioneering bands have been doing this for a long time. But I do believe it could become de facto standard in independent releases for a good deal of time to come, particularly in independent music.

Madonna Sets Record for Largest Second-Week Drop in Album Sales

Fail is heavy in the air for Madonna, who saw sales of her new album MDNA nosedive 88% to a measly 46,000, setting a record for biggest second-week drop in chart history.

This from arguably one of the top ten names in the music industry, signed to an obscene $120 million, 10-year 360 deal with LiveNation, with one of the largest promotional budgets in the business. Her marketing plan started with a Super Bowl half time performance — an album release doesn’t get a much bigger springboard than that.

No matter what IPFI propaganda will tell you, the CD is the end of the road for physical music media. For the majority of music fans, there is far more value in having access to the digital copy. This is clear as crystal in the numbers: Physical sales fall year-over-year while digital sales are on the uptick. Keep in mind Madonna’s miserable numbers included these digital downloads.

The new trend in physical music media sales can be found in Madonna’s first-week album sales (359,000), when the music industry temporarily convinced themselves that the slo-mo flash crash of the CD media format had hit a plateau. The secret behind the trophy showing was bundling — in this case, the bundling of a free CD or album download with any concert ticket purchase. That’s right — if you wanted to take your friend to the Madonna show, well, you both bought the album too. This gross inflation of actual sales (180,000 albums were bundled with tickets) makes the official SoundScan numbers pathetically hollow.

Good thing LiveNation has a 360 deal — they’re going to need that licensing revenue.